Josh Rosen, UCLA’s freshman quarterback, will play his first Bruins-USC game Saturday.
The matchup doesn’t appear to line up well for the Trojans, who saw Oregon’s Vernon Adams pass for 407 yards and six touchdowns against their beleaguered secondary.
That the Bruins can still reach the Pac-12 Conference title game is due mostly to Rosen, who pushed them to victory in four of the last five games.
It has left UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone impressed.
“The one thing for young guys is not ‘Oh, do they have the skill set to be successful?’ or ‘Can they learn the offense?’” Mazzone said. “It’s ‘Is the game too big for them?’ The game is not too big for this kid. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing or where we’re playing. The bigger the situation, the more he thrives.”
Rosen’s season reaches an apex in Saturday’s game, with the winner staying in the running for a Rose Bowl berth.
Adams’ performance was just the latest example of USC’s defense struggling to defend the pass in recent weeks. Arizona’s Anu Solomon threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns against USC on Nov. 7.
Rosen has had five 300-yard passing games this season. He has not had any of his last 218 passes intercepted.
“His ability to see the whole field and process information has been amazing,” Mazzone said. “He’s feeling more comfortable. He is having input into the game plan. He’s coming up with things he wants to do.”
It is a far cry from the young man who showed up at training camp.
“He was like a kid going to summer camp,” said receiver Jordan Payton, who roomed with Rosen. “He’s pretty much a neat freak. Everything was in a section and perfectly aligned. I would just throw things in a pile. He had everything he needed for camp and I had the bare minimum.”
And, “His mom brought gluten-free brownies. That was nice.”
Payton sees a different person now.
“He stepped up and took the reins,” Payton said.
The veteran center who delivers the ball to Rosen sees it too.
“He’s excelling past what everyone was expecting him to do every single week,” Jake Brendel said. “He has developed the voice you want from your quarterback — very assertive, very demanding and also understanding. He puts pressure on us when he needs to put pressure on.”
Senior linebacker Aaron Wallace is hoping for his fourth consecutive victory over USC.
“My redshirt year we lost, 50-0,” Wallace said. “That still sticks with me. So to be able to win the past three years has been huge. I’m looking to continue that my last year.”
Will it allow him to forget the 50-0 loss?
“I don’t think anything ever will,” Wallace said.
Manfro seeking eligibility
Senior running back Steven Manfro, who underwent surgery on his shoulder in September, will apply for a sixth year.
Manfro has not played this season and will seek a medical redshirt year. He sustained a torn knee ligament in the second game in 2014 and missed the remainder of that season as well.
Between numerous injuries, Manfro has gained 172 yards rushing. He has also caught 38 passes for 396 yards. As kick returner, he averaged 23.9 yards on kickoffs and 8.8 yards after punts.
Defensive end Matt Dickerson left practice early Wednesday for undisclosed reasons and was escorted to the training room. ... Defensive end Takkarist McKinley, who left practice Tuesday, returned a day later wearing a red no-contact jersey. … Tackle Conor McDermott (knee) spent practice in the training room for a second consecutive day. He is unlikely to play Saturday. … Ka’imi Fairbairn was chosen as one of three finalists for the Groza Award as college football’s top kicker.