The penultimate week of the regular season threw up some absolute barnstormers, with all of the top four teams having some issues, and a couple were very close to defeat.
The deep dive this week though features the battle of Los Angeles, and probably the best uniform matchup of the season.
USC edged their rivals UCLA in a thriller 48-45 and this win keeps the Trojans play-off hopes alive, although a lot will have to happen to get in.
However they are still in with a chance.
We’ll start the notes on the unlucky losers…
Head Coach Chip Kelly may not have done well in the NFL ranks, but as a college coach no one can doubt his record. He is taking UCLA in the right direction, and more importantly for us, coaching his players up to an NFL level.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR to his mates) is one of the most exciting college passers out there right now.
When he gets things right he looks like the second coming of Lamar Jackson, but when it’s bad he looks like an undrafted free agent. This game summed him up beautifully.
He had 390 total yards and 6 total touchdowns, but threw three horrible interceptions that ultimately cost his team the chance to win this game. There’s no doubting his commitment and desire, he leads the Bruins with confidence and carries them as far as he can, but those mental mistakes are always there.
The NFL won’t waste good draft capital on players like him.
He has played better though this season, and there are certainly tools to work with, so teams may start looking at him on early day three, but you do get a sense that he’ll be a better college quarterback than NFL one.
Michigan transfer Running Back Zach Charbonnet has been a revelation for the Bruins these last couple of seasons. He is a bigger power type back, who will gain every yard available and run through you to do it.
He was up against a decent USC front seven, but still ploughed his way for 95 yards at 5 yards per rush. This was his second lowest output of the season, which shows you he is having another productive year in the PAC 12 and making a name for himself.
He does lack the burst and cutting ability that the great backs do, but NFL teams need backs like these to complement their rushing attacks, so although he won’t blow people away with his testing, he should still be a priority pick come day three of the draft.
Another transfer who is having a great season for UCLA is former Duke receiver Jake Bobo.
I really liked Bobo’s 2021 tape with the Blue Devils, and it looks like he is thriving again this season, just on a different team. He is a big target at 6’5 215lbs, and does use his size well to block out defenders when the ball is coming his way, but he is more than just a big body receiver.
Bobo can win in the slot or on the outside, and although clearly not a dynamic athlete, he certainly isn’t a terrible one either. He had 4 catches for 76 yards in this game, was active in the run game too, helping blocking downfield. However, he have two drops, which is very uncharacteristic of him.
Players like Bobo will more than likely go on day three of the draft, but they almost always make NFL rosters and contribute in the pros.
Defensively, the Bruins struggled to contain USC’s high volume offense, but from an NFL point of view, they do have a couple of interesting pass rushers who are both getting a fair bit of buzz.
EDGE Laiatu Latu has a very interesting back story to him. He was a four star recruit who went to Washington and had a nice Freshman season in 2019.
He then suffered a neck injury prior to the 2020 season and team doctors advised him to retire rather than play on and risk permanent damage.
After two seasons away from football he entered the transfer portal and joined UCLA, where their doctors cleared him to play, and he has been amazing for them so far this season.
Latu is currently tied sixth in the nation with 9.5 sacks and has become a pass rushing demon.
I’ve caught a few UCLA games this season and he has stood out in all of them, including this one. He has a long and slippery frame, has active hands and never stays blocked for long.
In fairness to USC they did a better job on him in the second half, but he still finished with 4 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
From a draft perspective, the medicals obviously will be a massive deal, but if he does declare and the medicals check out, then you have an upside player worth taking a risk on.
The other Bruins EDGE causing some noise is North Texas transfer Gabriel Murphy. He and his twin brother Grayson transferred over together in the off season, and they are both having very nice seasons.
Grayson has been more productive on the stat sheet, but for me Gabriel looks the better all round player. Like Latu, Murphy has stood out every time UCLA has been on, and again here he gave USC’s very talented offensive line plenty of trouble.
He is strong at the point of attack and disengages quickly to disrupt plays. Gabriel lacks the length and burst that Latu has, but he looks a much better all round player and would make a nice 4-3 base end. He (and his brother) have a year of eligibility left, so he may well go back to school, but if he were to come out I think he’d be a mid round steal for someone.
The Trojans are a very exciting team to watch right now, and honestly, I think this offense, along with Ohio State’s, are the only two that would give Georgia’s vaunted defense any issues.
The leader of this gang is Oklahoma transfer Quarterback Caleb Williams. He has been nothing short of sensational this season and quite rightly is a Heisman Trophy candidate. You can’t help but think of Patrick Mahomes when you watch him, as he can turn any play into one of those WOW moments.
Williams has everything you look for tools wise, and although he may get knocked for his size, he is easily big enough to handle the NFL life. This game had so many highlights it’s impossible to list them all, but most of them came out of structure, hitting receivers in stride in tight windows. He threw for 470 yards with two touchdowns and one pick.
The interception showed he still makes the odd mental mistake, but as a true sophomore that is expected, the great plays still vastly outweigh the bad ones. He has every chance to be the number one overall pick in next year’s draft.
The Trojan’s star Wide Receiver Jordan Addison has had some recent injury woes, missing two of the last three games and barely featuring in the other. So, with that in mind, it was good to see him back to his best in this game, having a season best 178 yards on 11 catches and a touchdown.
Addison’s presence takes this offense over the top, as they have so much talent on the field it’s impossible to cover all of them. He looks like a spitting image size wise of Eagles wide receiver Devonta Smith, and there is a similarity to their styles of play too.
Addison is dynamic with the ball in his hand and has enough speed and savvy to create separation, so his lack of size is negated.
In my book, he is clearly one of the top wide receivers in college football, and if he can finish the season strong he should be in the conversation to be WR1 come draft day.
Defensively USC are lacking superstars, but there were a couple of guys in this game who certainly helped themselves from a draft prospective.
EDGE Tuli Tuipulotu currently shares the lead nationally in sacks with 11.5. He was actually held sackless in this game, but the disruption he caused in both the run and passing game was excellent throughout.
He reminds me of how Texas A&M used DeMarvin Leal last year, but unlike Leal, this dude plays with his hair on fire every snap. USC even stands him up and let him rush with a head start from a yard or two off the line of scrimmage, and that’s a scary sight watching a 285lb man smashing into static guards.
Tuipulotu has decent bend as a pass rusher, especially considering his size, but his NFL money would be made inside you’d expect, or as a five tech. He really has put himself on the map with the phenomenal season he is having, and he could easily end up as a first round pick, if the right team thinks he is the missing piece to their defense.
Colorado had two excellent cornerbacks last year. Unfortunately for the Buffalos, both transferred out and ended up at rival PAC 12 teams. Christian Gonzalez is having an excellent season at Oregon, and may have become a first round pick. However, we shouldn’t forget about the “other” former Buffalo, Mekhi Blackmon, who is now at USC.
The Colorado tape, particularly the 2020 season is excellent, and now he is showing out at a top program and getting himself noticed.
Blackmon moves really well, fluid in transitions and can stick with receivers down the field. He gave up just 3 catches on 6 targets with no big plays allowed, and even came up with an excellent interception to top it all off.
An older prospect, in a position where the NFL prefers youth, but there’s too much to like about Blackmon to ignore. Hopefully he can workout well, and although he won’t go as high as his former teammate Gonzalez, he should be in consideration as a late day two player.
Interestingly these former teammates could very well meet in the PAC12 Championship game, if Oregon manages to beat Oregon State at the weekend.
Follow Keith on Twitter – @Lordlucken