College Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: USC, UCLA seek to rebound from poor 2018 seasons

It had been a long time since USC and UCLA both suffered through miserable football seasons together like they did last year.

The Bruins, under first-year coach Chip Kelly, were 3-9 overall, 3-6 in the Pac 12 Conference and fifth place in the Pac 12 South Division.

The Trojans weren’t much better. Playing with true freshman quarterback JT Daniels and hampered by injuries to key players on defense, the Trojans were 5-7 overall, 4-5 in the conference and third in the Pac 12 South.

The eight combined wins for the two teams was the worst showing since 1971 when the Bruins were 2-7-1 and the Trojans were 6-4-1. In 1958, the two schools combined for only seven wins.

Both teams expect better showings this year. The Trojans always expect to be better. They also expect to compete for national championships every year, but that’s another story.

After going 10-3 and 11-3 in his first two full seasons as the Trojans head coach, Clay Helton slipped badly last season and many of the Trojans’ loyal followers wanted athletic director Lynn Swann to fire him.

Instead, Helton overhauled the offense, hiring Graham Harrell as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach and installing a new offense called the Air Raid that involves a lot of passing.

Daniels should thrive in the new system and he has a talented corps of receivers to throw to. But the Trojans were shaky on the offensive line last year and are thin at running back heading into the season.

The Trojans have been waiting for Stephen Carr to have a break-out season as a runner, but he has been bothered by nagging injuries most of his career.  Vavae Malepeai was the leading rusher last year but has been banged up in training camp. Markese Stepp has had a good training camp and could make an impact as the season continues.

The offensive line has several returning starters from last season, but the line wasn’t one of the team’s strengths last year.  

The Trojans have a solid defensive line, are a bit inexperienced at linebacker but are deep in the secondary.

The Trojans open the season at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Aug. 31 against Fresno State.

The Bulldogs are coached by Jeff Tedford, who grew up in Downey and starred at Warren High School before playing two years at Cerritos College.

Tedford is in his third season at Fresno State. He is 22-6 in his first two seasons and was chosen coach of the year in the Mountain West Conference in 2017.

As a player, Tedford established records in career passing yards and touchdowns in two years at Fresno State in 1981 and 1982.

He was a head coach at Cal from 2002 to 2012.

UCLA, which lost to Fresno State, 38-14 in the third week of the season last year, faces Cincinnati in its season opener Aug. 29.

The Bruins figure to be improved this season because Kelly has a year under his belt with the program and now has two recruiting classes of his players.

Kelly’s teams can always move the ball and with running back Joshua Kelley and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson both returning, the Bruins should be able to put points on the scoreboard.

Whether they can outscore other offenses remains to be seen.

Since it is only his second season, Kelly won’t find himself on the same hot seat Helton is on across town.

Some USC fans are saying that anything short of a Pac 12 South title this year will mean the end of the Clay Helton regime.

But the Pac 12 South is deep this year with Utah favored to take the championship and Arizona and Arizona State both improved. Helton probably needs to win eight games to keep his job.

Whether the Trojans have the talent to win that many in the newly renovated Coliseum remains to be seen.

HOPEFULLY, NOT A PREVIEW: Dodgers fans are hoping that last weekend’s series against the New York Yankees is not a sign of things to come.

Actually, it looked like the Dodgers always look when things are going bad.

The Dodgers were outscored 16-5 in the three-game series. They were out-homered 9-2.

James Paxton outpitched Hyun-Jin Ryu Aug. 23 as the Yankees won 10-2, setting the tone for the series. The Dodgers couldn’t get any clutch hits, and when the Dodgers don’t get clutch hits, they don’t win.

They didn’t get any clutch hits in game seven of the 2017 World Series and the only clutch hit they got in the 2018 World Series was Max Muncy’s walk-off home run in the 18th inning of game three.

The Dodgers’ bullpen may be the team’s weakest link as the last month of the regular season begins, but the Dodgers will go through the post-season as far as their hitting will carry them.

The Dodgers now have nine players who have hit 10 or more home runs and two others — Chris Taylor and Dave Freeze — with nine each.

They obviously miss rookie outfielder Alex Verdugo’s energy, but he will back on the active roster in the next few days as the rosters expand for September.

With their magic number at 10, it is only a matter of time before the Dodgers celebrate their seventh straight National League West title. The team will then have the rest of September to get its starting rotation in shape and figure out who will pitch which late innings out of the bullpen.

I expect Kenley Jansen will remain the closer, unless he totally comes off the rails. Joe Kelly has pitched well enough to be the eighth inning set-up man, which leaves Pedro Baez as the seventh inning man, with Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin for depth.

If the Dodgers are going to shake their World Series drought this year, their hitters are going to have to carry the load.

AN EVEN RIVALRY: Los Angeles Football Club still hasn’t defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy, but the 3-3 tie the teams played to Aug. 25 was an enjoyable soccer game.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored two minutes into the game to give the Galaxy a 1-0 lead, but Latif Blessing responded 10 minutes later to tie the score.

Ibrahimovic scored again and the Galaxy also added a goal by Cristian Pavon to make it 3-1.

Blessing scored again before halftime to make it 3-2 and then Carlos Vela, the leading scorer in Major League Soccer, scored his 27th goal of the season eight minutes into the second half to tie the score.

The defenses took over from there. Ibrahimovic found two LAFC players in his path most of the night and Vela left with a hamstring injury shortly after he tied the score.

HE’S BACK: I had to laugh at the news that Dwight Howard had signed with the Lakers to take the roster place of DeMarcus Cousins, who is out for the season with a torn knee ligament.

Howard was traded to the Lakers before the 2012-13 season. He didn’t get along with Kobe Bryant and visions of an NBA title quickly flew out the window.

The Lakers went 45-37, were swept in the first round of the playoffs by San Antonio and Howard fled as fast as he could to get away from the spotlight. His career has been on a downward path ever since.

Now he’s back, trying to ride LeBron James’ coattails to an NBA title that so far has eluded him.

If Howard can still show some of the form that made him the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year three times while averaging eight to 10 rebounds a game, he might be a useful puzzle piece for the Lakers.

But I don’t know what is going to happen when he gets on the bad side of James. Howard’s contract is not guaranteed and the Lakers can cut him at any time and not owe another dime.

He will be making about $14,000 a game.