Assessing local teams that are still playing

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Now that the Dodgers have bowed out of the postseason, it’s time to pay attention to the local rivalries playing out before us as the basketball season begins, the football season nears its halfway point and Major League Soccer gets closer to the playoffs.

L.A.’s two college football teams had a chance to make statements last weekend. The statement: neither is ready to move into the upper echelons of the sport.

That being said, at least UCLA came close to pulling off an upset, which is a moral victory considering where UCLA has been in recent years.

The 34-31 loss to Oregon was almost as impressive as the 38-27 victory over LSU back in the second week of the season. Who knows, if Dorian Thompson-Robinson doesn’t get knocked out of the game late, maybe he rallies the Bruins to a last-minute victory.

Instead freshman quarterback Ethan Garbers had to quarterback the late drive and he wasn’t up to pulling off any upset victories this early in his career. Maybe next year. 

Of course, there might not be a next year for Bruins coach Chip Kelly. Now in his fourth year at UCLA, Kelly is having his best year with a 5-3 mark. 

If the Bruins manage to run the table, they could finish 9-3, a record that would probably put them in the Pac 12 title game in December, most likely against Oregon. 

But, with games remaining against Utah, Colorado, USC and Cal, the Bruins could easily go 2-2 or 1-3 and fail to make a bowl game.

That would force athletic director Martin Jarmond to make a tough decision. Kelly has improved the program, but the LSU win, his signature victory at UCLA, doesn’t look so good in the rearview mirror, what with LSU’s 4-4 record and the discord facing that program.

If the Bruins can go 8-4 (or 7-5 that includes a win over USC), Jarmond would be wise to give Kelly more time. The program is moving in the right direction now and the last thing the Bruins need to do is tear it down and start all over again.

USC, on the other hand, needs to hit the jackpot with their coaching hire, much like Mike Garrett did with Pete Carroll.

Donte Williams may become a top-notch head coach some day. He isn’t right now and the Trojans don’t have time to wait.

Notre Dame dominated the annual rivalry game Oct. 23, leading 24-3 after three quarters before the Trojans scored two meaningless touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make the score look more respectable.

All of the things that were wrong under Clay Helton are still wrong. It is overshadowing a stellar season by Trojans’ wide receiver Drake London, who is the best receiver in college football this year. 

Through seven games, London has 79 receptions for 1,003 yards and five touchdowns. If this was a good USC team, he would be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

But the Trojans are 3-4 and have been blown out in all four losses. Notre Dame is the only team that has defeated the Trojans this season without scoring 40 or more points.

The Trojans have five games remaining, with Arizona this week followed by Arizona State, Cal, UCLA and BYU. Three of those games are in the Coliseum, where the Trojans are 1-3.

I can see the Trojans going 2-3 over the rest of the year a lot easier than I can see them going 4-1. 

Most USC fans are hoping freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart recovers from knee surgery quickly and can inject some life into the offense. Kedon Slovis just hasn’t made many strides since his freshman season, which was one of the criticisms about USC under Helton. The players don’t seem to improve like they do at other programs.

The Trojans athletic department has long operated like the front office of a professional team. The public relations team has always over-hyped coaching hires, prized recruit signings and seasonal forecasts.

The offensive line was supposed to be a strength of the team this year because four starters were returning. But that offensive line wasn’t very good last and the Trojans are now playing with two freshman tackles.

No wonder Slovis spent most of the Notre Dame game running for his life.

Even the rosiest of rose-colored glasses, can’t see a happy ending to this Trojans season.

NFL CONTENDERS: Things are looking much better for our NFL teams.

The Rams are Chargers are both in second place in the divisional standings and in striking distance of the lead.

The Chargers are coming off their bye week headed into their game Oct. 31 at SoFi Stadium against the New England Patriots. 

The Patriots are coming off their best game of the season, a 54-13 thrashing of the hapless New York Jets, but they are only 3-4 behind rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who is finding the NFL is a little tougher than the SEC.

At 4-2, the Chargers are half a game behind the Las Vegas Raiders, still smarting from the 34-6 beatdown the Baltimore Ravens put on them Oct. 17.

That game may have been Justin Herbert’s worst game in his young career. Unfortunately, this week he gets to go against the schemes of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose defenses eat up young quarterbacks. It will be interesting to see how Herbert bounces back from the Ravens game.

After the Patriots, the Chargers face the Eagles, Vikings, Steelers and Broncos in November, meaning they should be poised for a run at the AFC West title during December.

The Rams will be contending for the NFC West at the same time. The Rams are 6-1 headed to Houston Oct. 31. The Texans are 1-6, so the Rams can be excused if they overlook this game, especially coming off last week’s win over the Detroit Lions and former quarterback Jared Goff.

The Rams made an interesting trade this week, sending starting linebacker Kenny Young, a former UCLA standout, to Denver. Head coach Sean McVay said the deal provided financial flexibility should the team want to make another trade before the Nov. 2 trade deadline.  

He said back-ups Ernest Jones and Troy Reeder would need to step up to fill Young’s shoes.

It’s good that the Rams are looking to improve themselves at the trading deadline, but the trade better not put a hole in what has been a good, of not spectacular defense so far.

The Rams are going to go as far as Matthew Stafford and the offense takes them. Stafford seems more comfortable with his receivers every week. 

He is turning Cooper Kupp into a superstar right before our eyes. Kupp has 56 catches for 809 yards and 9 touchdowns already. 

His career highs are 1,161 for yards and 10 for touchdowns, both set in 2019. He could surpass those numbers in the next couple of weeks.

The Rams do have the tough part of their schedule ahead. After the Texans, they face the Tennessee Titans, the San Francisco 49ers, and, after a bye, the Green Bay Packers. 

That will take them into December, where games await against Jacksonville, Arizona, Seattle and Minnesota. The Rams are one of the top five teams in the league right now and, barring injuries, should stay there.

EARLY RETURNS: The NBA season is barely a week old and LeBron James is already resting a sprained ankle. By NBA standards, James is an old 36 and minor injuries are liable to linger.

With him out of the lineup, the Lakers did get to see what they looked like with Russell Westbrook running the offense in a 125-121 overtime victory over San Antonio Oct. 26.

Westbrook finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Anthony Davis finished with 35 points and 17 rebounds, but only two other Lakers ended up in double figures scoring,  

Malik Munk, a shooting guard in his fifth season out of Kentucky, replaced James in the starting lineup and scored 17 points while Austin Reaves, a rookie whose father played in the NBA, scored 10 points in 30 minutes off the bench.

The Lakers have split the first four games of the season and are still very much a work in progress, as are the Clippers, who are 1-2 on the young season.

Like the Lakers, the Clippers lost their first two games of the season before defeating the Portland Trailblazers, 116-86, Oct. 25.

The Clippers blew out the Trailblazers in the first and third quarters and played them to a tie in the second and fourth quarters.

Damian Lillard scored only 12 points for Portland, while five Clippers scored in double figures, led by Luke Kennard who scored 23 points off the bench.  

The Clippers might see if that game was a fluke or not Oct. 29 when the travel to Portland for a rematch. Lillard is not liable to have two off nights in a row.

PLAYOFF PUSH: The Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club are making their push for the playoffs right now.

The top seven teams from each conference qualify. The Galaxy currently is in fifth place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of LAFC, which is tied for seventh with Vancouver. LAFC holds the tie-breaker, with 12 wins to Vancouver’s 11.

Real Salt Lake is two points behind Vancouver and LAFC.

The Galaxy has games remaining against Sporting KC, Seattle and Minnesota. Seattle and Sporting KC are the top two teams in the Western Division and Minnesota is one point behind the Galaxy.

That Nov. 7 game, the last game of the season, could determine the Galaxy’s playoff fate.

LAFC is coming off a 3-0 shutout victory of the Seattle Sounders Oct. 26. They end the season against Colorado and Portland, two teams that are ahead of both the Galaxy and LAFC in the Western Conference standings, so LAFC can have a lot to say about how the conference plays out.

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