Ed Orgeron has done his best during his tenure as interim coach to resurrect a Southern California program after a tumultuous run under former coach Lane Kiffin.
His efforts won't result in an appearance in the Pac-12 championship game, but the resurgence hasn't been lost on UCLA coach Jim Mora, who cast his vote for Orgeron as the conference's coach of the year.
The 23rd-ranked Trojans should have star receiver Marqise Lee back as they seek a sixth straight victory when the 22nd-ranked Bruins visit the Coliseum on Saturday night.
Orgeron has led USC (9-3, 6-2) to a 6-1 mark following the firing of Kiffin after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State on Sept. 28, becoming a semifinalist for the national coach of year and making a strong case for the school to remove his interim tag in the process.
The Trojans continued their winning streak last week, beating Colorado 47-29 as Javorius Allen rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns.
"He gave them a real spark," Mora said. "When you come into a situation like that where you're an interim coach, the likelihood of being retained - at least from the outside perception; who knows what's really going on over there - it frees you up to really go after it. I voted for him for Pac-12 coach of the year. That's what kind of job I think he's done. I think he's very deserving of it."
Mora's Bruins (8-3, 5-3) didn't do crosstown-rival USC any favors last week, though, falling 38-33 to then-No. 19 Arizona State, which clinched the conference's South Division.
"We know that there is a lot more emphasis on this game just because of the rivalry and the tradition behind it," said USC quarterback Cody Kessler, who finished 19 of 28 for 184 yards and two touchdowns last week. "But we're going to treat it just like any other week."
The Trojans have won 12 of the last 14 meetings, but Orgeron still is bitter over last season's 38-28 defeat when he was an assistant under Kiffin.
"Getting beat. Losing. Terrible taste in our mouth," Orgeron said during this week's teleconference. "Against our rival team. Not playing well. Letting down the Trojan family. Not a very good feeling."
Lee caught nine passes for 158 yards and a touchdown in that contest, but he's missed three games this season due to injury and didn't make the trip to Colorado last week because of a sore shin.
Orgeron said he's "sure" Lee will play this week, and Mora said his team needs to be prepared for a player he believes to be among the best in the country - fully healthy or not.
"He's as special as they get," Mora said. "He has all the attributes of a great receiver. He loves to compete. He can get off the bump-and-run, he can beat you deep, he can stop on a dime and run great routes. You can tell he's not 100-percent healthy, but that doesn't mean a lot when you're talking about Marqise Lee."
UCLA has injury problems of its own and could start three freshmen on the offensive line after left tackle Simon Goines had surgery to repair a broken bone in his right leg suffered against Arizona State.
Receivers Gray Mazzone and Darren Andrews also are out with injuries for the Bruins, who are 1-3 against ranked teams this season.
"We're very close. We're an incredibly young football team," Mora said. "We're moving up the mountain, we just have to get more mature and that's a process. There's no magic fairy dust you can sprinkle on a freshman and say, 'OK, now you're a junior.'"
Brett Hundley was sacked nine times last week and could face similar pressure from a strong USC front led by Leonard Williams and George Uko. Hundley went 22 of 30 for 234 yards and a touchdown while rushing for two more scores in last season's meeting, and Orgeron has made it a point to stop him this week.
"We cannot let Hundley run the ball or throw the ball deep," Orgeron said. "We need to be great on coverage and great on our rush."
Mora said his team will be ready for Saturday's showdown despite last week's disappointment.
"You always worry after a tough loss, a real emotional loss, how you're going to respond," Mora said. "They just came out and went to work. They're excited about this game."
USC has won seven straight meetings at the Coliseum since UCLA's 31-24 victory Nov. 22, 1997.
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