Gameday Preview: USC vs. Cal


Jason O. Watson, Gary A. Vasquez, Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

California Golden Bears at USC Trojans

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum | Los Angeles, Calif.3:00 PM Pacific | Pac-12 NetworksAll-time Series: USC 64-30-5Last meeting: USC 30, Cal 9 in 2011

The Trojans return home for their second home game, and their last before an October 20th affair with the lowly Colorado Buffaloes. Cal comes in fresh off of a near upset-win at Ohio State, while SC faltered to Stanford last week for the fourth consecutive time. For Matt Barkley, who went winless against Stanford in his USC career, he enters the game with not only a chance to go 4-0 against the Bears, but an opportunity to surpass the 10,000 yard mark and join an elite club at Troy, with only Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart ahead of him in the record books. To do so, he’ll have to not only improve his game from his horrific performance against Stanford, he’ll have to do so against a terrific set of corners for Cal, led by senior Marc Anthony. Like all Cal teams under Jeff Tedford, the Bears have plenty of talent, especially on offense with Keenan Allen, who is easily one of the five or six best wideouts in the nation, and running back Isi Sofele, who should cross the 2,000 career rushing mark this afternoon. How will the Trojans handle the pressure of being out the outside looking in in the national title race against a talented but inconsistent Cal team? Will they play an angry game and look to take out their frustrations or will they simply allow Cal to pin them down like Stanford did a week ago? We’ll find out this afternoon.

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When Cal has the ball…

A year ago, Zach Maynard was a punchline. But despite his inconsistencies, the brother of star wide receiver Keenan Allen posted nearly 3,000 yards and put himself in some pretty exclusive company with famed Cal quarterbacks of the past. This year, Maynard leads an offense predicated on establishing the run in order to get the ball to their extremely talented wideouts. The Golden Bears not only have an All-American caliber receiver in Keenan Allen, but two hot-shot true freshman in Chris Harper and Byrce Treggs. Isi Sofele is the featured back, but the emergence of Brendan Bigelow allows Cal’s running game to fill out into a more well-rounded running attack. Sofele has 219 yards so far for the season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Against the Trojans, expect Jeff Tedford to try and exploit the USC defense in the same way Stanford did, but running up the gut and right at the young defensive line, in hopes of getting T.J. McDonald to come up as a fourth linebacker and going over the top to Keenan Allen when opportunities arise. For more on the Cal offense, click here.

USC’s defense was worn down against Stanford, as they struggled to contain the physicality of the Cardinal in the second half last week, despite shutting them down early on. This week, Cal offers a different challenge, as the Bears will try to go after USC’s weakness at the corner spot opposite of Nickel Robey. Look for Robey to be matched up with Keenan Allen in what should be a fantastic duel all game long, but that will open up Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs to target Torin Harris and Anthony Brown on the other side of the field. If the Trojans can contain the big receivers and get to Zach Maynard like Ohio State did(they sacked him six times), then look for USC to control the game defensively. On the other hand, if Harris can’t wrangle in his men and if the defensive line gets pushed around like they were last week, Cal has faster weapons than Stanford, and it could be a long day for the Trojans.

Cal’s Projected Offensive Starters:WR Keenan Allen #21LT Tyler Rigsbee #77LG Jordan Rigsbee #73C Brian Schwenke #57RG Chris Adcock #58RT Bill Tyndall #79TE Richard Rodgers #11WR Bryce Treggs #1QB Zach Maynard #15FB Eric Stevens #48RB Isi Sofele #20

USC’s Projected Defensive StartersDE Wes Horton #96DT George Uko #90NT Antwaun Woods #98DE Morgan Breslin #91WLB Hayes Pullard #10MLB Lamar Dawson #55SLB Dion Bailey #18CB Nickell Robey #21SS Jawanza Starling #29FS T.J. McDonald #7CB Torin Harris #4

When USC has the ball…

The USC offense showed signs of brilliance against Hawaii, and a conservative control against Syracuse. At Stanford, the Trojans unraveled on offense. The offensive line played poorly which not only halted any chance of getting a running game going, but put Matt Barkley under extreme duress all night long. When the offensive line lets an offense down, you expect the playmakers to make the best of their opportunities to lessen the blow of the line, but that didn’t happen last week, as Barkley had a bevy of poorly thrown balls even when he had time, which were coupled with a handful of drops by Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. You have to think that the Trojans are eager to get things back in order, especially with the possible return of All-American caliber center Khaled Holmes, as his importance was magnified in his absence. Another possible addition to the line is Max Tuerk, who split time with Aundrey Walker at left tackle this week. Walker really excelled in spring camp to win the left tackle spot, but his struggles against Stanford forced Lane Kiffin’s hand in seeking out other options and since Tuerk turned heads in fall camp, it doesn’t hurt the Trojans to roll the dice and give him a shot. Going into today, it’s unknown who will start between the two youngsters, but expect Tuerk to get at least some playing time if he doesn’t start. The bottom line is that if the Trojans can’t get protection and a push up front, it’s going to be a long season for SC. If the offensive line does their job, this offense is world class and nearly unstoppable. However, if a running game can’t gain traction and Barkley is forced to throw on every down and predominantly under pressure, this isn’t a team worthy of being ranked 13th.

The California Golden Bears have plenty of talent on defense, as they sport a starting lineup with seven upperclassmen, including star corner Marc Anthony, a candidate for multiple awards including the Thorpe. Cal not only thrives in a 3-4 system, they do so with tremendous depth, as 16 players have started on defense and three players have more than 20 tackles through the first three weeks. In the secondary, Steve Williams and the aforementioned Anthony may form the most talented corner duo in the conference, which is undoubtedly aided by going up against Keenan Allen everyday in practice. Despite having a strong defensive backfield that includes senior safety Josh Hill, the Bears have been exposed at times in the passing game, as Southern Utah out of the FCS put up nearly 300 yards on the Bears, while Braxton Miller threw four touchdowns for Ohio State a week ago. For a secondary that’s been consistently solid in the Jeff Tedford era (they gave up just 187 yards per game in 2010), they’ll have their hands full with USC’s passing attack. For more on Cal’s defense, click here.

USC’s Projected Offensive StartersWR Robert Woods #2TE Xavier Grimble #86 or Randall Telfer #82LT Aundrey Walker #70 or Max Tuerk #75LG Marcus Martin #66C Khaled Holmes #78 or Cyrus Hobbi #69RG John Martinez #59RT Kevin Graf #77WR Marqise Lee #9QB Matt Barkley #7RB Curtis McNeal #22 or Silas Redd #25FB Soma Vainuku #31

Cal’s Projected  Defensive Starters:DE Aaron Tipoti #50NG Kendrick Payne #96DE Deandre Coleman #91OLB Chris McCain #40ILB Nick Forbes #11ILB Jalen Jefferson #7OLB Brennan Scarlett #17CB Marc Anthony #2S Josh Hill #23S Alex Logan #6CB Steve Williams #1

Injury Report

  • Lane Kiffin’s controversial 28-second press conference early this week was over a question about an injured player being back on the first-team offense. Without naming names, it would appear that the USC offensive line could be a lot better today than last week against Stanford.
  • The status of kicker Andre Heidari is still unknown following surgery two weeks ago, but Alex Wood is set to go should he not play again.
  • Both USC running backs, Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal, left the game in the first half against Stanford last week, only to return in the second half. They should be ready for action this afternoon, as the only back available behind them on the depth chart is Buck Allen, a redshirt freshman. Sophomore running back D.J. Morgan has been recovering from knee surgery for the last two weeks and is about half way through his recovery time. If either Redd or McNeal were forced out of action, fullback Soma Vainuku would take over duties at tailback.
  • For Cal, tackle Matt Summers-Gavin and tight end Richard Rodgers are probable. Both missed the Ohio State game, while Summers-Gavin has missed each of the last two games, as he went down in the season opener against Nevada. Defensive end Mustafa Jalil is ‘100 percent’ and will play for Cal.
  • Tight end Spencer Hagan is “almost certainly out for the season” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Game Notes

  • This is the first Pac-12 conference game on the Pac-12 Networks, and the first appearance by USC on the brand new set of networks. Cal opened their season on the networks, and played their Week 2 game against Southern Utah on it as well.
  • This is the 100th meeting between the longtime intrastate rivals. USC has both a historical and recent edge, as winners of 64 overall, eight straight and 10 of 11. The last time the Bears won at the Coliseum was in 2000, when Carson Palmer’s Trojans out-gained Kyle Boller and the Bears, only to fall 28-16.
  • USC has played Stanford and Cal on consecutive weeks 16 times previously, with a 9-7 record against the Bears in those games. The last win was in 2010, when Matt Barkley threw five touchdowns on the way to a 48-14 victory.
  • The last time Cal beat USC was in 2003, when they defeated the then third-ranked Trojans in triple overtime. The Trojans then went on to win 34 games in a row, winning two straight National Championships in 2003 and 2004. The loss to Cal also bears more meaning to this team, as it parallels the loss to Stanford a week ago, with it being a September loss in a conference road opener, forcing the Trojans to the outside of the national title race, though still very much alive.
  • Frankie Telfort will be honored at halftime during the game, in a tribute to his dedication to the Trojans. Telfort was a highly-rated linebacker out of Florida in USC’s Class of 2009, but his career was cut short after he was found to have a heart murmur that gave him a 33 percent chance of dropping dead on the field should he play. He ultimately retired and has been a student assistant ever since. For his full story, read Trenise Ferreira’s feature on Telfort from Friday.