Well the match up with the Cal Bears is finally here although it is not the matchup everyone was anticipating early in the season. As opposed to two highly ranked teams competing for a BCS Championship berth, there are two teams with 5 Pac 10 losses between them. The national media may no longer be interested in this game, but the Trojans have a ton to play for.
If USC can continue to win games, the Trojans could still tie for the Pac 10 championship and potentially receive an at large BCS bid. Cal is a very talented team that has hit a rough patch, but the Bears are a significantly better team at home.
Thoughts on USC this Week
- The Trojan defense is playing as well as any time during the Pete Carroll era. Cal is very explosive, so a great defensive effort is critical
- Cal has only given up 8 sacks this year. Part of that is due to a solid OL, but a larger part is due to opposing teams reluctance to blitz and leave the talented trio of Cal wide receivers in the secondary...I think USC will scheme to limit big play opportunities from the Cal WR
- Cal has really struggled offensively since QB Nate Longshore injured his ankle late in the Oregon game. Longshore's mobility has really suffered and he appears hesitant to step into throws. Back up Kevin Riley could see the field and he is a mobile player with a lot of upside
- Cal has scored 28, 21, 20 and 20 points in their last 4 games vs 45, 34, 42, 45 and 31 in their first 5 games
- One of the reasons Cal has struggled is that the Bears have turned the ball over 12 times in their last 4 games vs only 4 times in their first 5 games
- Another reason for the reduced output is a significant decline in the running game. In the first 5 games, Cal averaged 200 yds per game and 5.7 yds per carry. In the last 4 games, Cal averaged 125 yds per game and 3.7 yds per carry
- Look for USC to come out and shut down the run and force Longshore to make the reads against zone coverage. Given Longshore's lack of mobility, Pete will definitely mix in some blitzes, but they will probably be of the zone blitz or MLB blitz variety
- I expect USC to "bracket" Desean Jackson with a LB underneath and a safety over the top. Cal will likely counter with some plays to their talented tight end (wearing #19 in honor of Mario Danelo)
- I would not be surprised to see USC put pressure on Longshore with the front 4. In obvious passing situations, the Trojans have 4 legitimate pass rushers in the game (Sed, Lojack, Kyle Moore and Everson Griffin). If the front four gets pressure, USC should be in good shape
- On the other side of the ball, Cal has struggled to consistently stop the run and rush the passer
- Cal is 5th in the conference against the run; 6th against the pass; 6th in scoring defense and last in sacks
- I think the Trojans are really going to try and establish the running game this week. CW had his best game last week and I think the running game my break out. Stafon is getting healthy and the OL is in good shape with the exception of Baker. Maybe even a run out of the shotgun
- Given Cal's lack of pass russ and Booty's historical issues with pressure, it would not be surprising to see Cal blitz often. We finally saw a very successful middle screen last week (TD to CW)...hopefully USC will be ready to counter the blitz
- Patrick Turner has made some big catches the last few weeks...with his size, he is a difficult player to defend. This along with the emergence of Vidal really makes it difficult to bracket Fred Davis....maybe this is the week the offense gels
Berkeley is a tough place to win...the Trojans exercised some demons there in 2005, but the Bears will be ready tomorrow. With rain in the forecast, it will be critical to get off to a good start and take the crowd out of the game. The Trojans can build some real momentum with a win tomorrow...let's hope USC can make it happen. See you tomorrow in Berkeley.