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November 6, 2013

Cal vs. USC: 5 Things To Watch For



It's Cal vs USC time! More like "The WEAKender", amirite?

Here are GoldenBearReport's "5 Things to Watch For" against the Trojans.



1. Leonard Williams is a grown-ass man

Yeah he is. The 6'5", 290-pound Florida native has been a dominant force on the defensive line for SC this season. Williams has 55 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and four sacks though nine games. His combination of strength and speed makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing offensive lines, and with Cal's reshuffled unit still feeling things out, Williams represents arguably the stiffest individual challenge they will face. Will they be up to it?

2. SC's Injury Woes

While not quite on Cal's level, SC has been bitten by the injury bug as well this season. Linebacker Morgan Breslin, who had 13 sacks in 2012 and 4.5 sacks through five games this season, is one notable contributor who will not be available this weekend with a hip injury. Breslin recorded 3.5 sacks last season in SC's home win over the Bears. Additionally, running backs Tre Madden and Justin Davis (SC's two leading rushers) are out, as are tight end Randall Telfer, linebacker Lamar Dawson, and cornerback Anthony Brown.

Course, wide receiver Marqise Lee is back from his knee injury... as evidenced by his five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown effort last Friday against Oregon State. So that's AWESOME. Still, SC is dangerously thin at a few spots on both sides of the ball and there are some key contributors that will miss the game. Will it matter? We'll see.

3. SC's pro-style offense vs Cal's JV-style defense

Is Cal's defense improving? Tough to tell. Last week against Arizona sure looked like one of the better performances of the season thus far, but it was just one week previous that Cal surrendered a season high 642 yards of offense to Washington. Statistically the defense is still as bad as you're gonna find, though with a few of the position groups actually having the same starters in back to back weeks, it's possible the defenders are settling in.

Now that the SC offense has removed the dead, play-calling albatross known as Lane Kiffin from around its neck, they could be finding a groove as well. Quarterback Cody Kessler (62.6% completions, 10 touchdowns, six interceptions) has been anything but spectacular, but the tandem of running back Silas Redd and Buck Allen has made things easier for him. The aforementioned Lee being healthy doesn't hurt either. Still, USC sits at 10th in the Pac-12 with an average of 392 yards total offense per game. They're second to last (us!) in scoring offense at 24.6 points per game.

Interestingly, SC will be the first pro-style offense that this Cal defense has faced this year. We've seen the results when facing spread teams of both the passing, running, and balanced variety. It will be interesting to see how the defense fares against a mediocre, traditional offense.

4. Goff vs the SC Secondary

Inopportune turnovers have been the bane of Cal's offensive efforts thus far this season. That trend continued with a couple killer interceptions thrown by Jared Goff in last Saturday's loss to Arizona. Cal is comfortably last in the Pac-12 in turnover margin at -14 on the season.

Enter the USC secondary. The Trojans are tied for second in the conference with 13 interceptions, led by superfrosh safety Su'a Cravens and Dion Bailey who both have three on the year. Given SC's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks (28 sacks through nine games), and the still suspect offensive line of Cal, it seems safe to assume that Jared Goff will not be given much time in the pocket on Saturday. Flustered Goff typically leads to turnover-prone Goff, and this secondary should be considered even more opportunistic than Arizona's.

As per usual... games are winnable when the turnover margin is either even or, if somehow possible, tilted in Cal's favor. For the Bears to have any hope of breaking the losing streak to SC, Goff will need to avoid interceptions, both of the timely and untimely variety. Further, he'll need to have a big day throwing the ball. That doesn't mean 60 passes. It means sustaining drives and finishing them with touchdowns.

5. Can Cal avoid 10 in a row?

This looked like a distinct possibility before the season started. And still possible prior to the Kiffining 5 weeks ago. Since Ed Orgeron took the reins following Kiffin's dismissal, USC has gone 3-1 and given up 31 points combined in their last three games. Cal has given up more than 31 points against every FBS team they've faced this season. USC is second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 19.3 points per game. Cal is last in scoring offense, putting up an average of just 22.9 points per game.

So the short answer is...probably not. This USC team isn't a worldbeater, but they don't have to be.



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