Scouting the Trojans

The USC defense hasn't been able to get many stops, especially when it has to have them late in games. The Trojans rank 100th in the nation in total defense, allowing 428.67 yards per game. USC wasn't deep to begin with (there were only 52 scholarship players on the trip to Stanford last week) and is dealing with nagging injuries...

First-year coach Lane Kiffin offered one way to look at USC's season.

"We're five seconds away from being 6-0," he said.

The other way to look at it is that the Trojans are 4-2 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-10, on the brink of being irrelevant in the conference race (even if they were eligible to win the Pac-10 title).

The Trojans, who have lost on last-play field goals to Washington and Stanford in the past two weeks, will try to recover this week at home against Cal. If last week's game against the Cardinal failed to make a big statement, maybe Saturday's game against the Bears can say something good about USC.

"Obviously, we thought it was our time to come back and make a nice statement to the Pac-10. And we didn't do it," linebacker Chris Galippo told the L.A. Daily News, referring to last week's game.

"Honestly, both games the past two weeks we didn't care about rankings (of opponents) or being an underdog. We just wanted to win and we didn't do it."

The trick for the Trojans is to shake off the frustration and stay motivated despite the NCAA sanctions that makes them ineligible for the conference championship. They will be playing a Cal team that is coming off a 35-7 victory over UCLA and nearly won at Arizona on Sept. 25, losing 10-9.

The Bears are 0-2 on the road this season and have not won at USC since 2000.

"They're still a great team," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said of USC.

"They had a couple of (opposing) quarterbacks the last couple of weeks that have made big plays down the stretch to put them in a position to kick field goals to win the game. It's a very hostile place to play, no doubt about it.

"The Coliseum is very loud and SC has great talent. That hasn't changed in one year. They still have great players, and they're very athletic and they're very physical."

NOTES & QUOTES

--USC coach Lane Kiffin was a quarterback at Fresno State when Cal coach Jeff Tedford was an assistant coach with the Bulldogs.

"I recruited him and brought him (to Fresno State) and then his senior year, it was evident he wasn't going to play, so (I said), 'Why don't you start as a (graduate assistant) right now?' Because he knew he was going to coach," Tedford said.

"So he did. Even as a student he spent long hours in my office with me, at night, watching tape, and would always give suggestions and things like that."

Said Kiffin: "I was learning well before I started coaching."

--Former USC quarterback Aaron Corp, who transferred to lower-division Richmond after last season, suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. He had passed for 645 yards and three touchdowns for the Spiders.

SERIES HISTORY: USC leads Cal 62-30-5 (last meeting, 2009, 30-3 USC).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense has been the strength of the Trojans, as sophomore QB Matt Barkley, true freshman RB Robert Woods and a variety of running backs have the Trojans 13th nationally in total offense (476.0 yards per game) and 24th in scoring (35.67 points per game). The Trojans will be going against a Cal defense that has allowed 10 points or fewer in four of five games, the one exception being a 52-point explosion on a short week against Nevada's proficient pistol offense. "That 52 doesn't help us unless we're going to put Barkley in the pistol," Kiffin said.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The USC defense hasn't been able to get many stops, especially when it has to have them late in games. The Trojans rank 100th in the nation in total defense, allowing 428.67 yards per game. USC wasn't deep to begin with (there were only 52 scholarship players on the trip to Stanford last week) and is dealing with nagging injuries. The challenge this week is to stop Cal RB Shane Vereen, the latest in a long line of standout tailbacks for the Bears. He is averaging 115.4 yards per game. USC allowed 193 yards on the ground last week to Stanford.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've struggled on defense in every part of the game. It just gets magnifies at the end of the game. We have to do a better job playing, a better job coaching." -- USC coach Lane Kiffin.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Cal at USC, Oct. 16 -- USC smashed Cal last season, winning 30-3 at Berkeley, but the Trojans are vulnerable. The Bears will be trying to pile onto USC's woes, while this will be an important test of the character of Lane Kiffin's team. USC has a bye after this game before playing Oregon, so a loss here could certainly lead to an 0-4 start in conference play.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Stop Shane Vereen. He's the best running back USC has seen so far, and the Trojans aren't exactly putting up a brick wall to stop anybody, having allowed 418 rushing yards in the past two games. The key to beating Cal is to make QB Kevin Riley make a play, and he can be pressured into mistakes if the Trojans can get the Bears into third-and-long situations.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Matt Barkley -- More agile and making better decisions as a sophomore, Barkley is coming off a 390-yard passing game at Stanford. He has completed 113 of 174 passes for 1,517 yards, with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.

WR Robert Woods -- What will the true freshman do for an encore after catching 12 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns? USC has had standout freshman receivers in recent seasons -- Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett, for example -- but Woods is quicker than those guys, albeit not as big.

CB Shareece Wright -- He doesn't have an interception yet this season, but he has broken up four passes, blocked a kick and forced a fumble.

ROSTER REPORT:

--LB Malcolm Smith (sprained knee) is day-to-day.

--DE Wes Horton (back) has missed the past two games. He still has a team-high 4.5 tackles for loss, including a team-best three sacks. He did not practice Tuesday, putting his availability for Saturday in question.



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