This is no well-kept secret. The struggles of California senior quarterback Kevin Riley and USC's secondary have been thoroughly analyzed by both respective fan bases. Riley, despite being 36th nationally in passing efficiency, has struggled of late: throwing only two TDs to four interceptions his last three games. USC's secondary is a disappointing 116th in the nation, giving up 287.5 yards per game.
With the Trojans expecting to stack the box in order to slow down Cal junior running back Shane Vereen, Riley will no doubt have to complete passes downfield to score points. Head coach Jeff Tedford pointed to Riley's footwork as being off in recent weeks, and that he has worked this week to correct it.
"There were a couple of times where his feet were out of sorts [against UCLA]," said Tedford.
But after working with the coaching staff, Tedford said that Riley "felt better" throwing the ball. That is good news for Bear fans, because if Riley can get the ball to any of his playmakers running routes, USC is going to have a tough time stopping this offense.
Allen Bradford vs. Cal's Front Seven
USC senior tailback Allen Bradford is a heavy load at 6-0 and 235 pounds. The former prep-All American was a standout at linebacker at nearby Colton High School, but converted to tailback under former USC coach Pete Carroll and never really looked back.
In 2010, Bradford – keep his size in mind – is averaging a Jahvid-like 8.3 yards per carry. Also on his resume is a 223-yard rushing performance against Washington. When Bradford is running at full speed, he's impossible to stop.
The California defense is ranked eighth in the nation – by far better than any other defense USC has faced in 2010.
The front seven, which has taken on a much more aggressive stance this year, is 8th nationally in total defense, 17th in scoring defense, and 21st in rushing defense. Throw out the one poor performance against Nevada, and Cal is even better in all categories.
For California defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, this will be the first true version of the west coast offense that he will be coaching against this season. Lane Kiffin is no stranger to Pendergast, either, as the two coached against each other in NFL preseason games in 2007 and 2008, when Kiffin was head coach of the Raiders and Pendergast was defensive coordinator of the Cardinals.
To stop Bradford and USC's rushing attack, California's defense needs to stay aggressive and get into the backfield, but maintain consistency in plugging up gaps that Bradford has tremendous success running through. If Cal's front seven can slow down Bradford similar to the way that Stanford did so last week (when Bradford only ran for 33 yards), then USC will have to rely on the passing game, and it allows Pendergast to call up his array of blitzes that have not been stopped in recent games.
USC's Receivers vs. Cal's Secondary
This will be one of the better matchups to watch through all of Saturday. USC's talented trio consisting of senior Ronald Johnson, senior David Ausberry, and freshman Robert Woods lining up against senior Darian Hagan, senior Chris Conte, and the rest of California's secondary.
Johnson leads the team with 32 catches for 419 yards and five touchdowns. But Woods – a true freshman – had his breakout game last week, carrying USC's offense with 12 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterbacked by sophomore Matt Barkley, USC's passing attack will be the most potent that Cal will likely face all year.
On the other hand, Cal's passing defense is top notch, ranking fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense. A lot of that can be contributed to California getting tremendous pressure on the passer (Cal is ninth in the country averaging 3.2 sacks per game) and forcing turnovers (10th nationally with a +1.0 margin).
But, again, the secondary is a big part of that. Both Hagan and senior Bryant Nnabuife have multiple-sack games in 2010, and both have recorded interceptions, as well. If the California secondary can hang with USC's array of wideouts long enough to put pressure on the quarterback, California will have an excellent chance to walk away the victors.
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