Cal's Jared Goff, USC's Cody Kessler highlight Joe Roth Game

Cal and USC are in agreement about two things: The Pac-12 eats itself alive, and Saturday's quarterback match-up is going to be a show. Plus, more notes from the Pac-12 teleconference, and more. California head coach Sonny Dykes and interim USC head coach Clay Helton can agree on at least two things: The Pac-12 is unpredictable, and that there will likely be two NFL quarterbacks on the field when the two old rivals square off in the Joe Roth Game on Saturday at California Memorial Stadium.

"I think we are an ultra-talented converence," said Helton on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference. "I think that you have to bring your A-game every week. You've got to treat every game like a championship game, because, if you have an off day, you're going to get beaten, and that's proven, in this league."

Utah certainly had an off day on Saturday, turning the ball over four times, including three on interceptions to Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week and National Defensive Player of the Week, Cameron Smith, as the Trojans downed the then-No. 3 Utes.

"There's too many good quarterbacks, skill players, that this league just puts up points week in and week out, and Cal's one of those teams," Helton said. "Tremendous receiving corps, tremendous quarterback, and if you don't play your best game, you have a chance to get beat every week in this league."

The Bears have beaten Washington, which has beaten USC, which downed Utah, which dismissed Cal, who defeated Washington State, who beat Oregon, which also lost to Utah, but beat Washington. And 'round and 'round we go.

"The thing that makes this league so unique, is the small amount of separation between the second-, third- and fourth-best team, and the eighth-, ninth- and tenth-best team," Dykes said. "That's where the strength of this league is, is in just the depth, all the way through the league. Again, I've coached in the SEC, I've coached in the Big 12, and I've been at places where you can sit and circle, and say, 'Yeah, we need to play well in these three games, and the rest of 'em, we're going to be OK.' That's not the case in this league. You can't circle any games. You'd better play well every single Saturday, or you're going to get beat. That's just the way it is. All you have to do is look at the scores, and the thing about this league is, you don't get beat; you get blown out. If you don't play well, you're playing against a talented team -- and all these teams are talented -- you're not just going to lose; you're going to get blown out." Cal did just that on Thursday, losing 40-24 to UCLA, which climbed back into the Associated Press rankings at the Bears' expense, knocking Cal out of the Top 25, and slotting back in at No. 25.

Like their crosstown rivals, the Trojans also ended a two-game losing streak at home, and will now travel up north having turned in a crushing defensive performance, highlighted by Smith.

"We saw it in the spring," Helton said. "He was an early graduate that came into spring training, and has just been a pain in our butt, offensively, against Cody Kessler week-in and week-out. We saw it early: Such a football-instinctive kid. Kind of an old soul, too. A student of the game. Really studies tape. He knows the play before it even happens, based on formation and tendencies. He's a professional, and really tries to perfect his craft. It was really neat to see that pay off for a guy that works so hard at it."

Smith should be a marked man on Saturday against the Bears, given his versatility at the middle linebacker position.

"At that MIKE backer position, he's really the rock there in the middle," Helton said. "He gets the ball on the ground in the run game, and you saw his ability in pass coverage. He's not been brought a tremendous amount of time, as far as pressures go, but he's kind of the guy that runs the alleys, runs the lanes, gets the ball down. I thought he did a really nice job against [Devantae] Booker on occasions of one-on-one tackles, to where if he doesn't make the tackle, the ball's going to slip. He was a complete player last week, and we look forward to that continuing."

Goff vs. Kessler

The marquee match-up on Saturday, at least in the minds of many observers, will be, as Helton said, the two NFL quarterbacks going head-to-head.

"His poise as a senior leader, we've got a lot of young players playing, he's on his third center, he had a rookie right tackle and six young wide receiver, and the poise and the leadership that he gave, just keeping everything calm, being calm in the middle of the tornado, I thought he did a tremendous job," Helton said of Kessler. 

As Goff has said previously, when asked about UCLA's Josh Rosen, he doesn't concern himself much with the opposing signal-caller, as they won't actually be facing one another on the field. 

"Unbelievable anticipatory thrower," Helton said of Goff. "You can tell he's been around that receiving corps for a while. They're all on the same page. he throws guys open. He has no fear. He's able to fit balls into tight windows, and it's going to be a lot of fun Saturday. There are two NFL quarterbacks on that field Saturday, and it should be fun. We've got a lot of respect for Jared." What Cal is far more concerned about is the running game that has been largely absent since Texas during Week Three. Since that game, with little to no carries by Daniel Lasco, Cal has averaged 3.3 yards per carry, after averaging 5.4 yards per carry in the first three games. In fact, the Bears rushed for 629 yards in their first three games, and 476 over the last four.

“I think we have to play better as an offense," Dykes said. "We turned the ball over six times against Utah, and some of those were on Jared, some of those weren’t. He threw five picks, and probably two or three were on him, and two or three were on receivers and the offensive line. That was our big thing going into UCLA – do a better job taking care of the ball – and he did that. We just have to play better offensively. We have to run the ball better. That'll take a little pressure off of him. We  justhave to execute better as a group. It's not just Jared; it's really our offense."

Utah held USC's rushing game to just 2.7 yards per carry on Saturday, but didn't get any takeaways on defense, which, said coach Kyle Whittingham, “is just as bad, just as damaging, as our offense giving the ball away three times."

The Bears have 12 picks on the year, while Kessler has thrown just five in 225 attempts, to 18 touchdowns.

"He's just got a lot of experience," Dykes said. "He's been in their system for a long time. He does a nice job taking care of the ball, has a lot of confidence in the playmakers. They've got really good receivers. They've got guys that can make plays afte rthey catch the ball, and he does a good job of getting the ball to them quickly, and letting them have catch-and-run opportunities. Those guys are really talented when they get their hands on the ball. To me, that's what he does well. He gets it to them quickly, he gets it to them accurately, and it gives them an ability to catch and run with it."

More Notes

The turnover-happy Cal defense managed just one takeaway against the Bruins -- their lowest output of the season -- and dropped, by Dykes's account, four interceptions. USC may have two big weapons back, in receivers Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell, Jr., who dressed on Tuesday for the Trojans, but did little in the way of practice. Adoree Jackson -- who played just two snaps on defense last week -- was back with the defense this week, after causing havoc against the Utes, drawing attention away from Juju Smith-Schuster.

After Zach Banner flipped to left tackle with three days of practice there last week, he'll be back on the right side, with starter Chad Wheeler back protecting Kessler's blind side. 

"Any time that you lose your twop two centers to ACLs, it's a devastating loss," Helton said of his line. "The good thing is, we trained for this since spring, and in fall camp. We trained about five centers. We've got three left with Khaliel Rodgers, and you've got the freshman Cole Smith and Nico Falah, who's an older kid who's played multiple positions. We're three deep right now at that position, and can't afford to lose another one. We're going to get Chad Wheeler back this week, and to be able to put him back at left tackle and Zach at right, I think, is a help for us. I thought Chuma Edoga played extremely well in the game, but to be able to have dept at the position, I think, is valuable for us."

Dykes is hoping for safety Stefan McClure to be able to go on Saturday against the Trojans, but it's very likely that linebacker Michael Barton will be out, as the team continues to try to figure out how severe his injury is. That will take away a lot of athleticism from a linebacking corps that has that in short supply.

The Pac-12 Networks will be airing Don't Quit: The Joe Roth Story, at 7:30 p.m. It will also be shown on Saturday at 8 a.m. on Pac-12 Bay Area, and 7:30 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks on Sunday. Top Stories