Cal has a bit of a dilemma against USC this Saturday.
Focus on the pass and risk Allen Bradford running wild?
Load up the box and have Matt Barkley go deep to Ronald Johnson and Robert Woods?
"That's going to be a big storyline as the game unfolds early on," USC coach Lane Kiffin said Thursday. "It'll be interesting to see."
The Trojans have had no trouble moving the ball this season, rolling up an average of 476 yards of total offense per game. They rank No. 13 nationally by that measure, No. 21 in rushing and 29 in passing.
In the last two weeks, USC had 298 yards rushing against Washington, then put up 390 yards passing at Stanford, putting the Golden Bears in a position to pick their poison.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford gave no indications of which he would prefer to stop during his weekly press conference.
"We're going to be tested big time this week, going to SC. A lot of firepower and they can run the ball downhill at you. They have speed on the edge. Barkley's playing great," Tedford said.
Complicating matters is the emergence of the true freshman Woods, who exploited coverage designed to contain Johnson for 224 yards and three touchdowns against the Cardinal.
Kiffin said he didn't know how that might alter Cal's pass defense, whether they single cover Johnson or risk a repeat of Woods' performance at Stanford.
"I'm not sure, but both those guys are playing really well," Kiffin said. "They are the most explosive part of our offense right now."
The Bears defense is undergoing its own resurgence under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast, giving up less than 16 points per game, a figure inflated by their 51-32 loss at Nevada.
Kiffin has gone out of his way this week to downplay the struggles Cal had with the Wolfpack's vaunted Pistol offense had in that game, citing the absence of star linebacker Mike Mohamed and playing on a short week on the road.
"I really discount that game especially because the offense is so different," Kiffin said. "I look at the other games, what they have done and they have basically shut down everyone else they have played."
Defensive end Wes Horton (back), linebacker Malcolm Smith (knee), running back Dillon Baxter (foot) and tight end Jordan Cameron (knee) again did not practice Thursday.
All four did not practice this week and are regarded as long shots at best to play Saturday while Kiffin remained hopeful some could contribute.
With Cameron injured, Blake Ayles put together his best week of practice in memory, drawing praise from Kiffin and Barkley.
"You could tell he has changed his mindset of getting the playbook more and studying his stuff because he knows he's got that chance," Barkley said. "He should be a valuable asset for us this week."
The junior has struggled to make an impact at USC despite his immense talent. Ayles has just 13 receptions for 128 yards and one touchdown in his college career.
-Defensive end Nick Perry, linebacker Shane Horton and offensive tackle Tyron Smith were limited.
-Bradford on coaches tailoring their calls to his strengths: "They put in a couple tosses, a couple flips to get me out on the perimeter, one on one with the safety or the corner."