Will California have a running back capable of carrying the ball 20 times a game? Of course. Jeff Tedford is still the coach there, after all.
While the Golden Bears have struggled to find a successor to standout quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they have continued to produce top tailbacks in recent years like Jahvid Best, Justin Forsett and Shane Vereen.
But there were serious doubts entering this season whether Isi Sofele, listed at 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, could continue that tradition of feature backs. But the junior has run for at least 84 yards in each of his five starts and ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing, averaging 99.8 yards per game.
"He's the small type of back that's hard to tackle. They do a good job of getting him in space," defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said.
"Early on he was doing some good things but he really showed up in that Oregon game, made people miss, jumping over them and playing really well," USC head coach Lane Kiffin said of Sofele's 119 yards rushing against the Ducks.
USC has fared well against the run, allowing 112.4 yards per game, fourth in the conference. However, the Trojans were gashed for 169 yards and three rushing touchdowns in their only loss at Arizona State.
Orgeron knows the front four will have to be more disruptive Thursday, especially against a much-improved Cal offensive line benefiting from the return of assistant coach Jim Michalczik.
It's the second stint for Michalczik as the Bears' offensive line coach. He held that position from 2002-2008 before spending two seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
"He's an excellent coach," Orgeron said. "Jimmy was my graduate assistant coach at Miami, has gone on to do some great things. You can really see the difference in their offensive line and run game with Jimmy there."
When Orgeron was at USC under Pete Carroll, Michalczik also paved the way for big games by Cal running backs Adimchinobe Echemandu and J.J. Arrington in the epic 2003 and 2004 contests.
"Back when we were really good, he was the only guy to have two 100-yard rushers against us, so I have total respect for him," Orgeron said.
Scroggins steady in return
No quarterback wants to stand on the sideline holding his helmet, but for redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins, it represented another positive step forward.
Scroggins practiced for the first time since injuring his right thumb in the first scrimmage of fall camp Tuesday, showing no signs of the nearly two month layoff.
"It's not completely healed, but it's getting there," said Scroggins, showing off the scar on the side of his thumb after undergoing surgery in August to repair torn ligaments.
Scroggins will not make the trip to Cal, but said he could do everything necessary to relieve Matt Barkley right now.
He said his would be back to 100 percent "hopefully sometime next week."
No change regarding Armstead
Defensive tackle Armond Armstead participated in warm-ups and individual drills before leaving Howard Jones Field, but Orgeron said Armstead's status has not changed, calling it a "preliminary deal.
"That's all it is," Orgeron said. "Nothing more than that."
Armstead is redshirting this season after being hospitalized in March with an undisclosed medical condition.
Kiffin said Armstead, who is from Elk Grove (Calif.), two hours north of AT&T Park, will make the trip with the team, but declined to elaborate further on his status.
"His number one focus right now is getting his degree and he's doing a great job with that," Kiffin said. "He's got a big decision to make in December and January, whether he comes back and helps us win a championship [in 2012] or whether he goes to the NFL."
-On facing one of his coaching mentors in Cal coach Jeff Tedford, Kiffin said, "It's only fun if you win. So it was fun last year. It wasn't fun when you lose to a guy you know, because you hear about it all offseason, like I had to for Washington, and I still hear about."
Kiffin was a student assistant at Fresno State from 1997-1998 under Tedford, then the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator.
-Kiffin said he would have no issues with freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee joining the USC basketball team as a walk on.
"We've pushed our guys to do that," Kiffin said. "I think it keeps them competitive year-round, and I think it's great for the university."
Lee averaged 12 points per game as a senior at Gardena (Calif.) Serra, but has not yet asked basketball coach Kevin O'Neill to join the team.