This will be USC's 89th meeting with California, the team Troy has faced more than any other. USC leads the series, which dates back to 1915 (and is uninterrupted since 1926), 54-29-5. Cal has won the past 3 games and 4 of the last 5; the Trojans have won 16 of the last 23 meetings, 31 of the last 42 and 37 of the past 50. In games in Berkeley, USC is 28-12-1 and has won 5 of the past 7 there.
Don't let the facts listed above or Cal's current winless record fool any of you into thinking this game is going to be anything but difficult. The Bear's head coach, Tom Holmoe just tendered his resignation, effective at the end of this season. He was forced to resign due to the team's record. If anything could ever light a fire under his football team, this might be it. The other clear motivator is that Kyle Boller, California's starting signal caller has returned to the lineup. That may not elicit oohs and aahs, but this young man is a winner. In fact he is currently 4-0 against USC and Ucla combined. He struggled in the early part of the year, but it was then learned that he was playing with an aggravated nerve that ran the wreaked havoc to the entire right side of his body - his throwing side.
In looking at the Cal Bears statistics through the 2001 season, it was surprising to see that in almost every game, they led their opponents in first downs, time of possession and in some total offense. Despite their record, this is a team that can move the ball. Where they have let down is in the redzone. Cal is at the bottom of the Pac in scoring offense. The other key factor is that the Bears do not play mistake free football. They average nearly 100 yards in penalties per game and are minus 16 in the turnover margin. It doesn't necessarily take a team filled with All Americans to win, it takes execution. The Bears have failed to play mistake free football in any one of their games. That coupled with the player personnel they lost this season, has been the recipe for their disaster. Cal can look to USC's performance last year against in their matchup and easily find a mirrored image.
Last season in the Coliseum—despite a significant advantage in offensive statistics—USC dropped its fifth consecutive game of the season, this one to California, 28-16. It was Cal's third win in a row over USC (for the first time since 1948-50). Troy, off to its worst-ever conference start (0-5), had more total yards (320-213), plays (78-51), first downs (22-11) and possession time (33:14-26:46) than Cal, but couldn't capitalize. Cal's 51 plays were the fewest by a Trojan opponent since 1990 (when Washington had 50). The Bears scored just 4 plays into the game on a 44-yard pass from QB Kyle Boller to WR Phillip Pipersburg. But the Trojans scored on their first possession by driving 82 yards on 9 plays, as QB Carson Palmer threw a 19-yard TD pass to FB Chad Pierson. After Palmer fumbled away the ball on the USC 7-yard line while being sacked early in the second quarter, Cal TB Joseph Echema went 1 yard for a TD. But the Trojans took a 16-14 lead into halftime on a 32-yard scoring run by TB Sultan McCullough with just over 2 minutes to go and then, after recovering a Cal fumble on the ensuing kickoff, PK John Wall nailed a 25-yard field goal. However, USC couldn't generate much offense in the second half (only 55 total yards and 6 first downs) and only crossed midfield on 1 series in the half (just to the Cal 45).
It is that same level of performance that has kept the Bears in the cellar all season long. But, it is also that same passion to win, that could quickly turn their program around with a win this Saturday against the Trojans. The Bears want nothing more than to present a win to their departing coach and they have nothing to loose in achieving that goal.Coach Carroll feels that the Cal player's love their coach and the announcement of his resignation will be additional motivation for the squad. "The California game is critical for us. We'll see if we can get back to .500. Cal will be cutting it loose and going for broke in all phases of the game. It'll be very difficult up there, but it's a game we have to get."
It is most certain the Trojans cannot escape Bear Country with the offensive production exhibited in last week's Oregon State game. They'd have to bank on a pair of missed field goals and a poor defensive effort in overtime to squeak by. Cal is not going to leave the door that wide open. USC is going to have to generate offense, especially on the ground. Moving Frank Strong to running back should give the Trojans an added dimension in the ground game. It also appears that quarterback Carson Palmer found his guts and gained a little glory because of it, in the Beaver win. Palmer was pummeled all game last Saturday (the Trojans have allowed more sacks than any other Pac Ten team), but he was able to put a winning drive together in overtime, carrying the ball in himself for the final score. With a little run support and some decent offensive line play, the SC air attack might be the key to victory. As poorly as the Trojans have played in 2001, they are greatly improved from last year in the turnover and penalty margins. USC must execute at the same level to manage a win. They must also, and will, bring the tight ends more into play for this game. USC's running backs and tight ends have more catches than their counterparts at wide receiver. With Byrd and Landrigan nicked up, it will be up to Holmes, Butler and Dickerson to put points on the board. Also look for increased play from Chad Pierson at fullback as he should see some nice pass plays in the flat.
The Cal Bears are angry. They view this game and next week against Stanford as their entire season. They will be playing their hearts out. For USC to win, they must match that intensity. The Trojans must also put next week's game against their cross-town rivals out of their minds. A win this week is critical to seeing this season as a success.
USC by 6.