Cal Bears team preview

Click below to read a position by position preview of the next opponent on the USC schedule, the California Golden Bears.

Bears on Offense

California possesses a balanced and prolific offense. They rank ninth in the country in total offense, piling up more than 430 yards per game. The Bears lead the Pac-10 in passing yards per game and rank third in rushing yards. All season long, they've displayed a knack for breaking big plays and putting plenty of points up on the scoreboard.

Quarterback – #9 Nate Longshore

Nate Longshore won the starting quarterback job coming out of fall camp last season, but was injured in the season-opening game and the Bears' quarterback position was never the same.

This season, Longshore again won the starting quarterback job coming out of fall camp. And through ten games, he's not only held onto the job for the entire season, he's become the league leader in quarterback efficiency.

This season, Longshore has 62% of his passes for 2,393 yards and 21 touchdowns against ten interceptions.

He's a physically strong quarterback with a huge arm and can make every throw asked of him. It will be interesting to see if Jeff Tedford and the Bears go back to what worked for them against the Trojans several years ago with the short passing game complimenting a strong running game.

The Bears have tried to keep their quarterbacks in a rhythm by repeatedly hitting underneath passes, but that doesn't appear to be Longshore's strength. This eason, Longshore has been much more efficient with the deep pass, hitting 42 pass plays for over 20 yards. The Trojans have done a great job this season, once again, in not allowing defenses to beat them deep. That will definitely be one aspect of this game worth following.

If the Bears do keep Longshore looking underneath the zone, the Trojans will need him to have an off game, something that he is more than capable of.

He is coming off one of his worst games of the season at Arizona, where he completed just 17 of 36 passes and threw three interceptions. He was off target on a majority of his passes, which resulted in multiple tipped passes.

If the running game is shut down on Saturday, the USC defense should be slightly pleased to see the game be placed solely on Longshore's right arm.

He is capable of carrying the team by himself, but it will be much easier to focus on him than to deal with Cal's stable of running backs.

Running Backs – #10 Marshawn Lynch, #20 Justin Forsett

Marshawn Lynch is the most dynamic and explosive tailback in the Pac-10. Keeping Oregon's Jonathan Stewart in check last Saturday was a great accomplishment, but doing the same to Lynch will be a much harder task.

Cal has made a habit of pounding the interior of the Trojan defense with the run game. And again, they have a tailback that can do just that.

Lynch is the complete package. He's quick, nimble and is seriously tough to bring down. He has been fighting through some ankle trouble this season, but that hasn't stopped him from registering seven 100-yard games and leading the Pac-10 in both rushing yards per game (109) and total yards per game (145.6).

The Trojans were able to key on Lynch and shut him down last season, largely because of the brutal passing game. This Saturday, the Trojans won't receive the same break.

With Lynch, the story for the Trojan defense will be all about tackling. Lynch has the ability to shake through just about any arm tackle, so the Trojans will need to wrap up and make sure Lynch doesn't break into the open field.

But Lynch can also be a huge factor in the passing game. This season, he's hauled in 25 passes for 265 yards and four touchdowns. The Trojan linebackers will have their hands full, keeping track of Lynch's location during every snap.

Justin Forsett serves as a wonderful change-of-pace back, as he doesn't possess the physical stature of Lynch, but his speed and elusiveness make him one of the conference's best backs.

Forsett will receive his share of carries with Lynch resting and, so far this season, he has made good on them. Forsett has 506 yards and three touchdowns on 118 carries this year, and when he was called upon to carry the load against Oregon, he didn't disappoint, picking up 163 yards on 20 carries.

Lynch will be the focal point of the Bear running game, but when Forsett is on the field, the defense can't sit back on the pass.

Wide Receivers – #1 DeSean Jackson, #11 Robert Jordan, #7 Lavelle Hawkins

DeSean Jackson is easily the most explosive player in the Pac-10, and he's in the running for that title nationwide. He showed glimpses of that potential last season, but this year, he's put it on full display.

Jackson's biggest gift is what he's able to do with the ball in his hands. In the open field, he's a scary sight. He's still developing into a true receiver, but he certainly has the speed to beat a secondary deep and he possesses the ability to turn a short catch into a huge gain.

This season, he leads the Bears with 45 catches for 811 yards and nine touchdowns. But perhaps even more impressive, he's been on the receiving end of at least one 25+ yard pass in each game this season. He hauled in a 62-yard touchdown strike last week at Arizona, and was two-inches from breaking another huge gain.

The Bears will use Jackson in a variety of ways. He'll certainly get his fair share of chances to simply outrun the secondary down the sideline, but they'll put the ball in his hands near the line of scrimmage as well, hoping to set up some blocking and let him dance into open space.

The Trojans probably won't be able to shut Jackson down completely, but keeping him from gaining yards in big chucks will be a victory all the same.

Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan are very similar receivers, right down to their height and build. At 5-11, they, like Jackson, aren't going to beat you with height, but all three are more than capable on fade routes and jump balls along the sideline.

Hawkins and Jordan are tied for second on the team with 38 receptions, but Hawkins' grabs have gone for nearly 200 more yards.

Jordan has four touchdown grabs to Hawkins' two, but both receivers provide a wonderful option to Jackson. They have the ability to work into space and find holes in the defense 10-15 yards downfield.

All three will see plenty of playing time on Saturday, and when they are all on the field, the Trojans will have a matchup problem somewhere.

Tight End – #82 Craig Stevens

With all the other offensive weapons, Craig Stevens hasn't had a huge impact this season, but he is more than capable of stepping up when called upon. He hasn't caught more than three passes in any game and his best performance came against Washington, with two grabs for 61 yards. But, like Oregon's Dante Rosario, if the Trojans repeatedly give the tight end space over the middle, Stevens will show up again and again.

Offensive Line – LT #71 Andrew Cameron, LG #75 Erik Robertson, C #51 Alex Mack, RG #55 Noris Malele, RT #53 Brian Gibson

The Bear offensive line looked to be one of the weak spots heading into the season, after losing three starters to the NFL. It also looked to be getting worse, as they suffered several injuries, but everyone along the line was able to pull it together and develop into one of the best units in the conference.

As a unit, the Bears have allowed just ten sacks this season while going up against some of the nation's best pass rushing units. The left side of the line is solid, but the Bears will feel free to run the ball toward both sides.

The Trojan defensive line showed up big time against the Ducks last weekend, keeping Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart in check. The Bears will use a much more direct approach in their offense. The USC defensive line won't need to worry about the option or the quarterback carrying the ball, but they'll need to hold the line against the power running game as well as collapse the pocket on passing plays. There is no threat of the quarterback pulling the ball down and taking off, but screens and draws will show up repeatedly.

Bears on Defense

The California defense opened the season on a sour note by getting run over by Tennessee. But they are one of the better units in the conference. They are led by a very good and deep group of linebackers and they will be the best defense the Trojans face during the regular season.

Defensive Line – #43 Abu Ma'afala, #69 Matt Malele, #52 Brandon Mebane, #53 Nu'u Tafisi

The Bears' eye chart of a defensive line is allowing 128 rushing yards per game this season. The line doesn't register many tackles, but they do a great job of taking up blockers and letting the linebacker shoot into gaps and make plays.

Brandon Mebane is the star of the group and leads the line with 35 tackles. He's tied with Nu'u Tafisi for the team lead with 3.5 sacks and is third on the team with six tackles for loss. He's a dominating presence in the middle of the line and can get into the backfield and break up plays before they get a chance to start.

Overall, this isn't a defensive line that should dominate the Trojan offensive line in the passing game, but the Trojans will need to work hard to develop a running game.

Linebackers – #10 Desmond Bishop, #8 Mickey Pimentel, #1 Worrell Williams

Desmond Bishop might be the defense's best player and he's been proving it during every game this season. He has a team-high 91 tackles on the season, including 12.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He also ranks second on the team with three interceptions. Bishop can play the run and the pass equally well and provided the team's most important defensive play of the season, with an interception to seal the victory and end the game against Washington. He will be all over the field again on Saturday, and John David Booty will need to keep an eye on him when he drops back in coverage.

Worrell Williams is another outstanding linebacker for the Bears. He's fifth on the team with 47 tackles and has an interception of his own this season. He and Mickey Pimentel are the outside linebackers and both of physical presences. Pimentel is just behind Williams, with 46 tackles, but Pimentel has been used much more as a pass-rushing threat this season. He has 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks this season, to go along with an interception.

Cornerbacks – #13 Daymeion Hughes, #5 Syd'Quan Thompson

Daymeion Hughes is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. He his tied for the national lead with eight interceptions, which he's returned for a total of 113 yards and two touchdowns. He's also piled up 10 pass breakups and is second on the team with 55 tackles. On Saturday, John David Booty would do well to not challenge Hughes with any forced passes. He has the ability to shut down an entire side of the field. The Trojans are good enough that they can go after him, but they must make sure that the play is 100% there.

Syd'Quan Thompson lines up on the other side of the field and figures to see plenty of action on Saturday. He was flat-out burned during the season opening loss to Tennessee, but has come on strong since then. His tackling has improved enough to put him sixth on the team in that category, with 46. He has one interception and two pass breakups on the season. You can't blame Booty if he continues to look Thompson's way this weekend.

Safeties – #2 Bernard Hicks, #3 Brandon Hampton

Brandon Hampton and Bernard Hicks have really stepped up this season. They rank third and fourth on the team in tackles, with 52 and 48, respectively. The duo also has two interceptions apiece. They are big hitters and have overseen a secondary that is tied for third in the country with 20 interceptions.

Bears on Special Teams

Kicker – #15 Tom Schneider

Tom Schneider has a very strong leg and is having a fabulous season. He's been perfect on 42 extra point attempts and has hit 10-of-12 field goal tries. His only two misses have come from beyond 50-yards, but he's also connected on a 50 yarder this season.

Punter – #11 Andrew Larson

Andrew Larson, a junior-college transfer, has a 41.9-yard average on 39 punts this season. But beyond that, he does a great job of negating the opponents' return game. Of his 39 punts, just 16 have been returned, for a total of 124 yards.

Kick Returner – #2 Marcus O'Keith, #1 DeSean Jackson

Marcus O'Keith leads the team with 12 kickoff returns for 293 yards, but it could be a variety of people who see action at that spot for the Bears on Saturday. DeSean Jackson got his first chance of the season last week and returned a kickoff 26 yards. Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett have also seen time back deep for Cal. Nobody has really broken one open this season, but they all have the potential to do just that. The kickoff coverage unit for the Trojans will again be an important aspect. They did a superb job against the Ducks, but the Bears will be tough.

Punt Returner – #1 DeSean Jackson

As I write this, DeSean Jackson is returning a punt 95-yards for a touchdown against Arizona. On the season, Jackson has four punt returns for touchdowns to go with a 20.7-yard average on 22 returns. If the Trojans ever let Jackson touch the ball on something other than an offensive play, it will be a mistake. He is the most explosive return man in the country. Any time the Trojans allow Jackson to field a punt, they could be simply kicking the game away.

Outlook:

There is no possible way the Bears will come out flat for this game, even after suffering a crippling loss to Arizona last weekend. Cal has become just like so many other teams in the Pac-10, turning the contest against USC into a one-game season. Even after the loss last weekend, all the talk centered on the Trojans. They will come out with a chip on their shoulder and they want to prove that last year's result was strictly a result of poor quarterback play.

Against the Bears, it will all come down to turnovers yet again for the Trojans. USC had three interceptions against the Ducks, but they were able to overcome them by getting the ball right back.

The November Trojans showed up yet again last week. They were physically dominating and played one of their most complete games of the season in front of a raucous crowd.

If the same thing can be said after the game on Saturday, the Trojans will have clinched the Pac-10 title and, at worst, a Rose Bowl berth.


USCFootball.com Top Stories