USC vs Cal: Side-by-Side preview

It should be one of the best games of the year as the Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl berth is on the line with the USC Trojans and California Golden Bears facing off this Saturday evening at the Coliseum. Click below to read a preview of the match-up from their respective points of view:

LAST WEEK: It was perhaps the most complete game the Trojans have put together since the season opener against Arkansas as they came out and dominated the Oregon Ducks for a 35-10 victory. The Trojan defense led the way with Lawrence Jackson having his best game of the year. It was important in this game to stop the run game of Jonathan Stewart and to disrupt the passing timing of Dennis Dixon and LJ played a big role in stopping both guys. The Pre-Season All-American defensive end, who had yet to notch a sack this year, came away from the Oregon came with 10 total tackles (4 for loss) and three sacks. Jackson wasn't the only defender who had a big game either. Keith Rivers and Cary Harris each chipped in 10 tackles of their own with Dallas Sartz right behind them with nine. On the offensive side of the ball, Chauncey Washington provided the steady power game with 115 yards rushing on only 15 carries, including three touchdowns. His 43 yard touchdown run at the end of the third quarter was basically the nail in the coffin for the Ducks as it put the game away for the Trojans. The game also featured one of the strangest instant replay scenarios in a year full of miscues by Pac-10 officials. The refs originally ruled a Jonathan Stewart catch a touchdown, then reversed that call, then they reversed the reversal. In the end it still wasn't nearly enough to help the Ducks as USC simply played too well. The Trojans were rewarded for their victory with a move up to the #3 spot in the BCS polls after multiple teams in front of them lost and dropped in the polls. LAST WEEK: Cal suffered its first conference loss of the year, dropping a 24-20 decision at Arizona. The loss had to force Jeff Tedford and his team to look in the mirror and ask some hard questions. The receivers running wild in the secondary, the lack of any consistent offense either passing or running, and the apparent ease with which Arizona stopped Cal had to give the Bears reason for pause. Quarterback Nate Longshore struggled, completing 17 of 36 attempts, for 250 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. Marshawn Lynch had impressive numbers rushing for 102 yards in 16 carries, but his performance was typical of Cal's day. Lynch longest run of the day, a scamper of over 70 yards into the end zone was called back on a block in the back penalty against Lavelle Hawkins. The run was reduced to 56 yards. Without that play Lynch ran 15 times for 46 yards, an anemic 3 yards per carry. Despite all the offensive problems, the Bears took what looked to be a comfortable 17-3 lead going into the locker room at half time. But 21 unanswered points from Arizona in the second half, gave the Wildcats a 24-17 lead. The Bears kicked a field goal, and appeared to win the game on a sensational DeSean Jackson reception and apparent touchdown. However, Jackson's toes barely tipped the sideline negating the score. Jackson had another sensational day, scoring on a 95 yard punt return and a 65 yard reception.
WHEN USC IS ON OFFENSE: This is a good Cal defense and we will be playing in an energetic atmosphere so look for the Trojan veterans, guys like Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett and Ryan Kalil, to lead the way on Saturday. They will be the ones calming the huddle and making sure everyone is one the same page when things get a little hectic. In recent games the Trojans have established the passing game before the running game and for that to happen in this game we need for John David Booty to get into a flow early. The onus will be on Smith and Jarrett to create space and opportunities against a physical secondary to allow John David room to throw. We don't need for Booty to have a huge day in order to come away with a victory, we just need to have a clean game with as few mistakes as possible. At some point in the game, however, we will need to get Chauncey going. He missed some practice time this week with a knee but he has worked too hard to come back for moments like these and you know he will be out there battling on Saturday. Chauncey has the ideal style to pound away at the middle of the Bear defense which features some fine defenders in Brandon Mebane and Desmond Bishop. This part of the game will be a classic man-on-man battle and you have to like our chances with guys like Kalil and Sam Baker leading the way up front. Chauncey also seems to have found a battering ram at fullback in Thomas Williams. In these games there can often be a sleeper player who makes a big play to change the game. Who might it be in this one? How about a Fred Davis? Maybe Allen Bradford? Patrick Turner? WHEN CALIFORNIA IS ON OFFENSE: Cal's success Saturday will be greatly determined by which Nate Longshore shows up in Los Angeles. The confident technician seen in the Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA games, or the struggling sophomore we saw against Tennessee, Washington and Arizona. The Bears have all kinds of weapons, but their ability to use those weapons is very dependent on Longshore's performance. If they can not pass, USC will be able to stack up against the run. If they clog the run, and Longshore is off the mark, the Bear offense is non existent. This is the game we will see what the "new" Cal offense is all about. To be successful Cal will have to win its share of the individual match-ups up front, but it will take more than depending on good execution to beat the Trojans. Tedford and offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar will have to move beyond the "take what the defense gives you" philosophy and develop ways to attack, and get the ball to the players to whom they need and want to get the ball. The Cal offense must dictate what the Trojan defense does, not the other way around, if Cal is to move the ball. Jackson, Hawkins, Robert Jordan, Craig Stevens, Lynch and company are a tremendous offensive unit. The Trojan defense, as fast and talented as it is cannot contain all of them consistently. However, if USC knows what Cal is going to do before the snap, it could be a long afternoon for the Bears; if Cal can keep the Trojans guessing wrong, the Bears could put up some impressive fireworks.
WHEN CALIFORNIA HAS THE BALL: How can you beat the coaching chess match between Pete Carroll on defense and Jeff Tedford on offense? The Trojan focus in this game figures to be stopping, or at least slowing, the running attack led by Marshawn Lynch. There aren't too many common factors you can look at among the teams who have defeated the Trojans in recent years but one thing you can pretty much count on is a 100 yard rushing game will be needed if you hope to come away with a win. Lynch is certainly capable of having a big day and the Trojan defense will need to be at their swarming best in order to contain him. Expect to see a impact day for the Trojan linebackers with Rey Maualuga, Rivers, Sartz and Oscar Lua. Nate Longshore is certainly a quarterback capable of doing some damage if he is given time so Lawrence "3 sacks" Jackson and his defensive line mates will need to apply consistent pressure all game long. Longshore is not the most mobile of quarterbacks so this could be a day where the defense can get some sacks. The obvious big play guy for Cal is Desean Jackson and the Trojan secondary seems up for the challenge. The safety duo of Kevin Ellison and Taylor Mays has been playing well lately, Terrell Thomas has emerged as a leader of the defense at one corner spot while Cary Harris is coming off his best game as a Trojan. The Trojan secondary simply doesn't get beat deep yet you know Cal will be looking for Jackson to provide a spark so this match-up should be one of the best to watch in this game. WHEN USC HAS THE BALL: Cal's keys to success are no secret—pass rush and run stop. The Bear linebackers are as fast as any in the nation and must plug holes and get the Trojan ball carriers running east-west instead of north-south. It is vital that the defensive line control the battle upfront and not give the passer time to throw. The Bear defensive backs are exceptional, Daymeion Hughes is as talented a "lockdown corner" as there is , but USC receivers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett are tremendously talented as well, and will get open given enough time. Defenses that have been successful against the Trojans have been successful stopping the run, forcing Trojan quarterback John David Booty to carry the bulk of the offense, and trying to create turnovers. This fits Cal's defense to a tee, as the Bears have been very opportunistic this year. Another key to the defense will be the offense. Give USC enough opportunities and they will score. If the Cal offense can keep the USC offense on the sidelines ,it will provide huge advantage for the Bears. Look for defensive coordinator Bob Gregory to try and confuse Booty and use the speed of his linebackers in a variety of blitz packages, and coverages.
SPECIAL TEAMS: One of the biggest storylines of the game will be the ability of USC to contain Desean Jackson on special teams. Desean is a slippery, quick and elusive return man and he has the ability to change the momentum of a game at any time. The only loss for USC this year was basically put away by a 70 yard punt return for a touchdown and special teams coverage has been a concern at times. The importance of winning this battle cannot be overestimated. The good news for the Trojan kicking game is that all three kickers (Danelo, Van Blarcom and Woidneck) are playing well right now and USC also has pretty good weapon of their own on kickoff returns in C.J. Gable. Desmond Reed returns this week on punt return after missing the last game due to a family funeral. SPECIAL TEAMS: The Cal special teams have been exceptional. DeSean Jackson is a threat to score every time he touches the ball on punt returns. It will be interesting to see if USC decides to kick to him. If the Trojans change their tactics and try to kick away from Jackson, that carries with it a whole different set of problems— short punts, punts out of bounds, returns from unusual sports etc. Kicker Tom Schneider has been the model of consistency, as has punter Andrew Larson. The Bear coverage units will have to continue to be consistent to stop the Trojans' return threat.
USC CAN WIN IF: The Trojan offense keeps the turnovers to a minimum while the defense prevents the big plays by Cal. The Trojan offense cannot turn the ball over in this kind of game where every possession is so critical. They need to establish some long drives, primarily with the running of Chauncey Washington and controlled passing from John David Booty. It would also be a huge bonus if the Trojan defense could force a turnover or two but the primary duty in this game will be to keep everything in front of them. Do not allow the big play for this Cal team because they have the ability to strike at any time and you never know what can happen when momentum starts swinging from side to side. The Bears are playing for a rare berth in the Rose Bowl and you know they will come out fired up. CALIFORNIA CAN WIN IF: The Bears are able to move the ball. If they can run when the Trojan defense thinks pass, and pass when they think run, they can use their weapons effectively and attack the USC defense. If they are predictable and reliant on winning the individual physical battles they will be performing a high wire act that will be hard to pull off. Cal has played well offensively this season. Cal has played well defensively this season. Cal has played well on special teams this season. The Achilles heel for the Bears is that they have not done all three at the same time consistently. That's what will be needed for a Cal victory, offense helping defense, defense helping offense and a sprinkling of turnovers and making plays on special team.
USC WILL LOSE IF: USC could lose if they are unable to slow the run game of Marshawn Lynch. It stands to reason that Longshore will not match the game by Aaron Rodgers when he completed 20 something passes in a row so the primary weapon for Cal and their hopes to win will likely be Lynch. The scary news for the Trojans is that he is the kind of runner who can put his team on his back for a game like this and lead them to victory. The most important thing for the Trojans to prevent a loss will be to come out playing the kind of USC football that we saw last week against Oregon. If they can do that, everything else should fall into place. CALIFORNIA WILL LOSE IF: They can contain the Cal running game. If the Bears have to rely on the pass to move the ball, they run the risk of clock stopping incompletions, three and out situations and giving the Trojan offense an undue number of possessions. Give Booty, Smith, Jarrett and company enough opportunities and they will put points on the board. If USC wins the "Trojan defense against Cal offense" battle, it will be hard to see them losing.
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Garry Paskwietz is the Publisher of and WeAreSC magazine and has been covering Trojan football since 1996. Sean Mockler is a Staff Writer for the BearInsider. Top Stories