I believe John David Booty is the offensive player most primed to have a big game for USC. JDB is the one constant to this offense. In a year that has seen various injuries to the running backs and wide receivers, he is one of the few mainstays that has been through every game. In many ways this is his team now and this is his chance to lead his team to the victory. He has to avoid the turnover and make the necessary reads. I believe he is up to the task.
The defensive player primed to have a big game is Lawrence Jackson. Cal has a prolific offense with excellent receivers and runners. LoJack is key in stopping the run first and the pass. Having finally gotten "the monkey off his back in the game against Oregon, Lawrence is ready to go by the guy trying to block him and pressure Longshore, a guy who is not all that nimble. Lawrence also has to contain on the run and I believe he will do just that.
Troy VanBlarcom is the special teams player who has a dual role and will step up this week. He has to kick the ball deep and not allow the return. With Desean Jackson being a real threat to take it all the way back, it is essential for Troy to prevent the runbacks to begin with. Secondly, if a guy does break a kickoff, he is often the last line of defense and he does tackle well for a kicker.
On Offense, John David Booty. The Trojan offense is just starting to click, thanks especially to a revitalized dynamic duo - Alias Smith and Jarrett. These two, who are part of the best wide receiver unit in the country, along with outstanding pass catchers in the Trojan backfield will give blossoming, 62% completion ratio, John David Booty every target he could hope for en route to his best performance at USC thus far. The Trojan air arsenal only gets better matched against the Cal Bears' 112th ranked pass defense.
On Defense USC's own, Action Jackson. You've got to love the departure of NoSack and the triumphant return of LoJack to the Trojan defensive line. Cal's quarterback, Nate Longshore, while highly effective is also highly immobile. Look for LoJack to put the Cal signal caller on his back in fewer seconds than the winner of an all-star calf roping competition. The question is can SC's Jackson get into the Bear backfield faster than Cal's Jackson can run to an open spot, twenty yards downfield? Answer: you betcha.
On Special Teams...DeSean Jackson. No, this isn't a trick question or even a fancy response. The entire Trojan Special Teams Unit must play their best game against Cal. We all know that. However, in my opinion, Cal's best hope for victory falls to the Bears' Special Teams. Jackson, who is the super-star of that group, considers this game as his own...private war.
If you think Tedford's "92,000 disappointed fans" chant from a few years back didn't display enough regarding how desperate Cal is to beat the Trojans, take a gander at the LA Times article on DeSean Jackson and his views regarding all-things USC. He's placed so much emphasis on this game that the weight of it will cause him to make mistakes the level of which could only be compared to the Bush lateral. By the way, look for the Trojan gunners, along with a couple Polynesian Linebackers to make a sudden impact on the punt and kick-off units. If Rey or Kaluka get a solid hat on DeSean, say goodnight to that aspect of Cal's game-plan.
Steve Smith. If Cal's defense has any appreciable weakness, it is their pass defense. Most likely, Jeff Tedford will assign shut down cornerback Daymeion Hughes to Dwayne Jarrett. However, in the past when opposing defenses have attempted to shut Jarrett down, they usually create opportunities for the ever reliable Steve Smith. See Orange Bowl 2005 and most recently against Oregon State.
Lawrence Jackson finally got the monkey off of his back, recording his first sack, or two (and a half), against Oregon. Apparently, all he had to do was join the Pete Carroll Book Club. Last week gave us glimpses of the LoJack of old, and he'll certainly have to maintain the intensity if the Trojans are to get pressure on Nate Longshore.
Greg Woidneck. No one ever said that filling Tom Malone's shoes (literally) would be easy. However, with everything on the line and a Rose Bowl berth (and potentially more) hanging in the balance, Greg will have to come up big against the Bears in order to neutralize the USC recruit that got away, punt return specialist (and oh yeah, wide receiver, too) DeSean Jackson. So far, the self-proclaimed "closest thing to Reggie Bush" leads the nation with 4 punt returns for a touchdown. The Trojans' fortunes on special teams may very well rest on Greg's leg.
The wide receiver duo of Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett are ready to help lead the Trojans to victory on Saturday. The Bears have talked a lot this week about how Daymeion Hughes is one of the best DB's in the nation and he is certainly a good one. However, the last time I checked, Hughes is only one man and it would be real hard for him to cover both Smith and Jarrett at the same time. The fact that both of the SC big play receivers are healthy and have been through big games like this would suggest that they will play a key role in this game.
Kevin Ellison has slowly and steadily been playing terrific football in recent weeks as he gets fully recovered from the knee injury suffered last year. With his improved play, and the continued emergence of Taylor Mays, Coach Carroll has been able to move Ellison around more within the defense to take advantage of his superior football instincts. It's much like when Troy Polamalu was here, Carroll felt comfortable taking more risks when he knew the player had such a good understanding of the defense. Don't be surprised if Kevin Ellison has a breakout game on Saturday.
With all the attention being paid to Cal punt returner Desean Jackson, look for Trojan kickoff return man C.J. Gable to provide a big return of his own to make an impact on the game. Gable has quietly averaged over 27 yards per kickoff return since taking over the job and he has shown the ability to find the right hole along with the speed necessary to get through it.
Offense – With Cal's Daymeion Hughes likely covering Dwayne Jarrett for most of the game on Saturday, Steve Smith will be free to work against the lesser-skilled Bear cornerbacks. Cal's passing defense has been poor, to say the least, this season. So, it stands to reason that the Trojans will attack through the air. The fact that Hughes has 8 of the Bears' 20 interceptions this probably means that John David Booty will be looking away from his side of the field and, as a result, straight at Smith.
Steve Smith has carried the offensive load twice this season and I wouldn't be surprised if he's asked to do it again this week. He certainly has the ability to give good defensive teams fits by finding holes against both man and zone coverage. I look for Smith to be the guy stretching the field against those Cal safeties.
Defense – The gut instinct here is to go with someone from the secondary who can shut down Cal's DeSean Jackson. But I'm going to say that Keith Rivers shows up big on Saturday. He came on strong at the beginning of the year and has slowed slightly since then, but Cal's offense could bring out the best in Rivers. He is strong and fast enough to be a huge factor in the running game and if he is able to lead the charge against Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett in the ground game, Cal's offense will become very one-dimensional. Also, Rivers could play a large role in keeping Lynch from showing up in the passing game.
Special Teams – C.J. Gable has quickly and quietly become a huge special teams weapon for the Trojans. It seems like he's been able to break just about every return past the initial wave of tacklers. He's still growing into his role as a kick returner, but against Cal, I expect him to provide the Trojans offense with great field position on more than one occasion.