One very private. The other as public as the Constitution would allow. One, surrounded by Hollywood, producing movie stars and National Championships, the other busy giving the color to the "City by the Bay." It's taken over a century for the rough edges of both schools to wear away. They are still proudly there, but not quite as distinguishable. Both draw from an international community of academic elite to form their undergraduate and graduate departments. Both can march out a staff peppered with Nobel laureates, and both champion the way in so many fields of study that more often than not, the nations leaders can be found in their annuals. Those comparisons which lead to obvious similarities leave most loyalists to either school with a horrible taste in their mouths. And their can't be a better place to muddy up the other's colors than on a gridiron. Ironically, it is there that the commonalties become so great, the colors almost blur...
Both schools field fifth year senior quarterbacks, have new and newer head coaches - one know for defense, the other offense, have vanquished top ranked opponents and also lost each lost two games, one of which to the same opponent. One became famous for Student Body Right, while the other is making history with "The Left Wing." One was picked to finish atop the PAC, while the other selected for the cellar. Neither has fulfilled prophecy yet, but as the saying goes... "The night is young."
At the beginning of fall camp, October 12, 2002, the scheduled visit for the Golden Bears of Cal, must have looked like a second bye week for Coach Carroll and his USC Trojans. Cal hadn't won a game in so long, one would've thought they might have forgotten how. And considering their own heavyweight matchups with away games against Michigan State and the University of Washington, the Cal Bears would be, at best, limping into Los Angeles, begging to be quickly put out of their misery. That was then. This is now.
New Head Coach, Jeff Tedford, has developed a greater following from "the locals" since his arrival at the University of California Berkeley than even Timothy Leary did when he convinced the entire student body to "tune-in and drop out." Tedford's "Pied Piper beat" comes in football wins, not beautiful loser poetry, but no one at Cal seems to be complaining. College football is much like a banana republic - you hate the winner until it becomes you, then, suddenly, all is right with the world. Tedford has resurrected the college career of Kyle Boller, who up until this season, was the PAC Ten's most disappointing superstar. It obviously was the system.
Former head coach Tom Holmoe designed dink and dunk plays, which did not lend to Boller's powerful arm. Tedford made note of this immediately and went to work putting together an offense that would favor his star player's strengths, not go away from them. Tedford's had experience turning boys to men to quarterbacks. He did it for Oregon's two recent stars Akili Smith and Joey Harrington, as well as for another NFL QB - Trent Dilfer. Boller fits the Tedford mold and the numbers speak for themselves. Boller is 111-of-199, 55.8% for 1,478 yds, 16 Tds, and only 4 INTs. He only needs to toss one more TD this season to match his output through all of last year. Kyle has 52 career touchdown passes and needs only 4 more to tie former Cal star PatBarnes for the school record. The Bears have outscored opponents 142 - 38 in the first half through their games this year.
So, what is it that makes Tedford and Boller so successful? "He's catching everybody by surprise," said Dave Barr, who started at quarterback for the Bears from 1992-1994. "His gimmick plays are one reason. I get the feeling the defense doesn't know what to expect from Tedford, so he has them back on their heels." Pete Carroll can only echo Barr's words regarding Tedford's drawer full of trick plays... "They are well done and they have a whole slew of them. We've gone back a number of seasons to see what he's done. They've been very effective so far this year."
It isn't just the offensive system, either. Tedford has encouraged aggressive play on defense while protecting the ball on offense, so the Bear's turnover differential is now a plus -13, compared to a plus -7 for USC. To put this into perspective, going into the SC game last year the Bears were at a minus -16 to the Trojans plus -8. Turnovers are the name of the game and Tedford is playing to win. He smiles when thinking how his offense has benefited from the defense's great plays..."We're playing with a lot of short fields. We don't have to go so far to score."
All of the above praise doesn't qualify the Bear's defense as world beaters. They've had to resort to a little dirty pool to get the job done. Against the Huskies of Washington last week, Cal was flagged six times for either pass interference or defensive holding. This extra effort made Washington's star receiver, Reggie Williams a little more than livid. "They (the officials) must have been cockeyed or had cataracts or something." He went on to suggest, as did UW Head Coach Rick Neuheisel. that Cal was holding on at least another 10 plays that day. There was enough of an uproar in the PAC Ten that Supervising Official Verle Sorgen will be in attendance for Cal's matchup with USC. Sorgen has played it off as his normal schedule, but also commented on the number of PI calls that went against Cal as... "That is quite a few." Needless to say, all eyes will be on the Cal secondary as it lines up against three top receivers from USC in Kareem Kelly, Keary Colbert and Mike Williams. Kelly had his own thoughts regarding Cal's defensive shenanigans... "For the last couple years, I noticed their defensive hold you if you beat them off the line of scrimmage. They like to try to get away with that." Time will tell, but it appears the Trojans could be the beneficiary of Washington's loss.
Cal lost to WSU by 10 points in a offensive shootout that didn't seem to end. Coach Carroll had the luxury of viewing that game tape to build his own strategy against the Cougars. It was obvious that Cal got into a scorefest and finally didn't have the horses to bring the victory home. Cal's offense has been more prolific than SC's and the Trojans have done well by maintaining control of the ball, keeping opponents hot offenses off the field. Carroll and company stuck to that game plan for two series, had some success but got jittery when they saw the Cougars moving the ball at ease.
They pulled the rock out from sizzling tailback Sultan McCullough and thrust the entire game onto quarterback Carson Palmer's shoulders. Palmer almost delivered, but was felled by his own kicker. It really shouldn't have come to that anyway. Had the Trojans stayed the course, played their game byslugging it out underneath and not tried to match WSU's five wide sets, USC might have won that game.
The same will hold true in the matchup with the Bears. SC must establish the ground game, keep with the short passes and only gamble deep, when they have the luxury or absolute need to do so. Ball control will be the name of the game. If Cal's defense wants to strip it away, SC must protect it. If SC wants to keep Cal from putting up their 6 game average of 40 plus points, they must keep the ball out of Kyle Boller's hands. Turnovers will also add to the drama in Saturday's game. SC will also need All American safety Troy Polamalu on the field. He's simply the best at his position and is being compared to Trojan hero Ronnie Lott. Even Tedford can't deny his play..."I would probably rate him as the best player I've seen in our conference. I don't believe that he won't play. They're great players for a reason, and if it just has to do with pain, they're going to play."Carroll said they will go up until the last second to decide if Troy can hit the field. Troy will do all he can to make sure he's suited up and hitting Cal players hard, considering his injury against WSU came when he let up on a play so as not to cause as severe a collision as was about to occur. Troy has promised to never let up again. He's also doing all he can to be ready to play... "I am preparing to play on Saturday, but only time will tell. I will do anything I can to get on the field to help this team." Boller is saying prayers that Troy's day comes next week... "Yeah, number 43, hopefully won't be out there this week. He's very active and he flies around. There is no other way to put it - he is everywhere." Polamalu is equal in his praise for Boller saying that the Cal quarterback has never looked as comfortable in the pocket, as he has this season. So, those are the stars - Boller for Cal and Polamalu for USC.
Cal does not have the ground game, despite excellent running by Joe Igber, that WSU possessed. They also don't have the receivers, but that didn't seem to slow them down against the 12th ranked Huskies. The Bears like playing on the road. They are only drawing 25,000 at Memorial Stadium and feel that the away crowd gives them a certain boost. If that's true, then playing in Los Angeles should really get them going - nearly half the players on the Bear's 100 man roster have Los Angeles ties. Boller hails from LA and plans to have over 100 family members and friends in attendance at the game. He is not alone. Defensive Back Jemeel Powell said his father has already bought over 40 tickets for the game.Tedford will be gunning for SC this coming weekend. This is a major marquee game and another victory over a ranked opponent would make his accomplishments at Cal comparable to those of Bob Stoops at OU. But it's not for personal accolades that Tedford would like the victory. He is playing with 61 players from last years club that got waxed by SC 55-14. He wants the win for his kids.
Whoever loses is absolutely out of the Rosebowl race. That should prove incentive enough for Carson Palmer and his Trojan team. Palmer's goal for this year was the Rose Bowl and although it will be a hard fought treasure to have, it is something he wants more than ever before. It is in the Trojans' grasp, but only if a victory is sealed on Saturday. Hopefully the coaches and team have learned from their mistakes against WSU and KSU. They need to know that if they think too much, like Kileen in his kicks, or Chow with his offense schemes, they'll only hurt the team. They need to play with abandon and nurse their wounds on Sunday for that is truly the day of rest. They also need to realize that Tedford has the Cal Bears playing real, nothing to lose, football. Because of that, they might prove to be the most dangerous team SC has faced all year.My feeling is SC does it all right - finally clicking on both sides of the ball and post a nice win.
USC 34 Cal 24.