Nate Longshore, the incumbent-turned-backup for most of this season, went 13-of-27 for 136 yards in the final three quarters for Cal (6-2, 4-1 Pac-10) last week, but he is one of the most frustratingly inconsistent quarterbacks in the Pac-10, if not the nation.
Riley, who has passed for 1,065 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, sat out of Tuesday's practice after undergoing two days of neurological tests. Tedford said earlier in the week that he wouldn't name his starting quarterback until Thursday, but Riley had to participate in at least Wednesday's practice to be considered. With Riley back in the mix, Tedford will play coy and probably not name his starter until Cal arrives at the Coliseum for the nationally televised game.
Whoever gets the start will be going up against the nation's best all-around defense and better have their head on a swivel. Perhaps Tedford really should look into starting Longshore, given the combination of his experience against SC the past two seasons and Riley's concussion. SC's defense isn't the kind you want to risk further head trauma against.
Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing are salivating over the opportunity to blank Cal in their last season of college football and to add to the unbelievable 214-20 scoring differential between USC and their last five opponents. It all begins and ends with getting to the Bear's quarterback. Disrupt their QB and you effectively take their passing game out of the equation, which gives them no chance of coming from behind to win. WR Nate Boetang has scored a touchdown in four of Cal's last five games, but if they can't deliver him the ball, it'll be tough for him to continue that streak.
2) Spread the wealth at WR – Kevin Carden reported earlier this week that the position of wide receiver is arguably the most improved overall unit for the Trojans in 2008, and he couldn't be more accurate with that statement. Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson truly have emerged as the consistent deep ball and big play threats SC has needed them to become. But it's senior Patrick Turner, quickly becoming a team leader, who has really shown up this season and played the most consistent football out of all of the WRs. You can see his confidence and maturity growing with each passing week, and Williams and Johnson compliment him perfectly within the system.
This week is yet another opportunity for the Trojans' WRs to show what they can do. They've come up big against inferior competition, but Cal's D has been playing some good football lately and their secondary offers SC their first true test they've seen in quite some time. USC's receivers have passed every test thrown at them this year, but they must stay steady against Cal and continue to make big plays.
3) Convert 3rd Downs – In any big game, your offense must move the chains. Gaining large chunks of yardage is a luxury, but never something you can count on going into a game. In order for USC to have real success Saturday night, they must move the ball down field one play after another.
Mark Sanchez cannot afford to get greedy and must take what is being given to him. He has a tendency to go deep into man coverage when a sideline or underneath route is readily available to him, usually in the form of Stanley Havili out of the backfield. When Sanchez connects deep, it's all good and he comes off looking like a big play guy. But when the DB breaks up the play and SC is forced to punt, it kills momentum for his offense while simultaneously giving the other team a boost of adrenaline. Football is funny like that. Momentum swings and shifts and you have to be willing to pay the consequences.
Cal's offense cannot be given such adrenaline boosts. They are too talented at the skill positions to be given opportunities all night. SC needs to control the ball as well as the clock. If SC's offense focuses on the little things like moving the chains and converting on 3rd down, they'll come out on top once again in the Coliseum.
Prediction: We think both teams will feel each other out early on and can see this game scoreless at the end of the first quarter. Once USC gets their rhythm established on offense midway through the second quarter, they'll open up a slight lead and take it into halftime. The second half will be all Trojans and they may even open up the playbook a little and get fancy come the fourth quarter. Pete Carroll doesn't lose in November.
USC 41, Cal 17