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USC vs. Cal Football: Weekender Preview From California Golden Blogs

We want to thank Nick Kranz and @atomsareenough from California Golden Blogs for diving into some of the hot-pressing topics around a Cal Football program anxious to pull the upset this weekend in Memorial Stadium.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Q. Ranking near the bottom in almost every defensive statistical category, can you see this Cal team show some signs of life this weekend?

Nick Kranz: How do you define signs of life? Cal's defense has undeniably improved over the last few weeks, as the various back ups and freshmen playing due to injuries learn on the job. Cal's offense, while profligate, typically come up with a big play or two every game.

Those are certainly signs of life. Will there be enough signs of life to put USC in danger of losing? Probably not.

atomsareenough: Yes, actually. Although this team isn't very good, it's shown signs of life in every game it's played. Despite the blowouts, this is a team with a lot of heart. A team with lesser character could have easily started to give up and roll over, and it's a credit to the players and coaches that they're still out there giving it their all. We'll play hard, even if it's not competitive in the end.

Q. Do you feel Cal improved or took a step back as a program by playing a rather challenging non-conference slate?

atomsareenough: It's really hard to say where we are relative to last year, considering we're playing SO many new players, have an unprecedented amount of injuries, and are installing completely new systems on both sides of the football. Last year's 3-9 team wasn't very good either, though they also gave up completely down the stretch. I really don't know what to tell you. Hopefully there was progress, and hopefully it will be evident both in the final few games this year and from the beginning of next year. The challenging schedule didn't help us in the win column, but hopefully it gave us some valuable experience for the future.

Nick Kranz: I think it would be tough to argue that playing Northwestern and Ohio State helped Cal in any meaningful way, but I think it would be tough to argue that it hurt the team Perhaps the players took a confidence hit, but high confidence hasn't been the difference between wins and losses in any game this year.

Q. Southern California prospects Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs have begun to emerge as a dynamic one-two punch in the conference and we want to know where you think this passing duo ranks amongst the Pac-12, and what has made them succeed this year?

Nick Kranz: They would surely rank behind USC's duo when Marquise Lee is healthy. And Oregon State's Brandin Cooks is good enough that you could pair him with any other receiver on the Beaver roster and he'd win the argument.

Other than that? Yeah, probably Harper and Treggs. With every major pass catcher back next year (Richard Rodgers and Kenny Lawler have looked pretty good as well) I fully expect Cal to have the best set of receivers in the conference.

Q. Sonny Dykes has drastically improved Cal's passing game this season, but do you believe this style of offense is the best for Cal moving forward and can they lure in big-time recruits by playing balls to the wall (in a sense) with the football?

atomsareenough: I think this style of offense can and should work for Cal, especially when we start running the ball more effectively. If we start scoring and moving the ball consistently, of course recruits are going to be excited by that. It's really hard to say with any certainty how it's going to go as of yet, though. There are signs of promise, but no consistency so far. It's disappointing to say that 10 games in, but we still don't really know.

Nick Kranz: I would actually argue that Sonny Dykes hasn't drastically improved Cal's passing game yet, although the fact that there are almost no upper classmen starting on offense might have something to do with the below average offensive output seen so far this year.

Frankly, what's appealing about Sonny Dykes is that he's coached spectacularly effective offensive attacks without getting big time recruits. The hope is that, almost regardless of recruiting, Cal will develop a great offense as Dykes gradually coaches up the players on his system. And if Cal DOES happen to get great recruits, all the better.

Q. Who on this defense should USC expect to make some big plays this Saturday?

atomsareenough: CB Kam Jackson. DT De'Andre Coleman. Those are our two best guys on defense. DT Vei Moala seems to be getting better week by week as well. We'll likely need the DTs to win up front if we're to have any chance at slowing down the Trojan run game.

Atoms has picked out the three most likely guys. It gets lost amidst the problems Cal has had elsewhere on defense, but the two interior linemen make up one of the better duos in the conference. Teams haven't had much success running straight ahead. Around the edge, on the other hand . . .

Really, if Cal is going to slow USC down, it will be because Kam and Cam in the secondary pick off a Cody Kessler pass or two. For as much as the defense has improved from the shocking horrors of the first half, they still haven't forced many turnovers. That'll have to change on Saturday.

More USC vs. Cal Football: Conquest Chronicles and California Golden Blogs

Q. We watched Brendan Bigelow put up some gaudy numbers against Ohio State last season but his big-play potential has been relatively unheard of since that game. Is his struggle as a product of the pass-happy offense or is he just in a rut in the backfield?

atomsareenough: He hasn't been the same guy this year after having offseason meniscus surgery. He's supposedly healthy now, but I think it's mostly a confidence thing for him. So many times, it seems like he's been close to having a big play, but he hasn't been able to make that last defender miss. I think he badly needs something to go right for him right now, but at the moment he's unfortunately more of a liability than an asset. That could change in a heartbeat, though. The talent is there. They've moved him from running back to slot receiver, with the thought that it would make it more likely for him to have the ball in space so he can use his skills better. So far, we're still waiting for the results.

Nick Kranz: Brendan Bigelow endured a few more knee surgeries over the off-season, and that's after some serious injuries sustained prior to coming to Cal. I think the bottom line is that Bigelow isn't the same player he was when he blitzed through the Ohio State defense last year. I won't say that it's impossible for him to rediscover that form, but it's probably not happening this year.

Q.  What will the atmosphere be like at Memorial Stadium? Has the fan base lost hope in this team or will the 12:00 p.m.start actually help fans come out to the stadium against an old rival in USC?

atomsareenough: Lost hope? I don't know. Perhaps. The expectations, whatever there may have been, have certainly evaporated. But ~40,000 fans still [eventually] stumbled out of bed and made their way to Memorial for the last game last week against Arizona, and that was at least competitive and entertaining, for a change. It may be a late-arriving crowd again, but I think it will be more than half full, and hopefully they'll have something to cheer about. Personally, I prefer a 4:30 start time.

Nick Kranz: Well, fans will reliable show up for the intra-state rivalry games. It's a pattern Cal fans have seen in many more lost seasons in the past. I expect the stadium to be reasonably full. Whether or not that translates to a better atmosphere is anyone's guess. It would be nice if Cal could score early, or at least keep the game close in the first half.

Q. Any funny memes or expressions to sum up your thoughts on the season to this point?

Nick Kranz: I personally enjoy the 'Jared Goff has tiny hands!' meme that has grown out of some fumble problems our quarterback has displayed.

atomsareenough: Cal fans have an exhaustive supply of memes and expressions to express their frustrations and overall sense of doom. None of them are funny anymore. We just want to win a damn football game at this point.