One of the biggest keys to a USC victory on Thursday against California will be stopping Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff.
Goff can create explosive plays with his anticipation and throwing ability. Thursday night’s game could quickly become a shootout if USC allows Goff to get in rhythm and have early success, which he has done most of the season.
Jared Goff has been exactly what Cal coaches have been looking for ever since Aaron Rodgers graduated in 2005. Goff has done a great job of limiting his turnovers this year. Through nine games, he has only four interceptions compared to his 10 in 2013.
The 6’4" Novato, California native is fourth in the nation with 346.5 passing yards per game and he has slung 27 touchdowns. Goff had one of the top two-week stretches by a quarterback this season from September 27th to October 4th when he threw for 985 yards and 12 touchdowns in two close victories for the Bears.
So where could Trojans have issues on Thursday?
For starters, USC is 104th in the nation in passing defense -- and that's a defense that is depleted in the secondary. On Sunday, freshman starting safety John Plattenburg suffered a thigh contusion and will likely be a game-time decision on Thursday. If Plattenburg is out, Leon McQuay III would start alongside Gerald Bowman.
Goff could also find himself with more time in the pocket if Su'a Cravens is also unavailable to play. Cravens will most likely play after suffering an MCL sprain against Washington State. Similar to Washington State offense, Cal’s play calls tend to have a lot of options with four or five wide receivers.
Goff also doesn’t lock in on one receiver. In fact, he doesn't seem to have a clear number one wide receiver because he has six receivers with at least 20 catches. Bryce Treggs leads the team in receptions (40), Stephen Anderson leads the team in receiving yards (509) and Kenny Lawler has a team-leading six touchdowns.
USC will have to keep Cal’s deep receiving core in front of them and force Jared Goff to throw short passes and make a couple of mistakes. The two teams face off Thursday at 6:00 P.T. on ESPN.