Must win November is upon us and the Trojans are looking to finish undefeated over the next four games. USC has won back-to-back Pac-12 games after Sarkisian's departure and have done it impressively. Under interim head coach Clay Helton, the Trojans have scored 69 points and held opponents to 45 combined points in the last two wins. As USC looks to defeat Arizona at home, lets look at how the Trojans mauled the Bears Saturday afternoon.
Time Becomes Valuable
The Trojans once again controlled the clock and limited Jared Goff and Cal to only 24:52 on the field. USC was successful in time of possession with 35 minutes by giving their running back trio the ball and letting them burn the clock. Ronald Jones II led all runners with 80 yards and a touchdown as he hit the hole hard and kept his body going forward for positive yards on 11 carries. Jones II had 7.3 yards a carry and really turned it on for the Trojans as soon as he received his first carry.
Tre Madden came off of a sore knee to make key runs and added a touchdown to give the Trojans a strong case as being a dominant running team. Madden's best run came in the fourth quarter when he stayed patient and found the edge on a missed Hardy Nickerson tackle to get the Trojans a first down on 3rd & 1. Not only did that run get them one of their 22 first downs, but stuck the knife in the Bears' defense.
Cal had one more fighting chance to stop the Trojans on a 3rd & 5 but this time Justin Davis stepped in. Like this particular play, Davis showed speed and strong vision on all 15 of his carries finishing with 42 yards. The trio combined for 40 carries, 184 yards, and two touchdowns. The combination of their playmaking ability and the offensive line helped tremendously since those rushing touchdowns were the only scores for the Trojans' offense.
Kessler played consistent not always going for the big passes, but taking what Cal's defense gave him. Kessler averaged 8.5 yards a completion but was 18 for 22 with 186 yards. Despite no touchdowns and below average stats for Kessler, his completion percentage was 81.8% on the day. With Ju Ju Smith-Schuster playing with a bad knee and fractured hand, Kessler had to find another go to guy in the second half. Of all talented receivers freshman Deontay Burnett stepped up and rang the bell, finishing the game with three receptions and 82 yards.
USC razzled and dazzled once again, using quarterback-converted-receiver Jalen Greene on a trick play that ended up being hauled in by Burnett. The Burnett and Greene combo came onto the scene earlier this year when Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell were battling injuries. All four receivers played Saturday and contributed in the pass game and even more in the run. USC was turnover free, had limited offensive penalties, and made Cal play at their tempo which is a huge part of the team's success. Despite the emerging running game and productive passing by Kessler, the Trojans offense have to thank the defense again.
Wilcox's Defense Digs Deep
Many thought Jared Goff will have his way with this young inexperienced Trojan secondary, as they have been victim to many passing offenses. Instead the Trojans scratched, bit, and played with a chip on their shoulder allowing only three offensive touchdowns with two in the air. Goff did not have a huge day against the Trojans, only throwing for 272 yards on 23 of 31 passing. Despite his pair of touchdowns, Goff also threw a pair of interceptions to Adoree Jackson and Kevon Seymour. Jackson picked off the junior quarterback and took it 46 yards for a touchdown, putting the Trojans ahead 24-7. Adoree played suffocating defense on Cal's top receiver Kenny Lalwer allowing him to gain 30 yards on only three receptions. USC's secondary continues to get better as the Trojans' front seven makes a bigger impact.
The Trojans' defensive line has gotten their second wind and look alive compared to earlier match ups.The presence of Delvon Simmons, Greg Twonsend, and Antwaun Woods were felt on Saturday as they plugged up gaps and held Cal to 117 rushing yards on 30 carries. As a unit USC only gave the Bears 3.9 yards a carry mainly because of their ability to gang tackle and box in Cal's running backs. USC's defense swarmed to the ball and it resulted to a Khalfani Muhammad fumble early in the first that was recovered by Leon McQuay III. USC caused turnovers in key moments and were able to get Cal off the field before they broke down from fatigue. USC's defense have to keep stripping the ball and picking off quarterbacks if they want to get off the field and give their offense an opportunity to put up points.
Special Teams Shows Promise
USC rose to the occasion this week on special teams after being heavily criticized for their lack of performance earlier this year. USC's kickoff team were a shut down unit, simply blowing up the wedge and swarming the returners. Cal started their drives on the 18 after kickoff returns and usually struggled bailing themselves out of bad field position. This led to them punting four times and giving USC field advantage to start their drives. The Trojans' kickoff return team gave Kessler great field advantage to work with, usually starting at the 30-yard line. Justin Davis averaged 26.5 yards a return along with Adoree Jackson's 31-yard return. Alex Wood was successful this week in the kicking game making two much needed field goals and all of his extra points. USC will have have to continue to improve in special teams and start executing more explosive plays from Jackson and Davis along with great coverage.