The USC Trojans battled it out with the California Golden Bears for three quarters, only to pull away early fourth quarter. While it wasn’t always pretty, the Trojans went onto the road against an underrated, energized Cal team and took care of business. Let’s see how each positional unit graded out today.
While Sam Darnold had his usual flashes of greatness, he forced several throws in today’s game. While the statsheet says he only had one interception, it could easily show three or four had Cal cornerbacks not let the balls slip through their hands. However, given the amount of pressure he faced today combined with the inconsistency from his wide receivers this season, it makes some sense why he’d feel pressured to make the big play. Besides the few bad moments today, he was incredible when it came to avoiding the rush and delivering key throws on crucial third downs.
Aside from the fumble, Stephen Carr had a pretty good first career start. He rolled through some tough hits and was a great weapon coming out of the backfield in the passing game. While they only had 113 yards averaging 3.5 a carry, Carr and company delivered when they were given room to run.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A-
Hooray for no big drops! Coaches made a great adjustment to get the tight ends more involved and they became a handful for the Cal defense. Deontay Burnett had a great game, finding ways to get open when Darnold needed him the most and Tyler Vaughns would have had an amazing diving catch had Darnold not led the ball out of bounds. This is certainly a performance they can build off of as the season progresses.
Offensive Line: C
The Trojan offensive line struggled out of the gate, committing multiple penalties while giving Darnold almost no time to deliver his throws. Darnold should not be forced out of the pocket by a three man rush within three seconds of the play (which happened more than once). However, the Trojans offensive scheme made adjustments and the line stepped up with them. They opened up running holes and Darnold saw less pressure as the game went on.
Defensive Line: B
Trojans defensive line got pushed around up front to start, but responded well. Christian Rector had another great game, including two sacks and a forced fumble. They created great pressure and hurries on Ross Bowers on only a four man rush. It was worrisome to see Cal running relatively easily in between the tackles, but credit the Bears and Patrick Laird, they are certainly no slouch. Their deflections at the line caused multiple turnovers and energized the entire team.
When you add the fact that the linebacker unit played without Porter Gustin today, that makes their performance all the more impressive. Cameron Smith and Uchenna Nwosu we’re all over the field today and sparked the dominating defensive performance from early second quarter and on. They proved to excel in all three phases in pass rush, tackling, and coverage.
While the secondary was picked on at times today (especially Iman Marshall), four interceptions is still four interceptions. Chris Hawkins and Marshall also made a couple loud hits to break up pass completions on big third down plays. While it’s great to have playmakers all over in the secondary, USC will need to be more consistent in their coverage or talented PAC-12 offenses will pick on them more.
Special Teams: A
Chase McGrath was golden again, hitting an impressive 46 yarder and going 3 for 3 on the day. Kickoff and punting coverage/return were both solid.
Check Conquest Chronicles throughout this week for more in depth takes on the USCvsCal game and previews for the Washington State Cougars game.