Nine weeks into the season, it is fair to summarize Daniels’ first season as a USC Trojan as exactly what you would expect. We knew coming into the season that the Trojans were going to struggle due to a lack of experience, and despite the ups and downs, they are still sitting second in the PAC 12 South. Daniels has an opportunity to close this season out on a strong note and lead the fans into an optimistic off-season.
Looking at Daniels’ performances thus far this season, his best game likely came against Washington State in the Coliseum. In Week 4 the Trojans defeated the Cougars, who are now ranked eighth in the country, 39-36, with Daniels throwing for 241 yards and three touchdowns. If the Trojans are going to make a push for the PAC 12 this season, they are going to need Daniels to put up these numbers more consistently.
Daniels and the Trojans are facing a worthy opponent this week in the Cal Golden Bears. They recently beat the Washington Huskies and nearly defeated the Washington State Cougars on the road last week, falling 19-13. The Golden Bears have also given up a combined 38 points over the last three weeks since falling to UCLA 37-7 nearly a month ago. Their defense has been playing well, and Daniels will be tested.
For Daniels to play well it is crucial he gets some early receptions to develop a rhythm with his receivers. Last game, Aca’Cedric Ware ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns, which is an unsustainable stat line, however continued production from Ware will benefit Daniels tremendously. Between Ware, Stephen Carr, and Vavae Malepeai, the Trojans ran for over 350 yards against Oregon State, which does nothing but help Daniels connect with his receivers.
The Trojans will have their hands full protecting their win streak against Cal, but it is a great opportunity for a big win at home.
Chase Garbers & Brandon McIlwain
This game will be unique in that both the Cal and the Trojans are starting teenage quarterbacks. Chase Garbers is a 19 year old redshirt freshman who has battled many of the same challenges Daniels has this season. Garbers also had a great game against Oregon State, leading the Golden Bears to a 49-7 win in his most impressive game to date. His statistics are a tad bit inconsistent and tough to evaluate overall but there are multiple variables surrounding Garbers that factor into his play.
For Garbers, he is going to have his hands full in the Coliseum. He has been dealing with a partially depleted wide receiving corps for the past couple weeks and it will be interesting to see if he can challenge the Trojans’ secondary, who might be without cornerback Iman Marshall. Expect Olaijah Griffin to get a good opportunity for some reps against the Golden Bears, but neither the USC defense or Cal offense appears to be at full strength.
While Garbers will get the start for the Golden Bears, redshirt sophomore Brandon Mcllwain could receive some reps as well. In this scenario, McIlwain lines up under center so the Trojan defense needs to be prepared to stop the run. McIlwain is the Golden Bears’ second leading rusher, with 402 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He has turned the ball over 12 times this season, which means the Trojan defense needs to be opportunistic. The turnover battle will be critical in deciding this game.
Ultimately, this is a pretty evenly matched game on paper, but the Trojans can win big if they get out to an early start. By putting points on the board early, the Coliseum will be activated and Daniels will gain confidence. While Cal’s defense has been great over the past three weeks, their offense has been a bit stale since the Oregon State game. Expect the Golden Bears to put somewhere between 25 to 35 points on the board, therefore it is crucial Daniels and the Trojan offense come ready to play.