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USC vs California: Game Preview

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After escaping Tempe, AZ with a victory over ASU, USC now travels to the Bay Area for a late night showdown with the California Golden Bears

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 Cal at USC Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

USC survived an attempted Arizona State comeback and escaped with a 31-26 victory. At 6-4 and officially bowl eligible, the Trojans know that they still have business to take care of. Next up is a trip to the Bay Area for their final road game of the season against California. The Golden Bears are coming off a 33-20 victory over Washington State to push them to 5-4. The win snapped a 4 game losing streak after starting the season 4-0 and ranked in the AP Top 25. Cal will be playing to become bowl eligible for the second consecutive season. Last year the Golden Bears defeated USC at home to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2015.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 USC at Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Offense

USC was a tale of two stories during their victory over Arizona State. The first quarter saw a dominant performance by the USC passing attack. Quarterback Kedon Slovis orchestrated a touchdown pass during the Trojans first four drives of the game. USC quickly led 28-7 in the first quarter. Slovis was 15-17 for 297 yards and 4 touchdowns in one quarter of play. The freshman definitely had help from the talented USC receiving corps. Amon-Ra St. Brown was definitely the player of the game with 207 all purpose yards off 14 touches. His lone touchdown game off a 95 yard pass from Slovis. Michael Pittman Jr. followed up with 143 yards receiving off 14 catches while Drake London saw the end zone and running back Kenan Christon 4 receptions for 82 yards and two receiving touchdowns.

Unforntiuely USC’s offensive barrage would come in the first quarter as the Trojans only mustered 3 points after that. A large part was due to Slovis suffering from cramps that would momentarily sideline him and center Brett Neilon leaving the game with a calf strain. Even before the injuries, the USC offense struggled to get going through out the remainder of the game. The running game struggled as the Trojans only gained 2.6 yards per carry. Christon only had 62 yards on 20 carries and averaged 3.1 yards per carry.

USC can’t afford another inconsistent performance against a Cal defense that’s ranked No. 5 in the conference in total defense. The Golden Bears secondary has done a decent job against the pass this season, giving up 234 passing yards a game. Cal only has four interceptions through the season and recently allowed 407 yards passing against another Air Raid team in Washington State. Cal also has 22 sacks on the season. Linebacker Cameron Goode leads the Golden Bears in sacks with 4.5 on the season.

The Trojans run game have been solid in the absence of Stephen Carr, Markese Stepp, and Vavae Malepeai. Kenan Christon has stepped up in their absence although he hasn't had the breakout game like he did against Arizona. The run game could receive a huge jolt as Carr and Malepeai could be on track to return. Both warmed up with the tam before the Arizona State game, but didn’t participate. Baring any setbacks, it could be possible the two suit up before their game against California. The Golden Bears defense currently sit at No. 6 in the Pac-12 in run defense giving up 144 yards per game on the ground. USC will have to keep an eye out for California linebacker Evan Weaver. The senior linebacker leads the team in tackles with 136 and averaging 8.5 tackles for loss on the season.

USC v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Defense

The story of the USC defense was still the same in their win over ASU. The Trojans got an added boost with the return of safety Talanoa Hufanga and defensive end Drake Jackson. With Sun Devils starting quarterback Jayden Daniels out with a knee injury, Joey Yellen took over as the starter. Odds were in favor of the Trojans and it appeared that way until after the first quarter when the defense had to return to the field following short USC offensive drives and special teams miscues that gave the Sun Devils a short field. Yellen helped get ASU back into the game with a 62 yard pass to Frank Darby to cut the lead in the second quarter.

ASU found its offensive rhythm by keeping the Trojans defense off balance with a number of screen plays and dump off passes to Sun Devils running back Eno Benjamin as they crawled back into the game. USC managed to hold off a potential game winning drive thanks to defensive end Christian Rector batting the ball in the air and coming down with the interception to secure the win for the Trojans.

USC run defense continued their solid performances against the run. Part of that comes with Daniels being out for the game, allowing the Trojans to focus on Eno Benjamin and the Sun Devils running game. The defense held Benjamin to 50 yards on 20 carries. They also didn't have to worry about Yellen scrambling on them, however the Trojans only managed to get to the freshman quarterback once through the whole game. The lack of pressure allowed the Sun Devils passing attack to succeed. One key breakdown came when Isaac Taylor-Stuart was beat for a 62 yard pass in the second quarter of the game.

This week should be less daunting for the Trojans defense as they face a California offense that's ranked as the worst in the Pac-12. The Golden Bears are No. 12 in the conference in total offense and averages only 308 yards per game. California is also playing a backup quarterback in UCLA transfer Devon Modster. The junior quarterback has thrown for 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. The Golden Bears passing attack as struggled since he’s gone under center. It doesn't help that he's been sacked 14 times on the season. Going against a USC defense that not only is third in the Pac-12 in sacks, but is getting healthier isn't a good sign for Modster. However, the Trojans has had issues with mobile quarterbacks this season. His ability to use his feet could be an issue for the Trojans.

Cal’s running back Christopher Brown Jr. will also play a role in the Bears running game. The sophomore running back leads the team in rushing with 599 yards on the ground. He could have a tough time against a Trojans run defense that has improved through the last few games of the season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 Cal at USC Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Key Notes

  • USC leads the all time series over California 70-30-5
  • California defeated USC in the Coliseum last season 15-14 snapping a 13 year losing streak to the Trojans.
  • USC has not lost to California in Berkley since 2003.
  • A win for California would push the Golden Bears to Bowl Eligibility for the second consecutive year. USC is currently bowl eligible.
  • USC has not lost two straight to the California since 1998-1999.
  • California head coach Justin Wilcox was a former USC defensive coordinator from 2014-2015.
  • USC opens as a -6.5 road favorite.