The USC Trojans prepare for their final road game of the season as they face the California Golden Bears for a late night Pac-12 showdown. Both USC and Cal are coming off victories and looking to finish the season strong. The Golden Bears enter this game with a 5-4 record and one game away from reaching bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season. They snapped a 13 game losing streak to the Trojans last season and will look for their longest winning streak of the series since 1998-2000. We spoke with Rob Hwang from SB Nation’s Cal site, California Golden Blogs to preview Saturday night’s game.
1) California faces a possible decision at quarterback with Chase Garbers returning. What do you know about the QB situation for Saturday’s game.
Chase has been throwing since the second bye week, so that means about 3 weeks worth of throwing. At the same time, we don’t know how far he’s progressed and looked in terms of practice. I fully expect Modster to start after his showing against Wazzu, with Chase suited up as the backup. Hopefully this lights a fire under both QB’s and we have a jump in QB play to end the season. That’s my optimistic view.
2) California is rated as one of the worst offenses in the PAC-12. What’s behind Cal’s struggles on offense and could the rotation of three different quarterbacks this season have a factor in it?
Not really. Our rotating QB issue was significant last year, because we did that in-game and without injury. The rotation of QBs this season was purely due to injury of the starting QB. None of the QB’s started for the other due to inconsistent play. There’s not one factor to point to that the offense has struggled, but there are definitely questions regarding the playcalling so far this season. That’s something that fans have been asking since the end of last season. With that though, games like the Ole Miss game, the first quarter of the ASU game, the Wazzu game, have left fans puzzled, because we’ve also seen the success this offense can have. It’s really confusing as to what we’ve seen this year so far, one that will leave a lot of what if’s at seasons end.
3) The defense on the other hand has been pretty solid for the Golden Bears. What are some strengths and weakness on this defense?
Scheme, athleticism and experience. The staff does such a stellar job in mixing up the menu every week for the opponenents that they play. Pair that with the overall athleticism, particularly on the back end, with a plethora of upperclassmen that have been in the system for 3 years? Not to mention the confidence they play with prolonged success. They’re always ready to shut guys down. In terms of weaknesses, it’s easily our defensive line and pass rush. Blitzing and pressuring the QB isn’t always an issue when we send more than 4, but when we don’t? We often lose contain and allow more mobile QB’s to get outside the pocket despite our defensive backs locking down coverage for 4-5 seconds.
4) Who are two key players that fans should have their eye on?
Safe to say its Evan Weaver for the defense and Kekoa Crawford on offense. Evan is Evan. If you don’t know his name by now, you really have not been paying any attention to the Pac-12. Crawford is a transfer from Michigan who is our best deep threat at WR. He has been week-to-week for about a month, and finally made his return against Wazzu. He’ll look to get it going again this week.
5) What about an under the radar player that no one is talking about?
Center Mike Saffell. His return against Wazzu, was immediately noticeable. The offensive line finally was able to shift back to their most natural positions and having a talented C back allowed for the shifts and pick-ups to be called out flawlessly.
6) Ironically Cal comes into this game with a 5-4 record and one win away from Bowl eligibility. Last year the Golden Bears were in the SAME position and won. Does that come to the mind of Cal fans or it hasn’t been a thought?
Oh easily. Granted the other side is that a Cal win doesn’t eliminate the Trojans from Bowl eligibilty. Getting the 6th win in a win over SC at Home could prove to be a big turning point in the season along with rejuvenating some of the fanbase that have been let down in home games the last few years.
7) California wins if ________?
They score. The Bears have done well against Air Raid offenses under Wilcox. The defense should hold enough times early on. If the offense can’t score, the defense might find themselves in a lull again with no light at the end of the tunnel despite their heroics. It was clear against Wazzu, the defense played better down the stretch because the offense gave them some breathing room and did things with the stops and turnovers they got for them.
8) Final predictions and score?
This is so tough to predict. Bears shut down the #2 passing offense in the Pac-12, but now face the #1. Injuries and player decisions for both teams, make it hard to predict who could make an impact. I’m going with the thought that the 50/50 guys will all play for both squads. With that. My heart says a 33-21 win for the Bears. My head says a 28-23 loss for the Bears.