The Cal Golden Bears were unable to overcome a couple of crippling turnovers in the second half to complete the upset of the Arizona Wildcats. It was their best performance since the first two weeks of the season. They now have their Southern California rivals, the USC Trojans, who are in the midst in a down season. This seems to be a matchup of contrasting styles with the offense-heavy Golden Bears and the stout defense of USC.
This looks like a great game for the Bears to pull off an upset. An anemic Trojan offense should be enough to keep the Bears in the game for the majority of the contest.
1. The Bears need to continue to build on their success in the running game:
Against Arizona, the Golden Bears were able to find some success on the ground with their most efficient performance of the season. They gained 130 yards on 26 carries for a five-yard per carry average, which was better than the previous week in which they gained 4.5 yards per carry.
Daniel Lasco has become the Bears’ most effective ball carrier with a team-leading 284 yards on the season. He also boasts nearly a five-yard per carry average. Against Arizona, he added 71 yards on 12 carries for nearly a six-yard per carry average.
The ability to gain some yards on the ground opens things up for the Bears’ offense. It creates short-yardage opportunities on second and third downs, which creates plenty of options that the opposing defense has to defend against.
The running game also helps out the Bears’ young starting quarterback, Jared Goff. Goff has been facing plenty of pressure this season, as he has been sacked 26 times on the season. The threat of the running game would help to slow down the opposing pass rush, as the defensive linemen would be forced to lay back instead of just rushing up the field.
It would give Goff much cleaner reads, as well. A running game would force teams from sitting in zone coverage, as they have to commit linebackers to stopping the run. It will open up more man to man coverage for Goff and his talented receivers to take advantage of. The biggest key against USC is establishing the running game early to open up the passing game against the Trojans’ aggressive secondary.
2. Get all three receivers involved in the game:
Redshirt freshman Kenny Lawler had his breakout performance last week against Arizona. Lawler led all Bears’ receivers with six receptions for 72 yards and three touchdowns. This is the type of performance the Bears have been waiting for from the young pass catcher.
Lawler’s emergence would give the Bears a formidable trio of receivers that can make plays at any level of the field. They already have an impressive duo with Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper. Also, converted tight end Richard Rogers gives the Bears a solid fourth option, as a possession receiver with his size.
A third legitimate option for the Bears will open up their two superstars, as opposing secondaries would be unable to double team Treggs and Harper. Goff’s willingness to take shots down field with any of those three receivers in single coverage could spell trouble for defensive backs. It would be the evolution into a truly elite passing attack and could make teams worried about the upcoming seasons.
3. Watch the turnovers:
The Bears offense was able to find some success on the offensive side of the ball, as they rolled up 419 yards of total offense and 28 points. The Bears might have been able to pull off the upset, if not, for a couple of costly interceptions by Goff.
Goff’s first interception came late in the third quarter, as the Bears were inside their own 15 and the turnover set the Wildcats up at Bears own 27. The Wildcats would convert the turnover into a touchdown to push their lead to two scores.
Goff’s second interception would come on their very next possession. The Bears looked like they were moving the ball en route to some easy points. They would get to the Arizona 20 yard line, but Goff would attempt to throw a ball into the end zone, but the safety would close on the ball and pick it off in the zone.
Those two turnovers were a potential 14-point swing. Instead of being 33-21 Arizona, it could have been 28-26 Cal. Giving away possession can be back-breaking to a young team like Cal. It gives the opposition a massive boost in momentum, while putting pressure onto the shoulders of the team.
USC’s secondary is an opportunistic unit that is near the top of the nation in interceptions for. Goff is going to have be careful with the football, as each possession is going to be vital in what looks like a relatively low scoring game.
4. Force USC to rely on their young quarterbacks:
The USC offense is a run-first attack, as they average nearly 13 more rushing attempts per game than attempted passes per game. There have been a couple of issues that have forced the Trojans to game plan that way. They have two young quarterbacks that came into this season with limited game experience following the prolific career of Matt Barkley. So in order to protect and get their young signal callers comfortable the Trojans have leaned on their running attack. They have also found success in the running game, despite the short comings of the offense throughout much of the season.
The Trojans have three different running backs that would lead the Bears in rushing. The top back has been sophomore Tre Madden, who leads the team with 671 yards and he averages over five yards per carry. Highly touted freshman Justin Davis is second on the team with 361 yards and his explosive play making ability is evident, as he averages nearly seven yards per carry. The third back is the most highly known in Silas Redd. Redd missed the first five games of the season from injury, but then has 332 yards in the last four games.
That stable of running backs should have the Bears worried, as they have struggled to stop the run all season long. The Cal defense needs to step up and stop the run. If the Bears can make the Trojans one-dimensional by selling out to stop the run, they should like their chances against these young quarterbacks.
The presumed starter would be sophomore Cody Kessler, who has struggled for most of the season. Kessler has struggled with his accuracy for the majority of the year and is susceptible to throwing turnovers. He is also very immobile in the pocket and is not helped out by a shaky offensive line. The Bears should be able to get some pressure on the quarterback and the more he has to throw the ball should play right into the hands of the Golden Bears.