• John Skinner

2017 Cal Preview

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

Texas victory shows SC’s resiliency- SC did not play or coach its best game.  In fact, SC probably deserved to lose.  They were sloppy, lacked focus and suffered key injuries. However, they escaped with the win.  Most teams in a similar position lose that game.  Remember, these are mostly 18-21 year olds asked to play at a premier level every week.  It is not going to happen.  This is the type of ugly win you need to get to a national playoff.   However, SC has already had two of these performances and can’t afford too many more.  As they head into back-to-back road games, which includes a shortened week, they will need to play more focused/disciplined otherwise they will suffer a defeat.

Sam Darnold playing better then perceived/reported- Though Sam is considered a potential top pick in the NFL draft, the criticism of his start to the season, especially after the Texas game is short-sided.  SC receivers dropped five balls in the first half, with one going right off Jalen Greene’s hands for a pick-six.  Numerous offensive penalties hurt drives and he was without his best offensive lineman (Chuma Edoga).  Arguably his best receiving weapon in TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe has not played this season. Yet, against a well-coached Texas team, Darnold threw for 397 yards and 3 TD’s while leading the team down the field for a game-tying field goal and eventually a win in overtime.

The future SC QB- We have heard from multiple sources that if Sam Darnold goes pro after this season, a current high-level major college quarterback will unexpectedly graduate early from his current institution and enroll at SC.  It will shock the college football world if this player is able to pull this transfer off and immediately be eligible for the Trojans.  Though the coaching staff likes Jack Sears potential, he is at least a few years away from being a Pac-12 championship caliber QB which makes a graduate transfer situation appealing to all parties, should Darnold head to the NFL.

Offense will roll when Imatorbhebhe returns- The coaching staff feels that once sophomore tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe returns from his hip flexor injury, they will finally be running on all cylinders.  He is a potential All-American that can stretch the field and is invaluable in the red zone. It will probably be a few more weeks until he returns.

Porter Gustin out 3-6 weeks with bicep tear/defense banged up- One of the Trojans best defenders, Porter Gustin, is most likely out anywhere from 3-6 weeks with a partially torn bicep.  A strong source within the program states it is just a partial tear but if it is a full tear, he will miss most of the season.  This is a huge blow to the defense that is not operating at 100%.  Linebackers Uchenna Nwusu, John Houston Jr. and Cameron Smith, defensive lineman Rasheem Green and Marlon Tuipulotu, and cornerback Ajene Harris are all nursing injuries.  They are expected to play with the most concerning of these injuries being Tuipulotu (knee), Green (high ankle sprain) and Harris (hyperextended).

Edoga will play vs. Cal- Potential All-American offensive tackle Chuma Edoga is back after leaving the Texas game early due to the pain from his wrist injury. He practiced all week with it heavily taped and doesn’t anticipate encountering the same issue.

Expect to see Michael Pittman Jr./Tyler Vaughns- It appears former five-star recruit, sophomore Michael Pittman Jr. should finally be close to 100% after sustaining an ankle injury in fall camp. With Steven Mitchell Jr. probably missing the game with a groin injury, redshirt freshman Tyler Vaughns should start and Pittman Jr. will be worked into the rotation.

Wilcox hired a great staff at Cal- First year Cal head coach Justin Wilcox understands the importance of hiring great people around him.  Some pro scouts feel that Wilcox has assembled one of the best staffs in the Pac-12.  Wilcox took less money than former coach Sonny Dykes but was able to get Cal to significantly increase staff pay.  The move has paid off with Cal surprisingly 3-0 with victories over Ole Miss and North Carolina. The staff appears to make great halftime adjustments with Cal outscoring opponents 57-13 in the second half.  Cal was expected to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 this season.

What to watch for: Cal Defense- Look for Cal to employ some of the same blitz/slant packages that confused the SC offensive line last week vs Texas.  Cal has a solid front seven that is led by senior linebacker Devonte Downs who leads the conference in tackles and has already been named Pac-12’s defensive player of the week twice.  Cal loves to blitz and already have nine sacks on the year.  They have a bend but don’t break philosophy defensively (similar to SC) which means they give up a lot of yards per game (457/9th in Pac-12) but typical of Wilcox, they are very strong in the red zone with opponents scoring on just 7 of 11 trips.  They have only given up 22 points per game and forced nine turnovers which ranks them third nationally in forced turnovers.  They held Ole Miss scoreless for the final 43 minutes and tend to get better later in the game.

Trojan offensive game-plan- Despite Cal’s strong front seven, SC will still look to establish the running game early.  The coaching staff respects what Cal has done defensively but doesn’t feel that Cal has faced an offensive line as physical as the Trojans.  The weakness of Cal’s defense is in the secondary (Weber State and Ole Miss combined for 794 yards passing) and on third down where opponents convert 42% of the time, which is a strength of the Trojans.  If SC is able to establish the run, look for them to attack the mid-level passing game over the middle where Cal will be susceptible to giving up big plays.  SC’s offensive success will come down to the consistency of the receivers and how the offensive line picks up Cal’s blitzes.

Cal offenseSophomore Ross Bowers is a solid QB converting on 60% of this throws and threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns in the win at North Carolina.  However, his production has dropped off in the last two games with a big drop in QBR and only one passing TD to go with two interceptions. His top targets are Demetris Robinson, injured but expected to play, and Vic Wharton III is another.  Despite losing starting running back Tre Watson to a knee injury, the Cal rushing attack has been solid with Patrick Laird and short yardage specialist Vic Enwere.  Laird has some speed and big-play capability that Cal will try to take advantage of.

SC defensive game-plan- Cal has a mediocre offensive line and they don’t have a lot of depth.  Bowers has been hit quite a bit and already has five fumbles (only 1 lost) to go with four interceptions.  If the Trojans can impede Cal’s run game and put Bowers in obvious passing situations, they will rattle the young signal caller and stifle the Cal offense.  Cal is averaging 4.6 yards per carry on the year so it will be interesting to see how this plays out with the injuries to SC’s defensive interior.

Concerning familiarity between SC’s current win streak and when the 2009 streak ended- The last time SC won 12 straight was in 2009 when they lost their first conference road game of the season, against an unranked Washington team that was led by former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. SC is facing former defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.  The 2009 win streak also included a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State.  That said, SC represents a major step up in competition for Cal.  The North Carolina and Ole Miss programs are staring at stiff NCAA sanctions and aren’t playing with much momentum.

Geller’s Take- Next man up philosophy key vs. Bears-  Three straight weeks of physical games has left the Trojans with an injury list is as long as it has been in recent memory—and the Trojans travel to face a much improved Golden Bears team. Among the many reasons USC made it through that tough stretch 3-0, was the Trojans’ resilience and their success with the “next man up” strategy. With Porter Gustin, Uchenna Nwosu, and Rasheem Green all re-aggravating previous injuries, or sustaining new ones, there was real concern in the second half and overtime about how USC would stop Texas. Defensive lineman Christian Rector stepped up big time stopping the run and stripping QB Sam Ehlinger at the goal line in double overtime, essentially winning the game for Southern Cal. With Gustin out and questions regarding Green and Nwosu’s health this week, expect another big performance out of Christian Rector against the Golden Bears.  -Austin Geller is a senior at St. Monica Catholic High School and USCfootball.com intern.

Bettor’s trends- The spread favors SC by 16.5 and SC has won 13 straight over the Bears.   Cal is 2-1 against the spread (ATS) with both victories coming as an underdog.  SC is just 1-2 ATS to start the season and 0-2 as a double digit favorite. Cal is only 1-4 ATS in its last five games after winning as an underdog.  SC is 7-1 ATS in its last eight vs. Cal.  1st year Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter was 2-0 straight up (SU) against teams ranked in the AP top 10 in his first year as Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator (2010). - The total has gone under in 11 of the past 13 SC/Cal games.

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-Bit- RB Ronald Jones III had 241 (223 rushing) total yards and 2 touchdowns in the Trojans 45-24 victory over Cal at the Coliseum last year.