USC at Cal Preview


A week after yielding 43 points to Oregon despite a strong first half, the Cal Bears limp home only to be greeted by the USC Trojans.

Though it was mostly held in check during the first month of the season, USC’s ofense got untracked in a big way against Arizona in Week 5. In the same game however, new concerns about their defense emerged, eventually winning a 48-41 shoot out.

USC Offense:
Matt Barkley has a talented and young receiving corps to throw to. It includes Robert Woods – one of the nations leading receivers with 55 catches and 747 yards with 7 games left to go. Freshman Marqise Lee is their number 2, with 21 catches for 323 yards. The guys behind Woods and Lee have plenty of talent but have yet to emerge.

At running back, Marc Tyler has been the number 1, with 72 carries and a 4.7 ypc average. He’s a physical runner, although a good athlete as you’d expect of a USC running back. Curtis McNeal has been the change-of-pace back, standing only 5’7″ but sporting a sparkling 8.5 ypc average on 24 carries. DJ Morgan has also gotten 30 carries, though he’s only generated 100 yards of offense with those carries.

The offensive line starts Matt Kalil at LT (6’7″ 295), Marcus Martin at LG (6’3″ 340), Khaled Holmes at Center (6’4″ 310), John Martinez at RG (6’2″ 290) and Kevin Graf at RT (6’6″, 305). This is among the least experienced lines you’ll see – Holmes is the seniormost member as a junior. They do, however, have size and talent. They average over 30 pounds a man more than the Oregon line Cal faced last week, and will present an entirely different challenge. While Barkley to Woods has worked all year, the Trojan running game hasn’t going yet. On the other hand, they have given up only 4 sacks on the season. They may struggle running the ball against Cal, but they should have opportunities through the air unless Cal can find a way to get more pressure than it has all year.

USC Defense and Special Teams:
The USC defense has had its ups and downs under Monte Kiffin, with some saying that the vaunted Tampa 2 defense relies on depth and athletes that you don’t find often at the college level – particularly on a scholarship-strapped USC team. While Nick Foles and Arizona certainly can put up points, giving up 41 at home was not what USC fans expect out of their defense. Cal’s offense has sputtered the last few weeks but has the talent to put up points if USC’s defense doesn’t improve.

The defensive line starts Wes Horton (6’5″ 265), Christian Topou (6’2, 300), DaJohn Harris (6’4″ 310) and Nick Perry (6’3″ 250). It has good size up the middle and Perry and Horton are effective rushers – Perry leads the Trojans with 3 sacks.

The linebacking crew consists Chris Galippo, Dion Bailey, and Hayes Pullard. Galippo is big and has experience, but has yet to reach the level of play Trojan fans hoped for when he signed 5 years ago. Pullard and Baily lack ideal size (200 and 220, respectively). Devon Kennard is a combo DE/OLB whose name Cal fans are very familiar with. He’s supremely talented and can make an impact in either position. Despite the lack of size, the Trojans are tough to run on.

The sceondary is comprised of CBs Torrin Harris (6′, 180) and Nickell Robey (5’8″, 165), a pair of sophomores. The safeties are Jawanza Starling (6’1″, 195) and TJ McDonald (6’3″ 205), both juniors. The unit has plenty of talent but has strugged at times, particularly against Arizona. Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones will be a considerable test.

The defensive unit has done fairly well against the run but are yielding 267 yards a game and a 66% completion rate through the air. The defense has also struggled to generate turnovers, with only 5 on the year.

Robert Woods and Curtis McNeal are the Trojan’s KR specialists, and both are explosive. Woods currently sports a 26.5 yard average on 9 returns. Nickell Robey and Robert Woods each have done some punt return work, though neither has made a huge impact there thus far. Andre Heidari is the PK and has made 7 of 8 FGs. Kyle Negrete is the punter, and he has a less than stellar 37.4 yard average thus far. The unit has a big playmaker in Woods but is otherwise unspectacular.

Biggest Advantage vs Cal:
Barkley to Woods. Woods is a premier receiver, and is better than guys such as Paul Richardson who have put up numbers against Cal’s passing defense. Steve Williams will likely get the assignment, which may give Marqise Lee an opportunity to thrive against Marc Anthony and/or Josh Hill (who have both struggled).

Biggest Disadvantage:
Marc Tyler vs. Cal defensive front. Cal has been good against the run all year (when not being held by Oregon). USC’s running game has been average, and should struggle to run – though it might not matter if Cal’s secondary play doesn’t improve.

Prediction: I expect some points to be scored – both defenses have struggled this year, and both offenses have a lot of playmakers. Maynard must be much better if Cal is to win, however. In the end, I see USC winning a game where both teams have at least 30 points.