USC shifts focus to struggling Cal Bears
After earning perhaps its biggest win of the season last weekend at Oregon State, USC will hit the road again, traveling to Berkeley, Calif. this weekend to face off against the California Golden Bears.
The Bears (1-8, 0-6 Pac-12) are coming off a 33-28 loss to Arizona. In that game, Cal quarterback Jared Goff set a single-season record for completions for Cal. Goff is averaging 317.9 passing yards per game, good for 11th in the nation, with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
After a slow start to the season, USC redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler has now thrown for more than 200 yards in the past five games and seems to have finally settled in as the Trojans’ signal caller.
USC (6-3, 3-2 Pac-12) holds a 65-30-5 all-time record against Cal, and has faced off against the Bears more than any other team in the school’s history. The Trojans have defeated the Bears for the past nine seasons.
This weekend will mark the first time USC defensive coordinator and secondary coach Clancy Pendergast will return to Cal since serving as the Bears’ defensive coordinator from 2010 to 2012.
In Pendergast’s first season at Cal, the Bears led the Pac-12 in sacks, and in his second year, they were ranked in the top three in sacks, total tackles and rushing defense.
Since Pendergast left Cal’s coaching staff, the Bears have struggled on the defensive side, sitting last in the Pac-12 in scoring and passing defense, and second-to-last in the nation in total defense, allowing an average of 529.8 yards per game.
USC, on the other hand, has flourished under its new defensive coordinator and his 5-2 system, topping the conference in total defense and ranking 12th in the nation, allowing only 323.0 yards per game.
In last week’s game against Oregon State, Pendergast’s defense held the Beavers to just 369 yards of offense, more than 100 yards lower than the Beavers’ average on the season.
Cal head coach Sonny Dykes is in his first year with the Bears, and though the team has struggled, USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron still respects his style of play.
“He’s had a tremendous career, put a lot of points on the board,” Orgeron said. “Spread offense, hurry up offense — kind of the offenses that have given us problems.”
Orgeron and Dykes have never faced off as head coaches before, but Dykes served as the head coach of Louisiana Tech, located in Orgeron’s home state, from 2010 to 2012.
Back at it
Against the Beavers, junior wide receiver Marqise Lee had his best game of the season so far, hauling in five passes for 105 yards and one touchdown. The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner had missed two of the previous three games with a knee injury, but returned with style against the Beavers.
“He’s an explosive player, and as a defensive coach, I know you always have to account for him and you have to figure out if you’re gonna single-cover or double-cover him,” Orgeron said of Lee. “Obviously if you double-cover it opens up the run game. If you single-cover him, you better be really good.”
In Lee’s absence, sophomore wide receiver Nelson Agholor stepped up, hauling in 161 and 97 yards, respectively, in the two games Lee missed.
Though Cal’s defense will be busy defending the pass, USC also hopes to maintain its strong running game.
Senior tailback Silas Redd seems to have found his groove after missing the first five games of the season, pacing USC’s offense with 140 rushing yards last week. His success complements that of redshirt sophomore tailbacks Javorius “Buck” Allen and Tre Madden, who have had breakout seasons. Allen had a career-high three rushing touchdowns in Friday’s win over Oregon State.
Though Madden is questionable for the game at Cal, Orgeron expects Allen to keep contributing.
“He’s the guy that’s getting better every day in our program,” Orgeron said. “He’s gotten bigger, stronger and faster. Give [running backs coach] Tommie Robinson all the credit, who has done a tremendous job of coaching him, and Buck for staying in there for so long and waiting his turn.”
Orgeron said that Madden, redshirt senior offensive tackle Kevin Graf and redshirt junior tight end Xavier Grimble are all questionable to play in Saturday’s game, though he noted their statuses might change given the extra day of rest USC has between games.
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