Football to take on Cal in USC’s final road game

USC may need its deep receiving corps to pick up the slack if redshirt junior Tyler Vaughns cannot play. (Ling Luo | Daily Trojan)

In its penultimate game of the season, the 6-4 USC football team will head north to face the 5-4 Cal Bears. 

While the Trojans don’t completely control their own destiny, they still have a chance to set up an intriguing postseason. Now bowl eligible thanks to last week’s victory, USC still has a slim chance to win its division and earn a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game with two wins and a Utah loss. 

A victory at Berkeley Saturday will be the first step along that road for the Trojans.

USC Offense vs Cal Defense

The Bears’ defense has been middle of the pack, ranked No. 55 in the FBS in total defense. Cal has been unspectacular against both the run and the pass, and the Trojans should have plenty of opportunities to get their offense going in both areas. 

USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis has put up big numbers in recent weeks, and he should have plenty of time to do the same against a Cal pass rush that shouldn’t bother him too much. 

Despite Cal’s middling success defending the pass, redshirt senior safety Ashtyn Davis and redshirt junior cornerback Camryn Bynum are both NFL-caliber talents; Slovis would do well to avoid testing them too often. 

Even with the potential absence of redshirt junior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns, Slovis will have no shortage of capable wide receivers. Sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown is coming off the best game of his career, freshman Drake London has blossomed in recent weeks and senior Michael Pittman Jr. is on the verge of his first 1,000-yard season. Slovis and the USC passing game should once again have the opportunity for a banner day. 

In the run game, the Trojans could get a major boost as veteran running backs junior Stephen Carr and redshirt junior Vavae Malepeai could both return for the first time in over three weeks. 

Freshman running back Kenan Christon showed remarkable flashes in the duo’s absence, and their return should take pressure off the young back and keep him fresh. Utah dominated Cal on the ground more than two weeks ago, gashing the Bears for 231 yards. The Trojans might look to replicate that success with their potential returning weapons.

Cal Offense vs USC Defense

Cal should not provide the Trojan defense with one of its bigger tests of the year. The Bears have been lackluster on the offensive side of the ball, averaging only 308 yards per game. 

Cal’s offense is focused around a run game that is solid but unremarkable. The Bears average a healthy 125.7 rush yards per game, but that comes on an abysmal efficiency of 3.4 yards per carry. The Trojans have been strong against the run in recent weeks. Barring a meltdown, they should be well-prepared for Cal on the ground. 

The Bears fare even worse in the passing game, averaging only 183 yards per game and are potentially missing their starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore Chase Garbers, whose status is questionable. If he’s out, redshirt junior Devon Modster will likely take the reigns for the Cal offense.

Whoever it is, it’ll be hard for him to find success behind one of the country’s worst offensive lines. Cal’s lack of talent at the skill positions will also pose a problem for the Bears against an athletic USC defense — it’s hard to imagine the Cal quarterback finding open receivers in the short time he’ll have to throw.

Prediction: 35-10, USC

Last week, the Trojans seemed to be on the verge of a blowout victory after they ended the first quarter with a 28-7 lead against ASU. The remainder of the game went differently, however, and the Trojans barely hung on for a win in Tempe after scoring only 3 points in the game’s final three quarters. 

On the road again this week, expect the Trojans to finish the job this time. Unlike ASU or Colorado, Cal lacks the playmakers necessary on offense to make things difficult for the Trojans. Though the Bears will fare better on defense, the Trojans will still put up points, as they usually do. The Trojans average 30.5 points per game this season, and the Bears’ offense will find it tough to match that production.