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Saturday, November 18th 2006

Preview: Cal

The Game! The game we’ve been waiting for. A game bigger than next week, when one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football hits the coliseum in the form of Brady Quinn. Yeah, that’ll be nice. But this…this game is huge.

I remember in 2003, when at Cal, I watched an amazing multi-overtime game seemingly spoil USC’s title hopes (it didn’t, as the Trojans roared back from that loss to claim the AP title), but that game was devastating at the time. There are a group of younger USC alumni – the classes of 2003 and 2004 and 2005 – which viewed and continue to view the Cal – USC game every year as the most anticipated. Be damned the ancient USC – Notre Dame and USC – UCLA rivalries.

Could It End Like This?

The Rose Bowl is on the line, literally, and the national title game may be.

Cal Offense v. USC Defense

How good is Cal’s offense? Hard to say after last week. Don’t get me wrong, they’re explosive…but just how explosive? Their biggest win against Oregon has been shown up – considering the Ducks have struggled of late – and Cal’s stagnation against a good, but not superb, Wildcat’s defense showed us something.

Nate Longshore has been on a tear, and Jackson with 13 touchdowns is a threat in the open field and going long.

I’m Not Scared Of You

Marshawn Lynch was a Heisman candidate coming into the season. He’s a powerful runner with great vision. Not a terribly explosive, but he will be a solid solid NFL back. But with Cal’s undersized line and USC’s strength (supposedly) in its front seven, I’m more worried about the run setting up the big pass play.

Nate Longshore will be the key to the game, no matter what the Mercury News thinks,

Just as brilliant play by Rodgers was not enough two years ago, a superb game from Longshore won’t guarantee victory today. But if he plays poorly, the Bears are doomed.

LoJack got on track last week, and if the undersized Cal offensive line can be handled Longshore is about as mobile as a piece of wood. That is the big IF of the week. I feel confident the Trojans can stuff Lynch, but if you give Longshore time I promise the Golden Bears will move the ball down the field and put some significant points on the board.

A terrible amount of pressure can’t be put on the secondary, who especially if late in the game they can send DeSean and other recievers on some streaks will find men open. That is why getting pressure is so important.

USC Offense v. Cal Defense

Reading the stats and the pundits you’d think Cal’s defense was some guy’s wet fart.

The Golden Bear defense can only be characterized as a disappointment this year. Despite returning eight starters, the Bears have plummeted to ninth in the conference in total defense, which also ranks them 93rd in the nation. Despite returning their entire defensive line and two starters at linebacker, they are seventh in the conference in rush defense, giving up about four yards per carry. Their pass rush has been worse than USC’s this year, as they only have 20 sacks in ten games.

So how do they stay in games – nay, blow out games – even with all the offensive playmakers? Well, one piece of advice – hold onto the ball:

[T]he Bears lead the conference in turnover margin. They were a gaudy +6 in their big wins over ASU and Oregon. They have also been outstanding on third down, allowing opponents to convert only 30% of the time. Last but not least, they lead the conference in red zone defense, forcing opponents to come out of the zone with nothing on seven of 26 attempts.

Daymieon Hughes is a monster at corner, leading the nation with 8 interceptions (2 for touchdowns). But he is the long bright spot in the secondary. The USC game plan must be balanced, but once again I contend that USC must put it in the air.

USC’s offensive line, challenged at time, shouldn’t be significantly in this game. Booty should have time. If DJ is shut down by Hughes, then you can expect Smith and TE Fred Davis to have big games. Steve is having a huge year, but despite that it would not surprise me one bit to see him still get open and find himself neglected by the defense as an undersized Cal comes up to try to stop Chauncey and pays close attention to DJ.

Other Stuff

4 touchdowns on returns. 4. The season isn’t even over. Jackson is Cal’s Reggie Bush. Smaller but quick, great vision, and faster than anyone on the field for USC. The plan has to be to rough him up. If he catches some underneath passes then the Trojan defense has to lay it on him. He’s a tough kid, but with his size he can only take so much (he’s no Allen Iverson).

USC should be playing for an open road to the National Championship
, no matter what happens in Ohio State and Michigan. But who really knows how that will play out?

Get your head out of the clay in SEC territory. USC is playing one of the more daunting schedules in the country.

• Victory over Nebraska (Big 12 North champ)
• Victory over Arkansas (leading the SEC West)
• Notre Dame (No. 5, BCS)
• Plus, at least four other bowl teams in the Pac-10.

A one-loss SEC champion shouldn’t even be close if the Trojans win out against Cal, Notre Dame and UCLA.

What we can say for sure is that this is for FIVE BCS Bowls in a row! The big questions for this game are how will Cal rebound from that embarrassing loss to ‘Zona? And has USC really found themselves after that loss to the Beavers? Because over the last two weeks it has really looked like it.

USC 34 – Cal 27