Bouncing Back From Oregon + Why Hasn't Cal Been Able to Beat USC?

Despite the unfortunate defeat at Oregon, the importance of Cal-USC really hasn't changed. Everyone knew coming into the season that Cal would have to beat USC, and now at 0-1 in the conference they'll be pretty much in must-win mode the rest of the season.

So as a postmortem on Oregon, and for those Cal fans out there playing the role of Dr. Phil this week, let's remember several things about how Tedford's Bears have responded to games like this.

1) The last time Cal was crushed like this on the road as a top 10 team with high expectations, they rallied and went on to win their next eight games, winning by an average of three touchdowns, and winning the first five games after that defeat by an average final score of 43-18. How many games are left in this season? Eight. Hmmm....

2) A Jeff Tedford team has NEVER followed up a blowout on the road with a loss at home. In fact, every time the Bears have lost by more than a touchdown on the road, they've responded with the following results in Memorial: Cal 37, Furd 16; Cal 41, UCLA 20; Cal 42, Minnesota 17; Cal 20, Washington State 17 (okay, this game sucked, but a win is a win).

3) The Bears have only lost twice in home games after tough road losses. And both of those games were with Joe Ayoob as quarterback. Kevin Riley, whatever you may care to call him after last week, is not Joe Ayoob.

Let's man up Cal fans and get back to the habit of doing what we all love Tedford for: Winning. Play this song on loop the rest of the day, and get the hate back in your body.

It's USC's time to feel wrath. Click after the jump to figure out why we've struggled with them.

How do you feel the Bears will bounce back from their loss to Oregon (also vote in the poll)? And what do you think is the main reason Cal has always been unable to beat USC? Ponder these questions in the comments.

NOT the defense. For all the Bob Gregory haters out there (and Lord knows there's plenty of them out there), Cal's defense always provides some of its stoutest efforts against the Trojans, even when overmatched. Take a look at the offensive stats from USC each season, and compare it to their stats against USC.

USC Offense Breakdown Rushing YPC Rushing YPG Comp% Passing YPA Total Yds Pts per game
2009 offensive stats 5.89 216.5 60.6 8.4 424 28.5
2009 vs Cal
??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???
2008 offensive stats 5.05 195.6 65.4 8.7 454.7 37.5
2008 vs Cal 4.81 173 60 7.9 411 17
2007 offensive stats 4.97 198 62.1 6.7 434.9 32.6
2007 vs Cal 4.98 239 55 6.5 368 24
2006 offensive stats 4.08 130.9 61 7.6 391.8 30.5
2006 vs Cal 3.87 120 58.1 7.7 358 23
2005 offensive stats 6.44 260 64.9 8.6 579.8 49.1
2005 vs Cal 4 188 62.5 7.7 434 35
2004 offensive stats 4.68 177.38 65.6 8.2 449.1 38.2
2004 vs Cal 1.64 41 60 6.6 205 23

 

While the Bears have not reached the heights of the 2004-2005 teams that shut down Reggie Bush, excepting 2007 when Chauncey Washington ran all over us, we have held our own, holding USC below their mean in almost every game. Most impressive is last year's performance where USC converted 36% of their 3rd downs as opposed to 45% on average and sacked Sanchez three times when he was sacked an average of 1.3 per game. Most importantly is the point total--USC has only scored more than 24 points once, and their final totals are on average about two touchdowns lower against Cal than their average points per game. In the most important category, Cal's defense has stifled the Trojans.

More talent. USC always puts out a bigger, more physical, more talented team. These issues can't really be argued. Go down the skill positions and the defenses and you'll see the Trojans probably have the advantages at every position, save maybe running back, defensive line and (maybe) the secondary. And you could probably make a strong case either way about quarterback. Offensively, when USC is on, they're usually unbeatable because of the talent of their skill players in cutting and breaking away in the open field, as well as overwhelming smaller defenses. Thankfully for our defense, they're not usually on against us, but eventually they break through.

USC's talent is not only physical but mental, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Pete Carroll's defensive groups always are good not only at chasing you down in space, but also at anticipating play calls, reading the quarterback's eyes, overwhelming opposing O-lines, turning 8-10 yard screens and swing passes into 1 to 2 yard pickups with their reading and recognizing of the system. These are smart football minds who know how to make quick, smart football decisions.

Depth. Lose seven defenders to the NFL draft, lose another dozen to injury, and they bring up seven more guys who have helped held their opponent offenses to 10 points per game (5th in the nation), 1.7 rushing yards per carry (3rd in the nation), and 227 yards per game (6th in the nation).

Cal, by contrast, cannot afford any error in terms of health. In 2007 they lost players to injury all the time and it ended up hurting us, in 2008 it was part of the difference between an 8 win Emerald Bowl team and a 10 win Rose Bowl team.

The Trojans are like the Red Army. They could lose an army of talent and not miss a beat in plowing your team into the ground. Don't underestimate them, even with the plethora of talent that will be sitting on the sidelines or in LA this Saturday.

Bad luck. Let's face it, Cal had their chances to win last year's game. But they were saddled with an incompetent officiating crew that gave the Trojans a crucial 14 point swing: There was the incomplete pass in the end zone that was ruled a touchdown (0:53 in), and that bizarro ineligible receiver/illegal motion penalty that I'm STILL trying to figure out. Reverse either of these calls, and Cal could be down by only a field goal or tied up going into the 4th quarter, definitely putting far more pressure on Mark Sanchez and USC to respond. 

However, that's one instance of bad luck hurting us. There have been two relative constants I see in our defeats the previous seasons.

Quarterback. I hate to bring it back to quarterback play, because I know how much everyone loves talking about it. But for a Cal offense that prides itself on its strong passing game, the past four seasons they have come up woefully short against the Trojans.

2005: Joe Ayoob & Steve Levy, 56.5% completion rate, 0 touchdown, 4 interceptions, 5.7 yards per attempt (season averages of 52% completions, 7.2 YPA, and a 1.3 to 1 TD to INT ratio)
2006: Nate Longshore, 44.7% completion rate, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, 4.6 yards per attempt (season averages of 60.2% completions, 8 YPA, and almost a 2 to 1 TD to INT ratio)
2007: Nate Longshore, 44.8% completion rate, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, 6.9 yards per attempt (season averages of 60% completions, 6.7 YPA, and nearly a 1 to 1 TD to INT ratio)
2008: Nate Longshore & Kevin Riley, 48.4% completions, 0 touchdown, 1 interception, 4.5 yards per attempt (season averages of 52.6% completions, 6.2 YPA, and a 2.5 to 1 TD to INT ratio)

So Cal's passing game has completed about 50% of its passes, which certainly won't get the job done. Winning passing quarterbacks have, over the last five years have completed 60% (Locker), 64% (Moveao), 64% (Dixon), 36% (Pritchard, albeit that was a fluky game), 65% (Matt Moore), 57% (Cowan), and 75% (Young). You'd expect Kevin Riley would at least have to complete 57% of his passes, and certainly around 60% for the Bears to truly get on track on the offensive end.

More disconcerting is the 2 touchdown to 9 interception ratio. With the Trojans likely to focus on Jahvid Best the way Oregon did, Cal will have to establish their passing attack in some way if they plan to win, whether by a balance of playcalling or a quick hitting attack to exploit any USC defensive weaknesses the coaching staff notices.

If the passing attack regresses to its inconsistent 2008 ways, then it could be a very long, tedious night in Memorial.

The Cal offense finishing the game. The biggest difference in our recent meetings has been the fourth quarter; we have held our own until the must crucial part of the game. In the fourth quarter of the last three games in the series, USC has outscored Cal 28-0; extend it to 2005 and it's 35-7. Two of those games were tied (although USC took a 7 point lead early in one of those games); another the Bears were only down by 7. These three games were immensely winnable by the Bears, yet in the fourth quarter they have put up these epic offensive stats.

2006: 1/4 on 3rd down conversions, 3:36 time of possession, 41 yards of total offense, 1 turnover, 29% completion rate
2007: 1/2 on 3rd down, 4:37 time of possession, 83 yards of total offense (78 by Forsett), 2 turnovers, 29% completion rate
2008: 0/3 on 3rd down, 4:23 time of possession, -1 yard of total offense, 17% completion rate.

What you see in these 4th quarters is a Cal offense that struggles to possess the ball, struggles to move the ball, struggles to pass the ball and struggles to handle the ball. That sort of play is a recipe for defeat against any opponent in a close game, much less the class of the conference.

It's likely to be a close affair again this season between two reeling but still very talented teams. Will the Cal offense step down or step up? After last week, everyone has plenty of reason to be worried.

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