Why hello again, Cal fans. I'm choosing not to dwell too much on the teasingly slow-forming beatdown we suffered last Thursday in Eugene. We can't really afford to. We faced a better team and our young defenders were exposed (and held) enough to give the Ducks the holes they needed to tear us up on the ground. Good for our youngsters to get that experience though. And hey, Moose Jalil almost got a souvenir!
While we're on the subject of being exposed and dominated...did you guys know we're playing USC this Thursday? Yes, the mighty Trojans come to AT&T Park for our second Thursday night PAC-12 clash in as many weeks. I don't know if the smaller capacity seating at AT&T will be able to contain all the smug that will be making its way up I-5. Good thing this game isn't being played in a dome or everyone might suffocate.
SC comes in rested after their bye week with a more-respectable-than-us 4-1 record, with the lone loss coming via a de-pantsing in Tempe a couple weeks ago. The Trojans bounced back with a closer-than-it-should-have-been 48-41 win over the now Stoopsless Arizona Wildcats before getting a week off. That gave them some time to prepare to
embarrass face a Cal team that finds itself sorely in need of a win and some positive momentum.
I think we all can see that Lane Kiffin's Trojans are not the same as Pete Carroll's Trojans (insert dick joke). The aura of invincibility is gone. As a result, many of us thought that the 2010 SC team was ripe for the picking. And as a matter of fact, they were (see 8-5 record last year)...just not against us (see 14-48 drubbing last year). With so many familiar faces on the SC offense, is there reason for us not to expect to be cowering in the corner cursing Robert Woods by roughly 9PM on Thursday night? Is THIS the year we get to re-live the glory of 2003? Read on to see my thoughts.
2011 record: 4-1
Week 1: WIN vs Minnesota (19-17)
Week 2: WIN vs Utah (23-14)
Week 3: WIN vs Syracuse (38-17)
Week 4: LOSS @ ASU (22-43)
Week 5: WIN vs Arizona (48-41)
Week 6: BYE
Last Season: 8-5 (WIN vs Cal 48-14)
2011 Offensive Stats:
Passing: 317.8 yards/game
Rushing: 136.6 yards/game
Scoring: 30 points/game
STARTER- Matt Barkley, Junior - 6'2, 220 lbs
With familiar conference foes come familiar faces, and few are more well-known to Cal fans than Barkley's (Stanford's Unfrozen Caveman Quarterback's ugly mug excepted, of course). Barkley is off to a pretty solid start through five games, completing 70% of his passes to the tune of 14 TDs and 4 picks. I'd consider those numbers a tad misleading though. Worth noting that 9 of those TD's came in just two games (5 vs. Syracuse, 4 vs. Arizona), and 3 more came against the Minnesota Golden Gophers... who later lost to North Dakota State by 13 points...GO BISON! If you look a little harder at the data remaining, Barkley was much more pedestrian vs ASU and Utah (63% passing, 3 TD's and 3 INT's combined). It would appear that any defense not composed of hot garbage can disrupt Barkley's rhythm a bit. He's only been sacked 4 times, so pressure may do more good in terms of hurrying his throws than actually putting him on his back. May (or may not) also be worth noting that Barkley's worst outing of the season came in Tempe...which was also SC's lone road game prior to their trip up the coast this week. Hmm.
Upside: Arm strength, accuracy, Hollywood smile.
Downside: Consistency, mobility
What to expect:
Which Matt Barkley we see will likely hinge on whether or not we can get any semblance of pressure on him. The Matt Barkley we WANT to see is one that is hurried and anticipating being hit. Maybe we could rent Vontaze Burfict for the week from the Sun Devils. He seems to know what to do. If we can get to Barkley, hit him, and rattle him a bit...it will likely lead to some forced throws and potentially interceptions. No pressure from the front 7, and we'll see the OTHER Matt Barkley. Let's just call him "SC vs Cal, 2010". Enough said, I think. While I like our defense matching up against a stationary thrower more than a mobile, dual-threat kind of QB... it's pretty tough to look at our performance against Barkley objectively. I mean, 14-48. And Marc Anthony is out now with a dislocated shoulder. I think Stefan McClure is going to be very good, but this is a tough week for him to get the start. We'll need to pressure the quarterback to take the pressure off our secondary. That's the only way we don't get run off the field. The best indicator for how we perform defensively will be to see what Matt Barkley's jersey looks like in the fourth quarter. If it's as white as his teeth, we've been owned. Again. If it's got more grass-stains than a UC Davis Intramural Ultimate Frisbee player, we've probably got a good shot to break a 7-year stretch of impotence against the Trojans (dick joke?).
STARTER- Marc Tyler - 5'11, 230 lbs
Tyler has been pretty erratic on the field thus far this season, sprinkling 100+ yard rushing efforts between uninspiring sub-50 yard games. Off the field? Even more erratic! He's a big-body runner who is most effective when he can run inside. Maybe some of Tyler's consistency issues can be attributed to the O-Line, or maybe he's been hungover. Not sure. Statistically, junior Curtis McNeal looks like the far more explosive back at the moment (8.46 ypc vs Tyler's 4.69 ypc). He dinged his knee during fall camp, but has seemingly returned to form. While not as big as Tyler, he seems to offer more upside and big-play ability. Tyler still takes the lion's share of the carries though, averaging 18 per game. Regardless, since SC has made a habit out of utilizing multiple running backs in games, I'd expect to see a little dose of both Sophomore Dillon Baxter and Redshirt Freshman DJ Morgan too. Both guys have been heralded as Reggie Bush-type talents, and that may very well be true. But they certainly aren't there with regard to production...yet. Baxter dances a bit too much prior to hitting holes and Morgan evidently has trouble holding onto the ball. On second thought, maybe they ARE Reggie Bush-type talents.
Upside: Plays great against Cal
Downside: Doesn't play Cal every week, is a walking Party Foul.
What to expect:
Scheme-wise, we match up well with this running game. It hasn't been consistently effective or overwhelming, and most of SC's running success comes on the inside...which is where we're best equipped to shut it down. It would appear that the loss of Stanley Havili has really hurt this group. Makes sense, because it's tough to replace 9 years of eligibility over night (seriously, it felt like that guy was at SC for a the whole damn decade). Even without a dominant fullback, Tyler is still a big back who can wear defenses (and SC sorority girls) down with his physicality. We've shown a propensity in the last few weeks to drop off defensively in the second half, and SC has the hammer to make us pay for it. Still, I don't believe this is one of the big areas we should be concerned about on Thursday night. We'll stay committed to stopping the run and make SC beat us through the air....which they'll be more than happy to try and do.
Robert Woods, Sophomore - 6'1, 185 lbs
Marqise Lee, Freshman - 6', 190 lbs
Brandon Carswell, Senior - 6'1, 195 lbs
To the surprise of just about no one, Woods is having a stellar season, and has accounted for roughly 44% of all of USC's offense through the air (55 recs for 747 yards, 6 TDs). Yep, he's still good. And he's just a sophomore. That makes me a sad ManBearCal. Possibly more distressing is true freshman Marqise Lee has emerged as the starter opposite Woods, and has come on strong as of late, with 3 TD catches in his last three games. I find this especially interesting considering, on paper, SC is absolutely loaded with young talent at the WR position. But Kyle Prater (a 2010 5-star) has had issues staying healthy, and George Farmer (a 2011 5-star) is rumored to be making a switch to running back (LOLWUT?!). Behind Woods and Lee, senior Brandon Carswell (12 recs for 110 yards) and junior Brice Butler (8 recs for 82 yards) account for the remaining WR production in the passing game. All of these guys are of similar size, but the athleticism of Woods and Lee is what sets them apart and makes them so dangerous.
Upside: Robert Woods
Downside: Robert Woods cannot (legally) be cloned.
What to expect:
SC's receivers thrive on the short passing game: screens, slants, etc. We'll need sure tackling and tight coverage to ensure we don't run into trouble with big chunks of YAC lighting up the stat sheet. The emergence of Lee as a viable receiving option is BAD. I'm sorely tempted to think of this group as Robert Woods and some warm bodies...but Lee's more than that. He's an athlete. Many schools were recruiting him as a Safety and saw his future on the defensive side of the ball. The fact that he's had such an impact, at wide receiver, tells you just how much of an athlete he is. Does this sound like anyone we Cal fans know? I'm not saying Marqise=Keenan necessarily, but just that possibility is enough to make me crap my blue and gold undies. If Lee can demand enough attention to let Woods find room to do Robert Woods things, that spells trouble. Don't get me wrong, I still feel like if we can shut down Woods we'll be in good shape, and that has to at least be the focus. Personally, I think that's way too much to reasonably expect though. Our pass defense has been pretty awful as of late. And as I alluded to earlier, losing Marc Anthony will hurt. The SC receivers can be physical, and Anthony was a physical presence in the secondary...despite some of his other limitations. Is Stefan McClure ready to step up? Can our safeties offer some legitimate help to our corners in coverage, or will they continue to look like amateur bullfighters? If Woods is going to get his, the key may be making sure Lee and company get as little as possible. Full damage control mode here until the secondary shows me more.
Rhett Ellison, Senior - 6'5, 245 lbs
Xavier Grimble, Freshman - 6'6, 245 lbs
Even though Ellison was moved over to fullback from tight end this season, I'm including him here. Ellison has played more of a H-Back role (no carries from the fullback position), and I can only guess that's in an attempt to fill the void left by Stanley Havili. He's not nearly the blocking presence that Havili was, but he's been pretty effective in the short passing game as a safety valve for Barkley (10 recs for 56 yards, 1 TD). Two redshirt freshmen, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, fit the mold of the traditional TE a bit more. Telfer has the ability to stretch the field (6 recs for 101 yards, 1 TD), while Grimble is a big target in the red zone (9 recs for 91 yards, 3 TDs). Ellison is a good athlete and a solid football player. Telfer and Grimble are both young, but are getting more involved as the season progresses. It's a testament to SC's depth here that they have three guys that all have different strengths, yet each gets time on the field in different roles. Cheating, in my opinion. BURN THEM!
Upside: Athleticism, hands.
Downside: Run-blocking, experience.
What to expect:
Plenty to be concerned about here, but not Robert Woods-level concern. As I said, each of these guys do different things well...and it just so happens that our defense has struggled with each of them (receiving out of the backfield-Ellison, seam routes-Telfer, and big bodied red-zone target-Grimble). While only two will typically be on the field at a given time, it's a bit of a matchup nightmare having to account for each of these potential issues. If I were an offensive coordinator, I'd certainly try to test Cal's OLBs and Safeties in coverage. Hopefully our young linebackers can maintain discipline and read the plays correctly. Athletically I think we match up well, and I think we can shut down this facet of the Trojan passing game. Sadly, they have other facets named Robert Woods. Sigh.
LT: Matt Kalil, Junior - 6'7, 295 lbs
LG: Marcus Martin, Freshman - 6'3, 340 lbs
C: Khaled Holmes, Junior (RS) - 6'4, 300 lbs
RG: John Martinez, Sophomore (RS)- 6'2, 290 lbs
RT: Kevin Graf, Sophomore(RS) - 6'6, 300 lbs
This group returns two starters from 2010, but only Matt Kalil is playing the same position this season (Left Tackle). Khaled Holmes started every game last year for SC at Right guard, but is now playing Center after the departure of Kris O'Dowd...another guy who seemed like he was suiting up for SC the entire decade. Outside of Kalil and Holmes, there has been a steady rotation of youngsters getting time at both guard spots and right tackle. As a result, this unit has struggled with consistency. It looks as though true frosh Marcus Martin may be the guy at left guard. He's a load and a mauler in the run game. Even still, his inexperience has shown at times. Martinez and Graf anchor the right side, and they've been just okay. The offensive line has typically been a real strength for USC, and this year they have a lot to prove. This group is going through some growing pains, and there are real concerns with the depth across the line. Thanks, scholarship reductions! One thing worth noting though, Kalil is awesome. He may be a top-15 draft pick if he chooses to leave SC early for the NFL. Cross your fingers!
Upside: Pass-blocking, yet-to-be-fully-realized talent.
Downside: Experience, consistency, depth.
What to expect:
Maybe it's the homer in me but I'd say that our defense, despite how poorly we've played at times, is still going to present a significant test for the SC offensive line. We've got size and we've got athletes. I'd still expect Kalil to pretty much lock up Barkley's blind side...so that leaves us with the middle and right side to apply pressure. Can we get to Barkley with just a three man rush? Doubtful. That means we'll need to dial up some blitzes...which will leave a void somewhere. If we're gonna blitz, we better get to him and finish the sack. Barkley will be less mobile than the guys who've made us look so bad at times, so that's nice. But he'll also be the most adept at making us pay if we guess wrong or don't get to him before he finds an open receiver. And that's not so nice. In the running game, I don't think SC has much success. But do they even have to?
On paper alone, this is a winnable game. With the heavy reliance on Woods, this is one of the more potentially unbalanced offenses we will see. We can shut down SC's running game and IF we can contain Woods and rough up Barkley a little bit, we should be able to do enough on offense to win. And this is one we could use pretty badly. It would be a tremendous boost for the team and the program., and would provide a huge shot of momentum as we enter the second half of the season. Playing at AT&T should provide some semblance of a home-field advantage too.
The true burden on any Cal fan is history. If I had no knowledge of the fact that SC had owned us for seven straight years, and specifically of last year's outcome, I'd be feeling okay about this game. But...I remember last year pretty well. And the year before...times six. Some of those margins of victory were slimmer than others, but wins are wins. And right now, even Lane Fucking Kiffin has scoreboard on Tedford...a fact that is galling to no end. So how can I fairly assess this matchup without taking into account the recent historical pattern that so heavily favors SC? Well, I can't. The curse of 2003 is what it has done to my views towards this game: the nagging memory of me feeling mildly confident last year vs SC. And the year before...times six. Each year, another disappointment. Some more outrageous and embarrassing than others, but all horrible. Well, I'm wising up now. Its time to expect less. Until proven otherwise, I'll be prepared to get owned. Again.
PREDICTION: 23-31 TROJANS.
Being wrong would be sweet though. What do you guys think?