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CGB Pre-Season: USC Roundtable

TwistNHook: This..............could end poorly

HydroTech: Hopefully, the 2010 game doesn't start off poorly like the 2009 game.

Berkelium97: Hopefully, the 2010 game doesn't end poorly like the 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 games.

TwistNHook: Dont forget 2001! Who could forget 2001!

Berkelium97: We had a team in 2001?

Ragnarok: Well, considering it was raining and Cal was 0-8 heading into the game, and it was a torrential downpour, there weren't that many people actually in the stands to remember 2001. And those of us who stayed have probably done all we could to forget the 55-14 beating Cal took that year. Although apparently (and I had forgotten this, and had to look it up) Cal started off well, opening that game with an 8-play scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead.

Kodiak: For the first time in recent memory, there are cracks in the Trojan armor. They didn't just lose a close game where they came out flat and over-confident last year...they got absolutely humbled. Twice. And now Pom Pom has taken his act to the league while Lane Violation Kiffy takes over with his dream team of high-priced coaches.

Brat or upstart savant, you can't deny that Kiffin is a polarizing figure. He'll have his work cut out for him keeping the sanctioned 'sc team motivated, especially if they lose a few. Unfortunately, that doesn't help us since we play them relatively early in the year. However, we do play them after a revenge game ('sc at 'furd) and before a super-hyped revenge game (oregon), so maybe we'll catch them a little flat or looking ahead.



Make no mistake, their roster is still over-loaded with a ridiculous number of HS All-Americans. But, there is a lack of nationally-acclaimed star power. Besides Barkley, there aren't a lot of names that immediately jump out at you. There are plenty of players with all-league potential, but not as many sure-fire 1st rounders as in past years.

On offense, they usually run a straightforward pro-style scheme. They use their overpowering o-line to pound the ball on the ground which sets up play-action passes for big chunks of yardage. Their two top receiving weapons Williams(WR) and McCoy(TE) are gone, but they have Ronald Johnson, Ausberry, and two of the top-5 national HS WR recruits(Woods and Ambles) ready to step in. They also lost their top two RB's, but remain loaded with Bradford, Gable, et. al. Plus, Havili is still there ready to torment us with that darn wheel-route. Their new coordinator was RB coach for the Titans, so he's used to working with paid players...I mean, with developing talent.

On defense, I'd expect Monte Kiffin to install a variant of his famous Tampa-2. He's going to rely on Kennard to be his enforcer/playmaker at LB, stop the run, and force you to beat him with consistent mid-range passes. Which sadly enough, happens to be Riley's weakness. They have to replace all four starters at DB, though, so that might allow for some growing pains.

I'm not sold on Kiffin having the chops necessary to "win forever." He's a formidable recruiter, sure, but I have trouble seeing him possess the leadership skills needed to build and maintain the proper locker room. I wonder how much of that immature "brat" image is a media construct...then again, he keeps on getting hired by rich/powerful guys who know a lot more about this game than I do. Even so, it may be that all he needs to do is put bigger/faster/stronger guys in greater depth on the field and just let his NFL-caliber coordinators turn 'em loose.

As poorly as we match up against pure spread teams, for some reason we usually find a way to play 'sc pretty tough. Perhaps it's because they use a more conventional pro-style offensive and defensive scheme. Or maybe it's because pure evil inspires us to bring our best game.

I'm going to drink deep from the crazy juice and go against logic, reason, and a lifetime of Cal instincts. We're going to win this one. We're going to shut up their poser group of two-song phoneys. We're going to send their fake-tanned legion of plastic fans to the exits crying and make them shut off the lights and scoreboard early. Traveler is headed for the glue factory. "Maybe we need to focus on football and not on all the pomp," Kiffy admits.



This will be Riley's game of redemption and make us wonder "where the heck was this guy hiding?" Although our running game will struggle against their tough front 7, Riley will come through in the clutch. Afterwards, Kennard will mumble, "They wanted it more than we did. It was tough. We were so flat. You look at their sideline and everyone was fired up and showing energy. That's where we've got to get."

Make no mistake, this one will be a close, even-fought contest. In the end, we win the field position battle from unleashing our Anger, and Tavecchio gets carried off the field after nailing the game-winner. 24-22, Cal!

Atomsareenough: I know this is just an email exchange, but can I rec that?

Avinash: Well, the formula has always been the same. Can Cal's offense put any points on the board against USC's defense?

Make fun of Bob Gregory all you want, but his defenses always stood firm against the Trojans. The 2005 godzilla offense was held to only 35 points (second-lowest all season), and in every other game since 2004 Cal has held USC to 23, 23, 24, 17, and 23 points (yeah the last one was 30, but 7 came courtesy of Alamar). It's the offense that's failed us, every single year. 17 points is the highest we've ever hit in those contests (even when Aaron Rodgers was zipping the ball everywhere), and three times we haven't even broken double digits.

So let's look at USC's defense. Jurrell Casey lines up the interior, and could be a top ten draft pick in 2011. That sucks. The other three defenders up front all missed significant time with injury (Armond Armstead, Nick Perry and Hebron Fangupo). That's a little bit better, but there's no denying that they have the talent to be very good.

After an off-year, the linebackers look as good as the potent 2008 squad. Michael Morgan, Chris Galippo and Malcolm Smith return, with Devon Kennard lurking to steal a spot. USC's front-seven isn't quite the best in the conference (not with Oregon returning nearly everyone), but they're pretty damned close to being as good as ever.

The main weakness is in the secondary, and that's where I feel Cal has to attack early. Last year Riley had a horrible game, but the offensive line sucked and the running game couldn't get going, so he was always playing into tight coverage and lost confidence as the game went on. It didn't help that the secondary was the only real strength for the Trojan defense during the second half of the season. Shareece Wright is their best player, but he's missed two seasons due to injury and academics. Everyone else is unproven and inexperienced.

Riley and Cal's receiving corps (especially Jones, who should have the edge over any corner he faces) is going to have to be up to the challenge early, or otherwise it could be another ugly slog in the Coliseum.

HydroTech: Like or hate Gregory, even the biggest Gregory-haters have to admit that his defenses did pretty well against USC. It will be interesting to see how Pendergast's defense will do in comparison. Getting pressure on the QB is a quick way to get easy incompletions and interceptions, but also a quick way to get burned for big gains and touchdowns. Blitzing against such a talented team is even more risky as since they have the skill and personnel to matchup against the blitz and make the defense pay. Could be a really exciting game filled with big plays and big losses.



As for USC's defense, at first blush and as Avinash suggests, their defensive secondary is probably the spot most offenses would look to exploit due to the USC secondary's lack of experience. However, I wouldn't say that just because the secondary is young and inexperienced that an offense would attack them. Offensive coordinators in general, including Ludwig, will scout the entire USC defense and determine where they are the weakest and where Cal has the best chance of attacking. Despite the fact that USC's secondary might be young and inexperienced, Ludwig may still find that Cal is better served by rushing the ball. And let's not forget that Cal is a run first team. So I wouldn't be totally surprised if Cal just comes out and tries to run the ball despite the fact that USC's secondary has the least experience of the USC defense.

As for Cal's offense, it can score against USC's defense. Perhaps not at will as much as we would all like, but we've seen chances. In 2009, we had a touchdown called back due to WR alignment error. In 2010, we drove into the red zone and then Riley threw an INT. Scoring is possible, but it really requires the offense to play pretty flawlessly -- and not commit unforced errors upon themselves. Unfortunately, unforced errors have been the downfall of the Cal offense the past few years: bad passes, bad decisions, mental errors, etc. The more the Cal offense can not shoot itself in the foot, the more it can score, the less possessions the USC offense will have, the less points the USC offense will score, and the closer the game will be. Remember, offense is a defense too. The past few years, Cal's offense hasn't really helped that much in the defense department.

TwistNHook: What about the people who are totally and completely neutral towards Gregory?

Ragnarok: I don't think the haters have to admit anything. That's why they're called "haters".

Berkelium97: The USC defense will be its usual formidable self. The offense...not so much.

The Trojans have a wealth of talent to replace (which they will no doubt fill with a wealth of talent). They lost Joe McKnight to the NFL but return familiar talents in seniors Allen Bradford (their goal-line specialist) and C.J. Gable. Neither of these guys will make the highlight reels with breakaway runs, but they'll get some good yardage through modest, consistent gains. One of their top talents in the running game is returning senior Stanley Havili, who will block, run, and occasionally receive.



They lost three starters on the O-line, but return Kristopher O'Dowd who is arguably the best center in the conference. He missed several games due to injury last year, but if he stays healthy he'll be a handful for Derrick Hill and Kendrick Payne.

Matt Barkley was mediocre last year, but he ought to improve heading into this year. He should be a serviceable QB, but nothing spectacular yet. He won't be able to throw to Damian Williams who entered the NFL Draft. Ronald Johnson will likely become the top receiver. He had 34 receptions for 378 yards and 3TDs last year. Replacing someone like Williams could be tough. I've never heard of any of their other receivers, but they ought to be able to get the job done.

Oddly enough, their starting tight end is Jordan Cameron. George Smoot is currently investigating whether Jordan Cameron blocking Cameron Jordan will rip a hole in the space-time continuum.

The moral of the story is that this offense is decent, but not spectacular. They're not going to score 40+ points per game, but their offense will get the job done.

NorCalNick: I'll be interested to see how Shane Vereen fairs against the USC defense. Cal has had a history of running very successfully against the Trojans in the Tedford era despite USC's defensive prowess, but Jahvid really struggled against them. Some of the blame (perhaps even most of the blame) falls on the offensive line, but there was also speculation that Jahvid's style wasn't well suited for a team with the sheer talent, speed and physicality of USC. Perhaps Shane's skill set will do more damage.

HydroTech: That's an interesting thought. In my opinion, I'd rather have Jahvid Best. I think his sheer speed and elusiveness can do more damage against a good defense rather than a runningback like Vereen. However, that's just my opinion.

As for why Jahvid Best didn't do so well against USC's defense, I think we only need to look at how bad our passing offense has been in the prior two years. In 2008, Longshore did a serviceable 11/15 on pass attempts. However, his yards per attempt were a lowly 5.3 yards. Can't really blame that entirely on him though since he completed the majority of his passes. Plus, USC was clearly looking to limit down-field passing and Cal was restricted to quick and shorter passing routes. In 2009, Riley was 15/40 with a 5.0 yards per attempt average. With a passing game that non-threatening, the defense will pretty much focus on the run -- and even moreso when Jahvid Best is the runningback. Therefore, I would think that Jahvid Best's failures against USC aren't so much a product of his lack of abilities or perhaps his running style, but the lack of offensive line run blocking, and poor offensive passing. If Cal had some better run blocking the past two years, and had a better passing offense, I guarantee that Jahvid Best would have ran all over the USC defense. In other words, I don't think his running style had anything to do with his lack of success. And honestly, if Jahvid Best can't run or around a defense, then I don't think any runningback can. And if no runningback can, the problem isn't your runningback.

OhioBear: Remember when we beat USC in 2003 and then went toe-to-toe with them in 2004 before falling 9 yards short? Remember when we were tied going into the 4th quarter when we played them in 2006 for the Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl berth? If it seems like a long time ago, that's because it was.

Since we beat USC in 2003, here are the Pac-10 teams that have beaten the Trojans: Oregon State (twice), Oregon (twice), Stanfurd (twice), Ucla, Washington, and Arizona. Yet during that same period of time, we are 0-6 against USC. Sure, we've been competitive in all but two of the games, but 0-6 is 0-6. I don't like saying it, but USC has owned us.
Petey is gone, but do we have any reason to think this year will be different against Lane Kiffin? Maybe. Kiffin is a heckuva recruiter, but I think the jury is still out on him as a coach. Regardless, talent is talent and USC has a ton of it. That said, I don't think Cal is intimidated by USC and I have always gotten the sense that our players relish the challenge of lining up against USC. So I think we will play them tough, which we always seem to do so at the LA Coliseum. But given the recent history of this series, I cannot convince myself that the ultimate outcome will be any different than it has been the last six meetings.
Prediction: USC 20, Cal 17

TwistNHook: Any score predictions? Cal wins 2-0!

CBKWit: Well, your predicition for Cal is well within one standard deviation of our usual point total against SC. In that same vein, I'll go with Cal negative 5, usc 14.

TwistNHook: Nobody told me there would be math in this Roundtable!

Ragnarok: I suppose there's comfort in making predictions that have a 100% certainty of being wrong, rather than tossing out scores that have only a 98% chance or so of missing.

USC 24, Cal 14

TwistNHook: Does anybody think we'll beat USC?

CBKWit: Considering we've only cracked the 10 point barrier once in the last five years, I'll believe it when I see it.

Atomsareenough: I think we're going to lose 3 out of 4 of @USC, @Arizona, vs.Oregon, and @Oregon St. And if I'm feeling slightly more pessimistic, then I'd say we lose 4 out of 6 of those plus vs.Washington and vs.Stanfurd.

So, maybe we beat USC, but probably not.

Avinash: If Kevin Riley completes 23 passes in a row, we have a 35% chance of beating USC.

Berkelium97: I have an odd confidence heading into this one. I'm not sold on the quality Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff (especially the offense). I think Cal will take care of the ball on offense while the defense will force Barkley to throw an interception or two.

Cal 17, USC 14

Yellow Fever: We also have a losing percentage of 100% when we've had Cal quarterbacks complete more than 20 passes in a row.

USC 27, Cal 10.

HydroTech: Alright, Ragnarok. I'll give a prediction that has a 2% chance of occurring. Cal wins 17-14.