Hand of fate is moving and the finger points to you. He knocks you to your feet and so what are you gonna do. Here we are. SC week. And while I'm still pretty raw over the loss to Ohio State last week, count me in the camp that did see some positive things come out of it. I know we lost. That sucks. But still, it's funny how the fates of both teams have unfolded through the first three weeks for the 2012 season. Cal poops all over itself in the re-opening of Memorial Stadium against Nevada, looks undisciplined and sloppy against an FCS team, and then plays its best ball (a relative term, I know) in a close road loss to Ohio State. We're 1-2. SC destroys Hawaii in Week 1, and the nation is touting two Heisman candidates in Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee. They play a little sloppy and win an uninspired game against Syracuse in Week 2. Then Stanford punches them in the face for four quarters en route to an upset victory for the Cardinal. SC is 2-1.
Based solely on the trends of the season, we're on our way up while SC is struggling. Were the narrative to hold true, this would be an ideal time to pull the upset and end 8 years of futility against the Trojans. Of course, this is no fairy tale and the Football Gods are at their most merciless when you allow whimsy and hope to enter your mind.
So...screw that. This is SC. Against Cal. And I know how this goes. After the jump, reacquaint yourselves with your conquerors and abandon all hope.
Or maybe not?
LOL NO. Abandon it.
2011 Record: 10-2
2011 OFFENSIVE STATS
Rushing: 294.2 yards/game (24th)
Passing: 162.6 yards/game (60th)
Scoring: 35.8 points/game (30th)
2012 THUS FAR : 2-1
Week 1: Won vs Hawaii 49-10
Week 2: Won @ Syracuse 42-29
Week 3: Lost @ Stanford 14-21
STARTER- Matt Barkley, Senior - 6'2, 230 lbs
I reckon we're all pretty familiar with Mr Barkley at this juncture, so let me just throw some stats at you. In SC's first two games, Barkley threw for a combined 581 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception. He did that while completing 69% of his passes and sporting QB rating of 182.58. Barkley's stat line against Stanford: 20/41 (48.8%), 259 yards, 2 interceptions, and a QB rating of 92.08. Beyond the numbers, I have NEVER seen Barkley get the shit kicked out of him like he did on Saturday night. WOW. He was only sacked 4 times by the Cardinal, but it sure seemed like more than that. And despite his comments to the contrary, he look rattled and hurried throughout that game. Barkley has never been a running quarterback, and it doesn't much suit him. He's a dropback guy who does his best work in the pocket when he's got protection. Without Khaled Holmes last weekend, things really went to shit. Barkley's line was missing assignments and getting overwhelmed by a big and physical Stanford front. He got hammered, and made some bad reads and bad throws that led to costly interceptions. Despite a rough outing, Barkley's resume and talent are solid. He should be respected...and feared.
Upside: Talent, boyish good looks, verified Twitter account
Downside: Mobility, offensive line
What to Expect:
Stanford had success because they stacked the box, committed to stopping the run and forced Barkley to pass. That sounds weird, but they it worked because the Stanford safeties had a huge game. Our safety play thus far doesn't inspire much confidence that we could pull off the same strategy. It also helped that SC had a true freshman at center who got his ass kicked by the Furd nose tackle all day long and that SC's line couldn't handle their blocking assignments without their center and leader. Which Barkley we see this Saturday is contingent upon the health of Khaled Holmes. If Holmes plays, Barkley will probably get the kind of protection he needs to operate in the pocket and destroy our suspect secondary. Sorry, but I've seen it before. If we are able to generate some pressure, shutting down this vaunted passing attack will still fall on our secondary's shoulders. Excuse me if I'm not real optimistic about our prospects as of now.
STARTER- Silas Redd, Junior - 5'10, 200 lbs OR Curtis McNeal, Senior - 5'7, 190 lbs
Both Redd and McNeal were battered in the Stanford game and left the field at different points, but were both able to return and should be available for this Saturday. Redd, a transfer from Penn State and a second-team All- Big 10 selection in 2011, was brought in to be workhorse back for the Trojans. The results have been mixed thus far, with Redd rushing for 163 yards at a 6.8 yards per carry clip in the first two games and then getting shut down against Stanford...13 carries for 17 yards (and two 1 yard TD runs). Attribute the difference to a very good Stanford front 7 and a questionable SC O-Line that was sorely missing center Khaled Holmes last week. Redd suffered what appears to have been a shoulder stinger in the loss last week, and should be available this Saturday. McNeal was more effective against the Cardinal, rushing 7 times for 37 yards, despite missing time in the first half due to an unknown injury. While not as big as Redd, please recall that McNeal rushed very effectively against us last year (17 carries for 86 yards and 1 touchdown). He may be small, but he's a tough little bastard. Leading the way for both Redd and McNeal is fullback Soma Vainuku, who fits the mold at a powerful 6'/250 pounds. Like the ageless Stanley Havili before him, Vainuku is utilized occasionally in the passing game to great effect, hauling in 3 receptions for 29 yards thus far on the season.
Downside: Depth, durability, Kiffin's commitment to the running game is nonexistent through three weeks
What to Expect:
Thus far on the year, SC has run the ball on just north of 40% of their offensive plays. Even when blowing out Hawaii, SC ran it just 23 times to 41 passes. Now, part of that is due to Hawaii stacking the box and Barkley being quick to take advantage of Lee and Woods having single coverage outside...but still. I like the way we match up against a more traditional rushing attack, and I love the fact that Barkley is not a running threat unto himself. That should at least give our young linebackers a little less to think about after the ball is snapped. SC's running game is not real high on my list of concerns for this game, and while they could certainly gash us, it'll be the performances of Barkley, Lee and Woods that really determines our fate on Saturday. Famous last words.
Robert Woods, Junior - 6'1, 190 lbs
Marqise Lee, Sophomore - 6', 195 lbs
Through three games, the Trojans have 69 receptions as a team. 49 of those receptions are shared between Lee (29 for 363 yards, 4 TD's) and Woods (20 for 178 yards and 4 TD's). MOTHER OF GOD. Prior to Cal's game versus SC last year, it was all about Robert Woods and Lee was just a true freshman coming int his own. Well, he came into it and then some. Lee has been the more productive of the two through three games, and also housed a 100 yard kickoff return in week 1 against Hawaii. Woods is still a stud though, and more than capable of making his own plays. The Stanford game was the first time neither guy got into the endzone this season. In fact, Lee and Woods both had two or more touchdowns in SC's first two games. They're plenty good and incredibly dangerous after the catch. While both guys are really the focal points of the Trojan passing attack, keep an eye out for true freshman Nelson Agholor (6'1/185) as well. He had a bit of a coming out party with 3 catches for 77 yards last week. This is by the far the most talented receiving corps we'll face this season...and we made tOSU's Devin Smith look pretty damn good last week.
Upside: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee
Downside: ANY POSSIBLE DOWNSIDE IS IRRELEVANT. MARQISE LEE AND ROBERT WOODS.
What to Expect:
Bad things, man. Bad things. SC's offensive high point matched up against our biggest vulnerability. Our DB's are gonna need to tackle a lot and tackle well this Saturday. I'm not even as worried about them getting beat deep as letting Lee and Woods run around underneath our zone unimpeded. They're fast enough that one missed tackle will mean paydirt for SC. Of course, that doesn't mean I want to see more missed safety assignments that result in a wide receiver standing alone 40 yards downfield either. Woods and Lee are just as lethal on long balls as short ones. I'm having some trouble figuring out just what we can really do here. Fuck it, I'm gonna go cry in the corner for a bit.
STARTER- Xavier Grimble, Sophomore - 6'5, 255 lbs OR Randall Telfer, Sophomore - 6'4, 255 lbs
SC runs a fair amount of double TE sets out of both and Ace and I formations, and while Telfer has been tabbed the starter, he and Grimble appear to be essentially interchangeable. They see roughly equal time on the field as well. Telfer set an SC Freshman record for tight ends after catching 26 balls for 273 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2011. He's recorded 5 catches for 31 yards on the season thus far...with 4 catches coming last week against Stanford. Grimble has 4 catches for 79 yards and 1 touchdown on the year. Both guys are big and athletic, but by no means a focal point of this year's Trojan offense. While that doesn't make them any less dangerous given the fact that we struggle with tight ends in pass coverage, it's worth recognizing. They're decent in run support, and may be tasked with that assignment moreso after the Stanford debacle.
Upside: Talent, run blocking, SEAMS
What to Expect:
Hard to say, really. Both guys are certainly capable receivers and challenging matchups due to their size. And we sure do suck at defending the tight end. But a rocky start to the game for this offensive line could force Kiffin to keep his tight ends in as an additional blocker on pass plays. I'd be okay with that. If not, both Grimble and Telfer are athletic enough to be used in multiple ways. You can bet your ass that they could be called upon in the red zone too. Speaking of which, I think Jake Stoneburner just scored again. Leave me alone.
LT: Aundrey Walker, Sophomore - 6'6, 300 lbs OR Max Tuerk, Freshman - 6'6, 285 lbs
LG: Marcus Martin, Sophomore - 6'3, 325 lbs
C: Khaled Holmes, Senior - 6'4, 305 lbs OR Abe Markowitz, Senior - 6'1, 305 lbs
RG: John Martinez, Junior - 6'2, 305 lbs
RT: Kevin Graf, Junior - 6'6, 300 lbs
Despite returning 4 of 5 starters from 2011, things aren't all good for SC on the offensive line. The left side of the line, Aundrey Walker and Marcus Martin, had a really bad day against Stanford. Walker's now fighting to keep his starting spot away from true freshman Max Tuerk. Walker is a huge human being with tons of potential, but I considered him more of a guard than a tackle when he came out of high school. Martin started 10 games at left guard in 2011 as a true freshman and played really well. He's struggled thus far in 2012 though, not only in the Stanford game but also against Syracuse the week before. At right guard, John Martinez is back in the spot that he held down for the entire 2011 season. He's solid if unspectacular, but had his poor moments against Stanford as well. Right tackle Kevin Graf, like Martinez, has had a bit of a bumpy start to the year too. Note that last week's starter at center, redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi, is third on the depth chart this week. It was a tough debut for Hobbi, and it hurt SC badly. If Holmes, who is a Rimington Award candidate and the linchpin of this Trojan offensive line, can't go on Saturday, it will be senior Abe Markowitz at center. Markowitz has seen minimal PT during his tenure at SC primarily due to a rash of injuries. He's stout though, and his time in the program may allow him to be better with line calls than Hobbi was. Pay attention to Holmes' status. That could be a huge factor in this game.
Upside: Talent, experience
Downside: Health, depth
What to Expect:
Any shot we have at slowing down this offense will hinge in the health of Holmes and the effectiveness of the rest of this group. I think we match up okay along the lines, but the key will be whether we can actually get to Barkley. We've sacked him a grand total of TWO TIMES in the previous three games. That's bad. I've said it over and over again, but Holmes is the guy that makes this line solid. He makes the calls. We saw what happened without him when SC faced a good defensive front. I'm not saying we're as strong as Stanford up front (we're not, even if we should be), but there were at least some things that our defensive staff saw in the game that will give them an idea of how to generate some pressure. It'll also be worth paying attention to the left tackle spot to see if Walker or the true frosh Tuerk gets the start. We may be able to do something there as well. This is a big, seasoned group that has really underperformed thus far. But they don't have to be great as long as they keep Barkley vertical long enough to hurt us.
This is an offense that's beat up, demoralized, and confused. Their flaws were exposed last week. We're getting them at a pretty good time of the year, and Stanford showed the nation the perfect gameplan for stopping Barkley. That's the good news.
The bad news? They're still SC. They're still loaded with talented and athletic playmakers. They've still beaten us 8 years in a row...most of which have been neither close nor competitive. We have a suspect secondary, and they have two incredible wide receivers. We have yet to demonstrate an ability to consistently pressure the quarterback. Stanford may have provided the blueprint, but it will take an incredible effort and a soundly executed gameplan to duplicate what they did. Plus, the Trojans are probably pretty angry right now, and this game is in the Coliseum. The last time Cal won there? 2000.
I'm pleased that our team showed some real flashes last week in Columbus. It certainly would seem to speak to a positive trend and a renewed effort by the team and the staff to turn things around (what took them so long?). I'm all for that and excited about what it could mean for the program. If we were facing just about any conference foe BESIDES SC (and Oregon), I'd be feeling pretty good right now. But this is a really tall challenge, and I don't think the little bit of positive momentum that may have stemmed from last week's loss is gonna be enough to overcome the Trojans. We're not there yet, in my opinion. I sure would like to be wrong though. That's the story of my fandom recently. Maybe I'll just make that my new signature.
I sure would like to be wrong though, MBC