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A Golden Spotlight on Cal vs. USC

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So Bear fans, it's just you and your honey. The setting is perfect...

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

...and then that darn Trojan problem happens again.

You know what.  Plenty of teams have this issue.  But it'd be really nice to get over our Oski-be-darned performance anxiety or whatever bad medicine plagues our collective psyche whenever we square off against 'sc.

Let's start off with Cal's best offensive play of the first half:

'SC comes out with 3 WR, 1 TE towards the top, and a single back.  Thank Oski, Stanley Havili graduated, or this is a play where he goes 99 yards.  Cal looks to counter with a base 4-3, perhaps quarters coverage.

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At the snap, 'SC's center tries to cut Clark while their RG pulls to run power towards their tight end.  Their LT hits our end and their LG engages Jalil...

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...but Jalil is not impressed. Despite growing up in San Diego, he apparently felt disrespected by 'sc's lack of recruiting interest.  He expresses his dissatisfaction with an explosive surge that meets the Trojan tailback in the backfield.

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Clark fights off the cutblock and helps Jalil finish the play.  By rule, when you plant the opposing tailback in the endzone like a petunia, it's called a safety.  By rule.

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And now for you blitz-at-all-cost enthusiasts, 'sc is threatening in the red zone and comes out with 11 personnel and 3 WR.  Cal is in a nickel package, 4-2-5.  Dozier has replaced the bottom OLB and lines up across from the 'sc TE.  With only one deep safety, it looks to be Cover 3.

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At the snap, Cal's four down linemen all rush.  Dozier sits in his zone and both inside backers (Nickerson #47, Barton #8) take a step forward as if playing shallow zone or coming on a delayed blitz.

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...but instead, Barton peels off to pick off the releasing tailback.  Nickerson makes a lateral jab step, then completely reverses course to drop deep.  Kelly (#91) aborts his rush and drops back to fill Nickerson's shallow zone.  Having been lulled into a false sense of security all game long, the Trojan Oline can't tell the difference.  It's rush 3, drop 8!

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Kessler lofts one towards his open receiver on the post.  Cal's secondary has cleverly baited this throw by leaving the receiver wide open...  But with Nickerson dropping unexpectedly in a Tampa-2 style scheme, Kessler doesn't get enough  under it and finds himself picked off.  It might be one of the few times a Trojan has found himself lacking air.

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Now it's late in the game, and 'sc is trying to put it away.  Frankly, the game should have had a fork stuck in it long ago.  Except, of course, that Sark was apparently playing some type of bizarre bingo game in the second half.  "Darnitall.  I just need to convert a 3rd and long with a run...and I win a free decoder ring!"  The Trojans come out with 4 wide and Cal looks to counter with a 4-2-5 nickel.  Both safeties initially look to be deep in a possible Cover 2.  But at the snap, all of the DBs immediately turn and run.  Cal's top safety rotates towards the middle while their bottom safety picks up 'sc's slot receiver.  It's Cover 1, man...and ESPN has thoughtful reminded us that Sark is the only defender who has slowed down Algholor all game long.  Hold onto yer butts...

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Cal's inside linebackers pause, then charge forward with a Green Dog blitz.  The bottom 'backer is responsible for picking up the releasing tailback.  The top linebacker (Downs #1) is free to rush the passer.  Meanwhile, Cal's top defensive end (Jon Johnson #11) rushes inside then unleashes a nifty spin move around their left tackle.

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Johnson comes free and forces Kessler to step up...right into Downs' tender embrace.  Kessler's check down to the tailback has been effectively negated by Cal's linebacker coverage.

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And now Kessler wishes Sark had called a handoff.  It's a big 4th quarter stop for a Cal defense that was overmatched, yet refused to quit.

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Heading over to the other side of the ball:

Cal finally has a drive to the red zone and comes out with 4WR, 2x2.  'sc looks like they've gone nickel.

Because Cal's Oline has struggled to get any push against the Trojan's stout front four, the 'sc corners have been playing a lot of man with safety help.

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At the snap, it's inside zone.  Rigs finally wins a one-on-one against the Trojan Mountain Who Walks(Williams #94) with a nice kick-out block.  Moore does the same with their other DE.  Crostwaithe takes their left DT one on one while Adcock and Borrayo combo their right DT.  Cal's receivers run patterns which draw off the corners and force the Trojan safeties to pause in case it's play-action.

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Anderson stops his pattern and locks up 'sc's safety.  Adcock comes off his combo block to slow the Trojan inside linebacker.  The MLB fights off the block and slides towards Lasco...

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...just in time to get a free ride into the endzone.  Touchdown Bears!

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Despite the early deficit, Cal's commitment to the staying balanced with the run is keeping the Trojan defenders honest.  Well, at least on the field.  Cal comes out with 4 WR and 2x2.  'sc looks to be in Cover 1 and has their field safety(bottom) in the box.

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At the snap, Cal's Oline blocks for an inside zone run while Goff looks to hand it off to Lasco.  While the Trojan defenders on the outside look to be in man coverage, their MLB and box safety charge forward to fill the run gaps.  Cal's top receivers run corner and out patterns to draw away 'sc's lone safety.

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With both the MLB and box safety vacating the middle of the field, Treggs is left in solo coverage on the skinny post...

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...Boom.  This play wouldn't have happened last year because no one respected our ability to run.  Also, because we were running a completely different pass-happy gimmicky offense that couldn't possibly be successful.

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It's desperation time and Cal comes out with 4WR and 3x1, but align both slot receivers closer to the line than a standard trips set.  'sc looks like they're in Cover 3 with one safety in deep centerfield.  Notice how there's both an underneath defender with a corner playing deep matched up against Lawler and a possible fade.

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At the snap, Cal uses its slot receivers to run an Air Raid classic;  the post-corner rub.  Both outside receivers run dig routes while Muhammad(#29) looks like he's running a wheel route.  Having both Davis (#9) and Treggs (#1) running patterns towards the middle of the field while Anderson starts on a post before heading towards the corner confuses the 'sc zone defenders.  They step up to cover Treggs...and Davis...and Muhammad...

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...but lose track of Mr. Anderson.  The deep safety comes over much too late.  And Mama, there goes that man again.

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Just for fun, let's take a look at The. Best. Special Teams Play In the History of Football:

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Were you expecting the Leininger Debacle?  C'mon, folks.  You didn't really think I'm that much of a sick sadistic....uh, don't answer that.  Not going to kick the horse carcass (much), but be forewarned that you might get a random LinkedIn request from a M.Tommerdahl in the near future.  I know we're trying to stay on budget, but maybe we should try drawing up plays on an iPad instead of an Etch-A-Sketch?

Water under the bridge now, Cal fans.  Bowl eligibility and glory can be ours this week.  Let's take it.

We want the Axe!  Go Bears!