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Cal vs. USC know the enemy: Previewing the Trojans offense

The Trojans will not break easily this time around, unlike the seal on this tired joke

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

This is a week of fear. The worst expected outcome happened last week. The defense regressed. The offensive line was replaced with their replicas from Madame Tussaudes. Goff was off, there was no run game, and the team came out flatter than the Coke I got on the return flight from Burbank. It gave a reason for panic and pessimism, two things that are currently running rampant in the minds of Old Blues. We've seen this script before, and it does not end in sunshine and roses.

The other worst outcome came about last week. USC took the speech from Conan the Barbarian to heart. They crushed Utah 42-24, saw them driven back to Salt Lake City, and the band played "Fight On" 50 times, which is essentially the same as the lamentations of the women. USC's offense came together in a big way, and the USC defense gave Travis Wilson his "Matt Schaub" game for this season. It's been more than 12 years since September 27, 2003, when a young Cal team took down the #3 Trojans, and it's going take a performance leagues better than last week's to overcome USC.


Cody Kessler is the starting point for the Trojans. He can make most throws, and he's usually on target. His statistics are as follows:

  • 69.3% completion percentage, 169.0 Passer Rating
  • 2082 yards (298.4 per game), 9.25 yards per attempt
  • 18 touchdowns to 5 interceptions

As you can see, Kessler completes a lot of passes, for a good amount of yardage, in ways that will kill all your hopes and dreams. That is, until you get pressure on him. His worst game of this young season was against Washington. Kessler got sacked 5 times, Sark got a whole host of personal problems shoved into the limelight for the world to make fun of, and USC rebounded to murder Utah under Todd Helton's brother. If Cal doesn't want to repeat last year's Kessler to Agholor display (which made many people want to gouge their eyes out), then there needs to be the pressure that didn't happen against UCLA. Kessler will have two Agholors to throw to in Adoree' Jackson and Juju Smith-Schuster.

Jackson and Smith-Schuster are agile. They are crazy quick and will strike fear into the hearts of defensive players and probably some offensive players as well. Seriously though, look at this play from Smith-Schuster. Keep in mind this was on Dominique Hatfield, who absolutely shut down Kenny Lawler.

As you can see, Juju beckons Hatfield to meet him, stiff arms the stuff out of him, and sends the USC sideline into a frenzy. That's got to be a great feeling. Jackson is the Jahvid Best to Juju's Desean Jackson. Adoree' is the primary kick returner, and will be used out of the backfield as a weapon. He can bust a big play at any time, though he has been used more as a decoy these past few weeks, but I'd expect a good wheel route out of him. They are the two leading receivers for the Trojans, so they're players whose names you will be hearing as much as the USC fight song. And you will hate all of it.

USC has three running backs who will take ten snaps at least in the upcoming matchup. Ronald Jones is the one that leads the team in rushing, but it's a three headed monster in USC for a reason with Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Madden is the bigger back, at 225 lbs, but all of them are capable of breaking big runs. Let's face it, USC is running back U for a reason (though Cal arguably had a better stable throughout the 2000s), and all oof these guys are solid, will hit their holes and make solid cuts. Time is a flat circle.

That being said, USC is on their 3rd center of the season. Max Tuerk and Toa Lobendahn (who's name took me three tries to spell) both have had season ending knee injuries. Khaliel Rodgers will get the start, and he was solid against Utah, which is infuriating to everyone. Maybe he can be taken through linemen stunts. At this point, who knows.


USC is going to look at the tape from last week's UCLA game, and say we can do that better. With Cal's open-field tackling getting the elusive T for Troll grade, this could be another year of pain, misery, and Fight On. The one thing Cal doesn't have to worry about is a running quarterback. Kessler will not run on the inside zone plays. That's one small relief in a sea of worries.

USC's running game is a lot like ours, which is good, because I don't have to write as much, and because I hate the triple option with an absolute passion. There will be the odd play in the run game that is outside the Tony Franklin realm of crazy, like this one below.

USC lines up with outside receivers tight, one inside guy two and two off the tackle (two yards off and two yards back), and with a fullback in the pistol. It's a toss play to the left. What makes it interesting is that both the left tackle and the center pull. Normally, both guards would pull, so it's interesting to see other guys do it. The inside receiver blocks the defensive end just enough so that the pulling linemen can get ahead of Justin Davis, help him get the edge, and essentially clear the way for a touchdown. Good blocking, good execution, and good speed make this play happen. How to stop this play is the same as any other play with pulling linemen. It is going to take better linebacker play, and  the linebackers have to follow the pulls, play under them and cut off the hole before the running back can hit it. Any of the running backs can turn the corner like this, so it'll be a handful.

Now for the passing game. As stated before, Kessler is pretty darn good, as well as his targets. They will run their crossing routes to challenge Cal's open field tackling. It'll look something like this:

With a zone coverage, usually Smith-Schuster will be even more open, but a man coverage will give him the ability to show off his speed. This route set is a clearout package. The tight end and the two other receivers on the left side run go routes to essentially clear an easier path for the underneath route. In this case, thy leave him with one man defender who won't be able to keep up with him. Smith-Schuster easily gets the first down, and this play was used quite a few more times.

That being said, they will imitate us, and throw the fade route to Juju. It'll look something like this:

Kessler knows what he has in the pre-snap and lets it fly. No one is playing over the top, and Kessler, a senior, knows how to take advantage of that. USC isn't all crossing routes and fades. They will run screens to Jackson and any other amount of routes, these just seem to be the most poignant.

From an objective standpoint, unless Cal can have an absolute defensive turnaround from last week. This game may be out of reach. From an unobjective standpoint, I hope we beat them by fifty, take the drum major's sword, and ban the only two USC songs from ever being played again. Of course, they do play a third song, which I noticed during the Utah game. Obviously, it was "All Right Now." Gross. Anyway, hopefully you learned something, and Go Bears!