It’s never too early to talk football! But it’s also never fun to talk USC Football since the California Golden Bears just can’t seem to beat them.
So... is this a good time to have this chat or not?
1. What can Cal do to stop Sam Darnold?
Brendan Kearney (BK): Cal’s best chance to stop Darnold is with their line play. USC loses three key starters from their offensive line from last season and they have a handful of players trying to return from offseason surgeries such as Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivao. I think you’ll definitely see some growing pains from this unit and Cal has the potential to give them trouble early on in the year. They’d have to start by stuffing the run, forcing USC to be almost one-dimensional. Then be risky in blitzing packages you send because to some extent there’s no pressure on Cal to be lights-out in this game. Force the Trojan O-line to pick up multiple blitz packages and hope all the pressure coming Darnold’s way puts him and the offense on the ropes.
2. What are your thoughts on facing off vs former USC coach Justin Wilcox? What would you expect to see from Cal that you didn't see last year? Besides this classic Sonny pose...
BK: I think it’ll be interesting seeing Wilcox on the other sideline. While his defenses were ranked in the middle of the pack during his three years at USC (total defense #78 and #65 in his last two seasons), I always thought he was a good coach with a smart 3-4 scheme. I’d expect to see more passion and energy from the program. Wilcox is a young guy getting his first gig as a head coach, and I think he’ll motivate his staff and players to perform above their expectations.
3. Are you buying the Heisman hype for Sam Darnold? What has to break right for him to win?
BK: I am one of those people buying into the Darnold Heisman hype. He stepped up in a big spot last season and delivered (in my mind) better than any other freshman quarterback. I mean he rolled over a very good Penn State defense in the Rose Bowl. He needs his offensive line to play above expectations. They’re not necessarily a below-average unit, just not what they were last year and are more at risk of injuries. If they can gel and find their rhythm early that will help Darnold tremendously. That includes them creating holes for Ronald Jones II (who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season). Jones needs to be able to run and run well in order to keep defenses off balance. If he can get decent protection and a serviceable running back, that is more than enough for him to find a way to win.
4. Who else is going to help propel the USC offense, and which RB will have a breakout 200+ yd, 3+ TD performance against the Bears?
BK: Above I talked about a serviceable running back. Let me be clear: Darnold needs a serviceable running back—Ronald Jones is not just that. He’s more than that. Cal saw this last season when he rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries. He will be a vital piece for this Trojan offense throughout this season. Another guy to look for is Deontay Burnett. The slot receiver is the most experienced wideout returning for USC (56 catches, 622 yards, 7 TDs last season) and he looks to build off his incredible performance earlier this year against Penn State. He is someone Darnold will turn to when big-time plays are needed.
5. Cal hasn't beaten USC in approximately 97 years. How much of a chance does Cal have to break that streak this year?
BK: Well, it’s a good thing is Cal playing at home this year. And given USC’s probable ranking headed into this game, you know it will be a game the Bears will be up for. You give a young, energized team momentum early on at home and quite frankly anything can happen. Again, it starts with that defensive-front pressure. And on offense they need to strike USC with long plays. USC was susceptible last year to giving up 20+ yard plays easily. If they can hit them for big plays while at the same time taking care of the football, they’re going to give themselves a decent shot.
6. What do folks coming north tend to enjoy the most about the trip to Cal?
BK: Although I’ve never been, I hear the Tilden Regional Park is incredible. Right next to the Berkeley Hills and over 2,000 acres seems to be an absolute must. It’s a place I’m dying to go to. Also can’t forget to mention Cal’s campus is gorgeous.
7. Whom do you want to punch in the face?
BK: Ya know I don’t really hate anyone from Cal—may not love them, but nothing bad enough to punch someone in the face. However, unrelated to Cal it’d be Colin Cowherd. He ripped USC early on in the season last year, then turned around to only praise them towards the end. If you say we “stink” then either say you were wrong, or stick with us stinking.
Thanks to Brendan for taking the time to chat with us. Be sure to check out Conquest Chronicles for all of your USC needs—or at least to read half of this Q&A series as written by Hydrotech and boomtho.