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Q&A with Conquest Chronicles: Will Justin Wilcox’s Trojan past be a benefit for Cal?

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Let’s learn all about USC straight from the (Trojan) horse’s mouth.

USC v Arizona
Now–Cal head coach Justin Wilcox has done dirty things in the past for money
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The California Golden Bears are facing off against an in-state rival we know well: the USC Trojans. And we may know plenty about them after having played them for 103 games, but why not get to know them a little better courtesy of the SBN Trojans at Conquest Chronicles.


1. Which player on offense should Cal fans know about?

Conquest Chronicles (CC): The offense runs through Sam Darnold and the running game features Ronald Jones III. However, the player to keep an eye out in this game is true freshman running back Stephen Carr. On his 27 carries, Carr has ran for 216 yards for an 8.0 yard per carry average. Carr has fewer than half the carries that Jones has and has a considerable higher YPC average vs Jones (5.5). Carr is the home-run threat for the Trojans and has shown the ability in just three games to change the momentum of any game.

2. Which player on defense should Cal fans know about?

CC: Senior linebacker Uchenna Nwosu has been USC’s best player on defense. With 20 total tackles and one sack, Nwosu leads all edge defenders in the nation with five batted passes—but also has 15 QB pressures. A long and athletic linebacker, Nwosu’s activity has been key for the Trojans in flushing the QB out of the pocket and attempting to stop the run.

3. Who's one under-the-radar or X-factor player who could swing this game for USC?

CC: USC’s biggest trouble on offense has been the gross number of drops. Darnold has attempted to get the entire offense involved, yet there’s a lot of missed opportunities with key drops in the redzone. One of the main culprits has been Jalen Greene; the converted QB is now the third WR on USC’s depth chart and has more drops than receptions this season. Greene has the athleticism to succeed in this offense, but needs to show reliability with his hands to give Darnold another receiver to pair with Deontay Burnett. If he can catch the ball in this game, it might just open more things up for this offense.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual - USC v Penn State
Jalen Greene will need to reliably come down with the ball if he wants to do this on Saturday.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

4. What does USC need to do to win the game?

CC: Get the running game going. Cal has improved with their front seven and it'll be key for their running game to have fluid success to open up the passing game. Being disciplined as well will be a huge help. SC can't afford for any more penalties to stall drives—especially ones where they're in position to score.

5. What does Cal need to do to win the game, besides the impossible?

CC: Texas put the blueprint out on how to disrupt the USC offense: stuff the run and pressure Sam Darnold. If Cal can follow that same blueprint, then they'll have a shot at winning this game. Yes, USC has loads of talent; however USC has a tendency of beating themselves. Cal pretty much has to force the Trojans to be one-dimensional and hope for this team to beat themselves.

6. How do you see the game going?

CC: This game is going to be interesting on a number of reasons. One: Cal is 3–0 and coming of a 27–16 victory over Ole Miss. Two being that USC is coming off a double-overtime win over Texas and currently banged up at a few key spots. This could be a trap game for the Trojans and where the body blow effect could play a part in the game. Not to mention Justin Wilcox used to be defensive coordinator for USC. I see this game being closer than what many expect this game to be.

Stanford v USC
Sam Darnold should try throwing more interceptions against us.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

7. Sam Darnold threw eight interceptions in the 10 games he started last year, but has already thrown six after three games this year. However, he's averaging an extra yard per completion more this year than last year. Why is he more efficient but more turnover-prone this year?

CC: Looking at the numbers, it can be misleading, but watching the games it’s clear most of the blame cannot be put on Darnold. Of his six interceptions, four have gone through the hands of his wide receivers. A prime example was the pick-six he threw last week against Texas—what should have been an easy catch was a shocking interception. He has made a couple ill-advised throws that resulted in a couple INTs; however, that’s to be expected. Trojan receivers’ drops and inconsistencies have been killing the passing game so far this season—that’s something to watch on Saturday.

8. The USC defense surrendered 5.85 yards per carry during the first two games, but only 1.94 yards per carry against Texas. Is this an aberration or has the USC run defense solved its problems?

CC: The Trojan run defense has continued to steadily improve throughout the three games so far, so I believe the problems have been solved. Remember they were gashed by WMU in the first half because they were without All-American LB Cameron Smith. Also, while they gave up over 150 yards to Stanford, 75 of that came on an early first-quarter breakaway TD and they then buckled down on a physical Stanford run game for the rest of the night. They had tackling issues during week one, but followed with great form in both the following weeks. They’re not a dominant force, but expect a pretty good performance from them this weekend.

9. Whom do you most want to punch in the face?

CC: No one so far this season, but come back to me later. I’m sure I’ll find someone eventually.


A big thanks to Brendan Kearney, Matthew Lowry, and Richard Mejia of Conquest Chronicles for their help. Be sure to visit Conquest Chronicles for all the best coverage of pro football.

Poll

How do you predict USC–Cal will end?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Big Cal win
    (30 votes)
  • 47%
    Close Cal win
    (226 votes)
  • 25%
    Close USC win
    (121 votes)
  • 20%
    Big USC win
    (95 votes)
472 votes total Vote Now