FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Stadium (63,000) -- Berkeley, California. Television: FOX. Home Record: USC 4-1, Cal 1-5. Away Record: USC 2-2, Cal 0-3. Neutral Record: USC 0-0, Cal 0-0. Conference Record: USC 3-2, Cal 0-6. Series Record: USC leads, 64-30-5.
GAME NOTES: On Saturday the USC Trojans will go after their first three-game winning streak of the year when they make the trek to Memorial Stadium to take on in-state rival California in a Pac-12 Conference tilt.
It seems that Ed Orgeron may be a bit more than a replacement for fired Lane Kiffin. Since Orgeron took over, the Trojans have gone 3-1, including impressive wins over Arizona (38-31) and Oregon State (31-14). The resurgence has thrust USC back into contention for at least a more high profile bowl game, as they are sporting a 6-3 mark overall and a 3-2 ledger in conference play.
California got a new coach to start the season and the Sonny Dykes era has not yielded much in terms of positive results. In fact, other than a 37-30 victory over FCS foe Portland State, the Golden Bears have been unable to put anything else in the win column. Since topping the Vikings, the Golden Bears have lost seven straight games, including all six against the Pac-12. The most recent setback was a 33-28 loss to Arizona.
Every year since 1926 these teams have butted heads. In that time USC has claimed a convincing 64-30-5 all-time series edge, including wins in every meeting since 2003. Last year Silas Redd ran for 158 yards and a touchdown and Curtis McNeal added 115 yards on 10 carries to lift the Trojans to a 27-9 triumph.
Redd missed the first five games of this season but has come on strong since his return. He has rushed for over 100 yards in two of the four games he has been featured in, including a season-high 140 yards on 22 carries against Oregon State. Javorius Allen (250 yards, five TDs) was also impressive against the Beavers as he rushed for 133 yards and three scores. Redd and Allen join Tre Madden (671 yards, three TDs) in one of the more talented backfields in the Pac-12.
Another important improvement for the Trojans was the play of Marqise Lee. The defending Biletnikoff Award winner has not been himself this year, partially due to injury, which lost him two games, but also just plain poor play. Lee looked back to normal against the Beavers with 105 yards and a score on five receptions. Meanwhile, Nelson Agholor (32 receptions, 612 yards, three TDs) has continued to be a productive receiver for the Trojans.
Handing the ball off the Redd, Allen and Madden as well as making passes to Lee and Agholor is Cody Kessler, who has been alright as the replacement for All-American Matt Barkley. Kessler has completed 62.9 percent of his passes, for 1,807 yards and 10 scores, while scattering six interceptions over his nine starts. Kessler has not always been given great protection though, with the Trojans letting up 19 sacks on the campaign.
What has really been impressive about Orgeron's Trojans has been there ability on defense. Orgeron was the defensive line coach before Kiffin was let go and he has carried that forward. The Trojans lead the conference in total defense (323 ypg), while trailing only Oregon in scoring defense (18.7 ppg). The pressure upfield from players like Leonard Williams (11.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks) and Devon Kennard (9.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks) has been critical.
Though Dykes is clearly still building at California he has made an impression on the California offense, which is one of the more pass-reliant squads not only in the Pac-12 but the country. The Golden Bears are averaging 348.9 yards per game through the air.
Leading that charge is freshman quarterback Jared Goff. The Golden Bears' signal caller, like the rest of Dykes' team, is still learning on the job, but he has piled up 2,881 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. He had one of his better games of the year against Arizona in terms of scoring, as he threw for four touchdowns. However, he was intercepted twice and failed to reach above 300 yards for the third time in the last four games. Like Kessler, Goff has suffered from poor protection as he has taken 26 sacks.
Even though Goff is constantly slinging the ball around, the receiving corps for the Golden Bears does not feature a slew of productive contributors. Chris Harper (62 receptions, 821 yards, five TDs) and Bryce Treggs (61 receptions, 642 yards, TD) are the best of the bunch. Richard Rodgers (33 receptions, 463 yards, TD) has been a solid third option, while Kenny Lawler is coming off a three-touchdown performance against Arizona.
Injuries as well as the offensive system have limited the Golden Bears' rushing attack. Daniel Lasco (284 yards, two TDs) returned after missing two games to post 71 yards on 12 carries against Arizona. The 71 yards were a season-high for the Golden Bears' leading rusher. Brendan Bigelow (280 yards) and Khalfani Muhammad (261 yards, two TDs) have also gotten work at times.
While California has held its own on offense it has been terrible on the defensive side. The Golden Bears are last in the Pac-12 in yards allowed (529.8 ypg) and scoring defense (42.8 ppg). California doesn't get teams to make many mistakes with only 11 forced turnovers, which has led to the worst turnover margin (minus-14) in the conference.
The best way to disrupt the Golden Bears is to put as much pressure as possible on their young quarterback. Every other team this season has been successful in that area. The Pac-12's No. 1 defense should have no trouble in that regard. USC meanwhile, should be able to move the ball at will with Redd and Lee.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 37, California 17
Saturday, November 9, 3 p.m. (et)