Will Cal’s Offense Finally Break Through Against USC?

Posted by: Avinash on Friday, November 7th, 2008

Continuing where Tony left off, it’s not hard to envision a scenario where USC goes down, and it starts on the defensive end. For all the complaints about Bob Gregory that have been voiced, there’s no doubt the defense has been the strongest part of the 2008 California Golden Bears. Currently the Bears defense are allowing 2.88 rushing yards per carry (9th in the country), an astounding 92.61 passer efficiency (3rd in the country), and are only allowing opponents to complete less than half of their passes (49.1%, second best in the country). Whether you chalk it up to lousy Pac-10 quarterback play or the switch to a 3-4 defense is up to you.

Bears With Fangs points out that the defense will have to be world beaters again, and I have to concur. Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight aren’t as strong as the Masoli-Johnson combo we faced this week in terms of pure yardage, but they can keep drives alive and shorten down and distance. Although he’s had his hiccups, Mark Sanchez has played much better than John David Booty, and is progressing quite nicely. It is noteworthy that he struggled against Arizona and Oregon State for much of those games though. (And for God’s sake, watch out for the half back pass to Stanley Havilli swinging out of the backfield. Ohio State, Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona have all missed it; let’s not be #5 on the list.)

If you’re a historical trend kind of guy (I’m not), you can turn off the TV if the Trojans hit 24 points, since they’re almost certainly going to win this game. They’ve only needed 23 on two occasions and 24 on the other. Cal’s defense has performed admirably in the big USC games, but it’s been the offense that’s let us down.

Dr. Saturday has a nice little breakdown of all the play-action Cal’s offense ran in the Joe Roth game last year, and while we will need that part of our game to run effectively, we might need more, much more. We can’t rely on Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen bouncing for 70 yard scampers, since those only happen in the Coliseum when the uniforms are red. The offensive line is still very much beat up and we can look for USC to make a concentrated effort to stop the run and turn Cal into a one dimensional team. Whoever starts at quarterback is going to have their hands full, but if they put 20 points on the board it would probably exceed expectations.

In the last four meetups, the Bears have scored 17, 10, 9, and 17 points, and one of those was the famous Aaron Rodgers game at the Coliseum. Every year the Bears play the Trojans, it turns into a defensive slopfest, where each game is decided by the barest of margins. And while the defense does its part, the offense chokes the bone.

2004: The Bears double up the Trojans in first downs (28 to 12), double up in total yardage (424 to 205), but turn over the ball three times in the first half (twice on 4th and 1s), leading to 13 USC points. On the biggest plays, Cal came up short. It never should’ve come down to 1st and goal at the 7.
2005: The defense played pretty well, holding the slot machines (PAY OUT TROJANS SCORE 50 ON EVERYONE LOL!) to 35 points. The passing offense did nothing. Less said about this game, the better.
2006: Nate Longshore has a string of three good passes that set up Cal’s only touchdown; the rest of the game was a series of missed opportunities. Longshore threw two interceptions in USC territory (albiet one on the meaningless last play of the game), but the remaining drives in USC territory? Punt, INT, punt, fumble, punt, field goal miss, INT. Cal was also awful in short yardage situations, going 2 for 7 on downs of 3 yards or shorter.
2007: This game could have swung either way. But Cal’s defensive injuries finally caught up to them, Chanucey Washington gashed us and Booty played an error-free game. Cal’s offense stagnated at too many turns and three second half turnovers doomed us (stalling two 4th quarter drives and giving USC a crucial field goal).

So again it’ll come down to the California offense making plays at the right time. Nothing from the past eight games indicates that the Bears are up to the task yet. We’ve seen about half a dozen disjointed efforts from our offense this season, and you could argue the best they’ve played as a unit all year was opening day! Even with Malele returning and Rulon Davis back on defense, it’s hard to put Cal’s chances at winning at any less than 3:1.

Then again, I’ve seen stranger stuff happen in college football. Pete Carroll and LA raising hell about the BCS, USC off another drubbing of a Washington school, Will Ferrell saving people or something. It’s been a weird week, you know?

No liveblog, but I might be on the Golden Blogs open threads tomorrow. Liveblogging this could leave me 200% more depressed 95% of the time, and even if we do win it’ll feel horribly incomplete. “Watching the game instructions” to appear tomorrow morning.

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