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College Football Preview: USC Trojans v. Cal Golden Bears

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Southern California and California will meet for the 99th time Thursday; the Golden Bears are listed as the official home team, but the game is being played in San Francisco while California Memorial Stadium is being renovated in Berkley. The Trojans lead the series 63-30-5 and have won 7 straight games including 48-14 last year in Los Angeles.

In his second year at USC, Lane Kiffin has the Trojans at 4-1, the one loss a 43-22 road defeat by then-unranked Arizona State. Quarterback Matt Barkley and wideout Robert Woods are having record-breaking seasons. Two weeks ago against Arizona, Barkley passed for a school-record 468 yards and four touchdowns and ran in another. The junior is 133-of-188 (70.7%), 1,587 yards, has 14 touchdowns and four interceptions heading into week seven.

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The speedy Woods, who set the USC mark with 17 catches in that season-opener against Minnesota, fell 5 yards short of R. Jay Soward’s 260-yard school record when the Wildcats held him tone catch for two yards in the fourth quarter. Woods’ 14 receptions, 255 yards and two touchdowns bring his season total thus far to 55 receptions, 747 yards (13.6 ypc) and six touchdowns. The sophomore is having the most prolific season for a wide receiver through five games in the Trojan’s long history. Woods has gained national notoriety and is being mentioned as being in contention for the Heisman Trophy, the Biletnikoff Award, and the Maxwell Award.

Woods is on pace to catch 132 balls for 1,793 yards and 14 touchdowns in twelve games. In the first two categories, he would not be far off the record-setting pace of 155 receptions (2009, Freddie Barnes, Bowling Green) and 2,060 yards (1999, Trevor Insley, Nevada) if USC was eligible for a bowl game.

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The Trojans ground game, however, has been almost non-existent.  USC ranks 86th in the country in total rushing yards with 683 and has not had a game with over 175 yards (against ASU and Syracuse) this season. Aside from the opener against Minnesota, RBs Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler have been back-and-forth with game highs with neither eclipsing 150 yards in a game; Tyler’s owns the game-high mark at 146 yards in the ASU contest.

USC’s defense has also not been stellar, often playing at sub-par to mediocre levels. The Trojans rank 61st in total defense (379.6 ypg), 31st in rushing defense (112.40 ypg), 97th pass defense (267.2 ypg), and 63rd in scoring defense (26.4 ppg). In the Arizona game, the defense allowed QB Nick Foles 425 yards and four touchdowns, and 554 yards of total offense.

California sits at the bottom of the Pac-12 North division at 0-2 in conference play. The big story against Oregonwas the Ducks’ loss of the nation’s top running back, LaMichael James, who left in the fourth quarter with a dislocated elbow. However, the Golden Bears in the loss put up decent numbers against #9 Oregon. Despite a sub-50% completion percentage (28-of60), QBs Zach Maynard and Allan Bridgford combined for 321 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions, and were sacked twice (both Maynard). California ran for a total of 144 yards on the Ducks, with Isi Sofele gaining 119 yards on 12 carries and WR Keenan Allen catching nine of the 28 passes for 170 yards and a score. Sofele is the team’s leading rusher with 499 yards and four touchdowns on 91 attempts and Allen leads the squad in receiving with 39 receptions for 668 yards (17.13 ypc) and four scores.

The Bears defense ranks closely with USC nationally; ranked 54th in total defense (364 ypg), 52nd in rushing defense (135.60 ypg), 74th passing defense (228.4 ypg), and 74th in scoring (28 points). Against Oregon, California allowed 563 yards total, 365 of them on the ground.

This week, Cal’s will have to worry about stopping one of the most dynamic passer-to-receiver duos in the country. If California can bear down in pass coverage, they will have a shot to keep this game close.

Player to watch: Roberts Woods

 

USC Trojans (4-1, Conf: 2-1) vs. California Golden Bears (3-2, Conf: 0-2)

Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and BourbonMeyer.com. Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc