Thursday, November 16, 2006

Daily Cal: Breakdown of the Showdown

Cal vs. USC


Statistically speaking, Cal’s offense has no equal in the Pac-10. Quarterback Nate Longshore leads the conference in passing yards per game (239.3) and passing efficiency (150.5), while Marshawn Lynch places first in rushing yards per game (109) and all-purpose yards per game (145.6). But the Bears scored only one offensive touchdown against Arizona last week and were shut out in the second half against Washington State.   For USC, it all starts up front. The Trojans’ offensive line is one of the most talented in the country, headlined by All-American tackle Sam Baker and Rimington Award candidate Ryan Kalil. The unit has provided support for first-year starting quarterback John David Booty. Booty has done a solid job in filling the shoes of former high-profile Trojans signal-callers Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer, throwing 20 touchdowns and six interceptions this season, while racking up 2,142 yards through the air. However, USC is just fourth in the Pac-10 in total offense.

Advantage CAL



With eight interceptions, senior Daymeion Hughes has established himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation. However, Cal is still last in the Pac-10 in pass defense (250.3 yards per game) and second-to-last in total defense (378.5). Last week, it gave up 24 points to Arizona, which is ninth in the conference in scoring offense. The Bears tighten up considerably in the red zone, preventing opponents from scoring 26.9 percent of the time, the best mark in the Pac-10.  First-year defensive coordinator Nick Holt had the difficult task of turning around a 2005 Trojans’ defense that allowed the team’s highest average in total yards (360.9) since 1999, but so far, USC leads the Pac-10 this season in total defense and scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 14.8 points and 290.1 yards per game. At defensive end, All-Pac-10 junior Lawrence Jackson returns for his third season as a starter. Only six running backs have rushed for over 100 yards against the Trojans in the past 55 games.

Advantage USC



Big plays hurt Cal against USC two years ago in the Bears’ 23-17 loss. This year, their special teams may be poised to turn the tables on the Trojans. Sophomore DeSean Jackson leads the nation with four punt returns for touchdowns and is averaging 20.7 yards on his returns. Andrew Larson is third in the Pac-10 in punting average, and Tom Schneider has been fairly reliable in the kicking game, converting 10 of his 12 field goal attempts.  With Reggie Bush gone, none of USC’s specialists have particularly jumped out this season, but overall, they are a solid unit that makes few mistakes. Greg Woidneck replaced All-American punter Tom Malone and has averaged 40.3 yards a punt. Mario Danelo is one of the more accurate kickers in the Pac-10, though his longest kick this year is 44 yards. The Trojans’ most dangerous weapon is freshman C.J. Gable, who averages a Pac-10-best 27.2 yards per return.

Advantage CAL



Cal fans would be hard-pressed to find a game with more riding on it than Saturday’s contest. After all, the Rose Bowl is up for grabs. The Bears faithful also might be hard-pressed to find a game with a lot riding on it that Cal has won. The Tennessee game this year, the UCLA game in ’05 and the USC and Texas Tech games in ’04 are all examples of the Bears wilting under the pressure of the big stage.  Great teams pride themselves on finishing strong. For the past five years, no team has been better late in the season than USC. Since coach Pete Carroll took over the program in 2001, the Trojans are 18-0 in November while playing in numerous marquee games. They have also not lost at the Los Angeles Coliseum since Sept. 29, 2001.

Advantage USC






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