Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sports Network: Cal seeks first Rose Bowl berth since 1958

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) - A critical top-25 matchup takes place in Los Angeles this weekend, as the 17th-ranked California Golden Bears and fourth- ranked USC Trojans battle it out at the Coliseum. California can earn its first Rose Bowl berth since 1958 with a victory in this one. Both teams are tied atop the league standings at 6-1, but come into this matchup under different circumstances. Jeff Tedford's Golden Bears certainly looked like the team to beat in the conference, but had an eight-game win streak come to a halt with last weekend's stunning 24-20 loss at Arizona. Meanwhile, the four-time Pac-10 champion Trojans received a reprieve and made the most of it, destroying a good Oregon team last week, 35-10 to get back to the top of the conference standings. The win was the second in a row for USC, which is seeking its Pac-10 record fifth consecutive league title. In addition, Pete Carroll's team can keep its hopes of a national title alive with a win over California. The Trojans have won a remarkable 31 straight home games and 22 straight Pac-10 tilts at the Coliseum. This is the 94th meeting between these two teams in a series that started back in 1915 and has been played uninterrupted since 1926. USC leads the all-time series 58-30-5 and has won four of the last five matchups. Last season, the Trojans routed California in Berkeley, 35-10.


DeSean Jackson did his best to keep the Bears undefeated in Pac-10 play, returning a punt 95 yards for a TD and hauling in a 62-yard TD strike. He also seemed to give Cal the lead late on a 63-yard touchdown, but he was ruled out of bounds at the 41-yard line and the Bears could not convert. Another positive from the game was RB Marshawn Lynch's 16th (school-record) 100-yard game, as he finished with 102 yards. Lynch also had a 79-yard scoring run called back due to penalty. These season, those have been the kind of plays that have gone Cal's way. The team is one of the most potent offensive units in the nation, putting up 34.7 ppg, on 430.8 yards of total offense. Youngster Nate Longshore has thrived under center, completing 62.3 percent of his passes, for 2,393 yards and 21 TDs. Jackson is certainly one of the top receivers in the Pac-10 and the nation for that matter, recording 45 receptions, for 811 yards and nine TDs. He has also returned four punts for scores in 2006. Lynch is another All- American candidate in the backfield, averaging 6.5 yards per carry and amassing 1,090 yards on the year with nine TDs.


The California defense has lagged behind the offense all year long in terms of production. The team is yielding 20.1 ppg in 2006, on a generous 378.5 yards of total offense. Where this unit has excelled at is making big plays. The Golden Bears have forced 25 turnovers in the first 10 games, including an astounding 20 interceptions. Leading the team in that category and the nation for that matter is veteran safety Daymeion Hughes, who has registered eight interceptions thus far. He is also second on the team in total tackles with 55. Linebacker Desmond Bishop leads the team in tackles by a large margin with 91 stops, including 43 solo tackles. He is also tops in TFLs (12.5) and also has three sacks, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles to his credit. Although Cal has recorded 20 sacks on the season, there is no real stud pass rusher. Three players are tied for the team lead in QB takedowns (3.5).


USC is not the offensive juggernaut that has abused opponents for the last few years, but the squad has been efficient and productive nonetheless. Against the Ducks last weekend, it was tailback Chauncey Washington that did the most damage, rushing for three TDs and a career-high 119 yards. Certainly Washington won't make anyone forget about Reggie Bush and LenDale White, but he has been effective at times this year. The team is rushing for almost 150 yards per game and Washington leads the way with 674 yards on 5.1 yards per carry, with eight TDs. Much like Washington, John David Booty had a tough task of replacing a superstar, as Booty has replaced Heisman winner Matt Leinart under center. Booty has completed 62.7 percent of his passes, for 2,142 yards with 20 TDs and just six interceptions. Wideouts Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett form the nation's most talented receiving duo. Smith leads the team in receptions (49), receiving yards (786) and TDs (seven), but Jarrett isn't far behind in any of those categories (42 receptions, for 507 yards and six TDs).


The USC defense has caught up to the offense this season and did a masterful job against the high-powered Ducks last week, limiting Oregon to just 10 points, 102 yards rushing and forcing two turnovers. On the season, the Trojans have effectively stopped the run (91.3 ypg) and the pass (198.8 ypg). The team is getting it done without a large number of big plays, having recorded 15 turnovers and 21 sacks in the first nine outings. It is the linebacking corps that has paced the defensive effort. Rey Maualuga leads the team in tackles (62), followed closely by fellow LBs Keith Rivers (61 tackles) and Dallas Sartz (46 tackles). Sartz leads the team in sacks (four), while rush end Lawrence Jackson (7.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) ranks second in that category, getting all three sacks last week against Oregon.


A week ago it looked like California was going to steamroll the Trojans, but this team showed a weakness in the desert and perhaps isn't ready to unseat the old guard in the Pac-10. That being said, this will probably be one of the better games of the year, one that could see several lead changes along the way. In the end however, USC knows how to win big games, especially on its own lawn.


Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 33, California 27

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