Ranked No. 9 in the initial College Football Playoff poll, Southern California is home in Los Angeles on Saturday to continue its pursuit of a Pac-12 Conference title when it hosts Cal.
The Trojans (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12), playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time since Oct. 8, outgunned Arizona in a wild 45-37 win last week.
The high-scoring affair was USC’s second in as many contests. A 43-42 loss Oct. 15 at Utah and the Oct. 29 trip to Arizona bookended the Trojans’ bye week.
Quarterback Caleb Williams bolstered his Heisman Trophy case with 411 yards on 31-of-45 passing and five touchdowns, all with primary receiving target Jordan Addison sidelined due to a knee injury sustained at Utah.
Tahj Washington and Kyle Ford picked up the slack with Washington’s seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Ford’s six grabs for 114 yards and a score.
“If you kind of look at how the targets were spaced out, a lot of guys got opportunities and obviously, a lot of them stepped up,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said on Tuesday. “It was a good lesson for him (Williams) of regardless who’s in: An offensive system runs best when it’s going where it needs to go.”
Cal (3-5, 1-4) understands what’s coming. The Bears know they stand out for failing to defend the pass with one of the nation’s most prolific attacks up this week. The Golden Bears rank No. 126 nationally and last in the Pac-12 with 292.3 yards allowed through the air per game.
Last week, Cal gave up 412 passing yards to Oregon’s Bo Nix.
“(Williams) is a unique talent; his ability to throw the ball, be accurate with it,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said during his Tuesday media availability. “And then he’s a really strong individual. He’s got great instincts. When it’s time for him to run or move in the pocket or buy time, he’s really adept at that.”
Finding ways to limit USC’s 41-ppg offense, which ranks tied for eighth in the nation, should be critical to the upset chances of a Cal team that has not played like it is built to win a shootout.
Since going 3-1 in the first month, a stretch capped with a season-high 49 points scored in a win over Arizona, Cal has dropped four straight. The Golden Bears have not scored more than 24 points in any of the four defeats.
Reserve quarterback Kai Millner boosted the offense last week against Oregon, going 8-of-11 passing for 114 yards with two touchdowns. His performance came primarily against Ducks back-ups, however, well after the outcome was in hand.
Wilcox was steadfast in the postgame press conference that Jack Plummer would remain the starting quarterback.
Plummer is completing 61.2 percent of his pass attempts on the season and has accrued almost 2,000 yards through the air, and has a solid 13 touchdowns against only five interceptions.
Establishing a consistent rushing attack to complement the passing game has proven more difficult. Cal is tied for 106th nationally in rushing offense at 113.4 yards per game on only 3.8 yards per carry.
The USC defense has not been great against the run, allowing 4.7 yards per carry and more than 152 yards per game. But boasting the Pac-12’s most prolific sacking defense with 26 through eight games reflects the Trojans’ ability to get into the opponent’s backfield.
–Field Level Media