The Obvious from Berkeley: If the USC Trojans (6-4, 5-2 Pac-12 South) think that their Bay Area battle with the rebounding Cal Bears (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12 North) on Saturday night (8 p.m. PT) in Memorial Stadium is going to be anything but a battle, all they have to is look what the Golden Bears did to the Washington State Cougars last Saturday, a surprising 33-20 home win against Washington State’s air raid offense. The Trojans will be aiming to stay alive in the Pac-12 South race while the Bears need one more victory to be bowl eligible.
The Not So Obvious: Revenge should be on the minds of the Trojan coaches and players after last season’s 15-14 upset by Cal in the Coliseum. The intrigue of the game is not just what a win or loss will do to each team, but the challenge of Trojans’ offensive coordinator Graham Harrell to match wits with both Cal’s defensive-minded head coach Justin Wilcox and his defensive coordinator Tim DeReuter. Both Wilcox and DeReuter have had past success in shutting down various forms of the air raid offense, and the Trojans’ offense should know by last season’s results, it won’t be easy to move the ball against a very physical and disciplined Bears defensive team, especially in Cal’s chilly environment of Strawberry Canyon.
The Obvious: The Trojans are a 4 ½ -point favorite to defeat Cal.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans lead the series with Cal 69-31-5 , which dates back to 1915 and is uninterrupted since 1926, but does not include SC’s 2005 victory that was vacated due to NCAA penalty. The Trojans have lost just once to the Bears since 2003, and that was last season 15-14. In Bay Area games between the two teams, the Trojans are 35-13-1, which does not include the 2005 win that was vacated due to NCAA sanctions. The Trojans’ last road loss at Cal was in 2003 in triple overtime.
The Obvious: Saturday’s game will be televised on FS1 (8 p.m. PT/11 p.m. ET).
The Not So Obvious: The FS1 broadcasters will be Cory Provus (play-by-play), Petros Papadakis (analyst) and Shane Vereen (sidelines).
The Obvious: Saturday night’s Trojans’ radio game broadcast from Memorial Stadium will air live on KABC 790 AM (8 p.m. PT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline). John Jackson will provide selective perspective.
The Trojans’ overall KABC AM 790 broadcast from Berkeley will begin with a two-hour pregame show at 6 p.m. (PT). The pregame broadcast crew will consist of Sam Farber, former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne, and Julia Adams. Following the game, there will be a two-hour post-game show.
The Not So Obvious: The Cal broadcast (8 p.m. PT) can be heard on KGO 810AM with Joe Starkey (play-by-play), Mike Pawlawski (analyst), and Todd McKim (sideline).
Saturday night’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channel 385) or online channel (974) and on the Tunein Radio app.
The Obvious: Saturday’s Berkeley weather forecast calls for partly cloudy with a high of 64 and a low of 47 degrees, 79 percent humidity, and 10 percent precipitation. The 8 p.m. kickoff temperature is expected to be partly cloudy and 54 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans can put together a complete game, something they haven’t been able to do this season on a regular basis both on offense and defense. We’re now heading into the 11th game of the season, and it would be quite remarkable if the Trojans can actually put together the illusive complete game starting with two games remaining in the season. We’ll find out whether the Trojans can put it all together against Cal and/or UCLA.
Offensively on Saturday, we’ll see whether the Trojans can get off to another fast start against the Bears like they did last week at ASU. The Bears’ defense may be the best that Trojans true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis has seen this season, and the Trojans’ offensive line, which will have a new starting center in redshirt freshman Justin Dedich who is subbing for starter Brett Neilon (calf), will need to be at its best to protect Slovis from bodily harm due to a Bear’s ultra-aggressive defensive front. The big question on offense is whether the Trojans can play four quarters of offensive football and not just come out of the gate fast in the first stanza. This fast-start pace has been a Clay Helton team trait almost throughout his four-year head coaching tenure, especially without Sam Darnold at quarterback.
Obviously, the Trojans receiving corps is a major threat to any defense, including that of the Cal Bears. Receivers Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, and Drake London are living up to their billing as one of the best units in America. Because of his basketball background and leaping ability, London has become especially dangerous. We’ll see whether Cal’s respected and talented secondary will be a factor. The Trojans learned this week that star freshman running back Kenan Christon will not redshirt, thus good to go for Cal, UCLA, and a bowl game. With the expected return of Stephen Carr and perhaps Vavae Malepai, we’ll see whether that affects the amount of carries and playing time for the talented Christon. Whether the Trojans’ offense has an answer for outstanding Cal defenders like the nation’s top tackler, ILB Evan Weaver and ILB teammate Kuony Deng, is questionable.
Defensively, one would think that the Trojans should control a Cal offense that isn’t known for being overly powerful. We’ll find out whether the Bears rely on the legs and arm of redshirt junior Devon Modster, who last week in his first start for the Bears had four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing for a combined 273 yards of Cal’s 426 yards of offense against Washington State) or return this week to former QB starter Chase Garber, who has been out for most of the season with a right shoulder injury. Regardless of the Bears’ quarterback starter, the Trojans’ need to make sure that Cal doesn’t score too many points because the Bears’ defense, based on the Trojans offensive pattern of scoring early and flaming out in the second half, could end up controlling the game. As for the USC defense, we all saw what true freshman DE Drake Jackson can do even when he isn’t 100 percent. We’ll find out whether he is healthy enough to put pressure on Modster/Garber and the Cal running game.
Defensively, the Trojans’ do have some enforcers back like strong safety Talanoa Hufanga who had a solid game against ASU after coming back from injury. Fellow safety Isiah Pola-Mao had one of his better games against the Sun Devils. We’ll find out whether Cal – like the other Pac-12 teams – double and/or triple team Trojans’ defensive tackle Jay Tufele, who is one of the better Pac-12 DTs. The Trojans’ secondary got a boost last week from a relatively unknown in true freshman corner Dorian Hewett, who hails from Houston. Hewett has really come on and could become a defensive factor in Saturday’s game. Speaking of factors, we’ll see whether there is better USC tackling in this game and more impact plays from Trojans’ inside linebacker John Houston Jr. and Kana’i Mauga. Trojans’ defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has come under greater scrutiny after ASU freshman QB Joey Yellen, who was starting is first game, found a number of holes in the USC defensive schemes. All eyes will concentrate on Pendergast whose defense should be able to contain the normally lackluster Cal offense.
Cal’s offense ranks in the national bottom 25 in total offense, scoring offense, rushing offense and passing offense. Like the Trojans, Cal has had three starting quarterbacks this year: Chase Garbers (injured early-on), Devon Modster (the current starter and one-time UCLA signal caller who started last week versus WSU) and Spencer Brasch. RBs Christopher Brown Jr. and Marcel Dancy are the leading ball carriers, while the receiving corps – no Bear has more than 18 catches in 2019 – is led by Jordan Duncan and Nikko Remigio, who is also an effective punt returner.
On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll find out whether Trojans coach John Baxter’s highly deficient USC kickoff team coverage has improved through practice. Baxter has taken understandable heat for that horrendous kickoff coverage. Also adding to Baxter’s woes is the fact that the Trojans own kickoff return team isn’t very productive and punt returns have become almost non-existense, thus bringing intense ST scrutiny. On the other hand, we’ll see whether the night weather of the Bay Area affects both placekicking of Chase McGrath and the punting of Ben Griffiths, both of whom had a good afternoon at the last two weeks.
The Obvious: The Trojans offense averages 30.5 points while the Cal defense allows 20.97 points per game.
The Not So Obvious: Cal’s offense averages 19.11 points per game while the Trojans’ defense allows 28.10 points per outing.
The Obvious: Clay Helton is the Trojans’ fourth-year head coach, whose job status remains in jeopardy.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding Cal, Helton says, “Anytime you play a Justin Wilcox coached team, you know the defense is going be extremely well coached. It’s evident on tape all through the year, and it’s been the rock of their team. It will be a great challenge for us, and it will be great to get up to NorCal and get another Pac-12 victory.”
The Obvious: Justin Wilcox is the second-year head coach of the Cal Golden Bears.
The Not So Obvious: Commenting on the Trojans, Wilcox said, “They’re a very, very talented group. Offensively, you look at the receiver group how skilled they are, they’re all skilled, the tight ends, phenomenal talent, the backs, the O-line, the quarterback playing at really high level. They can throw the football and play multiple quarterbacks. They’re all really good. It’s a different scheme this year, but they do a really nice job with it. They’re explosive on offense, and defensively they’ll challenge you and get in your face, pressure you quite a bit, so they’re very skilled and talented across the board, and they’ve got good schemes.”
The Obvious: The starting quarterback for the USC Trojans is true freshman Kedon Slovis (6-2, 200).
The Not So Obvious: A USC freshman All-American candidate, Slovis is in the national Top 25 in completion percentage (just under 70%), passing TDs (20), passing efficiency and completions.
The Obvious: The starting quarterback for Cal is expected to be Devon Modster (6-2, 210) unless original starter Chase Barber, coming off a shoulder injury, gets the call.
The Not So Obvious: A transfer from UCLA who went for a year to Palomar JC and then to Cal, Modster played his high school ball in Orange County (Calif.) at Tesoro High. Devon earned All-South Section West Valley Division and Team MVP honors as a 2016 senior when he averaged 305.0 passing yards per game and threw for 25 touchdowns with five interceptions for a team that was 10-3 overall and reached the quarterfinals of the Southern Section West Valley Division playoffs. As for Garbers, he was once a highly decorated quarterback at Corona Del Mar (Calif.) High in Orange County.
The Obvious: Cal has one of the best linebackers on the West Coast in senior Evan Weaver (6-3, 235).
The Not So Obvious: Weaver attended Gonzaga Prep in Spokane Washington. An American studies major at Cal, Weaver may be the best linebacker in the Pac-12 and certainly a post-season All-America candidate.
The Obvious: There have been many fan and media complaints regarding the kickoff time for Saturday night’s USC/Cal game (8 p.m. MT).
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans owns a 180-66-4 (.728) all-time record at night, including a 107-30-4 record in the Coliseum, 58-29 on the road and 15-7 at neutral sites. (Does not include 5 wins and 1 loss vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 185-67-4, .730 overall, 110-30-4 in the Coliseum, 17-8 at neutral sites.) Including this week’s game at California, the Trojans will have played eight night games in 2019 (the school season record is 10, in 2010 and 2017).
The Obvious: Cal’s Memorial Stadium is a turf field.
The Not So Obvious: The Men of Troy are 43-30-1 in its last 74 games on artificial turf (not including 3 wins vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 46-30-1).
The Obvious: The Trojans have eight players from northern California.
The Not So Obvious: Those NoCals include DL De’jon Benton (Pittsburg HS), CB Jack Drake (De La Salle HS), ILB Grant Jones (De La Salle HS), TE Sean Mahoney (Archbishop Mitty HS), OT Jalen McKenzie (Clayton Valley HS), TE Erik Krommenhoek (Monte Vista HS), DL Caleb Tremblay (Vintage HS) and OG Alijah Vera-Tucker (Bishop O’Dowd HS).
The Obvious: The Cal football program recruits heavily in California and especially in Southern California.
The Not So Obvious: Cal has 30 players on its team from Southern California, including 14 from Los Angeles county.
The Obvious: There are a number of coaching connections between the Trojans and the Bears.
The Not So Obvious: Those coaching connections include Cal head coach Justin Wilcox (former USC DC), OL coach Steve Greatwood (former USC OL coach), TE coach Marques Tuiasosopo (former USC QB coach), and Cal’s co-defensive coordinator/associate head coach/inside linebackers coach/recruiting coordinator Peter Sirmon (former USC LB coach).
The Obvious: And finally, Petros Papadakis, who will be on the FS1 telecast on Saturday night, is a former Trojans’ running back.
The Not So Obvious: Papadakis has the distinction of playing for both teams he is covering this week, California (he participated in a week of 1995 fall practice with the Bears before leaving) and USC (lettering from 1997 to 2000, serving as a team captain as a senior).