By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
The Obvious: Hoping to continue its momentum following the big win over Utah last weekend in the Coliseum, the USC Trojans (4-3 overall, 2-2 Pac-12 South) travel to Cal (5-2 overall, 2-2 Pac-12 North) for a rare Saturday noontime kickoff in Memorial Stadium.
The Not So Obvious: Saturday’s game will also be the 38th annual Joe Roth Memorial Football Game, a tribute to the great Bears quarterback (1975-76) who tragically died at the young age of 21 from cancer.
The Obvious: The Trojans opened as 4-point favorites to defeat Cal on Saturday.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have not lost to Cal since 2003, dating back to that classic, triple overtime defeat (34-31) in Berkeley. The Trojans lead the series with California 66-30-5, a series that dates back to 1915. BTW, the Trojans are 6-6 on Halloween.
The Obvious: The USC/Cal game will be televised on FOX (12 p.m. PT/3 p.m. ET).
The Not So Obvious: The FOX broadcasters for Saturday’s noontime kickoff will be Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analysis), and Molly McGrath (sidelines).
The Obvious: The Trojans radio broadcast (ESPNLA 710 AM) will feature Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).
The Trojans four-hour pre-game show will commence at 8 a.m. (PDT) with Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, WeAreSC.com publisher Garry Paskwietz (9:05am), Steve Mason, Harvey Hyde, Katie Boggs, and Shaun Cody. There will be a two-hour post-game show following the conclusion of the game with Chris Fisher and Shaun Cody.
The Not So Obvious: The Cal broadcast can be heard on flagship station KGO 810 AM with the legendary Joe Starkey (play-by-play), Mike Pawlawski (analyst) and Todd McKim (sidelines).
The Obvious: Through seven games, the Trojans offense is averaging 38.9 points per game while the Cal defense is allowing 26.7 points per outing.
The Not So Obvious: Through seven games, the Cal offense is averaging 37.9 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 21.7 points per game.
The Obvious: The Berkeley weather report for Saturday calls for sunny with a high of 76 and a low of 57 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether the Trojans have realistically turned the corner after their convincing 42-24 over previously ranked No. 3 Utah. No question the Trojans were more physical against Utah than any of their previous six games, so all eyes will be on Memorial Stadium to see if they can continue to be a bully.
Offensively, the Trojans will look to again get a mix of ball control drives with “chunk” plays sprinkled in, as well. Sounding like a broken record, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (photo above) will need to play mistake-free football as to not give the Cal offense too many opportunities. The Men of Troy certainly have the weapons for big plays and long drives, and we’ll see whether a questionable Cal defense pays a price on Saturday. Junior running back Justin Davis seems to be running the ball the best he has all season. Trojans true freshman tailback Ronald Jones ll continues to bring Trojans fans out of their seats, and the Bears faithful will get the chance to see whether their heroes can contain No. 25 from breaking the big one.
One area that should be strengthened this Saturday is the Trojans offensive line, which sees the return of junior left tackle Chad Wheeler (concussion) and that means junior Zach Banner can return from left to his original right tackle spot. Sophomore Khaliel Rodgers will be the Trojans third starting center this season after the Trojans lost the previous starter, sophomore Toa Lobendahn, to an ACL. Speaking of returning from injuries, it’s expected that receivers Darreus Rogers (ankle) and Steven Mitchell Jr. (hamstring) will be available at some level. We’ll also see whether tight end Taylor McNamara (shoulder) is available for any length of time, which mean there might be more playing time for reserve sophomore tight end Connor Spears.
Defensively, the Trojans secondary is expected to be under constant aerial bombardment from future NFL quarterback Jared Goff, now a junior. Expect to see sophomore Adoree’ Jackson play a significant amount of downs at corner and probably less time at wide receiver. It figures that given the number of passes that Goff is expected to toss into the Trojans secondary, there will be more rotation along the front seven. Whether the front seven can get to Goff enough times to give him happy feet in the pocket is a major question mark.
Look to see whether Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox adds a few wrinkles against the veteran Goff. Might we see a few “twists” by the defensive line at various times in the game? It figures that Cal will focus their passing onslaught in the direction of Trojans true freshman corner Iman Marshall, who has been susceptible to pass interference calls. The entire Trojans secondary will be facing a major challenge from a very experienced group of Bears receivers.
And despite his three interceptions evening against Utah last weekend, expect the Bears to still challenge true freshman linebacker Cameron Smith in pass coverage. Smith will have added emotion, as his family, which lives about two hours away, will be in attendance.
The Obvious: The Trojans second-time interim head coach is Clay Helton.
The Not So Obvious: Helton played quarterback at Houston in 1993 and 1994, playing for his father, Kim Helton, both seasons and captaining the Cougars as a senior. FYI, in 1993, he completed 1-of-3 passes in late duty in Houston’s 49-7 loss to the Trojans in the Coliseum.
The Obvious: The head coach of Cal is Sonny Dykes, who is in his third season with the Golden Bears.
The Not So Obvious: Dykes, the son of former longtime Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, has a resume that includes stops in the Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC, where he served under such head coaches as Mike Stoops (Arizona), Mike Leach (Texas Tech) and Hal Mumme (Kentucky). Prior to assuming the head coaching position at Cal, Dykes was the head coach at Louisiana Tech (2010 – 2012).
The Obvious: Saturday’s noon kickoff is the earliest start for a Trojans game since the 2013.
The Not So Obvious: Ironically, the 2013 game was also at Cal and kicked off at noon, as well.
The Obvious: The Trojans are still considered by most to be a very young but talented team with its future ahead of it.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans leading rusher and tackler are true freshmen, tailback Ronald Jones ll and linebacker Cameron Smith, respectively. The leading receiver for Troy is also an underclassman in a true sophomore JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The Obvious: The Cal offense is led by sensational junior quarterback Jared Goff, who hails from Navato, California, and attended Marin Catholic High.
The Not So Obvious: Jared’s father, Jerry, was a catcher who played Major League Baseball with Montreal (1990, 1992), Pittsburgh (1993-94) and Detroit (1995-96) following his collegiate baseball career at Cal, which included All-America, All-District 8 and All-Pac-10 honors in 1986.
The Obvious: The Trojans defense played well last week against a physical Utah offensive line.
The Not So Obvious: The Cal defense, which has been prone to giving up points but is Top 25 nationally in sacks and turnover margin (12 picks), is led by junior safety Demariay Drew, junior linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who father of the same name played at Cal, and senior defensive end Kyle Kragen.
The Obvious: The Trojans currently have USC have four players who previously attended a Bay Area school: inside linebacker Michael Hutchings (De La Salle HS), snapper Zach Smith (Menlo School), tight end Tyler Petite (Campolindo HS) and corner Isaiah Langley (Foothill HS).
The Not So Obvious: Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was once Cal’s linebackers coach for three years (2003-05).
The Obvious: The Trojans have lost starting sophomore center Toa Lobendahn who earlier replaced senior All-Pac-12 center Max Turek, also lost for the season with an ACL.
The Not So Obvious: Next starting center up is sophomore Khaliel Rodgers (6-3, 305), who saw extensive action against Utah when Lobendahn went down early. Rodgers, originally a guard, said after the Utah game he had no butterflies being thrown in the game and was fully prepared to play. After a few snaps, he more than held his own against the Utes. The kid plays with a mean streak, and his talent has never been in doubt, having once played in the U.S. Army All-America Game for the nation’s premier high school talent.
The Obvious: Sophomore Nico Falah and true freshman Cole Smith have been named as potential backup centers to starter Khaliel Rodgers.
The Not So Obvious: At this point, it figures that Falah would be the backup to Rodgers in hopes that Smith can continue to redshirt. Nico certainly has waited his turn as did Rodgers, and this season proves you can never have enough centers.
The Obvious: And finally, Saturday is also Halloween, although that event usually doesn’t commence until dusk.
The Not So Obvious: This will be the Trojans 102nd meeting with Cal, the team it has played more than any opponent. And for the record, as for Saturday’s Halloween theme, it’s the 13th such Oct. 31 Trojans game and the third against the Bears.