USC Trojans Football: Trojans Try to Bounce Back vs. Cal

(Lance Iversen, The Chronicle / SF)

The USC Trojans football program has dominated the Cal Golden Bears over the last decade, and the team is hoping to erase last week’s loss to the Stanford Cardinal with a ninth-straight win over their northern neighbor.

It’s the 100th meeting between the two teams. USC won, 30-9, last season. The Bears’ last win came in triple overtime back in 2003, in a game that helped knock the Trojans out of the BCS Championship Game.

Cal comes into the Coliseum Saturday looking to upset a USC team, or at least offensive line, that looked surprisingly vulnerable against the Cardinal.

The Trojans, on the other hand, just want to get back on track and erase the memory of last week’s game.

“Saturday can’t come fast enough,” USC Coach Lane Kiffin said Thursday.

In eight consecutive wins, the Trojans have outscored the Bears by a combined 230-82. The last time the two faced off on USC’s home field, in 2010, quarterback Matt Barkley threw five touchdowns in the first half to give the Bears their worst halftime deficit in program history (42-0).

The riskiest thing USC could do this week, though, is go into the game expecting another big win over Cal.

Sure, the Bears dropped their opener to Nevada and took some time to get going against Southern Utah, but they were one last-minute Ohio State touchdown away from beating the Buckeyes in Columbus last week.

They played better against Ohio State than many predicted, while USC played much worse, so the Bears will be confident when they take the field Saturday.

After the loss to Stanford, USC tight end Randall Telfer said he thought the Trojans took the game “too lightly.” It was a big miscalculation, but if they hadn’t lost to the Cardinal, they might’ve fallen into the same trap against the Bears.

Luckily, USC has had a knack for bouncing back from early season losses. The Trojans have lost four of their last five conference road openers, but each time they’ve come back with new focus to win the next game.

The USC defense, which played well against Stanford, will faces another tough opponent this weekend. Rather than Stanford’s punishing line in front of physical runner Stepfan Taylor, the Trojans will have to account for a stable of playmakers at receiver and running back.

Seniors Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson were the Bears’ featured backs, but sophomore Brendan Bigelow burst onto the scene against Ohio State with two touchdown runs, for 59 and 81 yards, to give USC yet another weapon to defend.

All Pac-12 receiver Keenan Allen had 160 receiving yards against ‘SC last year, but he hasn’t broken the century mark in 2012. Still, he has 379 all-purpose yards and has scored touchdowns as a receiver, rusher, and returner. Freshmen Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs are also getting their chances to help the offense. Harper has two touchdowns, and the speedy Treggs is averaging 14.2 yards per catch.

The biggest concerns on offense, for both teams, are on the offensive line. Barkley was sacked four times against Stanford – half as many times as in all of 2011 – and Cal quarterback Zach Maynard was dropped six times by Ohio State.

USC’s weak O-line was a key component of the team’s problems last week. Senior center Khaled Holmes and backup center Abe Markowitz were both out with injuries, so redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi got the start in the middle. He and starting left tackle, redshirt freshman Aundrey Walker, struggled the entire night against Stanford’s bruising line.

With the Trojans unable to get anything going on the ground, and Barkley under intense pressure, the Trojans’ highly-touted offense didn’t even score in the final 41 minutes.

USC senior tailback Curtis McNeal said this week that the backs have to step up and make plays, and indications are they’ll have a better shot at it this week. USC doesn’t release injury information, but Markowitz told reporters he’d be ready to play this week if Holmes remains out.

Kiffin also re-opened the competition for the starting job after slamming the left tackle performance. Walker is still first on the depth chart but true freshman Max Tuerk, who excelled during fall camp, had a shot to steal the top spot. (It might’ve been a bluff by the coach to get Walker motivated, but after last weekend, why not?)

According to Kiffin, both young players practiced well, but while he called them both “very talented” and said they could ultimately play a number of positions on the line, he didn’t really exude much confidence in them in the short term.

For his part, Walker has embraced the challenge. “Just watch Saturday. That’s all I’ve got to say,” he told the media.

A number of USC and Cal fans will not, unfortunately, be unable to watch the game live. USC’s first appearance on the new Pac-12 network kicks off at 3:00 PST, but the station isn’t available yet to DirecTV subscribers, or to certain cable customers.