Trojans, Golden Bears meet for 99th time

The USC Trojans and the California Golden Bears will meet for the 99th time on Thursday, as the Pac-12 Conference rivals are set to do battle under the lights in Berkeley.

Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have installed USC as a three-point road favorite, with the total set at 58 1/2.

USC is off to a strong start, having won four of its first five outings. The team has had nearly two weeks to prepare for this showdown, as it has been idle since a thrilling 48-41 triumph over Arizona back on October 1. Lane Kiffin’s Trojans are ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA sanctions, but that certainly has not affected the effort of the players.

As for California, it opened the season with three consecutive victories, but the last two outings have ended in defeat. The Golden Bears were in action last Thursday as well, and they were simply no match for the Oregon Ducks in a 43-15 beatdown. Jeff Tedford’s squad is 0-2 in Pac-12 action and simply can’t afford an 0-3 start.

USC owns a 63-30-5 lead in the all-time series with Cal, which includes seven consecutive victories over the Bears. The Trojans easily won last year’s matchup, 48-14.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods put forth performances that Trojan fans won’t soon forget in the win over Arizona last time out. Barkley threw for a school-record 468 yards, completing 32-of-39 passes en route to four touchdowns. As for Woods, he logged 14 receptions for 255 yards and two scores. Marquise Lee pitched in with eight grabs for 144 yards and a TD for the Trojans, who finished with 582 yards of total offense in the shootout.

Overall this season, the Trojans are generating 30.0 ppg while posting 454.4 total ypg. Of the 18 touchdowns scored by the offense, 14 have been thrown by Barkley, who has racked up 1,587 passing yards already while completing 70.7 percent of his attempts. Woods has a staggering total of 55 receptions for 747 yards and six touchdowns, while Marc Tyler paces the ground attack with 338 yards and a pair of scores.

The fact is that Barkley and company needed to post gaudy numbers against Arizona, as the Trojan defense couldn’t stop the Wildcat offense. USC yielded 554 total yards and six touchdowns to the ‘Cats, who threw for 425 yards in the affair. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles completed 41-of-53 passes, and while the Trojans managed to come up with a pair of interceptions, they simply need to play better.

Opponents are posting 26.4 ppg and 379.6 total ypg against the Trojans, who have clearly done a better job defending the run than they have against the pass. They are allowing only 3.8 yards per rushing attempt, while opposing quarterbacks have been able to pass for 267.2 ypg with 10 TDs and only three interceptions. Keep an eye on Dion Bailey, as he paces USC with 40 tackles.

Cal certainly has the offensive firepower to challenge that USC defense, as the Golden Bears are posting 34.6 ppg and 458.0 total ypg. A total of 20 offensive touchdowns have been scored to date, and most of the production has come via the passing attack, as the team is racking up 300.4 ypg at a clip of 14.2 yards per completion. Zach Maynard doesn’t complete a high percentage of his passes (.514), but he has 11 TDs against only three interceptions and has a knack for making the big play. Keenan Allen paces the receivers with 39 catches for 668 yards and four scores, while Isi Sofele spearheads the ground attack with 499 yards and four TDs.

Clearly, the 15-point effort against Oregon last time out wasn’t good enough. Cal finished with 465 total yards in that affair and didn’t commit a single turnover, but the squad was a miserable 5-of-17 on third-down conversion attempts and simply couldn’t finish drives.

Opponents are scoring 28.0 ppg and gaining 364.0 total ypg against a Cal squad that has some room for improvement defensively, especially against the pass. The Golden Bears are yielding 13.1 yards per pass completion and have permitted 10 passing scores while coming up with a mere four interceptions. On a positive note, they do limit opponents to 33 percent success on third-down conversion attempts.

It will be interesting to see how the Golden Bears respond after getting gashed for 365 rushing yards by Oregon last week. The Ducks posted six offensive touchdowns against Cal, which yielded 563 total yards in the tilt.

This game is far bigger for Cal than for USC, as the Golden Bears have postseason aspirations and can’t afford an 0-3 start to league play. Unfortunately for Tedford and his troops, the combo of Barkley and Woods will be too much to handle.