The USC defense was celebrated against Utah for the way it brought a consistent physical effort while holding a talented running game in check. The reward for that performance is a complete flip in script, because this week the Trojans will be facing the Cal Bears and Jared Goff, which means the ball will be in the air a lot.
“We’re playing a passing offense that is a threat,” said USC interim coach Clay Helton. “They have a talented quarterback, and the receiver group is probably the best we will face this year.”
This is the third season at Cal for Sonny Dykes, and he has had a chance to work with Goff all three years on his Air Raid offense. Things were clicking early in the season with a 5-0 start, but back-to-back losses to Utah and UCLA followed.
Goff ranks in the top 10 nationally in passing yards (2,265) and touchdowns (20), while holding 25 school passing records. The receivers are led by Kenny Lawler (39 catches, nine TDs) and Darius Powe (24 catches, three TDs).
Adoree' Jackson will be on the defensive side of the ball for USC more than he was against Utah. Jackson only played two snaps at corner against the Utes.
USC will hope to see the same type of results from the defensive line that it saw against Utah. The Trojans had three sacks and forced four turnovers, due in large part to the pressure they put on Travis Wilson.
On offense, the Trojans will be dealing with injuries to a pair of tight ends, multiple receivers and a running back. Along the offensive line, the news came on Sunday that Toa Lobendahn is out for the year with torn ligaments in his knee; he is the second USC center to be lost for the season after Max Tuerk. It remains to be seen if Chad Wheeler will return after missing last week with concussion protocol.
“Rodgers was one of the brightest stars for us,” Helton said. “To have your third-string center go in and allow you to still function with your offense, that’s great. I thought Zach was tremendous in pass protection, and Chuma got more comfortable as the game went along.”
Kudos for Smith
To the surprise of no one, USC freshman linebacker Cameron Smith was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after leading the team with nine tackles and three interceptions, one of which he returned for a 54-yard touchdown. Smith had 122 total return yards on the interceptions.
Jackson pitch count
For those keeping track of how many plays Jackson had on offense and defense, Helton said he took part in over 50 plays in the Utah games, with only two at cornerback. He had eight touches (six catches, two rushes) on offense.
“It will be a game-to-game plan in terms of how we use him,” Helton said. “Last week was more of a run-oriented offense we faced, but this week is a passing offense, so I anticipate him playing more on defense this weekend.”
How did this team lose three games?
One of the questions Helton faced several times after the Utah game was how a team could play so well in this particular game but have three defeats at this point in the season.
“I thought we played our most consistent game of the season,” Helton said. “Consistency is key, on and off the field. We eliminated mistakes. We played with a physicality. And we did a tremendous job of focusing on the assignment part of the game.”