Week 5 Game Matchup: USC Trojans VS. Cal Bears

By Dave Consolazio and Sam Saig, September 30, 2009 6:53 am

USC Trojans (3-1) vs. Cal Bears (3-1)
Saturday, October 3, 5:00 PM PST
Las Vegas Favorite: USC -5.0
*AllPac10 Game of the Week*

Sam’s Take (22 – 10):

A few weeks ago, I was certain that Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Fowler and the rest of College Gameday would be in Berkeley this Saturday for an epic west coast showdown with national championship implications. Oh well.

While the Trojans and Bears will not enter this game undefeated, the stakes are still very high. Both programs entered the 2009 season with high expectations, and Saturday’s loser will likely see those expectations go unfulfilled.

Perhaps no team in the country has faced more adversity in 2009 than USC. The Trojans have been dealing with unfortunate circumstances since fall camp, and Stafon Johnson’s terrible weightlifting accident has been especially difficult on the team.

On the field, Pete Carroll’s club continues to be a work in progress, at least on offense. ‘SC played an extremely sloppy three quarters against Wazzu, and the Trojans must raise the intensity level considerably this Saturday.  For ‘SC to win, more may be asked of Matt Barkley in the passing game, because the Bears D is typically strong against the run (with the exception of last week’s debacle in Eugene). I still expect a few big plays from Joe McKnight and the rest of the backs, but I believe Barkley’s performance will be the biggest key to victory for USC.

For the Bears, QB Kevin Riley must establish a rhythm early. His accuracy issues are worrying, so he needs to gain some confidence on the first few drives. Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen were rendered useless last week largely because of a poor performance from the o-line. The line must be more physical this week, or else Cal’s two-headed monster at tailback will continue to struggle.

USC never losses the big game, but I believe Cal is due to finally win one. The Bears certainly have their issues, but they also have the talent to beat SC. I expect Jeff Tedford’s team to play inspired football in front of an energized home crowd at Memorial Stadium, where Cal has not lost since 2007 (of course the last loss was to the Trojans). While you can never count out a Pete Carroll-led team in a game like this, I see the Bears pulling out a nail-bitter.

Prediction: Cal 27 – USC 24

USC Player to Keep an Eye On: RB Allen Bradford - With Johnson out, Bradford may be the new red zone back. He looked very good against WSU last week, and could provide the thunder to McKnight’s lightning.

Cal Player to Keep an Eye On: TE Anthony Miller - Riley needs to be able to complete easy passes and Miller is a big target with solid hands.

Dave’s Take (25 – 7):

Before the season started, many were projecting this game out to be the game of the year in the Pac-10. Cal was almost unanimously rated as the top contender to end USC’s dominance over the conference, and this was going to be USC’s first major test in the conference after bullying over the Washington schools.

Hmm, a lot can change in a month, can’t it? For Cal, all systems appeared to be go heading into the Oregon game. For USC, coming off of a big win over Ohio State, people were writing off the offensive troubles they had as an indication of how well the Buckeyes played, not an indication of offensive struggles.

And yet here we are. Both teams have major concerns, and more importantly, both teams already have a conference loss. So for me, I honestly can’t drive myself crazy trying to figure out who is more dejected or motivated or anything like that. I think it is safe to call it a wash as far as motivation and struggles are concerned, and focus strictly on the game itself.

And it is a game that I believe the Trojans will win. Cal will not come close to repeating the poor effort they had in Oregon, but that game did leave me doubting that they can dig deep and come up big in a big game. We’ve seen USC do it for years (it’s the LITTLE games they have problems with), and we’ve already seen them do it this season against Ohio State.

Pete Carroll and USC own this series, and I believe the defense will guide them to a win here; assuming, of course, that Joe McKnight can hold on to the football.

Prediction: USC 27 – Cal 17

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