The USC Trojans are set to take on the California Golden Bears Saturday night in the second installment of a two-game road trip.
The Trojans are coming off a 31-26 victory against Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz. After freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis put up nearly 300 yards in the first quarter, the Trojans only scored three points in the remaining 45 minutes. USC is hoping for a more consistent performance this week as it looks to secure a spot in the Pac-12 Championship.
Coming into Saturday night’s matchup, USC looks to even out its struggling road record. The team currently sits 6-4, winning only two of five away games so far.
“We have higher expectations here at USC,” head coach Clay Helton said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of ball to be played...we’re one game back from being Pac-12 South champions. So we’ve got to do our job and... get another tough on-the-road victory.”
USC currently sits second in the Pac-12 South. With a 5-2 conference record, the Trojans are only one game behind the Utah Utes. If the Utes fall to UCLA and USC beats Cal this weekend, the Trojans would win the tiebreaker and again control the division.
Slovis hopes to repeat his four-touchdown performance from last week. So far this season, he’s generated 20 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
Slovis’ job will not be easy however, as Cal’s defense ranks No. 5 in the Pac-12. Its secondary has kept opposing passing attacks to 234 yards per game.
“We call ourselves an execution-based offense,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “I think [Cal is] an execution-based defense. They’re disciplined. There good disguising things. But again, if I go through my reads and do what I’m coached to do, we’ll be successful.”
In order for Slovis to gain an edge over the Bears’ secondary, he will once again need the services of receivers sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown and senior Michael Pittman, Jr. St. Brown had 207 yards in the win against the Sun Devils, including a 95-yard touchdown, while Pittman put up 146 yards.
After sustaining a “slightly sprained ankle” against Arizona State last week, redshirt junior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns will be questionable for Saturday night’s game.
On the ground, USC should have some instrumental players back in the game. Junior running backs Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr practiced with the team this week, and should be able to give Slovis’ arm a rest throughout the game. Freshman running back Kenan Christon, who has been filling in for fellow backs Markese Stepp, Malepeai and Carr, can also contribute his speed when necessary.
The Trojan run-game must keep an eye out for Bears’ linebacker Evan Weaver. He currently leads the Bears in tackles with 137, and has posted 8.5 tackles per loss this season.
Cal redshirt sophomore quarterback Chase Garbers—who has recently been cleared to play after suffering a shoulder injury that’s sidelined him for much of 2019—may pose the most danger for the Trojans.
Before the injury, Garbers was a threat operating the Golden Bears pocket, generating a solid eight touchdowns to two interceptions on the year before taking the sidelines.
Despite being cleared to play, he’s not guaranteed to start. Garbers will have to compete with fellow Bears junior quarterback Devon Modster—who’s been filling in for him since September—for the starting job.
Cal holds an overall 5-4 record and sits second to last place in the Pac-12 North. USC holds a 70-30-5 record against the Golden Bears and the Trojans and opens up at as a 6.5 point road favorite.
Saturday’s showdown in Berkeley will kick off at 8 p.m. at California Memorial Stadium. The game will be nationally televised on Fox Sports 1.