Preview: USC takes on tough Cal defense in homecoming matchup

The Golden Bears boast a top-20 defense and pushed No. 10 ranked Washington State to their limits. Will they best the Trojans?

The unranked USC Trojans will play one of their three final regular season games against the unranked California Golden Bears at the Coliseum on Saturday. The game also serves as USC's annual homecoming.

The Trojans are fresh off a 38-21 victory against the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, OR. The Bears on the other hand are reeling from a tight loss to No. 8 ranked Washington State, 13-19.

Season to date:

USC is currently 5-4 and tied for first place in the Pac-12 South. The Trojans' matchup against Cal represents one of two final conference games before a potential Pac-12 championship match.

The game will also mark the Trojans' first return to the Coliseum since losing to Arizona State University 35-38 on Oct. 27. The loss marked Clay Helton's first loss in the stadium and ended his 19-0 undefeated streak.

Cal currently sits among the bottom teams in the Pac-12 North. Despite their 5-4 overall record, the Golden Bears have a 2-4 conference record. More so, the division has been extremely competitive with both Washington State and Washington nearly neck-and-neck in the standings.

Injury report:

Junior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. will not be in action on Saturday. Pittman is nursing a shoulder injury, but should be back against UCLA.

Cornerback Iman Marshall will likely be a game-time decision according to coach Clay Helton. Marshall is nursing myriad leg injuries.

Tailback Stephen Carr will be out with an ankle sprain.


Cal is the opponent that USC has faced the most throughout its history. The game will be the 106th meeting between the two teams. USC has not lost to Cal in 15 years and have won eight games in a row at the Coliseum.

USC's largest margin of victory came in 1930 with a 74-0 win. Their smallest margin of victory occurred in 2002 with a 30-28 win.

The last time Cal won was in 2003 in a triple overtime thriller. The matchup featured Aaron Rodgers and Matt Leinart duking it out for their respective schools. Leinart would win the Heisman trophy in 2004, while Rodgers would get drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2005.

What they're saying

USC currently stands as a 5-point favorite against Cal. ESPN's Football Power Index gives the Trojans a 68.9 percent chance to win.

What we're saying

It will be a low scoring game and will require USC's offense to be patient, but expect the Trojans to end on top. Playing in the Coliseum, on homecoming weekend no less, will certainly aid the Trojans. While Cal boasts a top level defense, their offense leaves much to be desired for. USC's defense is getting back to where they were prior to their string of injuries and defeats.


USC 21, Cal 17

3 keys to victory 

Patience: Cal is ranked No. 19 in total defense among FBS schools. In nine games they have allowed just under 3000-yards to opposing offenses. Their rushing defense ranks among the top-50 with 139-yards allowed per game. Their top-25 passing defense has limited quarterbacks to just 184-yards. The fact of the matter is that Cal can play a solid defensive game.

USC will need to be patient in their drives and do their best to wear down the Golden Bears. Things may not work out early, but eventually gaps will open up and holes will surface.

Aca'Cedric Ware: Ware had a career night in Corvallis when he rushed for 205-yards on 17 carries for three touchdowns. Ware wore down opposing defensive lineman and left the secondary in the dust. USC would be wise in riding the hot hand and letting Ware test his luck against Cal. Statistically speaking, Cal's rushing defense is their weakest point. Tailbacks are averaging 3.72 yards-per-carry and the team has surrendered a total of 10 rushing touchdowns.  Feeding Ware early and often can help the Trojans extend drives, gain yardage and potentially add a score or two.

Get the ball back: Because points and yards will be hard to come by against Cal's stellar defense, it is integral that USC's defense gets its offense back the ball often. The Trojans will want to wear down Cal's defense as they look for an opening to strike.