USC vs. Cal: Running to Win a Fight

Cal vs. USC
October 31, 2015 at 12:00pm
Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium: 52,060 (of 62,467)
Total Time: 3 hours 5 minutes

USC rises to 5-3 and Cal drops to 5-3 overall after a match that was probably too close for comfort. There was nothing really flashy about it, but the 27-21 win was nothing to scoff at.

Sure, Cal has been kind of Pac-12 cellar dweller for the past few seasons. In the previous three, they combined for only nine wins—the same as USC had in 2014. However, that does not tell the story of their upward trajectory. One thing’s for sure: this isn’t the Cal or the Pac of years past.

Cal started the season 5-0 before falling to then #5 Utah. Despite Goff throwing 5 interceptions and six total turnovers, Cal managed to be in a position to drive down the field at the end, threatening to score for the win. It took a 4th down stop by Utah with 30 seconds left to seal the game. Had they managed their drive against both Utah and USC, they’d be staring down at you with a 7-1 record.

UCLA was in the same position against an actual cellar dweller the past weekend. Although Colorado sits at just a single conference win, they were a lucky bounce or two away from taking down Arizona and UCLA. That’s just the nature of the conference at this point. What I’m trying to say is, you should take this conference win and be happy.

Considering that some people thought we wouldn’t have any more wins after that Washington loss, things are looking pretty good. One more win until bowl eligibilty, four more wins and a Utah loss for a Pac-12 South championship. Speaking of Utah, there was also no post-big game letdown this weekend.

Coming into the game, Cal was scoring an average of almost 38 points per game. Take out that 73 point smackdown against Grambling State and Cal was still averaging 32 points against FBS opponents. USC’s defense held them to 21 points, which is a season low for Cal. It’s also only the fourth time they’ve been held to 21 or fewer points in 21 games. Okay, that was a cherry-picked stat. I’m sorry, I’ll save that for those for the CommBro Breakers. I just wanted to make it 21 without busting.

I might have been misleading when I said there was nothing flashy. Adoree’ Jackson’s 46-yard interception return could qualify. Amazingly enough, it was his first career interception at USC. Furthermore, it finally completes the trinity of touchdowns for Jackson: offense, special teams, and defense. His return was sprung by a couple of good blocks, including two by Chris Hawkins. In the end, he traveled quite a bit more than the listed 46 yards after weaving back and forth through traffic. Meanwhile I had trouble moving 1 yard to get out of bed this morning.

The ridiculous fumble recovery by Leon McQuay III. It looked like one of those cliche moments in film/TV shows where someone gets a football dropped into their hands and everyone piles onto him/her.

Just mentally swap the uniform colors

Just mentally swap the uniform colors

Luckily, it was a positive thing in this situation. Another positive was while the defense was out there creating turnovers, the offense managed not to turn the ball over for the second week in a row.

The Trojans are currently tied for #1 in fumbles and tied for #3 in fumbles lost. Not bad for a team that has tried to run so much recently. The USC offense run-pass balance (50-23) fell heavily in favor of the run game, spending over 68% of their plays rushing the football. All the running made this the shortest game of the season so far. As fun as it is to watch USC Football games, I don’t need games dragging on for three and a half hours so I’ll take it. Just keep winning and I’d be completely fine with every run out of the I-formation or something. The Trojans controlled the clock throughout, holding onto the ball over 11 minutes more than the Golden Bears—almost giving Jared Goff enough time to save money on his car insurance.

The tough running at the end inspired a lot of confidence in the team. Two of the team’s six 3rd down conversions came off run plays in the final drive. The team’s second touchdown off a 4th-and-1 at the Cal 2-yard line was another great example of the improvement.

The penalty department wasn’t great this game, as the Trojans got penalized 6 times for 65 yards. Two were from the offensive line, breaking their streak after a penalty-free game against Utah. Both were on Zach Banner after his switch back to right tackle. Hopefully, this does not persist.

CommBro Breaker

Stats are fun and stops me from ending on a negative note. Don’t read too much into it. This isn’t baseball.

USC (#34, 21.6 ppg) is almost identical in scoring defense to Utah (#32, 21.4 ppg) Stanford (#33, 21.5 ppg). These three teams are #2,3 and 4 in Pac-12 scoring defense.

Top Stats:

#2 in defensive touchdowns per game (0.5)
#3  Completion Percentage (70.3%)
#6  Yards Per Pass Attempt (9.5/att)
#8 in opponent 4th down conversions (3/12, 25%)

Misleading Stats of the Week:

The Trojans are #1 in kickoff return touchdowns allowed! (Too bad they are tied with 94 other teams with zero allowed.)

But sadly they are #113 in kickoff return yards allowed. They allowed 790 yards!!! WOW THEY SUCKNOT. In reality, only four teams in the nation have had more opponent kickoff returns than USC’s 42. This is probably a combination of USC scoring a lot and Alex Wood kicking it towards the front of the end zone. The special teams has decent kickoff coverage, ranking #24 in average yards allowed per kickoff return (18.81).

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