USC vs. Cal: Confused Cat

California vs. USC
November 16, 2019 at 8:05pm
Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA: 46,397 (of 62,467)
Total Time: 3 hours 17 minutes

Somehow, Helton took his team on the road and managed to score 41 points on one of the better Pac-12 defenses. That’s the most points anyone has scored on Cal in a single game all season and one point shy of the most points scored on them since 2018. Before playing USC, they held teams to an average of less than 21 points per game. That would’ve ranked them around #26 in the nation in scoring defense, had they not played USC. Helton is probably feeling pretty good about himself after this win, but I doubt it convinced anyone that he should be retained at the end of the season.

At the beginning of the game, Cal was able to run with at the USC front seven with success and scored first. Typically, the talent in skill positions can be somewhat comparable between schools like Cal and USC. The true gulf usually lies in the line talent, which would show in the running game on either end. The continued run success of USC’s opponents suggests a gulf in coaching ability.

After figuring out the exploitable match-ups between the Cal secondary and USC receivers, the Trojans went vertical as often as they could. More than one third of Slovis’ attempts were completed for 10 or more yards and five completions were in the 30+ yard range.

12 passes of 10+ yards (34% of attempts)
7 passes of 20+ yards (20% of attempts)
5 passes of 30+ yards (14% of attempts)

Many of the touchdowns throws came from very anti-climatic slips by Cal defenders. It resulted in plays like this one:

His celebration had about as much enthusiasm as me when I found out that I won $2 from a $1 scratcher. I guess he’s seen better touchdowns though.

Speaking of which, four different receivers had touchdowns, which is pretty cool.


BAD: Ejection of defensive lineman, Christian Rector, due to targeting. His tackle for

BAD: The umpire was standing in the way of a pass route, requiring him to duck for the ball to get to Pittman. The obstacle proved to be enough for cause him to drop it.

GOOD: Slovis being able to scramble and come to a complete stop before passing to Drake London.

BAD: Like the story for many of USC’s opponents this season, the starting QB went out of the game, allowing USC to beat them down. The game was still a tough 10-7 until their offense stalled out with backup QB Devon Modster in for the starter Chase Garbers.

GOOD: Cornerback Greg Johnson’s long interception return.

GOOD/BAD: The tip interception to Isaiah Pola-Mao was great…until he fumbled it on the return.

GOOD: It was great for the back ups to get some playing time in for once.

CommBro Breaker

Only one more game until the end of the regular season. Then endless speculation regarding coaching moves will be fueled until a new hire is formally announced by Athletic Director Mike Bohn. USC fans will be sitting together like this:

I think most people can agree that we are beyond the point of saying Helton can recover. (Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1:) There are only three teams with winning records in the conference at the moment. USC has played all of them and only beat Utah. Despite such a soft schedule, they could only muster up a 7-4 record.

It will take a Utah loss to either Arizona this week or Colorado next week and a USC win against UCLA for USC to make it to the conference championship game. Either way, we hope the UCLA game is his last game.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: Averaging 2.1 yards per rush. USC almost averaged more scoring drives per quarter than that. Cal managed to average 4.7 yards per run.

USC vs. Cal: An Offensive Offense

USC vs. California
November 10, 2018 at 7:36pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA: 56,721 (of 78,467)
Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

Two SCents: 

Former USC defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, went into the Coliseum with his stacked roster of former head coaches, and handed an embarrassing loss to the man that fired him. USC’s previous loss to Cal was a triple overtime against an Aaron Rodgers’ team back in 2003.

CommBro Breaker/Bonus SCents:

Remember that WE PLAY campaign USC ran back in 2012? If it were brought back today, it’d be:

Done in photoshop in a hurried and shoddy manner. Like the coaching.

In a week, the Pac-12 South went from a possible 6-way tie to USC not having any chance of winning.

It’s been a long time since Cal became bowl eligible before USC. Since 1996, in case you’re wondering. So before 99% of current undergraduates at USC and Cal were born. With rivals UCLA and #3 Notre Dame left, the Trojans only have two shots left to get bowl eligibile. Realistically, only one shot.

How did the Trojans go from a 14-0 lead, with a chance to go by 17-0 or 21-0, spend their next three drives going: fumble, safety, then interception?

All they had to do at that point was next to nothing…like not give up a safety. That wasn’t even that difficult…but Helton is adamant at keeping Toa Lobendahn at center and not willing to put in the time to fix his consistently bad snaps.

Then you’ve got the defense, picking up a costly unsportsmanlike conduct after they had the Cal offense stopped on third down. No discipline for the nation’s 10th most penalized team. They also couldn’t contain Cal QB, Chase Garbers’ on some crucial runs.

Lastly, this aged like sour cream left out in the sun for two days:

They’ll probably be much closer to No-Win November.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1: Cal’s coaching staff probably has the most former head coaches I’ve ever seen. Sure, some of them are from the high school level, but even that’s a rarity. Even if you exclude them, there’s still quite a few. There’s Beau Baldwin (Eastern Washington), Marques Tuiasosopo (Interim, Washington), Tim DeRuyter (Fresno State), Charlie Ragle (Chaparral HS), and Tony Tuioti (Kalaheo HS).

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: USC gained 13 yards on 18 plays in the third quarter, and 27 yards on 13 plays in the fourth quarter. That’s 40 yards in 31 plays for the entire second half of the game. A single one of Reid Budrovich’s punts went for more yards than the entire offense did, collectively, for the second half. That’s an average of less than 7 yards per drive in the second half. They lost more yards due to penalty this game (55), than they gained in the second half. I could keep going.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #3: Despite the above stat, USC actually won the time of possession battle this week. They have managed to find some interesting ways to screw up.


USC vs. Cal: Strawberry Turnover

California vs. USC
September 23, 2017 at 12:43pm
Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA: 46,747 (of 62,467)
Total Time: 3 hours 35 minutes

‘Tis probably bittersweet for Cal now that their stadium no longer has “Kabam Field” attached to it. The name and branding really didn’t fit the venue, but Cal really needed—and still needs—that money to fund their renovations. If you don’t already know, their athletic department is operating on roughly a $20 million deficit largely due to overly optimistic projections for the renovations. I won’t get into that though. Today, there was a different disaster on the field: Cal’s offense in the fourth quarter.

The stadium isn’t the only thing that got rebranded this year. Former USC defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, made the leap to head coach and instilled a new culture within the team. It was apparent through their 3-0 run, beating teams like UNC and Ole Miss. It was apparent throughout the game today.

Quite interesting that Wilcox did well everywhere except at USC: at the University of Washington, the other UW (Wisconsin), and even Cal. Yet he managed to have a thoroughly unimpressive campaign at USC.

It has to make me wonder if it’s something about SC. Were the position coaches not developing the players properly? Failures of strength and conditioning? Mind control nanobots in the LA water? Just baffling. A person can spend their life contemplating these issues and come to no conclusion.

Meanwhile, USC heads into another fourth quarter with the game tied. Had it not been for an offensive implosion by Cal, the win would’ve seriously been in question. Six turnovers and USC wins by 10 points. Great job by the defense, but something needs to be fixed or a loss is impending. Don’t be like 2014 FSU or 2012 Notre Dame.


BAD: Both sides of Cal’s line push SC’s around. Their DL managed to get significant pressure rushing only 3 or 4. They knifed into the backfield early, disrupting a good number of run plays. While the stat sheet doesn’t show a ridiculous number of tackles for loss allowed, I assure you, the damage was there. On the other side, their OL allowed them to run confidently and convert 4 out of 6 fourth downs.

GOOD: That might’ve been the best Pac-12 official crew I’ve seen in recent memory. No super controversial game-deciding calls. They let the people play. Now requesting Mark Duddy’s team for the rest of our conference schedule. Please?

GOOD: On a similar vein, not as many stupid penalties this game. They weren’t swimming in false starts flags like usual.

GOOD:  Deontay Burnett!! Week in and week out, he has been our most reliable receiver.

GOOD: Congrats on Sam Darnold’s first non-multiple interception game of the season.

GOOD: Who is this Uchenna Nwosu guy? Can we give him two scholarships? The outsider linebacker has played absolutely insane this season. He seems to bat or tip a pass every other drive. He also gets credit this game for the weird almost interception fumble.

GOOD: Stephen Carr played a decent game, filling in for the injured Ronald Jones as starter. Outside of the single fumble, he did what he needed to throughout the game.

GOOD: Being able to make a strawberry turnover pun.

CommBro Breaker

3-0 #24 Oregon just lost to 0-2 unranked ASU. Stanford went from losing to SDSU to making UCLA wish they played Memphis again.  An Arizona team that turned the ball over 5 times (-3 differential) still managed to keep it close against #23 Utah. Maybe you just can’t tell what a team will do any given week. Maybe the team will be fine squeaking out wins.

How did that man Wilcox convince a former FBS head coach to serve as his defensive coordinator? Has he become the Saban of the West?!

Lottery Stats

Running count of fourth down conversions: 0 of 5

Running count of opponent fourth down conversions: 6 of 10

Turnovers off of turnovers: 1

USC vs. Cal: Thursday Night Lights

USC vs. California
October 27, 2016 at 7:36pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA: 61,725 (93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 27 minutes

USC climbs another step above .500 and sits at 5-3 (4-2 in Pac-12). Currently, that Pac-12 record ties with Utah. However, if Utah and USC were to win out, the Trojans would still be second place since the Utes own the tie-breaker. USC would need both Utah and Colorado to drop at least one more in order to win the South. The good thing is that the Utes and Buffs have yet to play each other, so one loss will be picked up there. The winner of that game has to lose somewhere else. Things get complicated when you lose to the good teams within your division. You know what else is complicated? Thursday night games. Besides the fact that Thursday Night Lights really doesn’t have the same ring to it, it should really stop being a thing.

A few drops of rain was the final threshold. A large number of people took that as a sign to leave. It sure seems like the most Southern California thing to do, but given the context, it’s hard to blame them. Rain just slows down LA traffic to a crawl. And not one of those quick cockroach crawls either. No man, it’s more like a snail in a wheelchair sinking into quicksand. The Thursday night idea was already terrible. LA is congested enough without adding 93,607 61,725 people. And 7:30PM? When I got into bed post-game, it was already past 1:00AM. Thanks Larry Scott.

The Pac-12’s reasoning is that the game gets more exposure since there isn’t as much football happening. You know…except for this little thing called Thursday Night Football. And also since it started at 10:30PM Eastern. When your primary reason gets mostly invalidated, why are you still doing this crap?

Lots of people are poking fun at Sonny Dykes’ post-game complaint, but put your fandom trash talking aside for a moment. He really has a point. And if nobody with a modicum of clout voices their displeasure, the already tone-deaf Pac-12 would definitely not make any changes. So maybe he didn’t do it the right way. He’s almost using it as an excuse for his team, but he’s not wrong. Here’s Sonny Dykes’ quote:

“We looked like a tired, beat-up football team and we were. I think it’s a travesty for whoever scheduled this football game to schedule us in back-to-back weekday games on six days rest to play a team on the road on an open date. I hope the Pac-12 doesn’t do that again to any other school. It’s not right for the kids. It’s not right for the players. They’ve had to miss a bunch of class. Everyone talks about student-athlete welfare, and they didn’t put their money where their mouth is on that one.”

It’s kind of strange that so many people are telling Cal to “stop whining.” When all the Pac-12 South opponents had a bye week to prepare for USC, lots of Trojans lamented that. Why turn around and call someone out for the same thing? This isn’t the pain Olympics. It’s dumb scheduling by the Pac-12—and it shouldn’t happen to any team. Maybe the next time Scott (or maybe the next Commissioner) and his team negotiate a TV deal in 2023 or whatever, he’ll actually try to fight some of these stupid weekday games (like a Friday conference championship? What the hell, man).

If you want to point out some actual questionable decision by Dykes, I’ll give you some. Most coaches have learned to kick away from Adoree’ Jackson on punts and kickoffs—either from film or firsthand experience. Dykes chose the firsthand experience. Afterwards, his kicker tried putting it short, which got closer and closer to midfield. At that point—especially considering how the Trojans almost moved the ball at will—you might as well onside kick it every time. At least you have a chance to deny the Trojans some possessions. Not that I’m complaining…

I also can’t complain about 398 rushing yards and a 21 point margin of victory. Getting to 400 would’ve looked better, but I’m not even sure that’s one of those first world problems memes. It’s beyond that.

You may be inclined to knock on Ronald Jones’ 223 rushing yards. Accumulated off a Cal defense bad against the run! I don’t know man, but it’s the most since Allen Bradford’s 223-yard performance against Washington…6 years ago. You’re telling me that we haven’t played a team with a worse defense in 6 years? Hard to believe. A good running back could pick up 100-something against a subpar defense easily, but 200 something is definitely worth something. Aca’Cedric Ware actually had more carries this game, but only managed 130 yards. You can only downplay it so much.

Going off of that, all the negativity from Trojan fans is, frankly, kind of ridiculous. USC can only play against whatever is presented to them each week. Yes, they’ve been stomping on teams that aren’t quite complete for the past 4 games. However, they’ve definitely improved and you can’t cast too many judgments until they face the real test on November 12. At this point, losses would reveal more about the team than wins, but luckily for all of us, they haven’t been doing that. As for the things we can see right now…

It seems Helton got enough timeout reps throughout the season to make the quick call when he needed it. The holder’s botched handling of snap on third down was saved by Helton’s elite timeout call. I’m glad the holder didn’t try to run it this time. He really needs to step it up considering this is one of those “you only had one job” situations.He’s been causing some kicking woes for Boermeester.

In other news, penalties hit a season-high 13. A two year high, actually. Coincidentally the last time was also a home game against Cal. Three weeks ago, I was praising this team for having a 4-year low penalty count against Colorado. The 2016 sample seems indicative of the Colorado game being an anomaly rather than showing improvement. Some of them were the Pac-12 being the Pac-12, but that’s too many to dismiss. Blatant facemask tackles (back-to-back, as well) almost led to a Cal scoring drive. Marvell Tell definitely made up for it with the interception though. That certainly helped offset USC’s three turnovers.

(CommBro Breaker)

For a game that featured five total fumbles (three lost) and two interceptions, you would think there would be a turnover off of a turnover somewhere, but unfortunately, I cannot increase the count this week.

(/CommBro Breaker)

Turnovers rear their ugly head again and the Trojans finished the game with a negative turnover margin. What will it take to fix this problem? The fumbles can be argued as having been freak plays, but the interception falls squarely on Darnold’s shoulders. The interceptor was watching the quarterback the entire play and aptly got into position to make the play. The safety, Luke Rubenzer, was a former quarterback, so he probably had a pretty good read on the situation. In fact, Luke Rubenzer is still listed as a QB on Cal’s website.

And because I didn’t know where to fit this…

It’s hard to tell where the USC pass rush is at right now. Definitely a weak point starting out in the season that got worse after Noah Jefferson went out with injury. However, with Davis Webb getting the ball out so quickly, it really wouldn’t be a fair evaluation. Cal came into the game scoring 43 points per game and you can’t hold a good offense down forever. They were going to be able to pass the ball and score points. However, with USC favoring a nickel package on almost every play, Cal was able to get decent yardage running the ball. I hope Clancy decides to get out of that every once in a while against Washington, or the Trojans may allow Myles Gaskin to run wild. It sounds like Noah Jefferson will be returning in time for the Washington game, so really, that game in Seattle will reveal a lot about the team.

Will the real CommBro Breaker please stand up

I already used up all my content so I’m just going to give you a bunch of bogus stats.

Useless Stat of the Week:  USC’s average points per game allowed is still 24 after Thursday; the 24 points Cal scored against USC left it in equilibrium.

Misleading Stat of the Week: USC is undefeated…against teams that start with the letter C (Colorado and Cal).

Misleading Stat of the Week #2: 100% of Porter Gustin’s tackles were for a loss.

He was credited with one assisted tackle and 0.5 TFL. Haha!

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).