No. 24 USC searches for offensive stride against Cal

Field Level Media

October 25, 2023 at 5:46 am.

Cal and No. 24 Southern California both come into their Saturday Pac-12 Conference matchup in Berkeley, Calif., looking to pull out of two-game losing streaks.

USC (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) followed its first defeat of the 2023 season — a 48-20 rout on Oct. 14 at then-No. 21 Notre Dame — with its first conference loss last week, falling 34-32 to then-No. 14 Utah.

The Trojans fought back from a 14-point, third-quarter deficit to pull ahead 32-31 of the Utes with 1:46 left in the game thanks to an 11-yard touchdown run by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. That was the only TD Williams accounted for in the contest.

Utah’s ensuing drive ended with Cole Becker’s 38-yard field goal that sent USC to a fourth consecutive loss against the Utes.

The latest setback all but ended the Trojans’ College Football Playoff aspirations. USC has never reached the four-team field since the CFP’s inception in 2014-15.

“It’s always that one little niche off,” Trojans assistant head coach and offensive passing game coordinator Dennis Simmons said, filling in for coach Lincoln Riley on Monday’s “Trojans Live” radio show. “We may overrun a zone here or not quite be in the right space there or not quite pick up something on a protection. It’s just getting all 11 things to click at the same time.

“From an offensive standpoint, that’s vital. Because if one piece breaks down, it has a chance to muck up the whole picture.”

USC came into the month of October having scored no fewer than 42 points in each of its first five games. The Trojans head to Cal still ranked third nationally in scoring offense among FBS teams at 45.4 points per game but have averaged 26.7 in regulation over the past three contests.

The Trojans went into the first of three overtimes tied at 28 on Oct. 7 in what ended up being a 43-41 win over Arizona.

Cal (3-4, 1-3) is coming off a bye week after also dropping a game to Utah, 34-14 on Oct. 14. That came after a 52-40 shootout setback vs. then-No. 15 Oregon State on Oct. 7.

Golden Bears coach Justin Wilcox said Cal used the extra date, in part, to “get a head start on USC.”

Wilcox believes the Trojans’ defense, which has allowed 30.5 points per game, is better than what the stats show.

“They have excellent edge players. They create a lot of negative plays on their own, either sacks or tackles for loss,” Wilcox said. “They have a guy inside (Bear Alexander) who’s a very, very talented, gifted player.”

A Cal offense that has experienced ups and downs from week to week will not have to see USC’s standout defensive lineman Alexander in the first half. Alexander was penalized for a targeting penalty on Utah’s final drive and will therefore miss the opening two quarters on Saturday.

The Golden Bears’ offense, ranked third in the Pac-12 with 195.4 rushing yards per game behind running back Jaydn Ott, will attempt to take advantage of Alexander’s absence.

Ott averages a conference-leading 100.5 rushing yards per game.

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