Cal’s improved defense looks to end losing streak to USC
As Southern California piled up one victory after another in a 14-game winning streak against California, defensive supremacy has always been on the side of the Trojans.
But the Golden Bears have the far sturdier defense going into the Coliseum on Saturday, and with it comes their best chance at victory since the two programs emerged as the dominant forces in the
Pac-10 during the
Cal (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) is reinventing itself as a team that relies on defense to win games in the second season under coach Justin Wilcox and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. The Gold Bears are allowing 4.8 yards per play this season, which is tied with Kentucky for 22nd among FBS teams.
“Scheme-wise, it is just a nightmare for a quarterback,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “They mix it up really, really well and they are very well taught.”
Cal is allowing 21.9 points per game, nearly half of what the defense conceded in its final season under coach Sonny Dykes in 2016. But that total includes six turnovers by Cal’s offense that have been returned for touchdowns, circumstances that have Wilcox convinced his team can make a bowl game for the second time since 2012.
“We talk about finishing all the time in everything we do,” Wilcox said. “Just in how you do everything, whether it’s workouts or practice or meetings. It’s not about maintenance. It’s about we need to play our best football. We have yet to play our best game.”
For USC (5-4, 4-3), a return visit to the Pac-12 title game is still in play with wins in its final two conference games and help elsewhere to remove possible tiebreakers against Utah and Arizona State. USC will have to keep its run game rolling against a rush defense that ranks third in the Pac-12, allowing 3.72 yards per carry.
Here are some other things to watch for when Cal and USC meet for the
STILL ROTATING: Chase Garbers will start at quarterback for Cal, but Wilcox didn’t rule out continuing to use redshirt sophomore Brandon McIlwain in certain situations. McIlwain is second on the team in yards rushing
(402) and rushing touchdowns (4). However, the transfer from South Carolina has thrown eight interceptions and lost four fumbles. “It goes back to trying to create another play,” Wilcox said. “We’re still developing at that position. Both of those guys had some plays in the game they’d love to have back.”
DEPLETED DEFENSE: USC has been coping with limited numbers at safety for much of this season, and now attrition has hit the cornerbacks. Senior Iman Marshall is a gametime decision because of a sprained foot and ankle, while redshirt freshman Greg Johnson will not play because of a shoulder injury. Senior Isaiah Langley and redshirt senior Jonathan Lockett would start if Marshall is not available.
TWO-WAY PLAY?: The Bears might not have weapons at wide receiver that are capable of taking advantage of USC’s secondary in its current state. Cal had three receivers transfer in the offseason, and juniors Kanawai Noa, Jordan Duncan and Brandon Singleton have missed time recently because of injuries. The situation is so bad that Wilcox has considered using safeties Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins on offense.
Chase Garbers will start at quarterback for Cal, but coach Justin Wilcox didn’t rule out continuing to use redshirt sophomore Brandon McIlwain in certain situations.