LOS ANGELES (AP) - Jared Goff will be rooting for the visitors in his home stadium Thursday night.
Although the former California quarterback spends his Sundays on the Coliseum sideline with the Los Angeles Rams, the No. 1 pick still pays close attention to his Golden Bears (4-3, 2-2 Pac-12) and their resilient season following his early departure for the NFL.
When Cal faces resurgent Southern California (4-3, 3-2), Goff will be on that sideline again to see whether his successor, Davis Webb, can do something he never did: Beat the Trojans.
“He’s done a really good job,” Goff said. “I’ve watched almost every one of their games. They have a new system now, and he’s ran it as good as anybody in the country, I think. He’s done a really good job with it, and with the young receivers they have, and the whole team. From where we were to where they’ve come, people don’t know it, and it’s tremendous. I’m proud of those guys.”
Goff went 0-3 in his Cal career as part of the Trojans’ 12-game winning streak in this Golden State rivalry. The Bears ran a wide-open offense during Goff’s three seasons, and they’ve moved into a different high-octane scheme under new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.
USC coach Clay Helton had plenty of time to watch football between recruiting visits on the Trojans’ bye week, and he came away impressed by Cal’s 52-49 victory over Oregon in double overtime last Friday.
“Heck, they ran for 300 (yards) against Oregon,” Helton said. “You can tell there is more of an emphasis in the run game. They are taking what the defense gives them now.”
The Trojans’ three-game winning streak has buoyed their confidence after a 1-3 start in a nightmarish September schedule. Helton must maintain that momentum against an unpredictable opponent that has beaten two ranked teams for the first time since 2009, but also taken three unimpressive losses.
Here are more things to watch in these schools’ 103rd meeting:
BIG NUMBERS: It’s probably safe to expect a shootout when the talented Trojans meet the Bears, who are averaging 43.7 points per game. USC has the players to put up big numbers on any defense - particularly a Cal unit allowing 41.3 points per game. USC quarterback Sam Darnold, whose play has spurred the Trojans’ winning streak, relishes the chance to let loose.
WEARY BEARS: While the Trojans had the week off, Cal is coming into LA on short rest following last Friday’s draining win over the Ducks. The Bears have played back-to-back overtime games for the first time in school history, and they’re also the first Pac-12 team to play two straight weeknight games with fewer than six days off in between.
BALL CONTROL: Keeping the ball away from Cal’s prolific offense sounds like a good idea, but it’s not that simple. The Bears ran only 49 plays while beating Utah, but had 118 snaps two weeks later against Oregon. USC’s offense has looked good in the running game and the passing game for long stretches, but is still searching for balance - and top tailback Justin David probably won’t play on his sprained ankle. “We’ve got to keep the ball in our hands, because they have a really, really good scoring offense,” USC offensive lineman Chad Wheeler said.
NEW GUY: Goff’s successor has already made his name. He benefits from playing in a frantic offense, but Webb leads the FBS with 362 pass attempts and ranks second with 27 TD passes, and he’s third with 368.7 yards passing per game. Webb also realizes the challenges of taking on USC’s solid defense, which has held its last three opponents under 21 points and hasn’t been shredded since the season opener against Alabama. “USC is going to be the best team we’ve played so far this year,” Webb said. “Their secondary is unreal. Everybody knows the type of caliber players they have. They’re the total package on defense.”
LEAVE THE BBQ: USC fans won’t be able to tailgate on campus for this weekday game, an annoyance for many of this tradition-bound football program’s fans. The Trojans only agreed to play in an annual, television-mandated Thursday home game three years ago. Goff played in one of those games, losing 38-30 in Cal’s only visit to the Coliseum during his college career. Before 2013, USC hadn’t played at the Coliseum on a Thursday since Thanksgiving 1938.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
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