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Postgame Couch Notes: Cal vs. USC

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Thoughts from the couch after the Cal-USC Thursday night matchup.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In a game that felt less close than the final score appeared, USC defeated Cal by a final of 38-30. This is the 11th straight victory for the Trojans over the Bears, dating back to a 34-31 3OT upset of the Trojans in 2003. The difference between the 2003 squads and today is enormous. Cal was led by a sophomore quarterback starting his second game by the name of Aaron Rodgers, who was spelled by backup Reggie Robertson in the first overtime. The 2003 Trojans had Matt Leinart at the helm, Lendale White, Reggie Bush, and Hershel Dennis as a three headed running back monster, and Mike Williams and Steve Smith were around to catch passes. Now we have the era of Jared Goff, Cody Kessler, and Nelson Agholor.

Speaking of Agholor, he caught 16 passes for 216 yards. This is the byproduct of a Cal defense lacking depth and a bit of talent after recruiting classes not panning out and a coaching change. Agholor is an extremely talented wide receiver, and his knack for getting open has applied in many of his games this year. His route running on angle routes, used early on a 3rd and 4 in the first quarter and on a touchdown pass later in the drive. Kessler and Agholor were entirely on the same page tonight, which meant bad news for the Cal secondary.

The lack of a running game for either team was surprising, considering Javorius Allen is the Pac-12 leader in rushing yards. He was held to 60 yards on 21 carries, a definite win for the Cal defense who has had success against the run this year. During the safety in the first quarter, Mustafa Jalil got a good jump off the snap of the ball, and managed to get a good rip move on the center, taking him into the backfield and dropping Allen for the safety. Jalil and Austin Clack were instigators in the backfield for Cal on a night where defensive positives were slim. On the USC side, the run defense has improved dramatically after having given up 452 yards to Boston College. This appear to be due to the havoc Leonard Williams caused on the inside. Williams, one of five Pac-12 semifinalists for the Lott Trophy, forced a ton of pressure up the middle. This is what blows up Cal's inside zone game, since Goff isn't exactly the biggest threat to run in those situations. Cal found later success with the draw, but by that time they had gone down by too much and needed to start throwing.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • #Pac12refs for this game. They got more screen time than Agholor did. I don't understand the compulsion of the officiating staff to call 25 penalties for 277 yards combined. And they still missed a call or two, which is insane.

  • Underrated turning point, Stefan McClure getting a taunting penalty from the bench. Killed Cal defensively and led to a touchdown that put the game essentially away.
  • I hope I never have to hear Jesse Palmer again. He is the most unlikeable Canadian since the Hart Foundation. He's also probably the worst Bachelor contestant. I would have rather had Tim Tebow in that booth. Maybe even Dennis Miller.
  • They called Goff "Jeff Goff" after saying his name about 30 times beforehand. Shameful.
  • The USC band strayed away from their normal two-song setlist and played "All Right Now," the theme of the Stanford Band, as a way to mock Cal. To be fair, Cal's band played a superior version of the UCLA fight song as well.
  • Hardy Nickerson's interception came from making a deep drop from his middle linebacker spot, in what appeared to be Cover 2. Nickerson has struggled in pass coverage, and this shows that at least some development is being had.
  • After tonight, Kessler has a grand total of 29 TDs to 3 interceptions. Those are insane numbers for someone who doesn't get as much attention as deserved.

Next week is rivalry week for both teams, as USC travels oh so far away to face UCLA, while Stanford comes to Berkeley for the 117th installment of the Big Game. Both games look to be winnable, and with the extra two days of prep time, the Bears look to gain bowl eligibility while the Trojans attempt to make their way back to the top of the Pac-12 South.