(Robert Woods - This MoFo can fly.)
I've been doing this whole blogging thing for a couple years now, and I must say, there's no "Keys to the Game" feature I hate writing more than the USC one.
Why? Because every year in breaking down and previewing the Trojans, I inevitably come to the conclusion that beating the Trojans is very much possible. And nearly every year I walk away from their annual matchup disgusted and empty.
Case in point, excluding a cop-out prediction in 2008, I've predicted a Cal win every year. Sweet Jeebus that's just masochistic.
Regardless of my emotions on the matter, the Bears have a prime opportunity to show that this team is different from years past, and more importantly different from the team that was drubbed 45-14 at the Coliseum last year. The Bears have never started conference play 0-3, but may fall to just that dubious record in a tough matchup against the Trojans.
While USC isn't anywhere close to the dominant team they had been in years past, they're still arguably the most talented team in the conference, and it's no secret that the they've had the Bears' number since 2003. That's nearly ten years.
Fans may not be too optimistic of the Bears chances after Cal has exhibited inconsistent play and youth on both sides of the ball during their 3-2 start.
But fear not, Cal fans. There's hope. Here I go again.
Let me start by saying that USC receiver Robert Woods is one of the best collegiate wide receivers I've seen in a long time. And we've seen some good ones.
He's abused every secondary he's faced, and is putting up All-World numbers.
It'd be easy to say, just double cover Woods and pray. Triple cover him if you need to.
But here's the problem with double teaming Robert Woods. USC knows opposing defenses will try to double Woods, with a corner sticking to Woods and the safety helping up top. Knowing this, they often overload that side of the field, or find a way to get their slot receiver open on wheel routes or the spaces where the safety would normally be.
The Trojans also have a legit threat on the other side in true frosh Marqise Lee who is begging for one-on-one matchups on the outside. USC also likes to bring their fullbacks and runningbacks in wheel routes to try and get a mismatch with a linebacker, knowing that the extra defenders in the secondary are hawking Woods.
Still, Woods is as good of a wide receiver as I've seen for the Trojans, and at the end of the day, you can't just commit one defender to guarding Woods. He'll drink feast on opposing secondaries. Throw in the best cover OLBs and trust them against the tight ends and backs, and commit your cornerbacks and a safety to Woods and Lee. And pray.
Keep Barkley in the Pocket
Last year the Bears were abused when they showed an inability to keep USC QB Matt Barkley in the pocket. Barkley is the most dangerous when he's rolling out of the pocket, and the Trojans design a lot of these roll outs with Barkley taking his pick of a WR running a dig route across the field or a runningback or tight end that has been released on the side that Barkley rolls out on.
The Bears need to continue to work at incorporating a few more contain packages and some delayed blitzes to create pressure after Barkley has made his decision about getting out in space. Blitzing and leaving yourself one or two less defenders in coverage isn't always the answer. But just make sure Barkley doesn't get outside.
Pass Protect to Beat the Cover 2
Here's what I wrote last year about USC's Cover 2 Defense:
"The Cover 2 typically allows for the cornerbacks to play press coverage for the first five to ten yards which allows for the two safeties (the cover 2 so to speak) enough time to cover the back halves of their field. Meanwhile, the outside linebackers cover the flats while the middle linebackers are responsible for the middle zones.
The Cover 2 can be beaten when vertical routes are run to stretch the coverage, causing indecision among the safeties. Similarly, zones can be “flooded” when multiple routes are run in hopes of pressuring the backers, typically the middle linebackers."
The Bears were incapable of executing such a strategy last year because of the inconsistency in their pass protection, which really negated any type of passing game. The Trojans were content to stack the box and pressure Kevin Riley all day, and you can bet that they will likely do the same. In fact, USC Coach Lane Kiffen has already state that they have gameplanned on containing Zach Maynard and doing all they can do minimize his much overstated ability to run, and to pressure him in the pocket.
Cal's pass protection has been better this year, but they will have their hands full with a USC d-line that doesn't have the stats to back up their talent. Expect to see Isi Sofele in a lot of passing downs as he's the Bears' best blocking runningback. Most importantly, Maynard has to avoid the same type of jitters and happy feet he had last week at Oregon.
I'm not going to do it. As much as I want to, I'm not going to predict another Cal win. And trust me, though I don't think the Bears should win, I absolutely think they can. The Bears defense has typically played USC well at home, and Cal has a few more flashes on offense this year to keep up.
But I'm not going to jinx it.
Cal 24 USC 28
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
(Robert Woods - This MoFo can fly.)