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Cal Football

USC Preview: It's Wait 'TIll Next Year

December 3, 2021
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The talk all week about USC football has dealt with the surprising hiring of Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley to lead the Trojans next year.

There have been very few words about Saturday night’s game at Cal. The Trojans probably figure the less said about 2021 the better. 

USC is 4-7, the same record as the Bears’. While Cal finds that mark disappointing given the preseason hype, sub .500 records have not been uncommon in Berkeley over the years.

But at USC, home of 11 national championships and seven Heisman Trophy winners, such a mark is totally unacceptable. Former head coach Clay Helton was 46-24. A record like that would get him a statue in Berkeley. At SC, it got him fired after a 1-1 start and a 19-14 record since 2017.

Donte Willilams, who was named interim coach on Sept. 13, has a 3-6 record since taking over, and SC is riding a four-game losing streak. The Trojans have lost their best player and their starting quarterback to injuries in the last month. No wonder SC doesn’t want to talk much about this year.

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Donte Williams

Cal head coach Justin Wilcox, who has seen the SC program from the inside and outside, knows better than to write off the Trojans.

“They have recruited well for a number of years down there and they are a very talented group,” said Wilcox who was USC’s defensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015. “They are a very athletic group. That’s what they always are and they are no different this year.

“Offensively the quarterback room, they have multiple guys that are very talented. The running game has been strong. They are averaging over 30 points. They put 60 up combined in the last two games. They are fast at wideout. They have talented guys on offense. It’s easy to see when you turn on the tape.”

All-conference quarterback Kedon Slovis, who made life miserable for the Bears two years ago, has missed the last two games with an injury and has been replaced by Jaxson Dart. The freshman put up decent numbers in his two starts (27-for-47 for 325 yards vs. UCLA and 23-for-35, 248 vs. BYU) but the Trojans lost both games. The Bruins won in a rout and BYU had to hold off a USC comeback bid. Earlier in the season against Washington State, Dart came off the bench to replace in injured Slovis against Washington State and engineered a comeback victory.

This could be Dart’s last game as a Trojan.  If some quarterback transfers, lured by Riley’s reputation, descends on USC, Dart could try the transfer portal himself.

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Vavae Malepeai (

Tailback Keaontay Ingram, the transfer from Texas, has a team-high 911 rushing yards, a career-high, and five rushing scores. However, he missed last week’s game against BYU because of an upper-body injury and is questionable for Saturday. That does not mean the Trojans are without resources at the position. Vavae Malepeal, who was the starter at the beginning of the season, filled in last week and gained 99 yards on 20 carries, an average of nearly five yards per carry.

“The last few weeks they have continued emphasis on running the football,” Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon said. “I think the sheer number of attempts of running the ball (164 in the last four games) lets you know the commitment of doing it a little bit more.”

Until a month ago USC had arguably the best wideout in the country. Junior Drake London, a 6-5 leaper who recently gave up basketball to concentrate on football, was lost for the year with an injury against Arizona on Oct. 30. He still is SC’s leading receiver by a substantial margin.

However, the Trojans have plenty of depth. “Number 1, Gary Bryant has become a big part of what they are doing,” Sirmon said of the sophomore who has started the last four games in London’s place and has 44 catches for 579 yards and seven touchdowns for the season.

Kyle Ford, who missed three games with injuries early in the year, still has the ability to make an impact at receiver. Tahj Washington is second to London with 49 catches.

Tight end Erik Krommenhoek, a headline writer’s nightmare, is primarily a blocker.

The USC offensive line placed three members on the All-Pac-12 first team and another received honorable mention. They know how to knock people around. 

Defensively the Trojans have their problems. They are giving up 423 yards per game, 11th in the league, and 32.3 points, the Pac-12’s worst.

“They were multiple early in the season. The last few games they were a little bit more nickel,” Wilcox said. “They have a good nickel (Greg Johnson). Two good edge players. Interior guys are very talented. Tui (Tuli Tuipuloto) is very talented and then the linebacker 26 (Kana’l Mauga) makes a ton of plays for them.”

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Gary Bryant

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave agrees. “They’ve adjusted their personnel a little bit in the recent four weeks,” he said. “We worked a lot on them when we were going to play them on the original date. And studied them when they played Notre Dame or Utah. Now those games are a little bit ancient history category. 

“They’ve had more recent games when they have gone to be more of a nickel outfit. Not that they couldn't go base defense and bring bigger people onto the field, they are more nickel recently. There’s more movement. A lot of dynamic, athletic ability out there on their team.”

USC held a team meeting Wednesday, which made them 45 minutes late for practice. There was talk among the SC media that some players might be having second thoughts about even playing so late in the calendar year. 

Williams said in a Thursday Zoom call that wasn’t the case.

“Just making sure we were all on the same page and making sure everyone was ready to go,” Williams said. “Especially when it sucks because of the win-loss record that you don’t get to coach in a bowl game.”

Notes:

USC leads the series, 70-31- 5 (not including Troy's 2005 victory that was vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 71-31-5). 

The Trojans have lost just once to the Bears since 2004.

In Trojan-Bear games in the Bay Area, USC is 36-13-1 (not including that 2005 vacated victory}

USC's last road loss to Cal was in 2003 in triple overtime.

Drake Jackson has battled injuries this season, limited in USC's last two games. Jackson has 37 total tackles, eight tackles for a loss, five sacks, and a pick this season.

Cal Honors Many 

The Bears have many tributes planned for Saturday.

This is the annual Joe Roth Memorial game, and the team will wear throwback jerseys to honor the quarterback who died of cancer in 1977 shortly after completing his 1976 season.

On Senior Day Cal will recognize 28 players who are officially seniors, although some could be back next season.

The 1991 team will be recognized on the 30th anniversary of its 10-2 record and victory over Clemson in the Citrus Bowl.

 Golden Bear Olympians from this past summer's Tokyo Games will be acknowledged.

The late Bud "Dog" Turner will also be honored for more than a half-century of service to Cal football before he passed away in September of 2020,

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