Thursday, September 20, 2012

How Cal Can Beat USC This Saturday

Can Cal, a whopping 16-point underdog, beat USC at the LA Coliseum this Saturday, a team it hasn't beaten since that famous triple-overtime win in Berkeley in 2003? Most certainly. A Bear victory is not the impossible dream it appeared to be before last Saturday.

Both teams lost by seven last Saturday on the road, but Cal's loss to Ohio State was uplifting, with the Bears dominating in the second half in Columbus and QB Zach Maynard playing the game of his career. USC, though, crumbled in a game it was supposed to win, exposing weaknesses a smart team can exploit.

What's the recipe for an improbable Cal win?

First of all, the Bears need to develop some swagger. Losers of eight in a row to USC, Cal is usually intimidated by the Trojans, playing scared and collapsing like wimps. Last week, in one of the toughest stadiums in the country for a visiting team, Cal outplayed a very good Ohio State team, especially in the second half. With some decent field-goal kicking, the Bears might have won. That moral victory could give the Bears a shot of confidence they need heading into a USC battle. Without swagger Cal is dead. This time, thanks to the Ohio State game, they just might have developed some swagger. They'll need it to counter  their tendency to play badly on the road.

Second, to beat USC, Cal needs a super, mistake-free game from QB Zach Maynard. In Columbus, he showed what he can do when playing at the top of his game--26 out of 37,  for 280 yards, one TD and one pick--on the final drive. Third, center Khaled Holmes must be on the bench, or playing hurt. USC's best O-lineman and arguably its best player, Holmes didn't play against Stanford. His replacement, freshman Cyrus Hobbi, was a doormat, providing little resistance to the bruising Stanford linemen. The pressure on QB Barkley, due to O-line failure, triggered the Stanford win.

Fourth, the Cal defense has to play the game of its life. Compared to Cal, Stanford has a better front-seven, particularly its line-backing corps, which is among the nation's finest. But Cal's D-line, playing smart, aggressive, fearless football, taking advantage of that weakness at center, can do damage to the Trojan offense, throwing Barkley off his game. If Holmes plays he'll be less than 100%. If Hobbi plays, Cal can whip him. Either way, Cal can use the center position as a gateway to slowing down Barkley.

Obstacles to a Cal victory: There are several. First of all, USC will be highly motivated and angry and desperate not to lose back-to-back conference games. Second, Maynard is inconsistent, rarely putting together back-to-back primo games. So after the excellence in Columbus, history says he's due for a stinker. Third, at Columbus, a huge factor in the Cal offense was its home-run threat, RB Brandon Bigelow. He caught the Buckeyes by surprise. SC, though, will be ready for him. Fourth, Cal is headed by an inferior coach, Jeff Tedford, who usually makes the wrong move in crucial situations. Fifth, USC has superior material.

Of course the best team doesn't always win. And rarely do 16-point underdogs win. But if the Bears turn ferocious and follow this recipe for victory, who knows?