Coming off the most shocking and disappointing upset of the season thus far, USC only has one choice this weekend against Cal: Win.
Already, the Trojans' postseason future is in question. Another loss would officially kill their championship dreams. Bouncing back from a devastating loss like the one USC sustained against Stanford on Saturday night isn't going to be easy, but Lane Kiffin's team is going to have to find a way to forget about the loss and get back on the right track.
And it shouldn't be too hard to do so at home against Cal, which has started off its season at a disappointing 1-2 after losses to Nevada and, most recently, Ohio State.
Last season, the Trojans had no problem getting a 30-9 road win over the Bears. In that sense, Cal is the perfect opponent for them as they try to redeem themselves. Here are all the details about where and when you can see it happen.
Where: Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles, Calif.
When: Saturday, September 22 at 6 p.m. ET
Watch: Pac-12 Network
Listen: 710 ESPN in Los Angeles, KGO 810 AM in Northern California
Betting Line (via OddsShark): USC -17
California Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- TE Richard Rodgers (ankle) is questionable for Saturday's game
- OL Matt Summers-Gavin (knee) is questionable for Saturday's game
- LB Khairi Fortt (knee) hasn't yet played this season and is questionable for Saturday
- LB David Wilkerson (ankle) is out for the season
- LB Cecil Whiteside has been declared academically ineligible
- LB Jason Gibson (foot) is out until at least mid-November with a broken right foot
- OL Mark Brazinski (knee) is rehabbing a torn ACL
- OL Dominic Galas (pectoral) is out indefinitely
- DB Stefan McClure (knee) is recovering from a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus
USC Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- C Abe Markowitz (arm) is day-to-day and didn't play against Stanford
- C Khaled Holmes (leg) is day-to-day and didn't play against Stanford
- TE Christian Thomas (hip) is day-to-day and hasn't yet played this season
- PK Andre Heidari (knee) is out until at least early October
- RB D.J. Morgan (knee) is out 3-4 weeks
- CB Isiah Wiley has been declared ineligible for the season
- DE Devon Kennard (pectoral) is out indefinitely
- DE DeVante Wilson (knee) is out for the season with a torn ACL
This is it for the Trojans. It may have already been it for them, but the truth is this: Their fate is no longer in their hands.
Not only do they pretty much have to win out in order to restore their hopes of making it to the BCS championship, but they also need teams like Alabama, LSU, Florida State and Oregon to lose at least once.
USC came out of the weekend as the only previously top-five team with a loss on its record, and that is going to hurt—especially if the rest of the top teams continue to play the way they're playing now. A loss to Cal would all but destroy any lingering hope the Trojans have.
USC can't afford another loss. It needs to take this game against Cal and use it as an opportunity for a much-needed tune-up.
What They're Saying
The Bears had an opportunity to do something big against then-No. 12 Ohio State on Saturday: They made it close enough to nearly get the upset but ultimately fell 35-28.
It was still a pretty impressive road effort for the Bears, who were coming off a 50-31 beatdown of Southern Utah. After going into halftime down 20-7, they scored three second-half touchdowns to, at the very least, show some life and make things interesting.
But it was the final five minutes that killed Cal, according to Yahoo! Sports' The Sports Xchange:
First, they failed to score points after getting to the Ohio State 25-yard line in a tie game. Then they gave up the game-winning touchdown on a horribly blown coverage that allowed Buckeyes receiver Devin Smith to get 10 yards behind the closest Cal defender on his way to an easy 72-yard touchdown reception on a third-and-seven play with 3:26 left.
USC obviously experienced its own fair share of disappointment this weekend as well, and though much was made of the inexperience on Stanford's offensive line, it was USC's that ended up breaking down.
Quarterback Matt Barkley didn't look good against the Cardinal, but much of that can be attributed to the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of his O-line, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Garry Paskwietz:
The numbers don’t lie—quarterback Matt Barkley was sacked four times and the Trojans only ran the ball for 26 yards. One of those sacks—early in the second quarter—was a high/low hit on Barkley and it clearly seemed to have an impact. It’s been a while since Barkley was knocked around in a game like that. He was only sacked eight times all of last season, but by the end of the game on Saturday he was just absolutely under siege.
Though it's still unclear when senior center Khaled Holmes will return, but it became excruciatingly clear on Saturday just how much the Trojans need him.
Cal Player to Watch
In their battle against Ohio State, the Bears had one big offensive key that the Trojans were sorely missing this weekend: a rushing game. And Brendan Bigelow was to thank.
In just four carries, the sophomore running back produced two touchdown runs, finishing with 160 yards. The first score came with about nine minutes left in the third quarter, when he took the ball 81 yards to the end zone, and the second came with eight minutes left in the game, when he rushed 59 yards for the TD.
The effort kind of came out of nowhere for Bigelow, who had gotten two carries this season—in total—before the game against Ohio State. Was this evidence of a fluke or an indication that he's going to be a special player for the Bears?
His performance against USC will tell us a lot.
USC Player to Watch
We've already established that Matt Barkley's struggles on Saturday can be partly attributed to the offensive line. But that doesn't excuse what his coach called two "really poor decisions" in the first half of the loss, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Pedro Moura.
After throwing 10 touchdown passes in the first two games of the season, Barkley regressed against Stanford, throwing one interception with two minutes left in the half and another just minutes later, after his defense regained possession with a pick of their own.
Two consecutive throws, two consecutive picks. That doesn't look like a Heisman candidate.
On Sunday, Kiffin told Moura:
[That was] really unusual by Matt. Probably two of his worst decisions in our three years together on back-to-back plays. He's pretty beat up, mentally and physically.
He doesn't have much time to recover, but he'll have to do so in order to salvage this season as well as his own Heisman aspirations.
As much as Trojans fans don't want to hear it and refuse to acknowledge it, the loss to Stanford was a colossal blow to USC's title hopes. There are no two ways about it: USC now has a loss, and the other top teams do not. No debate. Just the truth.
Even prior to the game, the Sporting News' Steve Greenberg wrote that Week 3 presented a must-win for USC:
How important [is the Stanford game] for Matt Barkley, whose only postseason experience came in the 2009 Emerald Bowl? A loss here—especially if the senior quarterback performs poorly—and everything he stayed at USC for will be in serious jeopardy. The national title, the Rose Bowl, the Heisman—all of it.
So here is Barkley's opportunity to make sure that he didn't put off the NFL for nothing. There is still time to salvage this season—granted, it's going to be much harder, but it's possible—and it must begin with a dominant performance over Cal on Saturday.
Following the loss to Stanford, USC dropped from No. 2 in the AP poll to No. 13. From here on out, it needs to take every opportunity to show the voters that it is capable of competing with the best teams in the nation.
A spot in the championship game must be earned, and USC must (re-)start that process this weekend.
Prediction: USC Wins
No one's arguing about how bad the Trojans looked last weekend—there's no disputing that—but are they really going to blow a home game to a team that hasn't been able to take down major-conference opponents this year? Are they really going to suffer two consecutive upset losses?
Probably not. Barkley, and the USC offense as a whole, looked awful last time out, and though injuries are partly to blame, the Trojans will continue to adjust, and they'll rebound against the Bears.