Just a week ago, the Week 4 game between the USC Trojans and the California Golden Bears was a foregone conclusion. USC was the No. 2 team in the nation, and the Trojans would only have to worry about Oregon as they worked towards being the best in college football.
At the same time, Cal was a football program stuck in the Pac-12. The team has made little progress in recent years, and the Golden Bears had become a doormat for the class of the conference.
Now, despite the 64-30-5 record USC has against Cal, this could be the best game of the week.
How does an afterthought turn into potentially the best game?
First, the Golden Bears played their best game of the season in a loss against No. 12 Ohio State. Though they lost, Cal only lost by a touchdown, and if kicker Vincenzo D’Amato could make a field goal, the Golden Bears could have won.
The second piece to this puzzle is the surprising loss USC suffered to No. 21 Stanford. The Cardinals defense shutout the Trojans in the second half, and the defense held USC to one conversion on third down for the entire game.
With the momentum in Cal’s favor, the Golden Bears need three players to have the game of their lives. Exceptional play by these players could lead to USC being stunned for the second week in a row.
For an upset to occur, quarterback Zach Maynard will have to play to the level of his counterpart, Matt Barkley. This is a lot to ask seeing that Barkley may be the No. 1 quarterback prospect in all of college football.
Unfortunately, Cal does not have anywhere near the defense that Stanford does, so Maynard will need to be ready for a shootout. Maynard was coming off his best game of the season before playing Ohio State.
Against the Buckeyes, Maynard went 26-for-37 with 280 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He did a great job of managing the game against the Buckeyes, and his play kept Cal in the game. The Sports Xchange of Yahoo! Sports called Maynard’s game against OSU the best of his career.
There is no doubt Maynard will have to have a spectacular game if Cal wants to win, but the reason the Golden Bears succeed in this game will be RB Brendan Bigelow.
The Achilles heel of the Trojans is their run defense. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown. Stanford as a team rushed for over 200 yards.
This is great news for Cal because their strength is their running game. As of now, Isi Sofele is the starting back and will split carries with C.J. Anderson. But the real man to watch is Bigelow and his home run ability.
Each one of these running backs has had his share of being the leading rusher. Anderson led the team with 66 yards in the loss to Nevada, and Sofele led the team with 104 yards and a touchdown in a win against Southern Utah. But neither of these two ran for 160 yards with two touchdowns on four carries against the No. 12 Ohio State.
Bigelow is quick, elusive and he can score anytime he gets into the open field. It will be very difficult for running backs coach Ron Gould to find a way to split the carries. If Bigelow gets his carries, though, he could alter the entire game with just one play. Can Anderson or Sofele do that?
Lastly, the hero of this game and all the glory the Golden Bears have to offer could go to none other but the kicker. Vincenzo D’Amato will be needed in order for Cal to get the win at the end of the day.
It has been tough-sledding for the kicker. D’Amato went 1-for-2 against Nevada, and he missed an extra point against Southern Utah. But neither of these compare to the nightmare D’Amato lived when playing OSU.
He missed each one of his field goals, and two of those kicks were less than 40 yards and should have been “chip shots.” Seeing that the Golden Bears lost by only seven points, it could be argued that D’Amato contributed more to the loss than any other person.
The defense was no help as it allowed QB Braxton Miller to run for 75 yards and have his way.
In the end, it came down to the kicker and D’Amato could not handle the pressure of playing in such a historic stadium in front of close to 100,000 Buckeye fans.
Maynard will keep Cal in the game, and Bigelow will do his best to get the Golden Bears the lead. For Cal to win, they will need Vincenzo D’Amato.
The upset of one of the best teams in college football will come down to the kicker. Would you have it any other way?