With both sides emerging with surprises of their own in Week 3, Saturday’s fixture between California and USC is shaping up to be a closer contest than many may have presumed at the start of the season.
For USC, Week 3’s surprise was to their detriment as a shocking loss to Stanford saw them plummet from No. 2 to No. 13 on the AP Top 25.
Meanwhile, the Golden Bears boosted morale in their camp, despite the fact that it came in the form of a 35-28 loss to OSU. Prior to the game, it was a case of by how much Ohio State would win, but Cal held them off much better than that mentality presumes.
So, in the wake of those results comes a tight affair that will have a hugely substantial bearing on both teams' seasons.
As is always the case, there are key figures from both teams that will influence the final result exponentially, and each will need to perform on the day if their party is to prevail.
Emerging as one of the premier talents in the Pac-12, wide receiver Keenan Allen will carry a considerable share of the attacking responsibility heading into this meeting.
Combining with half-brother Zach Maynard, the pair have developed a powerful partnership so far this season.
Allen is the brightest receiving talent that California has at their disposal, and he is also the most likely candidate to take up duties as punt returner.
The junior has scored one punt-return touchdown so far this season, and also has a TD in receiving as well as rushing in the Golden Bears’ first three games.
Zach Maynard had one of his better outings against OSU last week, but he relied greatly on his rushing assets, a factor that USC will have looked into countering.
As such, countering Cal’s passing game may not be a priority for this week’s hosts, giving Allen the potential for surprise.
It goes without saying that USC relies heavily on their passing game to do the massive majority of their damage.
This is only to be expected with wide receivers such as Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, both of whom have demonstrated supreme talent in the past, but it’s this talent that makes rushing players like Silas Redd all the more important.
At the end of the day, Woods and Lee will do their assigned jobs, but it’s whether or not Redd turns up or not that could decide this fixture.
When it came to the ground game, Stanford limited Redd and rushing partner Curtis McNeal to just 54 yards.
This was a fair sum for that game, but Redd and McNeal have both displayed a quality far beyond that in the past, having run for a total of over 1,000 yards last season.
For the hosts, Redd will need to be more reliable when called upon than he was last week, and he can be the sole difference-maker in an area of the field that Cal may not expect much from.
Last week’s hero at the Ohio Stadium, Brendan Bigelow was the scorer of that touchdown that if you haven’t heard about by now, you just might when the end of year awards are handed out.
The 5’10” Sophomore has already matched last season’s total of six carries in the first three games of the campaign and has amassed an impressive total of 175 yards.
That equates to an average of 29.2 yards per carry, and while the aforementioned 81-yard TD run is a major contribution to that sum, it’s obvious this kid has talent.
Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson are two other solid running talents for USC, but the introduction of Bigelow gives the Trojans a third conundrum.