Standout USC outside linebacker Morgan Breslin has been sidelined since the Trojans traveled to South Bend to play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
According to ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz, interim head coach Ed Orgeron announced Wednesday night that Breslin will undergo hip surgery in the coming weeks and will be out for "an extensive period of time."
Breslin has already missed a handful of games this season because of that hip (and an ankle injury), but he came to play when he did show up, amassing 15 tackles (eight for losses) and 4.5 sacks in five games.
Without him, the Trojans will be looking for a strong performance against Cal from one of their promising young backups. But which one?
The obvious choice is J.R. Tavai, the junior that has been filling in for Breslin over the past few weeks. Against Utah, he put on a brilliant performance, racking up 11 tackles and sacking Utes quarterback Travis Wilson twice. He previously served as Leonard Williams' backup, but answered the call to fill in for Breslin when the time came.
He has bitten on a couple of screens over the past two games—something Breslin has proven to be much better at diagnosing—but has helped greatly with the pass rush. He's providing so much pressure that USC almost hasn't missed Breslin in that department.
Though Tavai would be the best look to replace Breslin on Saturday, we could see him lining up with his hand in the dirt.
Williams has missed a couple of practices this week due to a shoulder injury and Rich Hammond of The Orange County Register reports that Williams isn't likely to suit up against the Golden Bears. If he doesn't, then Tavai will probably fill in for him.
Orgeron said DE Leonard Williams (shoulder) is “very questionable” for Saturday.— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) November 8, 2013
If that's the case, look for Jabari Ruffin to get the start at outside linebacker. He hasn't done anything particularly significant this season and redshirted in 2012, so there's not much film on what he can do.
Against Utah, he had a sack and forced a fumble, but that has really been it. That's not to say he can't produce, he just hasn't really had the opportunity to do so.
If the Trojans are down Breslin and Williams on Saturday, Ruffin will finally get that chance.
So far this season, USC's backups have produced in big ways when called upon—just ask Buck Allen, who helped USC end its near-decade-long drought against the Oregon State Beavers in Reser Stadium.
Will USC Cover the Spread (-16.5 per Vegas Insider)
Without Breslin and Williams, USC should still have enough to beat Cal. A win on Saturday would mark a solid decade of Trojan dominance over the Golden Bears. However, the Trojans will need to create enough of a pass rush to help out a young and developing secondary.