Rose Bowl Hopes on the Line Against Trojans

Photo: <b>Tailback Jahvid Best</b> had just 30 yards rushing on 13 carries last year against the Trojans. So far this season, he's rushed for 467 yards.
Nathan Yan/File
Tailback Jahvid Best had just 30 yards rushing on 13 carries last year against the Trojans. So far this season, he's rushed for 467 yards.

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Football beat writers Jimmy Tran and Matt Kawahara discuss the importance of the Bears' matchup against the Trojans and break down the keys to the game.

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Aside from some new faces, Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed doesn't see a whole lot different about this year's version of the USC football offense. True freshman quarterback, new receivers, no problem. The Trojans, Mohamed said, plug them in and go.

"(They have) been running the same stuff for a couple years now," Mohamed said. "The biggest thing is, can you stop it?"

For the Bears, six years running, the answer has been "no" -- at least not enough to help topple USC from its reign over the Pac-10. Cal has not beaten the Trojans since 2003, one year after Pete Carroll's team began its current string of seven straight conference championships.

This season started with the Bears expected to make a title run of their own.

"And getting a Pac-10 championship," tailback Jahvid Best said, "means beating 'SC."

Tradition says that statement is still true. But Saturday's meeting at Memorial Stadium at 5 p.m., has taken on another dimension since Cal's 42-3 loss to Oregon last weekend.

Whichever team falls in this game will have two conference losses -- an almost unthinkable scenario for the two programs that were supposed to be frontrunners for the Rose Bowl. The possibility is an especially serious one for Cal (3-1, 0-1 in the Pac-10). Never has a team started 0-2 in the Pac-10 and gone on to win the conference title.

Avoiding that early hole against the Trojans (3-1, 1-1) calls for a complete reversal from the performance that the Bears put out against the Ducks. The offense had trouble moving the ball all afternoon; the defense couldn't stop a red-hot Jeremiah Masoli.

All week, the Bears have insisted that the game was simply a carnival of mistakes -- and correctable ones at that. Success against USC is going to come from showing that, as players and coaches alike have been stressing, the blue-and-gold-turned-black-and-blue showing at Autzen was not indicative of how good this team can be.

"After a performance like that, watching film, that just wasn't our team, wasn't our identity," defensive end Tyson Alualu said. "So there's no doubt in my mind that nobody's doubting our potential and what we can do here at Cal. Definitely feel like everybody's ready to respond, show America, show everybody what we're about this coming game."

Asked if he expects to see a different Bears team than the one he saw on film against Oregon, Carroll said, "I don't think there's any question."

It won't be easy. The Trojans are playing their typical brand of stifling defense through their first four games. The USC defense is allowing 10 points a game. Opponents have gained 59.5 yards per game on the ground and 1.7 yards per rush.

And while the offense hasn't blown teams out, freshman quarterback Matt Barkley is 3-0 as a starter, completing over 60 percent of his passes and averaging 225 passing yards a game.

So how much truth is there to the idea that the Trojans are as vulnerable as they have been since 2002?

"The thing is, people say that because of the players they lost and have right now," Cal linebacker Eddie Young said. "But, I mean, they run the same scheme and have players that are able to do it and get the job done."

"SC is 'SC," cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson added. "They're always a high-ranking, prestigious program that's going to win a lot of games, no matter who they have out there playing."

That alone may have made it easier for the Bears to put the Oregon loss behind them this week. As close to a must-win as Cal will have, Saturday's matchup with USC is still crucial, even with some of the glamor gone.

"We shouldn't treat any team differently, just go into the game expecting a dogfight, doing our technique," Alualu said. "But the fact that it is USC, it's basically an opportunity to show how we can bounce back and respond."


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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