Date/Time: November 13, 9:00 p.m. ET
Spread: USC -14
The “Bear Raid” offense of Sonny Dykes is working at Cal. The problem is that the defense isn’t working at all. The USC Trojans have to feel pretty good about their planning for this week’s matchup with the Golden Bears because they’re coming off a game against a similar team in Washington State that loves to throw the ball around. All in all, it makes for an interesting Pac-12 game on Thursday night in spite of the two-touchdown spread that the Trojans are favored by.
Jared Goff showed a lot of promise in his first season at Cal even though the Bears had some difficulty turning all of their yardage into points. The Bears averaged 454 yards per game but mustered just 23 points en route to a 1-11 season. This season, the Bears have the nation’s fourth-best passing attack at 361 yards per game and they have scored the ninth-most points per game with 42. Goff, who completed 60 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, has already thrown for over 3,000 yards with a 27/4 TD/INT ratio. The lack of a running game certainly hasn’t held the offense back.
Defensively, however, the Bears are a mess. Only six teams in the country have allowed more points per game than the 39.9 that the Bears have allowed. It’s still an upgrade from last season when the Bears gave up 530 yards and 45.9 points per game. Cal has allowed 49 or more points in four of their seven conference games this season. In fairness, one was a double overtime game against Colorado, but Arizona, Oregon, and Washington State have all lit up the scoreboard.
The USC Trojans will have had some additional time off to prepare for Cal with a huge matchup at UCLA looming next week. The Trojans are 6-3 on the season with a bad loss at Boston College on their resume. The team has played well overall in Steve Sarkisian’s first season at the helm with over 450 yards of total offense per game for the first time since 2011 and nearly 35 points per game. Cody Kessler has been outstanding in his second full year as the starter in Clay Helton’s offense. Sarkisian kept Helton in his current position and that is a factor in Kessler’s 25/2 TD/INT ratio. Junior running back Javorius Allen is already up over 1,100 yards for the season.
The USC defense has been very strong this season, with their two poor performances reflected in the team’s record. USC is 6-1 when they allow 28 points or fewer, but they lost both games in which they allowed more points than that. Overall, the defense has held opponents to 22.6 points per game under first-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Injuries have hurt this group this with JR Tavai and Jabari Ruffin each missing significant time in the linebacking corps, which was the most experienced part of the defense entering the season. Regardless, the Trojans defense has persevered on the strength of highly-touted recruits and a quality defensive coordinator.
The results were ugly for Sonny Dykes in his first season at Cal, where he inherited a team in need of serious help. The Bears were 1-11 and just 2-10 against the spread. This season, Cal is 5-4 straight up and 6-3 against the number. Cal was 0-9 against Pac-12 opponents last season with their lone win over Portland State. The Trojans are 6-3 straight up and against the number in Steve Sarkisian’s first season. Sark was 35-29 straight up at Washington and 35-29 ATS.
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Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.