USC hopes to slow Cal QB Jared Goff by stopping the run
It might seem counterintuitive, but Goff's efficiency dropped off dramatically in losses at Utah and UCLA without support from the ground game. The Trojans are well aware of Goff's immense talent, with defensive line coach Chris Wilson calling the junior ''the best quarterback in college football,'' so they want to keep the Golden Bears one-dimensional.
''People just think they throw, which they do throw it exceptionally well, but they run the ball very effectively,'' USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. ''I think you want to make any team one-dimensional. It's not like you can sit back and play (Cover) 2 man the entire game. We got to do a good job up front.''
Cal coach Sonny Dykes' formative years came at Texas Tech as Mike Leach first started rewriting the NCAA record book with his shotgun spread passing scheme known as the ''Air Raid.'' And while the Cal offense was dubbed the ''Bear Raid'' shortly after Dykes was hired, he and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin shoot for a 50-50 balance between the run and pass as opposed to Leach's preference for throwing the ball at least 70 percent of the time.
Cal hasn't been anywhere close to its desired ratio in recent weeks, with Goff setting season highs for pass attempts in his last two games. Posting his two lowest passing efficiency marks of the season, he threw the ball 47 times against the Utes and 53 against the Bruins, compared to 19 and 24 carries for Cal running backs.
In its first four games against FBS opponents, Cal backs averaged 182.75 yards rushing on 33.5 carries. With just 215 combined yards rushing from them against Utah and UCLA, Goff was left vulnerable behind a questionable offensive line and sacked eight times.
That is the exact trend USC hopes to continue.
''They are looking for balance,'' Wilson said. ''They are trying to take pressure off Goff. We got to do a great job on early downs getting these guys in long yardage situations and then rushing.''
USC did just that in its 42-24 win over Utah, holding the Utes to 3 of 11 on third downs, sacking quarterback Travis Wilson three times and intercepting him four times. Wilcox praised the defensive line for its most disruptive outing of the season, singling out Delvon Simmons' two sacks.
After struggling up front in losses to Stanford, Washington and Notre Dame, the turnaround came after interim coach Clay Helton placed a greater emphasis on reinforcing fundamentals during practice. Wilcox believes that focus carried over to the line and the entire defense, holding Utah running back Devontae Booker to 62 yards rushing.
''It's that consistency in performance, and when you do that, good things tend to happen,'' Wilcox said. ''The three interceptions were great plays and changed the game, but the rest of it was just really solid effort.''
If Simmons and the defensive line can keep it up against the run, Goff won't be fully able to feature play-action and USC's pass rush can limit his effectiveness on the deep ball. Wilson expects them to continue meeting the challenge.
''They have been improving every week, and that's all I ask from them,'' Wilson said. ''Every week is a different way. Some weeks you got to stop the run. Some weeks you got to stop the pass and play the run on the way to it.''