USC preparing to face high-scoring Cal
LOS ANGELES (AP) With his Friday night free, Southern California left tackle Chad Wheeler watched California's 52-49 double-overtime victory over Oregon.
''Yeah, it was a lot of offense, right?'' Wheeler said Sunday, as the Trojans returned to practice for their Thursday night game against the high-flying Golden Bears.
Cal ranks second in the Pac-12 in scoring offense, averaging 43.7 points, and has scored at least 40 points in all but one game this season. Cal also ranks second-to-last in the conference in scoring defense, averaging 41.3 points per game, and has allowed at least 40 points in all but two games this season.
USC quarterback Sam Darnold acknowledged the strong likelihood of another West Coast offensive bonanza. As a quarterback, it doesn't change his mindset coming into the game.
''I want to put up as many points as possible,'' Darnold said. ''If it's a shootout, it is, but if our defense does a great job we still want to score 40, 50 points. I'm sure they are going to hold their own offensively. They have all year.''
USC has also been putting up points since Darnold replaced Max Browne as starter, scoring a season-high 48 in its last game against Arizona. However, an overlooked reason has been the improved play of Wheeler, a senior from Santa Monica.
Wheeler missed most of training camp with plantar fasciitis, but was pressed into action against Alabama when sophomore Chuma Edoga struggled. Edoga was ejected on the first drive against Utah State the following week, again forcing Wheeler into the lineup. Wheeler has started each of the last four games, using those games to play his way back into shape.
''It was a struggle at first,'' Wheeler said. ''Coming off that injury I had to build up by repetition how I was going to perform in the game.''
Wheeler's progression has allowed an offensive line that was touted among the nation's best coming into the season to play up to its billing. During USC's three-game winning streak, the offensive line has paved the way for at least 523 yards of total offense and 157 yards rushing. Darnold has only been sacked once in that stretch, with Wheeler grading out as one of the top pass-protectors in college football this season.
Wheeler credits Neil Callaway, his fourth offensive line coach in as many seasons, with addressing a ''couple screws loose in my technical game'' for much of that improvement.
''He has really invested in himself and you can see it in his play,'' coach Clay Helton said. ''Hope it continues for him. He is making us a better team right now.''
Besides watching football, the bye week allowed Wheeler to continue to heal up, refine his technique, and increase his strength, with a lean build for an offensive lineman despite weighing 310 pounds. Wheeler enjoyed the brief break, to a point.
''It's helped me recover but it has been boring, I can tell you that much,'' Wheeler said. ''I didn't know what to do with myself sometimes. We had Thursday, Friday off, so it was good to get back to work.''
NOTES: Running back Justin Davis (high ankle sprain) is ''50-50 for this game, probably a little bit less than that to be honest with you,'' Helton said. Davis was hurt in the third quarter of the win over Colorado, did not play against Arizona, and has not practiced since the injury. Helton said Davis would likely need to practice this week to play against Cal.