5 things to watch: USC-Cal

October, 12, 2011
10/12/11
11:46
PM PT

1. Fresh legs: This should be the freshest USC team you see all season long, what with the bye week and all. Will that make a difference come game time? Only time will tell, but Lane Kiffin made a point of not running this team super-hard over the past few days. Monday's and Tuesday's practices were both no-pads, and the Trojans really did everything they could to get as many guys healthy as possible for the toughest three-week stretch of the season that begins Thursday with Cal, Notre Dame and Stanford. The Bears, for what it's worth, played a Thursday night game a week ago and had a full week to recover from that debacle.

2. The 3-4 defense: Cal, coached defensively by former NFL coordinator Clancy Pendergast is the first 3-4 team the Trojans will play this season and the Bears' strength defensively is in their stout defensive line and playmaking linebacking corps. But the Bears don't stick to the traditional 3-4 -- from what USC has seen on film over the last week and a half, they actually mix it up an inordinate amount and do everything they can to confuse offenses. What will the defensive front do against a suspect USC offensive line? That's your biggest worry heading into this game if you're a Trojan fan. Three out of five guys on the line have never faced a 3-4 defense in college, which is certainly cause for concern.

3. George Farmer: He's been the talk of the town this week at USC practice and all over the conference, really, with out-of-town reporters phoning in to Kiffin's conference call Tuesday just to ask about Farmer and his progress. It's not very likely his play will change the outcome of Thursday's game, but it'll be fun to pay attention to, nonetheless. And there's always the potential that, as Kiffin and his staff are quite clearly hoping for, Farmer breaks one of his first touches off for a big gain and gives USC an early boost against the Bears. Here's the thing: Cal doesn't really know anything about Farmer's running style in the backfield. There's no film of him ever having played the position, unless the Bears somehow hacked South L.A. Pop Warner footage from six or seven years ago.

4. Select reserves: USC would be dramatically helped if two players were able to suit up on Thursday: linebacker Lamar Dawson (ankle) and cornerback Torin Harris (shoulder). Neither guy has participated fully in practice this week but both could conceivably play; Kiffin called both game-time decisions on Tuesday. Dawson's key because he allows Chris Galippo, the starting middle linebacker, to stay fresh and play a better all-around game. Harris is important because the Trojans need three dependable corners available so that they can use a nickel defense, which they didn't do a single time when he was out against Arizona.

5. The receiving duos: A week ago, when Cal played Oregon on ESPN on that Thursday night, the broadcast team of Rece Davis and Jesse Palmer agreed that the Bears' pass-catching tandem of Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones was the best in the Pac-12 conference. Naturally, Kiffin took offense to that, and he brought it up to the media over the weekend while seeming to believe that his own duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee is better. The stats are similar, with Woods-Lee ahead by seven catches but Allen-Jones ahead by 39 yards; thus, the best way to prove which one's indeed better than the other is, of course, on the gridiron on Thursday. USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Cal quarterback Zach Maynard will likely throw the majority of balls in the direction of one of those four players.

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2013 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler361236296820
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen1357855.814
T. Madden1387035.13
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
M. Lee5779113.94
N. Agholor5691816.46
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense174.2218.1392.3
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring28.521.37.2