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USC at California

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Editor’s Note: Christian Alexander's college football selections can be purchased weekly on Click to win!

Matchup: Southern Cal (4-1) at California (3-2)
Venue: AT&T Park – Natural Grass
Date: Thursday, Oct. 13
Time/TV: 9:00 pm ET - ESPN
Line: Southern Cal -3, o/u 58

If there was ever a night that exemplified that a game can be made up of two completely different halves, it was last Thursday. Getting 24 1/2 points, California had a 15-14 halftime lead at Oregon, and needless to say, I was feeling pretty good. Then they kicked off the second half.

At that point, I still expected Oregon to win the game – even anticipated they would win by double digits. What I didn’t expect was that the Ducks would win the second half by a score of 29-0, resulting in a 43-15 win. That not made a loser out of Cal, but also the players who had backed the Golden Bears.

There were issues with Cal’s offense, which can only partially explained by the fact that QB Zach Maynard suffered quad contusion early in the game and was eventually replaced in the second half.

The defense also had issues – as defenses often do when they play Oregon. Cal entered the night with the 9th ranked run defense, with just 313 yards and two TDs allowed in their first four games. The Ducks sure had fun with that stat as Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James led a ground attack that posted 365 yards and three touchdowns.

Coach Jeff Tedford certainly couldn’t blame the loss on turnovers as Cal actually won that battle last Thursday. It was just the eighth time that Tedford had lost the game while winning the turnover battle. The Bears are now 42-8 when they win the turnover battle.

The loss brings me depressingly right back to sea level (3-3) and now we must look ahead to this Thursday where we once again will watch Cal. This time the Bears will be at home in Berkeley to face Southern Cal.

Actually, “home” isn’t exactly accurate as this game will be played at AT&T Park in San Francisco due to the fact that Cal’s regular home, Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, is undergoing a face lift. Cal has only played at AT&T Park once, the same number of times USC has played there (2009 Emerald Bowl).

The good news is the field at AT&T Park has been resodded and so the two teams won’t have to deal with parts of a baseball infield when they play this game in the regular season home of the San Francisco Giants. For those looking for a random angle to play, be aware that the Bears are 31-18-2 in games played in stadiums that also feature baseball.

No matter the venue, Cal knows it must improve upon its effort from last Thursday to win this game. It certainly won’t be easy against a Southern Cal offense that appears to be firing on all cylinders at the moment. In particular, the Trojans passing game has been on fire, averaging 317 yards per game this season. For all the talk about Cal WRs Marvin Jones and Kennan Allen, Southern Cal might have a pair just as good in WRs Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.

Woods has been especially impressive as the Trojans offense seems to flow through him quite a bit. The sophomore, who leads the Pac-12 in yards (747) and catches (55 catches) has been dealing with a sprained ankle lately but will be good to go this Thursday. Expect USC QB Matt Barkley to look for his favorite target early and often.

There will be plenty of pressure on Cal's 3-4 defensive formation to slow down the Trojans and specifically on the secondary and CB Stefan McClure who will be marking Woods most of the game.

As mentioned, the Cal offense will have to step up as well. QB Zach Maynard is only completing 51.4% of his passes and to win this Thursday, he must be sharper. His completion percentage will no doubt depend largely on how much protection his line can give him – which could be a challenge against USC DLs DaJohn Harris and Nick Perry who are in the Pac-12's top 10 in tackles for losses.

One thing is for sure, Cal probably won’t be looking at too much tape from the 2010 game between these two. In that contest, the Trojans jumped out to a 42-0 halftime lead and cruised in the second half to a 48-14 win.

Tedford just can’t seem to solve the Trojans as he is 1-8 against USC, with a combined score of 261-135 in those nine games. Tedford's lone win came in 2003 when Cal dropped USC, 34-31, in triple OT. USC probably doesn’t have too many good memories coming into this game but that has nothing to do with Cal. The last time the Trojans played a conference game on a Thursday night was back in 2008, when they were shocked by Oregon State, 27-21. At the time, USC was #1 in the nation.

Tedford, who coached USC coach Lane Kiffin at Fresno State in the 1990’s, has never started a season 0-3 in the Pac-10 – now Pac-12 – but that is exactly what Cal is facing unless they can win this game Thursday night.

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