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USC Vs. Cal: Trojans Staring Down Stingy Cal Defense

(Sports Network) Fresh off a pair of heart-breaking losses, the USC Trojans now return home for the first of three straight games at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, as they face the California Golden Bears in Pac-10 play this weekend.

The Trojans have been less than impressive in their first year under head coach Lane Kiffin, whose club has struggled to put teams away. Following a 4-0 start that included a couple of close games, USC was met with consecutive Pac-10 losses, both on field goals at the gun. The team was first shocked at home by Washington, 32-31, before falling 37-35 at nationally-ranked Stanford last weekend. The pair of last-second defeats now has USC in jeopardy of losing three straight games for the first time since 2001.

California meanwhile, returned to the win column over the weekend with a 35-7 defeat of UCLA. The victory ended a short two-game slide for the Bears, who improved to 3-0 at home. Unfortunately, Cal now heads back out to the road, where it has come up short twice already.

As far as the all-time series is concerned, USC owns a 62-30-5 advantage over Cal and the Trojans have won the last six meetings. The Bears have managed just six points in the past two meetings with USC, which recorded a 30-3 decision last season.

Shane Vereen continues to pile up the yards for Cal, as he rushed for 151 yards and two scores in the victory over UCLA this past weekend. A workhorse, Vereen carried the ball 25 times for a ground attack that amassed 304 yards and he also had a team-high 51 receiving yards. Vereen, the main reason for the team's successful rushing average of 212.8 ypg, has now gone for 577 yards on the ground. His 10 total TDs (eight rushing) are also the most on the roster. QB Kevin Riley has certainly benefited from the steady ground game, completing 60.2 percent of his throws with nine TDs and four INTs. He wasn't needed much against UCLA, though, passing for only 83 yards and a score. Marvin Jones is the player Riley usually looks to first, as he tops the squad with 26 catches and 378 receiving yards.

After getting shredded by Nevada, Cal's defense has really elevated its game, holding its last two opponents to just a total of 17 points. That makes four games this season in which the Bears have held a challenger to 10 points or fewer. The unit was especially good last weekend, limiting UCLA to only 144 total yards, including a mere 26 on the ground. The Bears have been strong against both the run (106.0 ypg) and pass (148.8 ypg) this season, so the effort wasn't surprising. The defense also added five sacks to the equation, giving the team 16 for the year. Darian Hagan turned in all-around effort versus the Bruins, as he logged five tackles, two sacks and an INT. Mychal Kendricks also got involved with a sack and 2.5 TFLs, and he tops the roster in both departments with eight TFLs and 4.5 sacks for the year.

USC's offense did its part last weekend against Stanford and put the team in position to win when Allen Bradford scored the go-ahead TD on a three-yard run with 1:08 left to play. The Trojans didn't have a big game on the ground with just 108 yards, but QB Matt Barkley made up for it by throwing for 390 yards and three TDs. The young gunslinger is enjoying a successful second season, as he has thrown for 1,517 yards with 15 TDs and four INTs. Ronald Johnson has been his favorite outlet with 32 catches, 419 yards and five TDs, but it was Robert Woods who enjoyed a big game versus Stanford. Woods went off for 12 catches, 224 receiving yards and three TDS last weekend, surpassing his season totals entering the game. While the ground attack wasn't all too effective last weekend, USC has had success running the ball on the year, averaging a hardy 213.3 ypg. Bradford leads the way with 533 yards behind an electric 8.3 yard per carry average, while Marc Tyler is next with 359 yards and a team- high five scores.

The problem for USC this season has been its surprisingly bad defense, which is allowing a startling 428.7 total ypg entering the weekend. The defense also let the team down in each of the last two games, allowing both Washington and Stanford to drive over 60 yards in the final minutes to kick game-winning field goals at the gun. Last weekend, Stanford put together a seven-play, 62- yard drive in just over a minute to set up a game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired. It was a fitting end for a defense that permitted 478 total yards in the contest. The Trojans allowed 285 of those yards though the air to Stanford, which went a near perfect 20-of-24 on pass attempts. The Trojans were able to force and recover three fumbles or things could have been a whole lot worse. T.J. McDonald has been one of the few bright spots for this unit, leading the team with 46 stops, to go with two INTs and a sack.

The Trojans are in need of a win and they should be able to get the job done against a Cal squad that has come up empty in both of its away games. Look for USC to tighten things up on defense, while Barkley gets the offense moving with his arm.