USC Trojans (3-0 SU, 1-2 ATS) vs. California Golden Bears (3-0 SU, 2-1 ATS)
College Football Week 4
Date/Time: Saturday, September 23, 2017 at 3:30PM EST
Where: Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, California
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USC -16.5/CAL +16.5
Over/Under Total: 63.5
On Saturday in Pac-12 action from Berkeley, the USC Trojans take on the Cal Golden Bears. Both teams are 3-0 entering this game and the stakes are high for an early-season conference matchup. USC needed a lot of dramatics to pull victory from the jaws of defeat last week, rallying to beat Texas in double overtime. Cal, meanwhile, scored a nice win by beating Ole Miss. 27-16. USC is ranked in the top five of the country, but Cal has been effective and offers some nice underdog appeal in this game.
Ole Miss had looked very strong through two games and didnt get much going late against Cal, who is now nice and dug in at home. Cal fell behind early and trailed at the half 16-7. The Golden Bears offense started picking up the slack and QB Ross Bowers started working well with Vic Wharton, III, and Kanawai Noa. RB Patrick Laird has risen as a valuable runner, with experienced Vic Enwere chipping in. The offense has lost running back Tre Watson for the season and was without WR Demetris Robertson, who is listed as questionable for this game. Its a bit of a different look under first-year head coach Justin Wilcox. After seeing Jared Goff and then Davis Webb behind center, we had become accustomed to the high-octane Cal offense and the defense that couldnt stop much of anything. The win over Ole Miss featured a more-balanced approach. At the end of the day, it might not be as much of a rebuilding phase as some had forecasted. With wins over North Carolina and Ole Miss, they now turn their attention to the Pac-12 conference.
For a number of seasons, the Cal defense has been a constant roadblock to success. And holding Ole Miss scoreless in the second half is a major feat for a team that hasnt experienced much success on this side of the ball in recent years. They were able to apply pressure on the quarterback, while making enough big plays in the secondary. The Cal D registered 3 interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD by LB Cameron Goode as Ole Miss was driving for a score. Can they get that same kind of play against an even more-loaded Southern Cal offense this week?
Later in the season, it will have helped USC to have gutted out tough wins as they did against Texas last week. At the same time, they allowed a freshman QB to almost win the game for the Longhorns, if not for Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold marching down the field with 45 seconds left and no timeouts to send it to overtime. The defense was not at its best late, but they were also a big part of securing the win with big plays. USC still needed heroics at home to beat an unranked Texas team. If not for Darnolds clutch play, some big field goals from freshman walk-on kicker Chase McGrath, and huge playmaking on defense, it would be a loss. But the bottom-line is that it isnt. We still see a Trojans team not quite in the same form we saw from them late last season.
The defense started well for the Trojans, with the Texas offense only accounting for a FG until late in the game. The defense melted down some and allowed the Longhorns to take the lead and then score a TD in overtime. But as the Longhorns were going in for another OT touchdown, Christian Rector stripped the ball out with force and the Trojans recovered it to set up the win. The secondary wasnt great late perhaps, but for most of the game, they kept Texas in check. We saw more big plays in the secondary from Marvell Tell, with Jack Jones providing good corner coverage for most of the game, until the late Longhorns surge. Part of the problem on Saturday was how many members of the defense got hurt. There were ten different Trojans defensive players, of varying levels of importance, who ended up on the injury list and listed as questionable for this game. It really showed late in the Texas game.
Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold is a handful. Hes been a little reckless this season with 6 picks already on the young campaign. But as he showed with his late drive with less than a minute left that he has a flair for the dramatic. He can serve as a great pocket passer, but seems at his most-dangerous when he gets on the move and makes big plays. The emergence of Deontay Burnett as a true number-one receiver has been huge, with Steven Mitchell, Jr. a valuable aerial tool, as well. Ronald Jones, II. and exciting true freshman Stephen Carr offer a great 1-2 punch in the backfield. The O-line didnt thrive against the mean Texas defensive front, both in terms of protecting Darnold or in springing the run game. They should get better results this week.
Cal, again, is nice and dug in at home, having their only road game on the 2nd of this month with this being their third game here in a row. They are feeling pretty good about things and could be peaking just in time for this. USC has to pick themselves up after a draining double-overtime struggle that was very physical, leaving their defense in a bit of a mess. While its certainly possible that an in-stride USC team could drop the hammer on Cal, they seem to still be working out enough kinks to give way to a Cal cover this Saturday.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the California Golden Bears plus 16.5 points. Not all sportsbooks are created equal! Many are fly by night, poorly run and your loot is actually at risk. End that problem today by signing up at one of the web’s oldest and most trusted sportsbooks! Online for over 15 years, your credit card will work and you’ll also receive a 50% bonus up to $250 FREE at Bovada Sportsbook!