USC vs. Cal prediction and game preview. Projecting who wins Thursday night’s matchup between the Trojans and Golden Bears.
When: Thursday, Oct. 27 – 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California
TV Broadcast: ESPN
You have to give credit to Clay Helton. Since USC (4-3) started 1-3, it has ripped off three straight wins, and all three have been against Pac-12 opponents. The Trojans fell to Utah in Week 4 and then took down Arizona State, Colorado and Arizona. The most recent win against the Wildcats, 48-14, came on the road in Tucson. USC took the lead with 10:29 remaining in the first quarter and never surrendered it.
Cal (4-3) has seen its season go much differently. Sonny Dykes’ crew has been unable to win back-to-back games but is also undefeated after a loss so far this season — glass half empty or half full? Regardless, the Golden Bears’ most recent win over Oregon, 52-49, was quite the show. Cal went ahead 21-0 and then allowed the Ducks to come back. The game ended up going to overtime, and that’s when the Golden Bears picked off a pass to seal the win.
The all-time series between these two teams has been heavily dominated by the Trojans, who own a 68-29-5 advantage. USC has won 11 games in a row, and it would have been 12 straight, but the 2005 victory was vacated. The Golden Bears haven’t beaten the Trojans since 2003 in Berkeley.
What To Know About USC
Bravo, Mr. Helton, bravo. One could argue that Sam Darnold should have been starting from the beginning, but give credit to the USC head coach for turning to the redshirt freshman before officially bottoming out. Darnold had yet another spectacular showing against Arizona with 235 yards and five touchdowns on 20-of-32 passing. Three of those touchdowns went to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who finished with nine catches for 132 yards. Deontay Burnett and Daniel Imatorbhebhe caught the other scoring strikes.
The Trojans also got solid production in the running game. Ronald Jones rushed for 77 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Aca’Cedric Ware added 103 yards and a score on 12 carries. Plus, Dominic Davis chimed in with 89 rushing yards, and Darnold ran for 54 yards of his own.
What to Know About Cal
Cal hasn’t needed to switch quarterbacks because Davis Webb has been that great. He’s ranked No. 3 with 368.7 passing yards per game, and he’s thrown 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Webb completed 42-of-61 passes for 325 yards and five touchdowns against Oregon. Vic Wharton III, Demetris Robertson and Raymond Hudson all caught one touchdown, and Tre Watson was on the receiving end of the other two.
The Golden Bears ran the ball well, too, and Watson was a huge part of that. He ran for 154 yards on 28 carries, and Khalfani Muhammad added 148 yards on 23 carries. Webb did it with his legs, too, including a one-yard touchdown run.
Offense: Cal – This one is much closer than it would have been had Max Browne remained the Trojans’ starter, but Cal gets the nod because Smith-Schuster is hobbled by a back injury. Even though Chad Hansen has a left ankle injury, Webb proved he has more than a few targets to look for when he drops back.
Defense: USC – What Cal has cannot be considered a defense, whereas the Trojans are working with ballers in their secondary: Adoree’ Jackson, Leon McQuay III and Iman Marshall.
Special Teams: USC – Jackson is a monster in the return game. It’s that simple.
Coaching: USC – This one is tough, but the points go to Helton for having the stones to put Darnold in the starting spot.
Matchup To Watch
Sam Darnold vs. Davis Webb
If you thought the Cal-Oregon game was exciting, get ready for this showdown. Darnold and Webb are about to be locked in an epic battle with this one. Ironically, both of their go-to receivers are hurt, and we have no idea if they’ll be 100 percent by kickoff. But this game will come down to whichever quarterback performs better. We could see both Darnold and Webb with at least 50 passing attempts each in this one.
Spread: USC -15
USC vs. Cal Prediction
Yeah, totally not sold on the 70.5 over/under for this one because both quarterbacks can sling the rock with ease. Jones will get the Trojans rolling early by scooting to the end zone, though. Darnold will take that momentum and build a solid lead by finding Imatorbhebhe for two touchdowns. Webb will answer those by finding Robertson for two scores also. If Smith-Schuster and Hansen are healthy enough to play, they’ll both find the end zone undoubtedly, but this will come down to Darnold’s ability to move the chains and make key throws when he needs to do so.
USC vs. Cal Score Prediction: USC 55, Cal 41