Season-ending rivalry games against UCLA and Notre Dame are looming. But USC players said all the right things this week as they prepared for Thursday night’s game against California.
Unless the question was asked, there was no mention of the Bruins or Fighting Irish.
“We’ve got to take care of Cal first,” Trojans tailback Javorius Allen said.
USC did not play last Saturday after routing Washington State on Nov. 1. The victory marked the start of what the Trojans pronounced as their end-of-season goal: an undefeated November.
USC players are rested and, for the most part, physically sound going into their first game at the Coliseum in nearly a month.
Cal might offer more of a challenge than its 5-4 record indicates.
The Golden Bears got off to a 4-1 start. They would have been 5-0 if they had not given up a last-second Hail Mary pass at Arizona.
Then came consecutive losses against Washington, UCLA and Oregon before Cal won at Oregon State.
The Golden Bears have averaged 41.9 points a game, eighth-most in major college football.
Sophomore quarterback Jared Goff, a corps of talented receivers and running back Daniel Lasco appear to be operating smoothly in second-year Coach Sonny Dykes’ spread offense.
USC Coach Steve Sarkisian wasted no opportunity to say the Trojans must be prepared to keep up with a team that was held to fewer than 31 points only once, and has scored 50 or more points three times.
“We are going to play a team that, if we don’t score 35, you are not in the game,” Sarkisian said.
USC’s offensive players can hardly wait.
Cal surrenders averages of nearly 40 points and 526 yards a game. The Golden Bears’ pass defense ranks last nationally.
“We’ve had some rough days,” Dykes, in an understatement, said of the secondary.
That should bode well for USC quarterback Cody Kessler, who passed for a career-best 400 yards and five touchdowns in the Trojans’ 44-17 victory over Washington State.
History also is on USC’s side. The Trojans have defeated Cal 10 consecutive times since losing in triple overtime at Berkeley in 2003.
Cal has not won at the Coliseum since 2000, former coach Paul Hackett’s final season at USC.
The Trojans came back from an 18-point deficit to win in 2002 and held off a nearly perfect Aaron Rodgers with a dramatic goal-line stand in 2004. Since then, USC has defeated the Golden Bears at the Coliseum four times by an average of 20 points.
But USC will not look past Cal to its rivalry games, Trojans players said.
Freshman Adoree’ Jackson recalled the team’s September performance against lightly regarded Boston College that ended in a 37-31 defeat.
“We probably came out sluggish and we probably assumed we were going to win,” he said. “Now we know that’s a humbling experience. We just have to focus on the team that’s coming up.”
The team’s vibe during practice this week has been one of high confidence.
The victory at Washington State sent the Trojans back to Los Angeles knowing they would not leave Southern California for the rest of the regular season. The UCLA game is at the Rose Bowl and the season finale against Notre Dame is at the Coliseum.
Kessler indicated the Trojans would not look ahead until Friday.
“We want to go undefeated in November,” he said. “And we can’t do that without winning this next game, so that’s our main focus right now.”