USC to face California team prolific in scoring, shaky on pass defense

USC to face California team prolific in scoring, shaky on pass defense
California quarterback Jared Goff passes during a loss to UCLA on Oct. 18. (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

After a bye last Saturday, USC faces a high-scoring California team that ended a three-game losing streak with a victory over Oregon State last week. Staff writer Gary Klein examines the storylines and matchups:

Buffalo brothers


USC quarterback Cody Kessler and Cal quarterback Jared Goff have something in common: Both passed for seven touchdowns against Colorado this season.

Kessler, who has passed for 25 touchdowns, with only two interceptions, ranks fourth nationally in passing efficiency. He is a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, presented to college football's top senior or fourth-year junior quarterback. Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA also are finalists.

Kessler will be going against major college football's most generous pass defense. Cal has surrendered 33 touchdown passes.

Goff, a sophomore, has passed for 27 touchdowns, with four interceptions. He has averaged 346.6 yards passing per game.

USC is ranked 101 among 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in pass defense. The Trojans have given up 11 touchdown passes.

Back to back

USC tailback Javorius Allen officially joined the Heisman Trophy discussion when he received a letter this week from the Heisman Trophy Trust informing him he had been elevated to a potential candidate for the award.

Allen has rushed for 1,124 yards and eight touchdowns, and is averaging a Pac-12 Conference-best 124.9 yards rushing per game. He is the first USC player to rush for more than 100 yards in six consecutive games since Marcus Allen did it during his Heisman-winning 1981 season.

Cal's Daniel Lasco rushed for a career-best 188 yards and three touchdowns in the Golden Bears' 45-31 victory over Oregon State. The junior from Texas has three 100-yards rushing games.

Highly receptive

Cal might have deficiencies, but the Golden Bears' receiving corps is not one of them. Six Golden Bears players have more than 20 receptions. Nine have caught touchdown passes.

Bryce Treggs, a junior from Inglewood, has a team-best 44 catches, five for touchdowns. Stephen Anderson averages 15 yards per catch. Kenny Lawler has scored six touchdowns, Chris Harper five.

USC's Nelson Agholor caught eight passes for 220 yards and a touchdown in the Trojans' 44-17 victory at Washington State on Nov. 1. The junior has a team-best 66 receptions, eight for touchdowns.

Freshman JuJu Smith caught three touchdown passes against Washington State.


In a rush

USC defensive linemen are hoping to improve their tackles for losses and sack totals. The Trojans have 20 sacks, led by Leonard Williams with 4 1/2. Cal has given up 20 sacks.

USC's offensive line has given up 21 sacks. The Golden Bears' defense has recorded a conference-worst 12.

Happy returns

The game features the Pac-12's top kickoff returners.

Cal's Trevor Davis ranks No. 1, averaging 36.9 yards per return. The transfer from Hawaii has returned two kicks for touchdowns.

USC freshman Adoree' Jackson is second, averaging 31.3 yards per return. He scored on a 100-yard return against Utah.

Last season, Agholor returned two punts for touchdowns against the Golden Bears. This season, he scored on returns against Arizona State and Washington State.

Injury report

USC linebacker Su'a Cravens suffered a sprained knee against Washington State, but the sophomore recovered during the bye week and will start against the Golden Bears.

Safety John Plattenburg, who started the last three games, suffered a thigh bruise during practice this week and was sidelined for three days. He is not expected to play.

Twitter: @latimesklein