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USC

Cal’s pass defense could look inviting to Trojans’ Cody Kessler

Cody Kessler, Javorius Allen
USC quarterback Cody Kessler and running back Javorius Allen look to the sideline before a fourth down play against Washington State on Nov. 1.
(Dean Hare / Associated Press)

USC quarterback Cody Kessler and Trojans receivers appear set up for success Thursday night against California.

The Golden Bears rank last in major college football in pass defense.

“Our secondary has seen pretty much everything this year,” Cal Coach Sonny Dykes said.

The Golden Bears have given up 33 touchdown passes, most in the nation. They surrender 376.4 yards passing per game.

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That bodes well for Kessler, who has passed for 25 touchdowns, with two interceptions, and ranks fourth nationally in passing efficiency.

Kessler passed for a school-record seven touchdowns against Colorado and is coming off a five-touchdown performance against Washington State.

USC receivers also have the opportunity to build on productive seasons.

Nelson Agholor, who has a team-best 66 receptions and eight touchdowns, is accustomed to big performances against the Golden Bears. Last season, he returned two punts for touchdowns and caught four passes.

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Freshman JuJu Smith caught three touchdown passes against Washington State.

George Farmer recovered from a hamstring injury and caught three passes against Washington State. Darreus Rogers was slowed by a hamstring injury but has improved this week, Coach Steve Sarkisian said.

Redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell has two touchdown catches in the last three games.

Dual threat

Cal quarterback Jared Goff ranks 15th nationally in passing efficiency and the Golden Bears feature several productive receivers.

But Sarkisian noted that running back Daniel Lasco is also key to an offense that averages 509 yards a game.

“He’s really probably the guy that makes them as difficult as they are to defend,” Sarkisian said, adding, “Daniel just provides that versatility, that balance.”

This season, Lasco, a 6-foot, 210-pound junior from Texas, has rushed for 796 yards and 10 touchdowns. He rushed for a career-best 188 yards and three touchdowns in 30 carries in the Golden Bears’ 45-31 victory at Oregon State on Nov. 1.

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Lasco also rushed for more than 100 yards against Arizona and Colorado.

Blind-side protector

USC freshman Toa Lobendahn is expected to start for the second time at left tackle.

Asked if was nervous replacing injured Chad Wheeler against Washington State, Lobendahn said, “Maybe a little bit, but I’ve been playing this whole year so I’m used to the feel.”

The transition to tackle, though, did offer challenges.

“At guard, most of the time, you’re just trying to keep strong against the bigger guys,” said the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Lobendahn. “At tackle I’ve got to make sure I keep moving.”

Quick hits

Freshman safety John Plattenburg, who suffered a thigh injury on Sunday, was not in full uniform for Tuesday’s closed practice. Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay III are expected to start.

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Sarkisian said fullback Soma Vainuku (hamstring) would play against Cal.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein


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