USC vs. Cal: Matt Barkley, Zach Maynard a quarterback contrast

USC attempts to bounce back from a loss at Stanford by trying to extend its winning streak against California to nine games. Times staff writer Gary Klein examines the story lines and matchups for Saturday’s game.

Bouncing back

Neither quarterback won last week, but USC’s Matt Barkley and Cal’s Zach Maynard turned in dissimilar performances.

Barkley lost his Heisman Trophy front-runner status after he was sacked four times and had passes intercepted on consecutive throws in a 21-14 loss at Stanford. But the senior is expected to climb back into contention if he can avoid another stumble. He has thrown for 10 touchdowns with three passes intercepted.

Maynard, who appeared overmatched against USC last season, looked poised and confident in Cal’s 35-28 loss at Ohio State. Maynard completed 26 of 37 for 280 yards and a touchdown with one pass intercepted.

This season Maynard has completed 66.7% of his passes for 754 yards and four touchdowns with two passes intercepted.

“He’s just more comfortable with the offense, comfortable with the speed of the game and protecting the football,” Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said. “Because that’s really where we stumbled last year, was turning the football over in poor situations.”

On the run

USC tailback Curtis McNeal said other players besides Barkley and receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods must step up to make plays.

McNeal, who has rushed for 110 yards in 23 carries, would like to be one of them. USC has averaged 121.7 yards rushing a game. The Trojans gained only 26 against Stanford, and tailback Silas Redd lost a fumble.

Senior center Khaled Holmes is expected to play after being sidelined against Stanford because of an apparent ankle injury.

Cal has several productive backs. Senior Isi Sofele has averaged 70.9 yards rushing a game, C.J. Anderson 41.7. But the Golden Bears also have sophomore Brendan Bigelow, who broke off touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards against Ohio State, and redshirt freshman Daniel Lasco, who scored on a 77-yard run against Southern Utah.

Receivers show

Stanford Coach David Shaw said his game plan was to allow USC to put the ball in the hands of Lee and Woods — and then contain them.

The plan worked for the Cardinal, so it will be interesting to see whether Cal adopts a similar strategy against a USC offense that has thrown deep infrequently.

Keenan Allen leads Cal’s receiving corps. The junior, who has 20 receptions, caught 13 passes for 160 yards against USC last season. Chris Harper, a freshman who played at Encino Crespi High, has 15 catches, two for touchdowns. Bryce Treggs, a freshman who played at Bellflower St. John Bosco, has nine catches, one for a touchdown.

Getting defensive

USC ranks 60th among 120 major college teams in defense, giving up 378.7 yards a game. Safety T.J. McDonald and linebackers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey lead a unit that has given up 20 points a game. Bailey has three interceptions and the Trojans have seven sacks.

Linebacker J.P. Hurell has 2 1/2 of Cal’s six sacks. The Golden Bears rank 80th in defense, giving up 411 yards a game.

Special teams

Freshman walk-on Alex Wood, playing in place of injured kicker Andre Heidari, has not attempted a field goal in USC’s last two games. Lee has averaged 30 yards per kickoff return, Nickell Robey 15.3 per punt return. Punter Kyle Negrete has averaged 45.2 yards per kick, with seven downed inside the 20-yard line.

Cal’s Vincenzo D’Amato missed field-goal attempts of 40, 42 and 42 yards against Ohio State. Before that, he’d made four of five. Bigelow has averaged 26.7 yards per kickoff return, Allen 17.7 yards per punt return. Punter Cole Leininger has averaged 38.7 yards per kick, with five downed inside the 20.