Instant analysis/reaction: USC puts on offensive clinic, dominates Cal 41-17 on senior night

Sunny Shen/Staff

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Key takeaway

This entire season, the Bears have been riddled by injuries, particularly on the offensive side, and tonight was no exception. The first half saw Cal lose starting quarterback Chase Garbers in his first game back from a previous injury, and starting running back Christopher Brown Jr. was removed from the contest after falling victim to a helmet-to-helmet hit.

With Cal’s top receiving threat Kekoa Crawford also missing this affair, health will be a major concern heading into the final two games. Star safety Ashtyn Davis also sustained a lower body injury after attempting to hurdle a defender on a kick return, but he was able to return after spending some time in the locker room.

Additionally, inside linebacker Evan Tattersall, who has been an instrumental special teams player for the Bears, took a hard hit in the second quarter and had to be immobilized and stretchered off the field after spending nearly 15 minutes on the ground. He was responsive and had movement in his extremities, but the seriousness of the injury is yet to be revealed. He was taken to the hospital.

 

Cal’s game MVP

With the loss of Brown Jr., transfer running back DeShawn Collins had the game of his career thus far, as he became Cal’s first 100-yard rusher since Brown Jr. exploded for 197 in Cal’s season opener. Collins had two trips into the endzone and was quite efficient behind a depleted offensive line, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. The running back seems to have jumped Marcel Dancy on the depth chart — although both have excellent speed and agility, Collins offers a bit more physicality, which was on display via multiple broken tackles.

Honorable mention: On a night when Cal’s defense had a horrific showing overall, inside linebacker Kuony Deng put together have had his best game in a Bears uniform. The rangy junior totaled 11 tackles, two of which were for a loss. He flashed his speed in chasing down Trojans on multiple occasions while also putting pressure on USC quarterback Kedon Slovis on passing downs.

 

Eye-opening stat

The Trojans finished the night 5 of 7 on third down passes. The Bears’ front seven were once again exposed for not being able to contain Slovis inside the pocket, and when he escaped, his uber talented receivers were able to find holes in Cal’s defense.

Slovis, a three-star true freshman, carved up the Bears’ secondary like no other quarterback in the Justin Wilcox-era has, throwing for 406 yards and four touchdowns with a ridiculous 82.8 completion percentage.

Even when the Bears’ secondary played well, the Trojans’ receivers, especially Michael Pittman Jr., made contested catches look routine. Cal cornerback Elijah Hicks, who was constantly thrown at by Slovis, was beat on two touchdowns, both of which came on third downs.

 

Looking forward

As if the Big Game wasn’t big enough, the stakes just got even bigger, with Cal still vying to become bowl-eligible. Though this has been the worst season for Stanford in recent memory, the Cardinal have three conference wins to Cal’s two.

Stanford will come into the contest at 4-6 overall, meaning it would have to beat Cal then Notre Dame to make a postseason appearance. The 122nd edition will give the Bears the chance to snap a nine-game losing streak to their arch-rivals, and the feeling is that this is one of the best chances Cal has had in a while with Stanford struggling. 

The Cardinal have put up the second-lowest scoring output in the Pac-12, scoring just 22.6 points per game, but Cal ranks dead last with an average of less than 20. Stanford, like Cal, has faced a slew of offensive injuries throughout the season. Quarterback K.J. Costello came into the season with lofty expectations but has only appeared in five games for the Cardinal and has not looked like himself in those showings with just six touchdowns on the season. If he can’t go against Cal, expect redshirt sophomore Davis Mills to get the start.

Stanford is coming off a 49-22 beating at the hands of Washington State, as quarterback Anthony Gordon went off for 520 yards and five touchdowns after throwing just two against Cal last weekend. With the Bears’ offense and defense having extremely poor performances against USC, though, nothing will be guaranteed on this year’s trip to Palo Alto.

Shailin Singh covers football. Contact him at [email protected].