BERKELEY — The equation appears problematic for the Cal football team: USC has sacked the quarterback more than any team in the Pac-12 Conference and the Golden Bears have allowed more sacks than anyone.
"It'll be a challenge," Cal coach Sonny Dykes conceded.
Still in search of their first conference victory, the Bears (1-8, 0-6) face a USC team (6-2, 3-2) today that might have improved more over the past month than any in the Pac-12. And a USC team that owns nine consecutive wins against Cal.
"I don't know if we're concerned as much as about beating USC as getting a win for ourselves," freshman quarterback Jared Goff said. "Beating anyone in the Pac-12 would be a big game at this point."
Giving themselves a chance to beat the Trojans will require keeping Goff upright. He ranks eighth nationally in passing yards per game, but also has absorbed most of the 28 sacks the Bears have taken. The Trojans will come after him hard. Even without injured Bay Area native Morgan Breslin, who had 3? sacks against Cal a year ago, the Trojans are relentless, having totaled 29 sacks.
Goff's teammates have been impressed by their quarterback's ability to jump up each time he's knocked down.
"Jared's been amazing all year handling pressure, off the field and on the field. He's such a mature kid," senior receiver Jackson Bouza said. "And our offensive line has been getting better every week."
Center Jordan Rigsbee, part of the group that didn't give up a sack last week against Arizona, said the linemen feel responsible for Goff's well-being. They also like his toughness.
"He's stepped up and hasn't been soft," Rigsbee said. "I don't think that'll faze him."
Rigsbee said the intention is to try wearing down USC's defensive line with their fast-tempo Bear Raid offense.
"When they start to get tired, I think they slow down quite a bit. They do a lot better when teams huddle up," Rigsbee said. "They may be more athletic than us — that's just the way it is — but I think they're very playable."
USC's defense is run by former Cal coordinator Clancy Pendergast, whose familiarity with the Bears might be somewhat limited. Cal runs an entirely different system and only four offensive starters had significant roles a year ago.
Even so, USC's defense is formidable. The Trojans rank second in the conference against the run (103.9 yards per game) and first in total defense (323.0). They are giving up only 10.3 points over the past three outings.
"They've kind of found their identity a little bit and they're playing at a very high level," Dykes said, addressing the changes he has seen in the Trojans since Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach after Lane Kiffin's Sept. 29 firing.
It's not just sacks that have Dykes concerned. The Trojans play more man coverage in the secondary than the Bears typically see, and that will provide a challenge for Goff.
"When you play against man teams and you've played a lot of zone teams, to your quarterback everybody looks covered," Dykes said. "Sometimes your quarterback is a little bit inclined to hold onto the football and that plays into their hand because they're a very good pass rushing team."