Every week Cal Football Blog will look at 5 most intriguing questions before Game Day.
1. What’s wrong with Zach Maynard?
After the Oregon game, it was reported that Maynard was trying to play through an injury in the second half. It was very noticeable that he could not find his step against Oregon. Maynard’s footwork wasn’t even there. The only passes that he was able to make in the second half were passes to his left, while he missed badly whenever he threw to the right. Maynard ended up with a horrible 101.5 PER. It is still questionable whether Maynard’s quad is 100% for the USC game. However, even before Oregon, Maynard had trouble with his footwork. If Jeff Tedford is the quarterback guru that everyone says he is, he needs to fix up Maynard’s footwork immediately.
2. Will Cal be able to defend against the best passing duo, Barkley to Woods, in the nation?
Robert Woods is one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the country, especially with Matt Barkley throwing to him. Last year, Barkley threw five touchdowns against the Bears in the first half alone with most of his passes going to Woods. With Marc Anthony out with a shoulder injury, true freshman Stefan McClure will have to step in at CB. USC will very likely exploit the matchup against McClure this Thursday. So how will Cal defend against this? The best case scenario is that Cal’s front seven gets to Matt Barkley on every passing possession. However, Cal’s pass rushing has not been there this season. The most likely scenario is that Sean Cattouse will have to stay back to double team Woods. If Barkley and Woods get it going early like they did last year, Cal will have no chance against USC.
3. Can Cal execute better in the second half of games?
In the second half against Washington and Oregon, Cal scored a total of only 3 points while the opponents scored 39 points. In the second half, Zach Maynard only averages about 103 PER while the opposing QBs average around 177 PER. It seems that Cal gets easily worn out and that Cal can’t finish games. The blame for this has to be on the coaches for not keeping the players mentally ready for the second half. Also, in the past few years, Cal has had a hard time performing in the second half of games. There might be a lack of motivation or fire somewhere in the locker room during halftime. The leaders of the team must step it up and they must motivate all the players around them.
4. What’s going on with the defense?
Cal is 4th in Total Defense, 2nd in Pass Defense, and 8th in Rushing Defense in the Pac-12. The problem with the defense might be the lack of the experience of Cal’s young players as they are getting beat by veteran players or they lack discipline during certain schemes. Also, the defensive linemen have not been consistently able to disrupt the quarterback unlike the past season. This is a key element in Pendergast’s defensive schemes because Cal’s defense relies on attacking the quarterback while leaving the corner backs on an island with the receivers. Pendergast’s feast or famine strategy has not been able to work that well with this group of defenders. If the defensive schemes don’t change against USC, Cal will have their defense exposed all game.
5. Will Cal finally defeat USC?
USC’s defense is looking shaky while Cal’s Keenan Allen look to tear them a new one. Cal will face USC at AT&T Park, which is supposed to be almost sold out. However, for some reason, USC always bring their A game against Cal every season. Cal needs an optimistic and aggressive mentality against USC this Thursday because the Trojans are looking for another blowout against Cal. If Cal can finally defeat USC, especially against a national audience on ESPN, Cal will pick back up their momentum, setting themselves up for a much better second half to the season, but if they lose it would be the third loss in a row for Cal, which will really wear down the hearts of Cal’s players.