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Cal plays tough, but No. 5 USC pulls away late to stay undefeated

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USC’s annual trip to the Bay Area for what is commonly referred to as ‘The Weekender’ is typically a casual affair for the Trojans when they go to Berkeley and their team takes on overmatched Pac-12 rivals Cal. Such was not the case for most of Saturday afternoon however, as the Bears pushed and prodded their in-state rivals before the dam finally broke early in the fourth quarter for a 30-20 win by the cardinal and gold.

The closer-than-it-indicated final score may not have been all that pretty but still allowed USC to capture their 14th straight victory and run their record against Cal to 13 straight wins over nearly a decade and a half.

Part of the reason the Trojans couldn’t pull away until late was an ineffective offense that was a continuation of last week against Texas. Quarterback Sam Darnold had to carry the team at times but wasn’t quite as sharp early in the passing game, forcing several balls while throwing his seventh interception (after having just nine all last year). His numbers improved as the game went on and, in front of a bunch of NFL scouts, he still finished with 223 yards and two touchdown passes against a feisty defense.

The biggest issue for the signal-caller was the lack of a running game. Normal starter Ronald Jones II didn’t even make the trip with the team, while true freshman Stephen Carr had his moments rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown taking the bulk of the carries.

Head coach Clay Helton can once again thank his defense for bailing out the slow starting offense as they forced six turnovers and straight up took over in the final quarter to change momentum. Josh Fatu forced a fumble early in the 4th that was recovered near the goal line to kick the party off and interceptions by Ykili Ross and Jack Jones in the next few series all but sealed the deal in Strawberry Canyon.

As a result, the numbers for Cal signal-caller Ross Bowers looked dreadful on the final stat sheet (303 yards, 1 TD, four interceptions and a fumble). Still, he did help give the team a chance for most of the day and, combined with a solid run game and defensive performance, helped show that things are still looking up for Justin Wilcox’s team despite suffering their first loss of the year to move to 3-1.

That might not be the case for USC as they fly back and look over the game tape from a sloppy victory. While it does put the team up 2-0 in league play, notching another win might prove to be even more difficult if they play like that given they face a stiff test next Friday against a Washington State team that should be ranked in the top 20.

No. 5 USC opens flat against Cal and it’s all tied up in Berkeley at halftime

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Imagine telling somebody before the season that No. 5 USC would dominate Stanford in the trenches during a blowout, but struggle against the other Bay Area team in a nail-bitter. Up is down, down is up in the Pac-12 apparently.

The Trojans came out flat to start their annual weekend trip to the Bay Area and needed a few defensive stands to keep the score locked at 13-all on a warm California day between the two in-state rivals.

Quarterback Sam Darnold (157 yards, one touchdown) did his Heisman campaign no favors, tossing his seventh interception of the season (after just nine in all of 2016). Things could have been worse for the signal-caller and his inexperienced receiving corps too as the Golden Bears nearly grabbed two others. Part of the issue could be that his terrific tailback Ronald Jones II failed to make the trip up for the game with an injury and true freshman Stephen Carr (36 yards) was forced to carry much of the load.

Cal’s offense had its own moments but was just 2-of-8 on third down conversions to help stall some early momentum. QB Ross Bowers threw for 124 yards but it was big running back Vic Enwere who was the star of the show with 42 yards on the ground and a touchdown he punched in on 4th and goal. The real story for the home team was the continued play of their defense however, pressuring Darnold on a number of snaps, forcing two turnovers and covering exceptionally well downfield to limit big plays.

The performance through two quarters will lead many to question whether USC really should be ranked in the top five and considered the Pac-12 favorite but the cardinal and gold could turn things around with a trip to the locker room and some adjustments. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed with Justin Wilcox’s squad giving everything they can to another big name opponent in Berkeley this month.

USC optimistic Uchenna Nwosu will play against Cal

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Already battered by injuries on defense, USC may have avoided what would’ve potentially been a significant loss on that side of the ball.

Uchenna Nwosu suffered a sprained MCL in his knee during USC’s double-overtime win over Texas in Week 3.  After being held out in the early part of the week, the linebacker, armed — or kneed as the case may be — with a brace, returned to practice Wednesday.

Afterward, head coach Clay Helton seemed optimistic about Nwosu’s availability for the Week 4 game against Cal, their first road trip of the season.

Nwosu is currently second on the team in tackles with 20, while his seven pass breakups rank second nationally.  He’s started the first three games of the season for the Trojans after starting every game in 2016.

That brings us to the end of the positive injury news portion of the program as fellow linebacker Porter Gustin is very unlikely to play against the Golden Bears.  Gustin, who leads the Trojans in sacks with three, has been dealing with a surgically-repaired big toe.  While it didn’t keep him out of the Texas game as expected, he was sidelined again at practice Wednesday.

Additionally, defensive end Rasheem Green (ankle) and slot cornerback Ajene Harris (knee) are questionable for the road trip to Berkeley after sitting out practice yet again.

Cal wrests control of #GoBears hashtag away from Chicago Bears

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If you’ve spent any time on Twitter during big events lately, you’ve likely noticed the rise of branded hashtags. A trend that, as far as this writer knows, began with sports has now spread to other brands to provide specific logos or emojis at the tail end of specific hashtags. Think #GameofThrones if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, a number of NFL teams partnered with Twitter to put their own logos after their team-specific hashtags, and the Chicago Bears went with the highly creative #GoBears.

That’s a problem, as you can see below via a screenshot from California Golden Blogs.

Cal also likes to use the highly creative #GoBears hashtag, and after a sufficient amount of tomatoes lobbed from Berkeley to San Francisco, Twitter has now made #GoBears a neutral hashtag.

Silly as the issue is, it’s still an important for Cal. Like it or not, Twitter is where much of the fan discourse takes place these days, and Cal fans have cheered “Go Bears” for decades. Reclaiming that hashtag from the Chicago Bears is an important piece of Internet real estate for the Berkeley Bears.

 

Cal loses RB Tre Watson to season-ending knee injury

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Tre Watson entered the 2017 season with his name on the preseason watch lists for the Paul Hornung and Doak Walker awards.  The Cal running back will end it watching his teammates from the sidelines.

Bears head coach Justin Wilcox has confirmed that Watson will miss the remainder of the 2017 season because of an unspecified injury to his right knee.  The senior sustained the injury in the first quarter of the Week 2 win over Weber State.

“You feel for a guy like that that’s put in so much time and effort into the program,” Wilcox said. “We’ll have his back. Now it’s going to be the next man up at that position. He’ll bounce back from this, but it’s never easy going through that.”

The next man up at the position appears to be Patrick Laird, who ran for 191 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries in helping the Bears to easily get past their FCS opponent.

Last season, Watson was second on the Bears in rushing yards with 709 and led the team with four rushing touchdowns.  He ran for 83 yards in less than five quarters worth of work this season.