LOS ANGELES -After two consecutive losses during the season, the chances of making it to the college football playoffs for the team have diminished. USC head coach Lincoln Riley had been on leave on doctor’s orders, and assistant head coach, Dennis Simmons, handles the practices earlier this week until Riley returned to the practice field on Wednesday.
Here are three takeaways from practice:
Will the defense allow a third consecutive loss?
It has been almost two decades since Cal last defeated a ranked USC team, way back in 2003. However, things might be different this time as USC is currently at the bottom of the Pac-12 conference, having allowed an average of 164.3 rushing yards per game. Interestingly, Cal has been performing exceptionally well in this area, averaging a whopping 195.6 rushing yards per game and scoring 16 touchdowns so far.
Last week, USC suffered a 34-32 defeat against Utah, giving up 34 points and 482 yards at the Coliseum. During a media availability session on Tuesday, Mason Cobb spoke to The Sporting Tribune and stated that USC’s defensive struggles were not due to the coaches, but rather because the USC defenders weren’t in the right position. The Trojans only missed two tackles all game long in South Bend.
“We’ve got to make the layups, man. We’re there. That’s the thing and maybe we need to go allow guys to get more reps and practice full speed against maybe the ones. But I mean, we’ve had those reps in practice, guys just gotta execute.”
In the game against Utah, USC missed a total of 12 tackles which proved to be pivotal in the outcome of the match. With just a few moments left in the game, USC had the opportunity to win the game with a stop on defense but a late quarterback scramble by Bryson Barnes sealed the game with a game winning field goal.
“We’ve still got a lot to play for, a lot of goals in front of us,” Cobb said. “We’re working hard every day. Nothing changes in our locker room because we lost two games.”
A few missed tackles cost them the game but Cobb expressed his disappointment in the lack of finishing plays when it matters the most. The missed tackles also allowed Utah to make crucial gains and extend their drives, which ultimately contributed to their victory.
Caleb Williams responds to dealing with consecutive losses
Following their loss on Saturday night, the Trojans enforced a media blackout, preventing any players from speaking to the media, including the reigning Heisman winner. However, Williams broke the silence after Wednesday’s practice and discussed the team’s strategy as they approach the last four games of the season.
“We’re going to keep going, keep fighting on and keep trying to reach our goals.” said Williams.
The energy level that he brought to the practice this week was palpable for anyone present in the building. We can understand that the current circumstances that this team is facing were not really what USC had hoped for in late October.
“We’re halfway through the season and you don’t necessarily know what’s gonna happen. You’ve seen a lot of ranked teams lose and a lot of close games with ranked teams.”
In the game against the Utes, Williams managed to complete 24 of 34 passes for 256 yards and scored a touchdown while rushing. However, he failed to throw a touchdown for the first time in 24 college games. The Heisman may now be out of reach for Williams, preventing him from joining the elite group of two-time winners.
Williams is ranked second in the nation for passing touchdowns with 23, fourth in passing efficiency with a rating of 179.4, fifth in passing yards with a total of 2,277, and seventh in yards per pass attempt with an average of 9.61. Cal has allowed 41.5 points per game in conference play, the worst of any team.
Lincoln Riley is recovering from pneumonia
This was the first practice Lincoln Riley missed in over 20 years of coaching as he is getting better dealing with Pneumonia over the last few days. Riley missed practice on Monday and Tuesday as Dennis Simmons took over the coaching duties.
According to Riley, the recovery process has been slow, but he is in a much better place now than before. He also mentioned that he is happy to have a few more days to recover before Saturday’s game, as his body needs the rest, even though he hates to take time off. Riley stated that his main struggles are his low energy levels and inability to speak loudly.
Riley pointed to starting to feel under the weather last Tuesday but had “a little bit of adrenaline from the game” to get through Saturday.
During the media availability session on Thursday with Riley, he said he’s “Hopeful” to returned on Saturday.
USC is heading to Berkeley this weekend where they will face the Bears while Lincoln Riley eases his way back into action. Cal hasn’t had the best season with a 1-3 record in conference play and they’ve only managed to secure one win over the 1-4 Arizona State Sun Devils.
The Trojans will look to end the losing streak this Saturday against the California Golden Bears. Cal is also looking to end a 2-game losing streak after falling to Oregon State and Utah.