After starting the season in the top 15 in passing efficiency after two games, Kevin Riley has struggled his way through the last three, throwing only two touchdowns while surrendering four interceptions in that span. Despite currently being ranked a respectable 36th in the nation in passing efficiency, Cal fans choose to focus more on the Bears' passing offense, which currently ranks 82nd.
And while Riley will also be facing a different type of pressure on Saturday – USC's talented front seven led by junior NT Jurrell Casey – Riley knows that the opportunity to break through and silence his critics starts this week.
Anytime the Bears can pull off a victory against rival USC (4-2, 1-2), fans are happy. Even in a transition year where the Trojans are not eligible for postseason play, USC is still seen as the top dog and a national power in everybody's eyes.
To end California's current six-game losing streak to the Trojans, the formula seems quite clear – throw the ball downfield. USC is uncharacteristically ranked last in the conference in pass defense, allowing an eye-popping 287.5 yards per game. Thus, the onus is on Riley to make it happen.
“It's just up to us making plays,” says Riley. “They kind of put a lot on their players; get a lot of one-on-ones outside, things like that. We just got to run our offense. We need to line up and just make plays.”
The formula for a successful passing game is there: with the talented junior Marvin Jones and freshman Keenan Allen lining up outside, All-Pac-10 candidate Anthony Miller at tight end, an improving offensive line, and, of course, the durable Shane Vereen leading a potent rushing attack, there is no shortage of weapons at Riley's hand.
With that said, Riley is confident that he will get the job done.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said Riley when asked if he is looking forward to passing more against USC. “Anytime you get to throw the ball more... like I said we're going to have to make some plays in the passing game. It's going to be a big game. I know they're going to be coming out all fiery after losing their last two games by a field goal in the last second. They're going to be ready to play. It's just going to be a fight.
“It's going to be fun.”
A strong performance from Riley will only open up rushing lanes for Vereen, who has ran for over 100 yards in three straight performances. The balanced attack that head coach Jeff Tedford strives for with his offense is always key to victory. To beat USC, there is no exception.
“To compete week in and week out, you've got to be able to do [run and pass the football],” said Tedford. “In this conference, there's no way in the world you can be one dimensional and expect to be successful week in and week out. You have to be that way to be effective because every week is just so challenging in all phases of the game in this conference. To be a complete team, you have to be efficient in the passing game.”
For Riley to be a complete quarterback, consistency is the key. All the tools are there. He has made all the plays. He has learned from his mistakes. Now, before playing USC on the road, it's all about being consistent.
“You've got your good days, your bad days, but it's more about just going out there and being consistent, and going out there and winning a big game,” said Riley. “I think this week will be a good chance to do that. I've just got to prepare as much as I can and be ready.”
Be ready, and put that pressure on USC's secondary.
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