The Golden Bear offense failed to score a touchdown for the second consecutive game as USC racked up 457 yards of total offense and 30 points delivering a crushing blow to Cal's once promising season.
"They played better than us," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "We didn't execute very well in the passing game. We had a chance to make some plays in the passing game, and we didn't do a very good job of it."
While last week's 42-3 loss was the worse in the Tedford era, Saturday night's disaster was a close second. It is the worst back-to-back performance by a Cal football team since the Bears lost 48-7 to Oregon and 56-17 at UCLA in consecutive weeks in October 2001.
Defensively, Cal played well in the red zone limiting the Trojans to three short field goals in USC's first three trips inside the 20. They tacked on a meaningless touchdown on a 4-yard Joe McKnight run with 5:01 remaining in the game to cap the evening's scoring.
But it didn't start bad for the Bears.
Cal opened the game with a remarkable 67-yard drive to the USC 5. Kevin Riley made back-to-back 20-yard plus completions to Anthony Miller and Shane Vereen, respectively. But after a Jahvid Best one-yard run and a tipped pass, Riley's third down pass to Marvin Jones was intercepted by a All-American safety Taylor Mays in the end zone.
"I don't think the air came of the balloon," Tedford said of Riley's opening drive interception.
But it was the closest the Bears would get to scoring six on the evening.
"I think it was a great statement that we weren't going to let [a Cal touchdown] happen," USC head coach Pete Carroll said of Mays' pick.
The Trojans would make another statement marching 80 yards on a six-play drive after the interception that ended with a 38-yard McKnight touchdown run worthy of SportCenter's top 10 plays after diving the final four yards to get the ball inside the pylon.
But the play of USC quarterback Matt Barkley was the key on that drive and all night.
"This was a game where you were going to tell if Matt [Barkley] was comfortable and could run the offense; there isn't any doubt," said Carroll. "He might be freshman, but he isn't a freshman in my book he just plays football like a real football player. I thought he looked great tonight."
And he did.
Barkley completed 20-of-35 passes for a career best 283 yards with one interception. He had great protection on the night being sacked only once and rarely pressured. And for a true freshman, he showed great poise and never looked rattled in front of the 71, 799 in attendance.
"The crowd was not a factor at all, and it usually never is," said Barkley. "I didn't have any problem with the cadence or with the hearing myself. Even on third downs, it wasn't a factor."
Barkley would lead USC to another first quarter scoring drive capped with the first of three Jordan Congdon field goals. But it was Damien Williams 66-yard punt return that essentially put the game out of reach just 54 seconds into the second quarter.
Down 20-0, Cal had one more chance to chip into the Trojans' lead. With 12 seconds remaining from the USC 12, Tedford elected to attempt a 38-yard field goal, which Vince D'Amato missed badly, on second down rather than try for the end zone. "With no timeouts…we wanted to put points on the board," Tedford said of kicking the field goal despite having three downs left.
"I didn't want to take a chance getting a sack or somebody getting stopped before the end zone and the clock runs out," said Tedford.
D'Amato would give the Bears their only points early in the fourth quarter, avoiding the shutout, with a 29-yard field goal making the score 23-3 with 10:45 remaining.
Best rushed just 14 times for 47 yards.
AP Photo by Ben Margot
The junior signal caller completed less than 40% of his passes for a mere 199 yards on a whopping 40 attempts. His inconsistency coupled with the poor running game forced the Bears into multiple short drives.
"We can't be one-dimensional," said Tedford. "We have to be able to throw the football in order to be successful. We were zero-dimensional today, because we couldn't run it and we couldn't throw it."
The one bright spot for the offense was tight end Anthony Miller. The sophomore finished with a team-high four receptions for 70 yards. Both were career highs, and he became the first Cal player to have more than three receptions in a game this season.
"I'm just trying to do my best job out there, the best that I can," Miller said of his performance. But he realizes the offense is not performing very well.
"We just really haven't been executing like we were in the first three games. We haven't put touchdowns on the board. It's mostly been on us for not executing. We were one play away here and there, or one block away here and there. We just have to keep going."
The Bears receive a must needed bye week to heal physically and mentally before embarking on an October 17 road trip to Pasadena – a place where Tedford has never won – versus UCLA. The Bruins lost 24-16 today at Stanford, and host Oregon on Oct. 10.
Tepper leaps over Harris after catch.
AP Photo by Ben Margot
Cal left tackle Mike Tepper had a career highlight play that went for not.
Late in the third quarter on a second down, he caught a Kevin Riley pass and turned and leaped over USC safety Will Harris for a short gain.
However, he was called illegal touching and the play was negated.
"I thought the ball was tipped," said Tepper, which would have made his highlight catch and leap legal.
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