USC content to let Cal self destruct

Sloppy performance in many areas is offset by USC's psychological edge over Cal.

SAN FRANCISCO – Want to know how a team can play a flat-out bad half of football and still have a 20-0 lead?

Watch a replay of USC's baffling 30-9 beatdown of California at AT&T Park on Thursday night.

There was a ludicrous fake field goal involving a direct snap to fullback Rhett Ellison that was going nowhere even if the redshirt senior hasn't dropped the ball. There was the erratic performance of quarterback Matt Barkley, a running game that didn't get on track until Curtis McNeal got the ball because of an injury to Marc Tyler. There were injuries and a pass defense that was sliced and diced by receivers Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones.

And somehow the Trojans (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) still cruised to a comfortable three touchdown, largely because they were content to allow the Golden Bears to self-destruct.

Quarterback Zack Maynard was so obvious in where his throws were headed that linebackers Chris Galippo and Dion Bailey couldn't help but intercept him.

"I don't want to take anything away from him (Bailey), but Maynard just telegraphed the heck out of his passes," Galippo said. "Dion played an awesome game, obviously, having two picks, but he was just in the right spot."

Maynard threw three interceptions and lost a fumble, as did his half-brother Allen, giving USC as many takeaways as it had forced in its previous five games combined.

Twice they wound up in the red zone, but came away with only three points, head coach Jeff Tedford curiously calling for a field goal down 23-0 with four minutes left in the third quarter.

The Trojans did do some things right. Marqise Lee navigated the sideline like a tightrope on a spectacular 39-yard touchdown catch Bailey and Galippo put themselves in positions to make plays. McNeal ran with authority. Special teams again provided a decisive edge.

But the errors were also plentiful.

Fortunately, on this night they drew the right opponent.

Once upon a time Cal (3-3, 0-3 Pac-12) was the only team capable, willing and able to challenge USC on a consistent basis.

When the Bears upset the Trojans in triple overtime in 2003, its only blemish in a national championship campaign, it announced the arrival of head coach Jeff Tedford's team as a player in the Pac-10.

The next year quarterback Aaron Rodgers was almost flawless, dissecting Pete Carroll's defense for 23 consecutive completions, but couldn't convert at the goal line. USC survived for a 23-17 victory en route to another national championship.

In 2006, Cal and USC met in a winner take all affair in the Coliseum, Rose Bowl berth at stake. But the Trojans scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns for a 23-9 win, again relegating the Old Blues to cries of "wait ‘til next year."

Every loss - the tally now stands at eight in a row - chipped away at the Bears' confidence. In the last three years, Cal didn't score a point in the first half, trailing 82-20 at the break.

Where Tedford's team was the only team that didn't fear USC, now they are the only one left that does. Excluding the new arrivals in the conference, only Washington State and Cal have been unable to upend them since 2003.

Notre Dame, Stanford, Washington and Oregon have no such doubt. If the Trojans play such careless football against any or all of those teams, more losses are on the way.


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