The Bears were held to less than 300 total yards, with Nate Longshore rattled and forced into fumbles and interceptions, Marshawn Lynch held to under 100 yards rushing, and DeSean Jackson being a non-factor. Lawrence Jackson provided great pressure, as did some USC blitzes. The USC front seven stuffed the Cal running game. And how about Terrell Thomas… given the assignment of shadowing DeSean Jackson all over the field, and holding him to two receptions. It was an incredibly dominant performance, and the tone was set early with Kevin Ellison's helmet-removing hit on DeSean Jackson on Cal's first drive. Welcome back to L.A., DeSean.
On special teams, the Trojans' kicking game was outstanding with a three-for-three field goal night, including an inspiring, game-tying, 49-yard, first-of-his-career kick by David Buehler. On kick and punt coverage, Cal couldn't manage anything, with DeSean Jackson having total return yards of -1 yards. This is the same guy who had 5 career touchdowns in 22 total returns coming into the game.
And for USC's offense, it wasn't pretty all night, but they committed no turnovers, and when their team needed it the most, some big plays were turned in by Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, and C.J. Gable (That's right, C.J Gable, whose performance was outstanding as his speed and elusiveness was needed to combat Cal's speed. His ability to come in as a Freshman and get his biggest workload of the season in such a big game was a huge factor).
So Jeff Tedford, who the nation thinks knows how to play against USC and who so many picked to dethrone the Trojans this year, can go back to Berkeley and wait for next year (when they won't be nearly as good). And USC can claim its fifth straight Pacific-10 title and know that they have clinched at least the Rose Bowl and now set their sights for more. Do you think Pete Carroll enjoys as much as I do how this program continues to pull away from the pack every time it gets close and show the clear and definitive gap between the Trojans and all else?
So now it's time for the Irish. I watched the highlights of Notre Dame's impressive win over the last of the three Academy schools on its schedule, only to see Brady Quinn go over to the student section and lead them in cheers of "Beat SC." If I had played for Notre Dame, I would have been embarrassed. Is this the same team that hasn't beaten a top-25 team in the last 2-years, yet winds up in the BCS games because of their fan-base? The Irish must be so proud. Wisconsin is 11-1, and lost to Michigan by a lot less points than the Irish did in a game that was at Ann Arbor, not at home. Too bad the Badgers don't wear gold helmets, as there would be biased members of the media throughout the country arguing for them to be in the BCS Championship Game and over-hyping their players for post-season awards.
Here's the good news – the media can't step inside the lines and help you play the game, and Notre Dame can't hide anymore when it takes the field against the Trojans. The Trojans – and no one more than Pete Carroll – are looking forward to exposing the Irish. They will say all the right things to the media, and will be grateful to have a quality win to help it get to #2 in the BCS, but don't believe it. Behind the closed doors, in conversations all of us wish we could be a part of or even faintly overhear, they are watching film of a mediocre Irish team (probably the 4th or 5th best team they have played this year) and smiling. The game last year was historic in its drama and legendary finish, but the Trojans, and Pete Carroll, know that they played poorly, kept the Irish in the game too long, and legitimized a Charlie Weis team and program that, other than that game, has yet to have a good showing against a top opponent. Now comes the chance to show the country the true differences in the state of the two programs.
Could it happen again? Absolutely. If the Trojans can lose to Oregon State, they can lose to Notre Dame. But the Trojans are expecting to crush the Irish, and I expect them to be right. There is a lot of talk about rivalry games, and that anything can happen, but Pete Carroll normalizes these games more than any other coach in college football, which is the reason Pete Carroll is 9-1 against Notre Dame and UCLA (winning the last 9 meetings with those teams going back to the 2001 season) and has a scoring advantage in those last nine games of 385-189, giving USC an average margin of victory of over 21 points per game.
So bring on the Irish. Trojan eyes are smiling!