Move Those Chains - Cal review

Look. I'm all for moving straight on to the Notre Dame game, but I just don't feel like this game against Cal is going to get enough attention.

Grin And Bear It: Look. I'm all for moving straight on to the Notre Dame game, but I just don't feel like this game against Cal is going to get enough attention. I don't mean attention in the sense that it shows how deserving the Trojans are of the Pac-10 Championship and frontrunner status for the BCS Championship Game's second selection.

I want this game to get more attention because it illustrates, again, that the exact opposite is true for the California Golden Bears.

For three years, Cal fans have been spouting off nothing but, "The Bears own the Trojans, or Tedford owns Carroll" rhetoric.

After the double-overtime win, I guess I can understand Bear backers starting to chirp about how they had the Trojans' number. Although, Oregon State fans were afforded the same opportunity this season and didn't take it. Perhaps they realized what Cal fans failed to see. Their team got a home game against a Trojan squad playing their worst game of the season and managed, somehow, to hang on for a victory at the end.

But Cal fans didn't see that. They saw domination. They saw their team take down the giant and proclaimed themselves king of the mountain.

Of course, somewhere lost in all of that was the fact that USC went on to win a share of that year's National Championship. While Cal continued on to play in a bowl game that may or may not still exist.

In 2004 it was more of the same. The Trojans came away with the win; Cal fans came away thinking they won. Somehow it made sense to them. Their team was just as good as USC, which to them, meant that they were as good as anyone in the country.

This was followed by the Bears getting trounced in the Holiday Bowl by a team that hasn't executed a running play since 1982.

Last season, this was going to be it. The Trojans had to go back to Berkeley, where the Bears would be waiting. Cal had it all. A ferocious running game, a dual-threat quarterback who would exploit USC's defensive weaknesses, a strong, deep defensive unit that would neutralize the Trojans' offensive weapons, and, of course, a head coach capable of outsmarting Pete Carroll.

The Bears wound up scoring a garbage-time touchdown to cut the deficit to 25.

Which brings us to 2006. This season, this was going to be it. But for real this time. The Bears had a Heisman Trophy winning running back, a Future Heisman Trophy winning wide receiver and a quarterback who was much better than last year's model. Seriously this time. This time, you were serious.

See, Cal fans really want their team to be good on a national level. In fact, they really, really want their team to be that good. But the fact is, they just aren't.

A top-10 in the country team doesn't go out and get obliterated in its first game against an actual opponent. I'll even give them the benefit of the doubt on the Arizona game. That was their hard-luck game for the season. But they had no excuse for the game Saturday night.

It was all there for them, decked out in blue and gold. They were eliminated from the national championship picture, which left them with only one option. A win against USC would put Cal in a BCS bowl and secure them a spot – finally – among the nation's elite.

They didn't. No, they couldn't. And this game matched their best team of the past several years against arguably what amounts to the Trojans' weakest team of the past several years.

Now don't get me wrong. This was a solid Cal team and I never really considered the game a sure Trojan victory. I'm just saying that until the Bears start beating nationally respected programs on a regular basis, they will be constantly clinging to a top-25 ranking – much like they are right now.

This is why it kills me when Marshawn Lynch tells Scott Wolf things like, "Cal is on the rise. This year, they (USC) got us. Next year is a different year. We've got a lot of young players who got a taste and next year will be hungry."

Really Marshawn? So next season, when you're in the pros (having never defeated the Trojans) and all the USC freshman that played in this game are beating all the Cal freshman that played in this game, will the year after next be a different year as well?

And now it's even more fun to see DeSean Jackson making this rivalry all about himself. Before the game, it was all about how cocky USC was for thinking that they had him locked up. Yet, strangely, during the game we saw that, indeed, the USC defense had him all locked up.

On the bright side, DeSean, you did have two catches once the Trojans went to zone coverage. Plus, you had the second longest play from scrimmage. Just like your team scored the second most points in the game.

Cal fans and players are like little kids who are trying to get their parents to let them stay up late to watch TV on a school night. "Just five more minutes. Just five more minutes."

Well guess what Cal. I'll give you twenty more minutes and your team still won't be able to match the Trojans. They don't have the talent and they certainly don't have the attitude.

Hands Team: As for the game itself, I really only found a few things that can be addressed as true problems for the Trojans. Overall, the team played a great game and a 14-point win will get it done each and every time.

However, it was impossible not to notice the slow start that the offense got off to once again. Of course, there are always those people who will point to the play calling, but, in this game, it was all about penalties and dropped passes.

Patrick Turner's false start penalty, which I didn't see, negated a touchdown, while Brad Walker and Kyle Williams were guilty of a few more moving violations. When you don't have a true breakaway threat on the offensive side of the ball, those kinds of penalties will absolutely kill a drive.

Similarly, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith had several uncharacteristic drops early in the game. It's tough to fault those guys too much because they came back with such clutch plays later in the game. Jarrett's sticks out the most because John David Booty lofted such a perfect pass down the sideline on a third down play. The pass ended up bouncing off Jarrett's outstretched hands, but you have to give the Trojans credit for trying – and almost succeeding in – hitting a long pass in that situation.

Also, while the Trojans' defense played an outstanding game overall, there are still some instances where they are allowing far too many yards after contact. During the first half, there were several occasions where Trojan defenders were trying to wrap up Marshawn Lynch around his legs and chest, rather than just grabbing his legs and tripping him up.

Later in the game, this seemed to be fixed, highlighted by Kevin Ellison's tackle of Lynch to prevent a screen play from developing into anything big.

Found Another Freshman: Sure, C.J. Gable got the start in the season-opening win at Arkansas. He received the most carries in that game and scored the team's first touchdown of the year.

But until Saturday night, I'm not sure how many Trojan fans knew exactly what Gable was capable of doing.

I wasn't a huge fan of his performance last week against Oregon. He was stutter stepping in the backfield and refusing to hit the hole. But against the Bears, he proved that was a thing of the past as he returned to his more natural, hard-charging running style.

Gable never found the endzone and he didn't crack the 100-yard barrier, but make no mistake, he was the offensive player of the game on Saturday. Seemingly every one of his runs resulted in a first down and few plays were bigger, or shifted momentum further, than his 35-yard catch and run to set up the go-ahead score.

Of course, that doesn't mean Bob Griese has any idea who he is. Occasionally, Griese can be flat-out brutal as a color commentator. His best call of the night was exonerating Patrick Turner – after his false start penalty – for being a freshman and making a true freshman mistake. He went on to say that a drawback to playing so many freshmen was that they would make mistakes like that, completely ignoring the fact that Turner is a sophomore.

As for Gable, Griese stumbled on C.J. Cable and A.J. Gable. At one point, I think he even called him Noah's Bagles.

Daymeion Ab-Hughes-ed: If the surprise of the game was the Cal coaching staff's decision to match Daymeion Hughes against Steve Smith, the surprise of the surprise of the game was the way Smith owned Hughes for much of the game.

The obvious play to point to is the Trojans' final touchdown, where an overaggressive Hughes was nowhere to be found when Smith broke free for the score. Of course, Smith let him know about it all the way to the endzone.

It's not like Smith had a huge game. He didn't go over 200 yards receiving or anything. But if you told me before the game, that whoever Daymeion Hughes was covering would end up with six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown, I would have taken it.

Kick It Up A Notch: David Buehler deserves a mention from every Trojan fan after the win, for two reasons.

First of all, it's not every day that a kicker hits a 49-yard field goal wearing a fullback's neck roll. Kickers are the least-padded guys in the game, and this guy's out there wearing a suit of armor. That's like a pitcher taking the mound in full catcher's gear.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, he gives the Trojans a viable weapon to score points from outside the 30-yard line. At this point, that's almost unfair.

He has developed so much as a place kicker, from the early days of fall camp to where he is right now. His motion on that attempt was so smooth and clean. Sure, he got a gift with Cal not sending any pressure. But with how easily he kicked that, you have to assume that he'll be sent out there to try anything inside 55 yards from here on out.

Rosing To The Occasion: So attention now turns toward Notre Dame. When the season began, I had this game marked as the toughest on the schedule. And now that it's here, I feel absolutely no different about it.

Surprisingly, it really has very little to do with the players. If the entire Notre Dame football team suddenly transferred to Arizona, and it was the Wildcats marching into the Coliseum this Saturday, I would probably consider it the third or fourth toughest game on the Trojans' slate.

But with Charlie Weis' ability as a coach and that Notre Dame mystique, the game ascends to an entirely different level.

But with roses in hand, I'm finding it difficult – at the moment – to be all that concerned.

Erik McKinney is a columnist for He can be reached at Top Stories