Quick Thoughts: Cal-USC


First of all, I want to extend a thank you to USC Psycho for hosting an incredible tailgate with a good set up. It was by far the best tailgate I have been to on campus. Furthermore, I enjoyed meeting some of you and look forward to conducting interviews for our profile of the game day scene on October 30.

The one word that comes to mind after today’s game is turning point. The score was surprising to say the least, but in a pleasant way. USC led 42-0 at the half and completely dominated the Bears. In the second half, the Trojans cruised to a 48-14 victory as Mitch Mustain played the entire fourth quarter and Lane Kiffin eased up on the gas pedal. After two heartbreaking losses by a combined 3 points, many believed USC would wilt and come undone. Instead, the team came out fired up and played with a swagger that hasn’t been seen since Mark Sanchez was the signal-caller. Heading into a bye week, USC is 5-2 (2-2 in the Pac-10) and has to believe that it can play with anybody right now. Furthermore, they have two weeks to prepare for Oregon, who may very well be number 1 by the time they visit the Coliseum. This is the kind of win that can propel USC to a strong finish and it brought back memories of the Pete Carroll glory days.

One point that was made last week is worth repeating again (and hopefully it is necessary every week). Some criticisms of Lane Kiffin’s game management are warranted, but his offense has been unbelievable throughout the first 7 games. Gone are the unimaginative play calling days of Jeremy Bates. Sometimes Lane leans heavily on the pass or the run, but it never disturbs the rhythm of the offense. He has found a weakness in every defense the Trojans have faced so far and exposed it. Today, USC managed 602 yards of total offense despite easing up in the fourth quarter. While USC has lost two games, the offense has done its job in every single game so far. The Trojans have talent at every position on offense, and we have seen it used effectively.

It is hard to remember some times that Matt Barkley is only a true sophomore. He played with poise once again and was 25-37 with 352 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Barkley threw very accurate passes and now leads the nation in touchdown passes. His arm strength and precision are incredible. One reason Barkley is doing so well is that his wide receivers are very talented. Robert Woods turned in another phenomenal performance (7 catches, 116 yards) and made several athletic catches, including a touchdown catch when he was parallel to the ground. David Ausberry turned in a nice performance and hauled in a touchdown. Ronald Johnson didn’t rack up a lot of yards, but caught 2 touchdowns and found seams in the secondary.

Marc Tyler ran the ball very well today (7 carries, 76 yards). He dinked and dunked through holes and adds another dimension out of the Wildcat formation. With Tyler at quarterback and Woods coming across the formation, defenses have trouble defending any play USC runs. Allen Bradford struggled as he fumbled three times (one lost), and only averaged 3 yards per carry with his nine carries. For now, the status of C.J. Gable is unknown, but he sustained a knee injury late in the game running back a kickoff. Hopefully he gets well soon.

In 2009, the defense started off looking as though it may be among the best in the country. Down the stretch, however, it fell apart as teams like Stanford and Oregon put up large amounts of points. Hopefully, the 2010 version is in the midst of the reverse trend. The defense showed up for just the second time in 2010, but it was a dominant performance. In Cal’s first four possessions, they failed to make a first down and came out fired up. They blanked Cal in the first half, allowed 52 yards rushing on 20 carries, and kept Riley at just over 50% completion percentage and 193 yards. The defensive line provided tremendous pressure up the middle and didn’t allow Shane Vereen to find any holes. Furthermore, the line put tremendous pressure on Kevin Riley, inducing sacks, and forcing him into two interceptions as well as numerous bad throws. The most telling stat of the day involved third down conversions, something USC had struggled with on defense. The Bears converted just 2-10 on third down and were never able to find a flow on offense. If the USC defense plays like this from here on out, it will be difficult for any team to move the ball on them. Senior cornerback Shareece Wright addressed the defense this week, and it seems his message was heard.

Finally, Jeff Tedford is 1-8 against USC in his tenure at Cal. Admittedly, Tedford turned a joke of a program into a team with expectations. However, the Bears continue to struggle mentally and physically in big games. Firing Tedford would be a big mistake, but he is sitting on a very hot seat after today. The Bears haven’t been to a Rose Bowl since 1959, and Blues figured Tedford would be the guy to put them over the hump. The Bears have hit a rut, and the fan base is getting restless. If Tedford wants to keep his job beyond next year, he needs to finish in the top three in the conference next year–not an easy task–as well as beat USC in northern California.