LOS ANGELES-Today, the Cal football team made history. And not the good kind.
The Bears were absolutely out-classed in every phase of the game by USC, falling 48-14 to a Trojans squad that had dropped each of its last two games.
"I'm very pleased by the way our players came out today," said USC head coach Lane Kiffin. "For the first time, we played in exactly the style we wanted to play in. I was very pleased with the response of our players with the two losses we went through, and people rightfully questioning us. I wish we played better in the second half. Again, the backups weren't able to finish it off."
USC (5-2, 2-2 in the Pac-10) hung 42 points on Cal in the first half-tied for the largest halftime deficit that the Bears (3-3, 1-2) have faced in their lengthy history.
The Trojans seemed to be in the Cal headsets, as the nation's 100th-ranked defense anticipated every offensive play call by the Bears, who gained just 64 total yards in the first half and a season-low 254 on the afternoon.
The Trojans offense put up 372 total yards before the break while the defense shut out the Bears in the first half. Cal had not gone scoreless in the first half yet in six games coming into today.
"In both phases of the game, in offense and in defense, they dominated us, soundly, in the first half," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "But, I was real proud of our kids in the second half, because it would be very easy at that point to turn over. But, we came back and won the second half and put some points on the board."
Of course, a football game consists of two halves, and, for the Bears, that first one was a doozy. Senior quarterback Kevin Riley was given almost no time to pass, as the pocket collapsed on nearly every play, forcing him to roll out and try to improvise, often finding nothing but the sideline.
"The first third down, they showed a lot of zero-free, which is where they're bringing people, but they leave the free safety," Riley said. "We had to look and they dropped the D-tackle, and that's something that they really hadn't been doing. There were some things that caught us off-guard, up front. They made a couple plays, and we didn't. They got the start that we wanted. They jumped us quick and you try to get going from there, but we had one drive going, and that pick just ruined that drive."
Late in the second quarter, down 28-0, Riley drove Cal from his own 22 down to the USC 32-yard line, before throwing an interception to T.J. McDonald at the Trojans' five. USC's true sophomore QB Matt Barkley then led USC on yet another scoring drive to make the score 35-0.
Tedford said that the Trojans did do some things defensively that he and his coaching staff had not seen before.
"They did in the first half, yeah," Tedford said. "They did some things that they hadn't done yet early in the game, they put pressure on the quarterback. We had the chance to make some plays, but we've got to catch the football."
Riley's second interception came on the very first play of the very next drive, at the hands of defensive lineman DaJohn Harris.
"I gave them the opportunity to put more points on the board, and we just never really got going," Riley said. "It was just a screen that they got covered, the D guy pulled and right before that, I was thinking about throwing it in the dirt-which I should have-and I knew that the whole time. Then Shane (Vereen) kind of peeked, and I tried to get it to him, and it was just a bad play from the get-go."
Even after such a sound beating in the first half, Tedford was not about to bench his senior starter.
"He gives us the best chance to win," Tedford said, curtly.
Asked whether Riley gives the Bears the best chance to win for the rest of the season, Tedford responded, "That's what I said; yeah."
Then asked whether there is a time to get the backup quarterbacks some much-needed game experience, especially given the circumstances, Tedford again placed his faith in Riley.
"We needed to do what we needed to do," Tedford said. "We needed to move the ball and we needed to put some points on the board, and things like that. At that point, it was about that we needed our guys in there competing hard to put some points on the board, and that's what we did."
Cal scored all of its 14 points in the second half, when the Bears finally aired things out a little, going to the air 17 times for 142 yards. But in the first half, the USC defense looked like it was in the huddle with Riley, forcing Cal to go three-and-out on their first three possessions, while the Trojans offense scored on all but one possession in the first half alone.
"They made some plays, but a lot of what we did was on us," Riley said. "You've got to credit them because they put us in the situations to make it on us, but to put 14 points up is not what we expected at all."
USC held the Bears to just 2.6 yards per rushing attempt on the game and abused the offensive line in the first half, picking up two sacks. Tedford said afterwards that he believes the team was adequately prepared for what the Trojans did on the defensive side of the ball.
"I think we had a good week, and I didn't think that emotion, coming in, was an issue," Tedford said. "I have to give 'SC a lot of credit. We were backed up early, a lot, with poor field position, and they got after us and did pretty well. We couldn't run the football on them and we couldn't pass very well. Some of it was schematic, and they had some good things going, some new things. They got after the quarterback early. We had real poor field position early in the game, and we just couldn't slow them down on offense."
Riley was sacked three times throughout the game, started the day 0-for-5 passing and only threw the ball 13 times in the entire first half. As if that weren't enough, Riley was hindered by several big drops by his receivers.
"We had some dropped footballs in there, and I don't know if you guys don't see that, or whatever, but that's not the quarterback; that's the receiver," Tedford said. "He hits guys right in the hands and they're going to run, make big plays and get us out of the hole. Somebody's got to make a play somewhere."
The first big dropped pass came off the hands of junior wide receiver Marvin Jones. On first-and-14 on the Cal four-yard line (because of a false start penalty Jones had picked up on the play prior), Riley took the shotgun snap with plenty of time and rifled it to Jones over the middle, who saw the ball go right through his hands.
"We're backed up down there, and he hits him with a great ball on a slant that would have went for a long way," Tedford said. "It would have gone out to the 35 or the 40-yard line."
Jones also dropped a ball on a post route that would likewise have gone for big yards. In fact, the pass was ruled complete, as Jones had initially lost the handle on the ball, but seemed to recover it before it hit the ground. However, Kiffin threw the challenge flag, and the pass was ruled incomplete.
"He dropped that ball on the post that was a good throw," Tedford said. "It bounces off his hands, he didn't end up catching it-obviously-because it was replayed."
Tight end Spencer Ladner also had butterfingers on first-and-10 at the Cal 16-yard line in the first quarter.
"That crossing route to the tight end, you have to hit him across the middle," Tedford said. "Everybody has to do their part. It's easy to always point the finger at the quarterback, but people have to make plays when it's their turn to make plays."
Jones was understandably muted during the post-game presser.
"We've just got to capitalize on our opportunities," he said. "There were some opportunities that we could make big plays, and we didn't."
One bright spot for the offense was the performance of true freshman Keenan Allen, who fought through several double-teams to catch a team-high (and personal season-high) four passes for 61 yards, a total second only in the game to USC's true freshman deep threat Robert Woods.
"It felt good, but then again, it didn't because it was so late in the game," Allen said. "We were losing so badly that it didn't matter."
Allen also caught a touchdown pass, his team-leading fourth of the season. But 49 of his yards and three of his catches came after halftime, and by then, it was too late.
"I just try to do the best that I can for the team and I try to get as much as I can," Allen said. "We just came out flat today. I felt like we could have made a lot more plays with the calls that we were given, and we just didn't execute."
Allen said that with the pressure put on Riley, there wasn't always ample time to have routes develop.
"Sometimes we did, and sometimes we didn't," Allen said. "They brought a lot of pressure on third downs and we just couldn't execute."
On kickoffs, the Trojans steered the ball towards Isi Sofele instead of risking a big gain by Allen, and the USC defense used three tacklers to contain him when he did get the ball into his hands-which wasn't often. Allen recorded his team-leading fourth touchdown catch of the season on a fourth-down play with 3:44 left in the game.
With Allen being blanketed, the Bears tried to get the ball into Jones' hands, a strategy which didn't work out too well.
"I really don't know what happened," Jones said. "I thought I came down with that second one. 99 percent of the time, I make that play.
"We're not perfect. We're going to drop some passes. We could have made plays, but we didn't. We have to move on. That's all you can do: move on to the next one."
The biggest shock of the day, however was the performance of the heretofore-vaunted Cal defense, which, to say the least, folded. The Bears allowed the Trojans to pile up 372 yards of total offense in the first half and 602 on the afternoon.
"We felt like, early in the game, they were going to shift in motion, move guys around, and that's what we anticipated going in," said defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. "Early on in the game, when they were doing that, they obviously made some plays on third down and kept some drives alive."
USC was 7-of-14 on third-down conversions and went a staggering 3-of-4 on fourth-down conversions, keeping the defense on the field for the great majority of the game.
"We had the one sack early on that put some pressure on, then they jumped offsides and then they converted the third down after the penalty there, and I think that was a really pivotal play in the first half," Pendergast said. "I felt like, if we stopped them right there, then the field position would have changed. Instead, they were able to continue to keep that drive going. That three-and-out there would have hopefully swung the field position around a little bit, and given them a bit of a longer field next time they touched the ball."
The Trojans owned time-of-possession, chewing up 36:07 to the Bears' 23:53.
"Games are going to be like that, and we've just got to hold up our end of the bargain," Pendergast said, not falling back on the excuse that his defense was on the field for too long. "They did a lot of the same things that we practiced, and we didn't make some adjustments on the field that we probably should have," Pendergast said. "We need to do better, from an alignment standpoint, that affected us on a couple of those big plays."
USC rattled off five plays of 20 yards or more, including one on third down and one on second-and-13.
"We knew 'SC would run a lot of double-moves, and they do run a lot of double-moves in the red zone," said senior safety Chris Conte. "Unfortunately, they were starting off with the ball in the red zone most of the time, so we got a lot of double moves, and it's hard because in the red zone, it's a shorter throw, so you've got to overplay some of the routes and defend against the quick game and the quick slants, and they were hitting us with slants, sluggos, different types of routes, double-moves that are tough to defend in man coverage."
The Trojans also had nine rushing plays for at least 10 yards, six of those in the first half. On 80 offensive plays run, USC notched 32 first downs. Cal made 10 first downs in 49 plays.
"It was our fault, all the big plays that they had, it was our fault," said Conte. "It was our defense's fault, and we've just got to go back, look at the film and correct our mistakes."
Barkley went 20-of-29 in the first half alone, racking up 257 yards and five touchdowns, two of those going to Ronald Johnson and two more going to Woods, who already had 85 all-purpose yards by the half. Woods finished with a game-high 116 yards receiving on seven catches, and racked up 166 all-purpose yards.
"I was very impressed with (Barkley) going in, and we obviously looked at a lot of tape on him," Pendergast said. "He's a very talented quarterback, he's got a very good skill set, he's very well-coached, he knows where to go with the football. It felt like we got some pressure on him early and got him out of the pocket and he made some throws under duress and they made some catches and were able to keep drives alive. It was pretty impressive, the throws that he did make and the catches that they made, as well."
Despite rolling right almost more than he was able to just drop straight back, Barkley finished the day 25-of-37 for 352 yards and five touchdowns, while only taking one sack.
"I wouldn't say he was running fast, but he was running well," said senior defensive lineman Cameron Jordan. "He was definitely trying to get out there and run to the right spot."
The Trojans effectively held the line both for Barkley and his stable of running backs.
"They position their bodies well, up front," Jordan said. "They weren't really downhill, they weren't really strong on contact, but once you make contact, they shifted their hips and they did well and their running backs found some holes. They move well, as a unit. They definitely knew that we were more ready for a downhill, coming-at-us game, and they decided to shift a little bit more."
The Trojans rushed for a total of 228 yards, led by a 79-yard day from starter Marc Tyler and a 77-yard day from backup C.J. Gable, who carried the rock a game-high 13 times.
"I think he's done," said Kiffin of an exhausted Gable after the game. "What a great kid. He really has done everything we've asked him to do. I walked past him and he apologized to me for not being able to finish the game. That says a lot about what kind of person he is."
It was a season-high performance for the senior tailback, who took over for Tyler for most of the second half, once both Tyler and Barkley had exited the game.
Notes • With 5:04 left in the third quarter, USC surpassed 500 yards of total offense, averaging 8.8 yards per play.
• The first time that the Bears found paydirt was with 2:59 left in the third quarter, when Riley went almost exclusively to Vereen throughout a 4-play, 56-yard drive. On that series, Vereen caught a pass for four yards, rushed for 16 yards, caught another pass for 10 yards and hauled in the 31-yard TD strike from Riley.
• With his first catch of that drive, Vereen has now caught a pass in each of his 32 collegiate games, tops among FBS tailbacks and the ninth-longest active streak among all FBS players.
• Conte posted a career-high 14 tackles on the day, including two for a loss. Conte was picked on most of the day, matching up mostly against Woods, but he held his own.
"He's talented, he's fast and I did the best I could," Conte said. "Having a career-high in tackles in this game isn't really the best thing. I would have rather had some of our D-linemen and linebackers make most of those tackles. It's not the best when I'm making most of the tackles, because that means that they're getting into the secondary. We just had to play better, and we didn't."
• USC extended its win streak to seven overall against the Bears. Cal has scored 17 or fewer points in each of those 17 losses. This was also the Bears' fifth-straight loss at the Coliseum.
• Vereen ran for 53 yards today, moving him past Reynard Rutherford and into the No. 10 spot on Cal's all-time rushing list. Vereen's TD catch was his 11th score of the season and the 30th of his career.
• Allen's four catches tied a career-high.
• Junior WR Jeremy Ross caught a season-long 30-yard pass in the second quarter, and Michael Calvin made a career-best 26-yard grab, as well.
• Sofele's 41-yard kickoff return was the longest by Cal this season.
• Speaking of kick returns, junior transfer Coleman Edmond finally made an appearance, spelling Allen after the Trojans kept kicking away from him. Edmond returned two kickoffs for 48 yards with a long of 25.
• Mike Mohamed recorded 11 tackles and a forced fumble. He is two tackles away from No. 6 all-time for the Bears.