November 9, 2005

Trojans get another shot at Cal



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LOS ANGELES - Notre Dame and UCLA have been Southern California's fiercest rivals for years.

California might be catching up.

The Trojans and Golden Bears have played memorable games the past three seasons - especially two years ago in Berkeley, when Cal won a 34-31 decision in three overtimes.

USC has 31 consecutive wins since then. Had the Trojans won that day, their streak would be 43 entering Saturday's game in the same stadium.

Oklahoma won an NCAA Division I record 47 in a row from 1953-57.

"Cal deservedly won. That was a long time ago," USC coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday. "Whether that game has any bearing on this, I don't see it. There aren't many guys on this team who were on that team."

Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush are two of the few.

"Obviously, that loss is always going to be with me," Leinart said.

"It was a feeling that we definitely don't want to experience again," Bush said.

The Trojans (9-0, 6-0 Pac-10) have a 34-1 record since the beginning of the 2003 season, when Leinart became their starting quarterback and Bush began his college career.

"They got us on that day," Leinart said. "It was a great game to watch. We didn't finish. We had a lot of opportunities to score a lot of points, and we didn't."

Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime; neither scored in the second, and Cal's Tyler Fredrickson kicked a 38-yard field goal in the third after USC's Ryan Killeen missed from 39 yards.

USC beat Cal 30-28 in Los Angeles in 2002, and the Trojans won 23-17 at the Coliseum last season despite being outgained 424-205. It was the first time in 52 years the schools played with both ranked in the top 10.

USC has been ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll for 29 straight weeks. Cal (6-3, 3-3) dropped out of the Top 25 following a 27-20 overtime loss at No. 11 Oregon last weekend.

"We feel fortunate to be in the situation we're in here - in the last quarter of the season with an opportunity to do some special things," Carroll said.

Leinart, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, is playing at his best entering the home stretch. He has completed 66 of 88 passes for 824 yards and 11 touchdowns with only one interception in three games since USC's last-second 34-31 victory at Notre Dame.

He admitted to having gotten over an emotional hump.

"Ever since the Washington game (Oct. 22), my confidence has been where it was," he said. "Maybe I shouldn't say confidence - maybe the lack of having fun. I've been in the biggest games, I've seen every defense. I was almost getting sloppy.

"I just took a day, relaxed, tried to get back to where I used to be. It was after the Notre Dame game. I just sat back, put things into perspective. I've just been trying not to think about (pressure), try to enjoy playing the games, have fun."

Carroll had a simple explanation for Leinart's brief funk.

"It was because he wasn't happy with his play," the coach said. "The games were harder. He took the responsibility. Fortunately, what was notable was Matt was able to regain his composure, his confidence."

Carroll said there's no question Leinart is better now than last year.

"He's much more in control," Carroll said. "Everything about him is better - every single aspect. How many 300-yard games did Matt have last year?"

Surprisingly, only two. This year, Leinart has six, and could have easily made it seven last weekend when he threw for 245 yards in the first half and only 14 after that in a 51-21 victory over Stanford.

Meanwhile, Carroll said freshman linebacker Rey Maualuga left the team late Monday to be with his family in Eureka.

"His dad's very sick. He might be there for a while," Carroll said. "He has to do what he's doing right now. He has to be where he is."

Maualuga was demoted to the scout team last week after being arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor battery for allegedly punching a man at an off-campus party. However, he played in the second half against Stanford, making five tackles.

No criminal charges have been filed.

For more coverage of the USC Trojans, check out USCFootball.com.


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