USC looked like the Southern Cal of old last weekend.
For one cloudy afternoon in Los Angeles, this was the familiar USC, the one that steamrolled opponents for the better part of a decade and left observers shaking their heads in wonderment. The Trojans, reeling after back-to-back losses on the final play of the game, not to mention an uncharacteristically porous defense, dominated Cal in every way imaginable during a 48–14 victory.
If it’s possible to say that a result was even worse than a 34-point win indicates, this was the time.
The biggest improvement for USC came on defense. While the Trojans certainly had their share of explosive offensive players during their unprecedented run of success under Pete Carroll, it was their defense that truly was the elitist of the elite. USC sent scores of dominant defensive players to the NFL, and there didn’t appear to be more than a couple with that kind of future so far this season.
That is, until Saturday. USC entered the game ranked 100th nationally in total defense, but the Trojans limited the Bears to a season-low 245 yards, and a lot of that came in the second half when the end result had long been decided.
USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the head coach’s father who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, decided to go with a more aggressive scheme against Cal, and the Bears were ill-prepared for it. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley was under immense pressure all afternoon, and he threw two costly interceptions in the first half. Both picks led to scores, but then again, so did almost every Cal punt. The Trojans scored touchdowns on six of their seven first-half possessions to lead 42–0, tying the worst halftime deficit in Cal history.
On the flip side, there was supposed to be a good matchup between USC’s potent offense and the Bears’ stingy defense. Cal had held four of its previous five opponents to one touchdown or less and entered the game with the country’s eighth-ranked defense.
But the Bears were thoroughly outplayed and outschemed on defense. USC quarterback Matt Barkley, the beneficiary of excellent pass protection, performed surgery on the Bears’ secondary, consistently finding open receivers and marching down field time and time again. Barkley threw five touchdown passes — all in the first half. He was resting on the sideline by late in the third quarter, his team comfortably in front.
The question in the Southland now is whether the Trojans can build off Saturday’s performance and start playing more like their pre-2009 days. They will need to in their next game. After a bye week, USC hosts Oregon, the new No. 1 team in the country.
USC 48, California 14
Arizona 24, Washington State 7
Washington 35, Oregon State 34 (ot)
The Great Divide
Pac-10 chancellors are scheduled to meet Thursday to finalize divisional alignment for the new Pac-12, which begins next season. Conference athletic directors have already voted 7-5 in favor of a geographic split, which would put the Washington and Oregon schools in the same division as Cal and Stanford. That would leave the Los Angeles schools and Arizona schools in the other division with newcomers Colorado and Utah.
Assuming the chancellors approve the arrangement as well, Cal and Stanford appear to be the big losers in realignment. The Bay Area schools wanted, like most conference members, to be in the same division as the L.A. schools for recruiting advantages. Cal also likes its rivalry with UCLA, its University of California brother.
But details still need to be worked out. It’s not out of the question that Cal and Stanford could still play the L.A. schools every year. Teams will play every team in their own division and four of the six in the other division. There could be guarantees made that the Bay Area schools will regularly have one of the L.A. schools on their schedule each year.
Foles Goes Down
The Pac-10 saw its second potentially conference-changing injury when Arizona quarterback Nick Foles suffered a sprained knee against Washington State. Foles, who was leading the conference in passing yards, is expected to be out 2-3 weeks.
The injury may not have quite the same ripple effects as Oregon State wide receiver James Rodgers’ season-ending torn ACL, but it certainly could have an effect on the Pac-10 race. The Wildcats are right in the thick of it at 2–1 — Matt Scott took over for Foles and helped Arizona to a 24–7 victory.
The Wildcats must be hoping Foles’ recovery time will be closer to two weeks. In three weeks, they must travel to Stanford for a game that could have major conference title implications.
Going For It
Oregon State lost 35–34 to Washington when the Beavers failed on a two-point conversion attempt in double overtime.
The Beavers almost escaped with a huge win in their first game without Rodgers, a win that would have made them 3–0 in the Pac-10 for the first time since 1968.