In a week when the Trojans had plenty of legitimate distractions, the team banded together on Saturday night and played their most focused game of the season, dominating the Cal Bears in Berkeley, 30-3.
“I was really happy with how we came out and how we finished,” USC quarterback Matt Barkley said. “I was also really happy that we could play this game for Stafon (Johnson). He was in our hearts the whole time.
“It was a great victory for us and for him”
It looked like the Trojans were going to be in for a battle early, as the Cal Bears, who scored just three points in their devastating loss to the Oregon Ducks last week, opened the game with some big plays on the offensive side of the ball.
“They were driving and they were making a statement early in the game that they were ready to play,” Taylor Mays said.
Cal quarterback Kevin Riley looked sharp on the opening drive, hitting Anthony Miller and Shane Vereen for gains of 22 and 21 yards on consecutive plays and the Bears quickly were inside the Trojans’ 10.
But All-American safety Taylor Mays, who always seems to come up big against the Bears, intercepted Riley in the end zone to end the drive.
“I think it was a great statement that we weren’t going to let it (a touchdown for cal) happen,” Pete Carroll said of the play.
Mays added: “We got the turnover and kind of had to settle down and keep our composure. We played well on defense from then on.”
Mays had a team-high 10 tackles on the night.
With the ball and the momentum, the USC offense wasted no time, marching 80 yards on just six plays for the opening score of the game.
Matt Barkley hit tight end Anthony McCoy over the middle for a gain of 31 yards on the third play of the drive to get into Cal territory and Joe McKnight took care of the rest.
The electric tailback raced off-tackle, through the Cal secondary and down the sideline before finishing off his 38-yard touchdown run with a dive into the end zone, a scene that is becoming very familiar to USC fans.
“I knew the cornerback was going to come chop my legs out,” said McKnight, who rushed for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns. “So when he went down and chopped my legs I just leaped over him.”
The USC offense continued to show progress on Saturday, and had arguably their best performance of the season, racking up 457 yards of total offense en route to the big win.
“The way we were able to move the offense around was really comfortable and familiar to how we did it in the past,” Carroll said.
Freshman Matt Barkley had another solid performance, completing 20-of-35 pass attempts for 283 yards and showing good poise.
“We believe in our quarterback and we believe in our whole offensive unit,” quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates said after the win.
Carroll added: “Matt is our guy. He absolutely has done everything that we can expect him to do. He did it at Ohio State, he did it at the Coliseum, he’s done it in the conference.”
As the coaches’ confidence in Barkley continues to grow, so has their willingness to take shots down the field.
Barkley connected with Stanley Havili for a gain of 56 yards, Anthony McCoy for 31 yards and Blake Ayles had a gain of 26.
“We are growing offensively and we have a lot of confidence in (Barkley) right now,” Bates said. “We are going to stay wide open like we have been the last two weeks, and at the same time we are going to keep running the ball.”
The chemistry between Barkley and his receivers is really starting to show up on Saturday’s. The Trojans’ signal caller connected with Damian Williams 8 times for 101 yards.
Williams also gave the special teams a boost by breaking off a spectacular 66-yard punt return for a score in the second quarter.
While the offense is finally starting to gel for USC, the defense continued its stellar play by holding their second straight opponent to just 3 points.
“The consistency on the defense is just great,” Carroll said. “We love the guys (on defense) that left, but the guys that are here are playing really good football.”
For the second straight year, the Trojans kept Cal tailback Jahvid Best in check, holding him to just 47 yards on 14 carries.
Quarterback Kevin Riley also struggled against USC’s defense and completed only 15-of-40 pass attempts.
“We were zero-dimensional today, because we couldn’t run it and we couldn’t throw it,” Cal’s Jeff Tedford said. “Give USC credit, they are a really good football team, no question about it.”
The Trojans now have bye week before heading to South Bend to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Oct. 17th.
Taylor Mays stops Jahvid Best on a crucial third down play. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)
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