LOS ANGELES -- The California football team was flagged twice within the first 20 minutes for a delay of game on offense. Vince D'Amato missed his fourth straight field goal, and even early on, it became apparent that the Bears (1-3, 0-1 in Pac-12) would wilt yet again in the Los Angeles sun, eventually falling to No. 12 USC 27-9 in their ninth straight loss to the Trojans, who nearly doubled Cal's offensive yardage.
Still, though, Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin said that he did not enjoy not playing the kind of wide-open game USC fans are used to.
"It's not as fun," Kiffin said. "It's more fun to have a 50-0 game but that doesn't happen every week. Some games will be like this. We're seeing changes in defenses, and that's one of the good things about throwing to those guys [Marqise Lee and Robert Woods] so much. Teams are all the time trying to take that away and it opens up the run."
Cal advanced into the Trojans' red zone five times on the day, but were only able to come away with three field goals, missed field goal and one of Zach Maynard two interceptions, as he tried to force the ball to a well-covered C.J. Anderson on second-and-10 from the USC 14 with just over five minutes left in the third quarter.
"There's a lot of opportunity there," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "We'll go to work next week and get back on track. We've played two tough road games against very good teams, and came out in the second half, and there were a lot of opportunities. We just couldn't put it in the red zone. But, there's a lot of good things there, but some things we need to improve on, as well, without a doubt, so that's what it's about. There's a lot of football left."
Despite the 1-3 start -- which is tied for the worst start ever under Tedford (the 2003 team went 1-3 en route to an 8-6 season and an Insight Bowl win -- Tedford still thinks his Bears can make a bowl this year.
"There's no doubt in my mind," Tedford said. "There is a lot of football to be played. I have a lot of confidence in our chemistry. We'll be back to work. We have a tough conference but we have a good football team. We've got to make enough plays to get over the hump."
Instead of the 26 net rushing yards last week against a punishing Stanford defensive line, the Trojans ripped of a total of 296 yards on the ground, led by two 100-yard-plus days from Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal. The two tailbacks over 100 yards rushing marked the first time since 2008 that USC had two rushers go over the century mark.
While last week in Columbus, Ohio, Cal was able to make adjustments to its game plan mid-stream, hold penalties to a minimum and had a sense of occasion on offense, this week, it was the Trojans (3-1, 1-1) who made the quick fixes, shutting down the run game and dialing in their own air attack after some early misfires, outgaining the Bears 488-250 and holding the Cal rushing attack to a paltry 77 yards. The only Bears tailback to get any kind of traction was sophomore Brendan Bigelow, who only carried the ball after the half, and gained 31 yards on just four carries.
In the first half alone -- when USC out-scored the Bears 17-3 -- the Trojans put up 300 yards of total offense on 37 plays, while Cal managed just 98 yards on 34 plays. McNeal had wrapped up his fifth career 100-yard rushing game before the break, carrying the ball 10 times for 115 yards.
After seeing its first drive snuffed out by a Steve Williams interception in the end zone on a corner fade, USC forced Cal into a three-and-out on its first drive, then went up 7-0 on a 33-yard touchdown gash from Penn State Redd, who cut a swath through Marc Anthony outside, Alex Logan inside and Josh Hill straight ahead on his way to the end zone.
Then, it was Maynard's turn to throw into the teeth of the defense, hitting USC defensive back Jawanza Starling in stride as he overthrew freshman Chris Harper for his first of two picks on the day. Maynard was frazzled all day long by the tough USC defensive line, taking seven sacks -- including three in the fourth quarter -- as he completed just 18-of-33 passes for 173 yards.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley had considerably more time to throw this week than he did last week in the 21-14 loss to Stanford, owing to the return of three-year starting center Khaled Holmes and the success of the two-headed tailback monster of Redd -- who finished the game with 158 yards on 21 carries -- and McNeal, who tallied his fifth career 100-yard rushing game with 115 yards on 10 carries.
Early in the game, though, Barkley couldn't quite find his two favorite targets -- Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. On the Trojans' third drive, Barkley hit a quick nine-yard hitch to Lee on the right side, and then nearly pump-faked the Cal secondary out of its shoes on second-and-one, before overthrowing a wide-open Woods down the middle.
That play would surely have gone for a score, but without that, the Bears front seven was able to get a good push, with Viliami Moala stoning Redd on third-and-one over left guard, and then defensive end DeAndre Coleman forced a fumble by victimizing freshman left tackle Max Tuerk.
But, after a gutsy drive by the Bears down to the Trojans 19, Maynard hit Allen on an inexplicably short crossing route on third-and-long, bringing up a 35-yard field goal attempt for D'Amato, who missed wide right.
Barkley would again overthrow a wide-open receiver on USC's next drive, and the Bears looked to finally capitalize, grinding off 5:13 on the clock well into the second quarter on a 13-play drive. But, on the 11th play of that long charge, Maynard made the wrong read, faking the handoff up the middle to Isi Sofele and instead taking the ball to the left for a loss of one. Sofele, as it turns out, would have a clear running lane and would have gone untouched into the end zone. Cal had to settle for a 24-yard field goal from D'Amato to account for all of its first-half scoring.
After the two early overthrows, Barkley finally found his groove on USC's first drive of the second quarter, hitting Lee for a 22-yard pass on the first play and then finishing the series with an 11-yard scoring strike to Lee over the middle with a clearly-overmatched Josh Hill getting abused in coverage. The Trojans finished off their first-half scoring with a field goal from now-healthy kicker Andre Heidari from 40 yards with three seconds left.
Cal got to within one score of USC with 7:58 left in the third quarter, but instead of continuing to use playmaking tailback Brendan Bigelow -- who got the Bears to the doorstep of the end zone with two big carries and one effective decoy run -- the Bears turned their backs on the speedy sophomore. From there, Maynard handed the ball off inside to Sofele twice and got sacked once, leading to Cal having to settle for a field goal.
After a 12-play, 69-yard USC drive resulted in another long Heidari field goal -- this one from 41 yards -- Maynard made perhaps his most baffling decision on the afternoon.
Despite routinely trying to force the ball to his brother Keenan Allen in double and at times triple coverage, Maynard's decision not to throw the ball was the most perplexing.
Maynard chose to lazily run out of bounds on third-and-15 early in the fourth quarter, when after a first-down sack and a second-down one-yard run by Sofele, he ambled left, took one look downfield and then jogged to the sideline for a loss of three without any seeming sense of urgency, bringing on the punt team.
USC took that opportunity to march down the field on the succeeding drive, churning out 75 yards on 14 plays, ending with back-to-back passes to Woods for 11 yards over Logan, and Lee, who hauled in a three-yard touchdown strike to put the Trojans up, 27-9.