Trojans Defeat Bears in Defensive Struggle

November 9, 2008

Los Angeles, California - Last night the #7 USC Trojans got through what should be the final test of their season with a 17-3 win over the #21 California Golden Bears in front of 88,523 fans at the Coliseum.

Earlier this week Pete Carroll had talked about the perceived unfairness of the BCS system and before the game, Trojans fans were excited by the possibility of a significant rise in the BCS Rankings. Earlier in the day Penn State had been upset at Iowa and for awhile it looked like Alabama might fall as well (although they eventually survived a scare at LSU 27-21 in OT). If USC could take care of business against a ranked opponent, then BCS Title hopes might be renewed.

Well, the Trojans went out and took care of business. Sort of. There was no questioning the performance of the Trojans defense which, with the exception of one game against Oregon State, has been historically dominant this season. The Trojan defense effectively shut down Cal's running game, allowing Cal's explosive sophomore running back Jahvid Best only 30 yards on 13 carries. Cal quarterbacks Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley each played a half but neither could find much to exploit in the Trojan secondary, combining for 138 yards passing on the night.

But winning in the BCS era is not enough, you need "style points" as well, and the struggles of the USC offense against an impressive Cal defense prevented the Trojans from racking up any of those. This was a close game throughout, with USC never ahead by more than one score until under 3 minutes to play in the game.

The first half was marred by a rash of penalties at times drawing boos from the crowd. Neither offense was able to effectively sustain a drive until USC quarterback Marc Sanchez got the Trojans into the end zone with a 19 yard touchdown pass to Patrick Turner in the 2nd quarter. Replays appeared to show the ball hitting the ground, but there was no stoppage for an official review and the play stood. The Trojans went into halftime with a 10-3 lead.

However, the Trojans proceeded to get outplayed by the Bears in the 3rd quarter, who appeared energized by the insertion of Kevin Riley at quarterback. With the Cal section enthusiastically mimicking the Barack Obama chant, "Yes, we can!" the Bears drove down the field on their first possession of the second half and Riley threw an apparent 27-yard touchdown pass to running back Shane Vereen to tie the score. But the play was called back the for an illegal man downfied penalty and a few plays later a Riley pass was tipped and then intercepted in the endzone.

The Bears had two more possessions in USC territory in the 3rd quarter, but failed to come away with anything as Riley, who completed a woeful 4 of 16 passes on the night, missed several open receivers. Meanwhile the USC offense struggled to put together drives throughout the second half, and a fumble by running back Joe Mcknight after a spectacular run effectively ended another drive in Cal territory early in the 4th quarter.

In the 4th quarter, the Trojan defense turned up the pressure on Riley, recording 2 of their 3 second half sacks and preventing any serious scoring threats. Finally, the Trojan offense got the separation they needed with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Ronald Johnson with 2:59 left in the game.

The Trojans were favored by 22 points in this game, and although that spread may have significantly underestimated the Bears, it is likely the unrealistically high expectations combined with the low scoring game will hurt the Trojans in the BCS rankings.

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

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