Despite a very emotional week due to the unfortunate accident to Running Back Stafon Johnson, the Trojans put together its most complete performance of the year and routed Cal 30-3 in Strawberry Canyon.
On Friday, I wrote about the 5 keys to setting a “Bear” trap and the Trojans hit on all the points and proved once again that the only team capable of beating the Trojans is the Trojans themselves. When USC does not turn the ball over when it matters, commits few penalties and stays balanced on offense to compliment one of the best defenses’ in college football, it will be very difficult for any college football team to beat them.
A quick review of the keys to victory:
1- Contain Cal’s running game: The Trojans held the vaunted Cal rushing attack to only 86 yards. Former Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best was held to 47 yards rushing and only 5 yards receiving. The Trojans forced Kevin “I don’t like big games and throw a high ball” Riley into passing situations that he is not equipped to handle which allowed the Trojans to dominate the Time of Possession 36:46 to 23:14.
The game was basically over when Trojan Safety Taylor Mays ran down Jahvid Best from behind in the backfield in the second quarter. The statement was made that USC’s best defensive player was not going to let Cal’s best offensive player get loose.
(More analysis and some team notes after the jump)
2- Spread out the offense: The Trojans opened up the playbook and Matt Barkley made some phenomenal throws. The college game is starting to slow down for Barkley and he made some great check downs which he was unable to do earlier in the season.
Though Damian Williams was his main target (8 receptions, 101 yards rec.), Barkley spread the ball all over the field. The Tight Ends had 4 receptions and the Trojans attacked the middle of the field and threw several balls more than 20 yards down field. Had the Trojans executed better in the red zone, they probably would have scored over 50 points.
3- Play disciplined football: If the Trojans play disciplined football the rest of the season and avoid major injuries they probably will not lose another game. The Trojans had only 5 penalties against Cal and didn’t turn the ball over until the 4th quarter when the game was already decided.
4- The emergence of Bradford: He did not have a huge game but his power running style was a great compliment to McKnight’s slashing. McKnight and Bradford combined for 172 yards rushing and Bradford had a drive where he ran for 3 consecutive 1st downs in the second quarter and helped USC dominate the time of possession battle.
5- Special Teams needs a mistake free performance: Special Teams looked like a well oiled machine on Saturday. Congdon converted on all of his kicks, Harfman punted well and Damian Williams returned a punt for a touchdown. The Trojans finally showed the strength of the special teams unit and hopefully this performance will continue throughout the rest of the season.
Obviously the Trojans are still a work in progress offensively and Cal has clearly shown they were overrated. However, to go on the road against a major conference rival and perform the way they did under difficult circumstances shows that USC has the ability to go 4-0 during one of the toughest stretches of games in the Pete Carroll era and put themselves right back in the national championship picture.
News and Notes Heading into the Bye Week:
Could this be the best defense of the Carroll era: The defense is only giving up 8.6 pts. a game, 3rd behind Florida and Nebraska. Neither Florida or Nebraska have played 2 teams ranked in the top 25. . .The Trojans are 5th in rushing defense and 5th in total defense nationally. . .USC is the only team in Division 1 football to not give up a throwing touchdown. . .it will be a huge accomplishment to continue this streak against Notre Dame and Jimmy Clausen which will be the best offense USC has faced this season.
Getting Healthy: Great timing for a bye week. The Trojans should get speedster WR Ronald Johnson back for the Notre Dame. Linebacker’s Malcolm Smith and Luther Brown will also be healthy and ready to go. Armond Armstead will be back from a broken foot and also available for Notre Dame. The bye week will also allow Taylor Mays, Joe McKnight, Matt Barkley and others to get healthier going into a wicked 3 game stretch.
Butler stepping up at Wide Receiver: Brice Butler has put together two very solid games for the Trojans. He is running good routes, playing with confidence and blocking well in running situations. Though Ronald Johnson is returning, Butler needs to continue to get opportunities.
Things are slowing down for Barkley: The game is starting to slow down for Barkley which is allowing him to check down properly. “It’s slowed down a lot,” Barkley said. “Maybe not drastically, but since the San Jose State game, I realized how cool it can be.” Barkley is a little ahead of schedule regarding his progress which USC needed going into this difficult 4 game stretch.