USC’s annual trip to the Bay Area for what is commonly referred to as ‘The Weekender’ is typically a casual affair for the Trojans when they go to Berkeley and their team takes on overmatched Pac-12 rivals Cal. Such was not the case for most of Saturday afternoon however, as the Bears pushed and prodded their in-state rivals before the dam finally broke early in the fourth quarter for a 30-20 win by the cardinal and gold.
The closer-than-it-indicated final score may not have been all that pretty but still allowed USC to capture their 14th straight victory and run their record against Cal to 13 straight wins over nearly a decade and a half.
Part of the reason the Trojans couldn’t pull away until late was an ineffective offense that was a continuation of last week against Texas. Quarterback Sam Darnold had to carry the team at times but wasn’t quite as sharp early in the passing game, forcing several balls while throwing his seventh interception (after having just nine all last year). His numbers improved as the game went on and, in front of a bunch of NFL scouts, he still finished with 223 yards and two touchdown passes against a feisty defense.
The biggest issue for the signal-caller was the lack of a running game. Normal starter Ronald Jones II didn’t even make the trip with the team, while true freshman Stephen Carr had his moments rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown taking the bulk of the carries.
Head coach Clay Helton can once again thank his defense for bailing out the slow starting offense as they forced six turnovers and straight up took over in the final quarter to change momentum. Josh Fatu forced a fumble early in the 4th that was recovered near the goal line to kick the party off and interceptions by Ykili Ross and Jack Jones in the next few series all but sealed the deal in Strawberry Canyon.
As a result, the numbers for Cal signal-caller Ross Bowers looked dreadful on the final stat sheet (303 yards, 1 TD, four interceptions and a fumble). Still, he did help give the team a chance for most of the day and, combined with a solid run game and defensive performance, helped show that things are still looking up for Justin Wilcox’s team despite suffering their first loss of the year to move to 3-1.
That might not be the case for USC as they fly back and look over the game tape from a sloppy victory. While it does put the team up 2-0 in league play, notching another win might prove to be even more difficult if they play like that given they face a stiff test next Friday against a Washington State team that should be ranked in the top 20.