For the second straight week, Cal outplayed a ranked opponent in the third quarter on the road to get back into the game. But for the second straight week, the Golden Bears were unable to make it pay off in a victory, losing to USC 27-9 on Sept. 22.
The Golden Bears were able to move the ball, but managed just nine points on five trips into the red zone, and none of those red-zone possessions was turned into a touchdown.
The Golden Bears will have to make better use of their scoring chances to end their two-game losing streak in their Sept. 29 home game against Arizona State, which beat Utah 37-7 on Sept. 22.
Cal is capable of beating the Sun Devils, but not if it wastes opportunities as it did against the Trojans.
The critical play against USC came with a little more than five minutes left in the third quarter. Cal had scored field goals on its first two possessions of the third quarter to close the deficit to 17-9 and was facing a second-and-10 from the USC 14-yard line on its fifth advancement inside the USC 20. Quarterback Zach Maynard scrambled to his left but did not see wide receiver Bryce Treggs directly in front of him completely alone in the left side of the end zone. Instead Maynard tried to squeeze a short pass to C.J. Anderson along the left sideline and it was intercepted by T.J. McDonald.
USC turned that possession into a field goal, and the Bears never recovered.
Maynard was not as effective as he had been in the 35-28 loss to Ohio State the previous week, completing just 18 of 33 passes for 178 yards with two interceptions against the Trojans.
Again, he did not have sufficient pass protection, getting sacked seven times after being sacked six times by Ohio State.
Maynard also had no support from the running game, and Cal coaches may come in for some second-guessing with their use of tailback Brendan Bigelow. After rushing for 160 yards against Ohio State, when he had touchdown runs of 81 and 49 yards, Bigelow did not have a single carry in the first half against USC. He ran the ball four times in the second half for 31 yards, an average of 7.8 yards per carry, and was instrumental in giving the Bears those third-quarter opportunities.
Starting tailback Isi Sofele had just 16 yards rushing on eight carries, so it will be interesting to see how Cal utilizes Bigelow against Arizona State.
Defensively, the Bears were able to contain the passing of USC quarterback Matt Barkley, but the Trojans rolled up 296 yards rushing and had two players rush for more than 100 yards.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Cal plays its next two games at home, against Arizona State on Sept. 29 and against UCLA on Oct. 6, before playing Washington State on the road on Oct. 13. Before the season began, the Golden Bears figured to be heavy favorites at home against a Sun Devils team that was expected to struggle mightily this season and battle Colorado for last place in the Pac-12 South. But Arizona State, under new coach Todd Graham, is 3-1 following its 37-7 victory over Utah and probably will be favored against Cal. A loss to ASU will send the Bears to a 1-4 start and could send Cal on a downward spiral.
--Cal lost for the ninth consecutive time to USC, and for the fourth straight time the margin was 18 points or more. The Trojans rolled up 488 yards this year after collecting 313 yards last year, 602 yards in 2010 and 457 yards in 2009. USC had two players rush for more than 100 yards against the Bears on Sept. 22: Silas Redd ran for 158 yards and Curtis McNeal had 115.
--After missing all three of his field goal attempts against Ohio State, Cal K Vincenzo D'Amato missed badly on his first field goal attempt against USC from 35 yards out. He made his next three kicks, though, hitting from 24, 26 and 35 yards away.
--Cal had drives that got as far as the USC 18, 6, 9, 14 and 14-yard lines, but the Bears were unable to score a touchdown on any of those five possessions and managed just three field goals.
--TE Richard Rodgers was not scheduled to play against USC because of a foot injury, but he was forced into action in the second half when TE Jacob Wark left the game with a leg injury.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Sophomore TB Brendan Bigelow is still the third-string tailback behind Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson, but he was the most effective back for the second straight game. He had just four carries, but rushed for 31 yards -- one yard less than Cal's leading rusher in the game, Anderson. Bigelow hit the holes more quickly than the other Cal runners, and he made more out of less. Despite his limited playing time, he is the Bears' best big-play threat, and Cal presumably will look for more ways to use what has been their most explosive offensive weapon.
LOOKING GOOD: The Cal pass defense did a decent job of controlling USC QB Matt Barkley. Cal had done a good job of limiting Ohio State QB Braxton Miller in the second half, and was effective against Barkley after halftime. Cal intercepted Barkley twice in the first half and limited him to 57 passing yards in the second half. Neither of USC's two explosive wide receivers -- Marqise Lee or Robert Woods -- had more than 100 receiving yards, and Woods had just 30. That should be considered a good day for Cal corners Steve Williams and Marc Anthony.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Cal's run defense was a disappointment against USC. The Trojans had rushed for just 26 yards on 27 attempts against Stanford but ran for 296 yards against Cal, and two USC players rushed for more than 100 yards. Cal's pass protection needs to improve after yielding 13 sacks the past two games, including seven against USC, and the Bears failed to score a touchdown on any of their five drives into the red zone against the Trojans.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Absolutely. There's no doubt in my mind. I have a lot of confidence in the chemistry of this team." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, on whether Cal can still get to a bowl game despite its 1-3 start.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Keenan Allen had nine catches for a season-high 93 yards. He has 29 catches for 309 yards for the season and has caught at least one pass in all 28 games he's played at Cal. Allen now has 173 career receptions, moving him into fourth place on Cal's all-time list. Brian Treggs, father of current Cal receiver Bryce Treggs, is third with 180 catches.
--CB Marc Anthony had a career-high 13 tackles, which is also the most for a Cal player this season.
--C Brian Schwenke had his first career reception against USC. He caught a Zach Maynard pass after it was deflected by a USC defender, making Schwenke an eligible receiver.
--TB Brendan Bigelow has carried 10 times for 206 yards this season, an average of 20.6 yards a carry.
--Freshman WRs Chris Harper and Brian Treggs had just one catch apiece against USC, and Harper's only catch did not come until the Bears' final possession, when they trailed 27-9. Harper and Treggs still rank second and third on the team in catches and receiving yards.
--TE Richard Rodgers did not start the USC game because of a foot injury, but he entered the game in the second half.
--TE Jacob Wark left the USC game in the second half with a left leg injury. It's unclear whether he'll be available for the Arizona State game.
--QB Zach Maynard twisted his ankle on the Bears' final offensive play, but he probably will start against Arizona State.
--TE Spencer Hagan did not play against USC because of a knee injury, and he is out for the rest of the season.
--OT Matt Summers-Gavin missed his third straight game when he sat out the USC game with a knee injury. He is questionable for the Arizona State game.
--TB Daniel Lasco left the game against USC after being knocked woozy by a block on a punt return that resulted in a penalty against the Trojans. Jeff Tedford said afterward Lasco is fine, but his status for the Arizona State game is uncertain.
--LB Khairi Fortt, a transfer from Penn State, has not practiced since having knee surgery last spring. It's unclear whether he'll play this season.
--OG Dominic Galas missed the USC game with a torn pectoral and is unlikely to play in the next few games as well.
--LB David Wilkerson missed the USC game with a foot injury.