Matt Barkley and his Southern California teammates saw their season get derailed last week against a team that's had their number the past few seasons.
They'll try to get it back on track by hosting an in-state rival the Trojans have all but owned lately.
Thirteenth-ranked USC looks for a ninth straight win against California on Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum in the 100th meeting between the schools.
The AP's top-ranked team in the preseason poll, the Trojans were planning on perfection in 2012. But after last Saturday's 21-14 loss at Stanford dropped Barkley to 0-4 against the Cardinal, the senior is spending this week making sure USC doesn't get distracted by disappointment.
"I wasn't expecting that was going to happen this year,'' Barkley said Tuesday after another early-morning practice.
USC still can't quite believe how quickly its imperfections were exposed. The Trojans (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) strenuously avoided buying into the hype around their comeback season from a two-year postseason ban, yet they returned to practice determined to prove they're still better than the struggling team that lost to Stanford yet again.
Barkley was crushed after the game, his final season getting off to a start he never expected. Yet Barkley's determination to grow as a leader forced him to find a mature perspective on the loss: It's only September, after all, and the Trojans' dreams of major postseason success are very much alive.
Still, it stings.
"The shock behind that, I wasn't expecting to happen,'' Barkley said. "I learned a lot from a defeat like that. You learn to come back the next day and to be the voice that we need. You've got to make sure it's a quick turnaround.''
And Barkley realizes the spotlight will be directed squarely at his offense, which improbably was shut out in the second half.
USC's stars produced thoroughly pedestrian numbers, and the offensive line deserves much of the blame after looking overmatched against the Cardinal. Barkley went 20 for 41 with two interceptions, while Marqise Lee had eight catches for 100 yards, but didn't score. Silas Redd scored two touchdowns with just 17 yards rushing, and Curtis McNeal ran for only 37 yards.
"We're a little bit in shock,'' said All-American receiver Robert Woods, who had just four catches for 38 yards. "But our defense played well. We've just got to produce on offense. That's our job. Our team spirits are still high. We know we can bounce back and play well.''
Cal (1-2, 0-0) is hoping for a similar recovery after an impressive showing in another hostile environment last weekend. The Golden Bears led then-No. 12 Ohio State by a point in the fourth quarter in Columbus, but wound up losing 35-28.
Cal outgained the Buckeyes 512-412 and ran for 224 yards - 160 of which came on Brendan Bigelow's four carries.
"We played well enough most of the day to (win) but the scoreboard doesn't reflect that.,'' coach Jeff Tedford said. "And that's all that matters.''
That's more than Tedford can say of his team's performances against USC in recent years. The Trojans have outscored Cal by an average of 18.5 points during their eight-game series winning streak, holding the Golden Bears to single digits in four of the last six meetings.
Barkley has averaged 276.7 yards through the air during his three wins over Cal, throwing seven touchdowns against one interception.
He's only been sacked twice in those contests, but has gone down six times in USC's last two games. Coach Lane Kiffin has re-opened competition for Aundrey Walker's starting job at left tackle.
Kiffin had strong words for Barkley after the game, saying the senior had made some bad decisions, but reserved his strongest criticism for the line that was missing injured Khaled Holmes, its senior center and leader.
"We're looking for finish,'' Kiffin said. "Guys are going to get beat. Guys are going to drop balls. You're going to make mistakes, but we won't tolerate lack of great effort, not when you put on these jerseys that all these great players have worn before. I think Aundrey is going to respond well to this.''
Walker is the sophomore who replaced Matt Kalil, the fourth overall pick by Minnesota in last spring's draft. The 6-foot-6, 300-pounder from Cleveland is learning on the job, but feels he'll outperform Max Tuerk in practice this week to keep his position.
"I've just got to work hard and get better, too,'' Walker said. "It's nothing but motivation to get better. ... Khaled is a smart guy. He's a leader on the team, and we're looking forward to having him come back.''
Kiffin is watching his Trojans for signs of a hangover, claiming he saw none Tuesday morning. USC has a bye after hosting the Golden Bears, so there's no reason to hold back anything in what's got to be a bounce-back game for a team that still harbors national title hopes after an early-season humbling.
"Just watch Saturday,'' Walker said. "That's all I've got to say.''