Things just got a lot worse for Clay Helton and USC.
The Trojans blew a 14-0 halftime lead and lost to Cal, 15-14, to drop to 5-5 on the year. It was USC’s first loss to Cal since 2003, snapping a streak of 14 consecutive wins in the series. The loss also eliminated USC from Pac-12 South title contention.
It was an ugly one.
USC made silly mistake after silly mistake
USC jumped out to a 14-0 lead and looked primed to extend that lead before halftime. The Trojans drove into the red zone in the final minute of the half, but wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown fumbled. It was the first in a series of miscues for the Trojans.
On its first second-half possession, USC allowed a safety when a shotgun snap sailed past quarterback J.T. Daniels and into the end zone.
Following the safety, USC kicked it to Cal. The Golden Bears mustered 32 yards of offense in the first half, but this time needed three plays to go 50 yards and score on a Chase Garbers touchdown pass to Vic Wharton. All of a sudden, just 2:09 into the second half, USC’s lead was trimmed to 14-9.
USC’s ensuing drive ended with another mistake: a Daniels interception.
Nine plays later, Cal was in the end zone yet again. This time, the Golden Bears took a 15-14 lead on a five-yard Garbers touchdown run with 6:13 left in the third. That was all Cal would need.
USC’s worst gaffe was yet to come
USC’s next four drives totaled 41 yards on 21 plays and all ended in punts.
But the worst gaffe was yet to come. After USC punted to Cal, the Golden Bears quickly faced third-and-long. Garbers found Nikko Remigio for what looked like a first down. However, it was quickly ruled incomplete after a replay review. But it wouldn’t matter.
Instead of having to punt back to USC, Cal was given an automatic first down because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on defensive back Iman Marshall. Marshall, one of USC’s most-experienced players, was trash-talking the Cal sideline and drew a flag.
From there, Cal — thanks to a 14-yard Patrick Laird run on fourth-and-1 — ran the clock out and sealed the win.
Clay Helton is in serious trouble
The Pac-12 South is in such bad shape that USC still had a decent chance to win the division. But that was when Saturday began. Now behind Utah, Arizona and Arizona State, USC is completely out of contention at 5-5 overall and 4-4 in league play.
If USC doesn’t beat UCLA next week, it likely will not make a bowl game. The Trojans close the year with No. 3 Notre Dame.
Whether Helton reaches that point is worth wondering. He already made changes to his offensive coaching staff, but it hasn’t impacted much. The Trojans have lost three of their last four games with the only win coming over last-place Oregon State. A second-half shutout on Saturday night was just the latest example of the lack of adjustments and creativity on offense for the Trojans.
USC hasn’t finished a regular season with a 6-6 (or worse) record since 2001 — Pete Carroll’s first year.
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