It had all the markings of a game from a previous era. The blowout, the sacks, the big plays and the USC football team huddled in a circle dancing up and down after scoring its sixth touchdown — in the first half.
Everything was going so well that half of the Song Girls took a few plays off at the beginning of the second half to fix their makeup.
USC (5-2, 2-2) demolished a Cal (3-3, 1-2) team 48-14 that was coming off a big win over UCLA in a game attended by far less than the announced attendance of 72,386 at the Coliseum.
Though the offense put up 602 yards, the defense stole the show.
“We finally played our style of defense,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “It was great to see, especially with Malcolm Smith out and not playing. We had guys step up and performing.”
It’s no secret that the defense has played far below expectations thus far this season, but it found its heartbeat Saturday.
The defense didn’t allow a first down until two minutes and 45 seconds into the second quarter and forced four three-and-outs, which is two more than it forced that last two games combined.
“We knew we weren’t playing well [this year],” sophomore safety T.J. McDonald said. “We had a lot of trouble in the past on third and fourth down getting off the field and we put ourselves in good situations today with third and long.”
From the first snap, the defense looked like the unit of old. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was calling more blitzes on first and second down than he’s done this year and the defensive line was stopping the Cal running game and forcing Cal quarterback Kevin Riley to beat them with his arm, which he didn’t do.
“We knew that if we could make them one-dimensional and get them in situations like that, we would capitalize on that. When they start throwing they can’t really be themselves,” redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo said. “The pressure we got with the D-line was great.”
USC finished with six tackles for loss, two sacks and two interceptions, including one by redshirt junior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris as he snuffed out a screen pass with 43 seconds left in the first half.
“We had a defensive line slant and they let me through,” Harris said. “Something didn’t feel right and I saw the quarterback throw it and it went in slow motion. I was like, ‘No way.’”
That interception led to sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley’s fifth and last touchdown of the day as he found senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson in the front corner of the end zone on an 11-yard pass with eight seconds to spare.
That put USC up 42-0 at the half.
As the halftime score showed, the offense picked up right where it left off last weekend in Stanford. USC scored six touchdowns in its first seven drives and only punted the ball once all day — when it was up 7-0 in the first quarter.
With freshman tailback Dillon Baxter out and senior running back Allen Bradford operating at 80 percent according to Kiffin, the onus was on the passing game.
“We put the game on Matt [Barkley] like we did last week and Matt, [freshman receiver Robert Woods] and [Johnson], the three of them responded,” Kiffin said.
Barkley shredded the sixth-ranked passing defense in the nation, throwing for 352 yards and five touchdowns, all to Johnson and Woods.
Johnson caught seven passes for 45 yards and two touchdowns, but it was Woods who led the Trojans in receiving for the second week in a row. He had seven receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns as he topped the 100-yard receiving mark for the second time in as many weeks.
“He’s [former USC wide receiver] Stevie Smith, but he’s faster,” Kiffin said. “He’s put together two big games and really played great when we’ve given him a chance. We just didn’t do a good job earlier in the year giving him the ball.”
With the offense operating at a high level, and the defense playing well this week, the Trojans look to be in good shape as they hit the bye week before welcoming No. 1 Oregon to the Coliseum in two weeks. For the defense to perform well, sometimes it’s just about getting back to basics.
“We were able to just line up on the field and play,” McDonald said. “No shifting or anything. We’ve been able to do what we’ve been doing since we were little. It was a lot of fun.”