Though USC managed to score 30 points at California, the scoreboard didn’t quite indicate the offensive struggles throughout much of the night.
Junior quarterback Matt Barkley finished 19-of-35 for 195 passing yards and two touchdowns, but in the second half, he was just 6-of-13 for 55 passing yards. Not particularly impressive statistics number-wise, but with zero turnovers and a win, the signal caller was pleased with the end result on a night where the defense stepped up.
“[The defense] came away with a bunch of turnovers,” Barkley said. “We struggled on offense, but we protected the ball and they didn’t. I think that was what ultimately helped us go out on top.”
Barkley’s top target, sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods, was held in check for much of the game, too. Woods finished with five receptions for 36 yards after averaging 11 receptions and 149 yards in his first five contests.
“I don’t think [Cal] did anything different,” Barkley said. “They were crowding a bit to [Woods’] side a lot — they had a young freshman corner so they didn’t want to put him on an island — with a safety over the top, but we’ve seen that before.”
Though Cal’s secondary was able to contain Woods, four other USC receivers notched two or more receptions and eight different players caught passes (aside from Woods).
Freshman George Farmer made his long-awaited USC debut halfway through the season — not as a wide receiver but as a running back. As a five-star recruit coming out of Serra High, many expected Farmer to start opposite sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods. That spot, however, has been filled by freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee.
Heading into the Cal game, USC coach Lane Kiffin had not explicitly stated whether Farmer would burn his redshirt and play. Farmer made his debut early in the contest on the Trojans’ second play from scrimmage in the first quarter. Despite a four-yard loss on the pitch play, he made the most of his opportunities throughout the game, including a 14-yard reception that nearly turned into a touchdown.
“I was a little nervous, but I came out here and did what I had to do,” Farmer said. “I had a couple plays and I was feeling good — I had fun.”
The list of injuries for the Trojans keeps growing. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Torin Harris and freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson were ruled out of Thursday’s contest against California.
After the game, USC lost two more key players on defense because of injury: Sophomore safety Demetrius Wright suffered a lower leg contusion and was on crutches after the game and freshman cornerback Anthony Brown broke his left ankle early in the second quarter.
On offense, the Trojans lost Lee, who sprained his acromioclavicular joint in his right shoulder after a touchdown catch, and senior running back Marc Tyler, who dislocated his left shoulder.
“I don’t know a whole lot about those injuries,” Kiffin said. “That’s why I was proud of our second half. We were getting banged up and I just wanted that clock to run out at the end of the fourth quarter.”
With Tyler possibly out of the lineup for for a few weeks, junior running back Curtis McNeal could see the bulk of the carries.
McNeal had 17 carries for 86 yards and one touchdown and was the Trojans’ most efficient back Thursday.
Despite not receiving consistent playing time in USC’s first five games, McNeal had averaged almost 8.5 yards per carry coming into the contest.
Kiffin noted McNeal could thrust himself into a starting role soon with his solid play.
“He’s playing really well, but Curtis has to stay healthy, too,” Kiffin said. “Curtis has been banged up, too. He’s been in and out of practices for two weeks [dealing with injuries].”
– USC’s victory extends its win streak over Cal to eight games. The last time the Golden Bears defeated the Trojans was in 2003.
– In its last four contests against Cal, USC has outscored the Golden Bears 92-3 in the first half.
– This is the first time in Cal’s coach Jeff Tedford’s career the Golden Bears have started conference play 0-3.