BERKELEY — The story: With Stafon Johnson hospitalized and unable to talk, the Trojans did all their talking on the field Saturday.
Most of the players had Johnson’s initials or his No. 13 written on their eye black. Many said he was part of their thoughts throughout the game. Many said he inspired them to win.
And with a balanced, well-rounded performance yet unseen out of the Trojans this season, No. 7 USC (4-1) dominated Cal 30-3.
Johnson underwent emergency surgery Monday after dropping a weight on his throat in Heritage Hall. Despite his absence, the senior running back was on the mind of his teammates.
“I was really happy that we could play this game for Stafon,” freshman quarterback Matt Barkley said. “He was in our hearts the whole time. It was a great victory for us and for him.”
Meanwhile, the No. 24 Bears (3-2) suffered their second consecutive embarrassing loss after falling 42-3 to No. 16 Oregon last week. And Cal’s ballyhooed preseason All-American Jahvid Best was again shut down, gaining just 51 total yards.
Key plays: 1. Cal drove down the field quickly to start the game, with an eight-yard run from Best, a facemask called on USC, and two 20-yard strikes from Kevin Riley putting the Golden Bears in a goal-to-go situation. But USC senior safety Taylor Mays made a leaping interception of a Riley throw in the end zone to stop the looming threat.
“We knew it was an early test for us, but we handled it,” said redshirt sophomore middle linebacker Chris Galippo. “Taylor just totally shut the whole stadium down with that interception.”
The Trojans turned around, scored in six plays, and never looked back. Cal wouldn’t get on the board until the fourth quarter.
“I think it was a great statement that we weren’t going to let [a Cal touchdown] happen,” Carroll said. “And even better than that was our drive after. We took advantage and drove 80 yards for the touchdown.”
Added Galippo: “People can see how much turnovers can mean with that one.”
2. The other key play happened early in the second quarter, as Williams returned a Bryan Anger punt 66 yards for a touchdown. The return was Williams’ first special teams score of his career as well as the first for the Trojans this season.
Williams eluded multiple Bears on the return and managed to tiptoe his way along the sideline before sneaking just inside the pylon.
“Ball security is the most important thing on that,” Williams said. “Once you use a few blocks, it’s kinda like running through a tunnel.”
Most valuable player: Running back Joe McKnight. The 6-foot, 190-pound junior rushed 20 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t fumble and lost yardage on only two carries — two weaknesses that have plagued him in the past.
“He’s fast and explosive,” said Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed of McKnight. “He’s pretty good.”
Surprise performance: Bradford had 53 yards on a career-high 12 carries as he established himself as the Trojans No. 2 running back behind McKnight. Bradford didn’t break any long runs — a 16-yard rush was his game-high — but he did rush for three first downs and provided a change of pace from the speedy McKnight.
“I’m a big back, so I have to be able to get key yardage,” Bradford said. “My role is extended, so I know I have to step up.”
Carroll had said that Bradford would be depended on more in the coming weeks.
“He’s gonna get better and better,” McKnight said of his backfield mate. “And he’s gonna have a bigger role against Notre Dame.”
Stat of the game: The Trojans were flagged just five times for a total of 55 yards. That number — especially when compared to last week’s first quarter total of seven penalties for 75 yards — displayed the team’s increased discipline.
“You could say that we were clicking on all cylinders tonight,” linebacker Michael Morgan said. “Not as many mistakes, not as many penalties.”
Quote of the game: “It’s about time.”
The Trojans said it was about time for a lot of things after the game Saturday.
“It’s about time Damian returned a punt for a touchdown,” said redshirt freshman receiver Brice Butler. “It’s about time.”
“It’s about time Taylor had an interception,” Williams said. “I’ve been telling him to get one for the last two years. That was a huge play.”
Added Williams: “And it’s about time for us as a team. I think we finally solidified why we’re one of the best teams in the nation.”