A season ago, USC disposed of California — almost seamlessly.
The Trojans compiled 602 yards of total offense. Quarterback Matt Barkley, then a sophomore, threw five touchdown passes — a single-game school record. Perhaps most impressively, they led 42-0 at halftime en route to a 34-point victory over the Golden Bears.
“That day everything went right for us,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said of the win, which snapped a two-game losing skid. “It was just one of those better days and that happens in football where everything goes right for you and everything goes wrong for them.”
Under coach Jeff Tedford, Cal (3-2, 0-2) hasn’t beaten USC since 2003 and in its last three games against the Trojans (4-1, 2-1) — all losses — it has been outscored by a combined score of 95-20.
USC, nonetheless, hopes to continue its modest seven-game winning streak over Cal on Thursday, as it faces the Golden Bears at AT&T Park in San Francisco (Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., is undergoing renovations).
Offensively, at least, it doesn’t appear as if the Trojans should anticipate much of a dropoff, as they rank 15th nationally in passing yards this season with an average of 318 yards per game. Barkley, in particular, has posted some impressive numbers of his own, completing more than 70 percent of his passes for 1,587 yards, 14 touchdowns and a mere four interceptions.
In two career games against Cal, Barkley has thrown for 635 yards with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5:1.
“I think I’ve been really well prepared,” Barkley said of his success against the Golden Bears. “They try to be confusing with their defensive fronts and schemes, but we have done a great job in the past at protecting what they’ve brought.”
Though the passing game is arguably as proficient as ever — sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods and freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee have combined for 76 receptions for 1,070 yards and nine touchdowns — the Trojans’ running attack has appeared rather inconsistent through five games, ranking just 70th nationally with 136.6 rushing yards per game.
Though senior tailback Marc Tyler leads the team in rushing with 338 yards and two touchdowns on 72 carries, he missed the opener against Minnesota because of a suspension that lasted for much of training camp and has been inconsistent at times this season.
Against Utah and Arizona State, Tyler finished with 113 yards and 149 yards, respectively. Against Syracuse and Arizona, though, he combined for a mere 76 yards on the ground.
“It definitely shows up on film in the second half of games,” Kiffin said when asked about any lingering effects of the suspension.
But if anything were to be labeled inconsistent, it might be the Trojans’ defense.
Despite opening the year by allowing just 17 and 14 points in wins over Minnesota and Utah, the Trojans allowed 43 and 41 points, respectively, against Arizona State and Arizona, marking the first time in program history that it surrendered at least 40 points in consecutive games.
The Golden Bears feature a passing attack that could challenge that inexperienced defense, as sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen and senior wide receiver Marvin Jones have combined for 68 catches for 1,109 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Jeff [Tedford’s] a great quarterbacks coach and he’s got [quarterback Zach Maynard] playing well,” USC assistant head coach Monte Kiffin said. “They’ve also got a balanced attack. They can run the football and take some pressure off the quarterback.”
With an extra week to prepare, however, the Trojans remain hopeful their defense won’t have a repeat performance.
“We always strive to be perfect,” sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said. “And this game, hopefully we can put it all together. We got to because it’s been a bye week.”
Perhaps more concerning is the element of playing on the road, as the game marks just the second time this season USC has left Southern California.
Each of USC’s four wins this season have come within the friendly confines of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“This is the second time on the road, so it’s really important we come out and set the tempo,” Robey said.
Against Arizona State, USC’s only road contest of the season thus far, the Sun Devils march out to a 21-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
Thursday’s contest against Cal will kick off at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.