Lincoln Riley era begins as USC finishes season with 24-14 loss to Berkeley

Figure dressed in cardinal and gold with the number "6" displayed on his jersey, runs towards the viewer, clutching a football in his right hand.
Redshirt senior running back Vavae Malepeai carries the ball during USC’s game against Arizona. Malepeai had 107 yards rushing against Cal in his final game. (Patrick Hannan | Daily Trojan)

In a matchup rescheduled two weeks ago following positive coronavirus cases within the UC Berkeley team, it was fitting that viewers from home had to wait for another game to finish before watching the Pac-12 showdown on TV.

Three hours later and the unusual start time for the game ended in the usual fashion for USC this season: a loss.

Golden Bear fans roared as Cal defeated the Trojans 24-14 at California Memorial Stadium Saturday night, capping off a USC season with no Bowl Game for the second time in the last four seasons.

It is USC’s first loss on the road against the Golden Bears since 2003. The Trojans’ eight losses this season are its most since 1991. Their 4-8 record is also the third-worst season in USC football history. The fourth-worst season occurred three years ago.

With the season over, Head Coach Lincoln Riley’s tenure is officially here, bringing renewed optimism to the program.

Freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart left the game near the end of the third quarter after a hit to his head. Freshman quarterback Miller Moss took over and threw for 74 yards and a touchdown.

With USC down by 10 points entering the fourth quarter, Cal senior running back Christopher Brooks put the game out of reach for the Trojans after a rushing touchdown within six minutes of the quarter. Moss threw a touchdown to redshirt senior wide receiver K.D. Nixon with less than two minutes left in the game, but an onside kick attempt was recovered by the Golden Bears.

Without key offensive players — such as sophomore wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. and senior running back Keaontay Ingram with Ingram falling to a rib injury during the UCLA game and Bryant Jr. a hamstring injury after BYU — USC struggled to put points on the board. After 409 total yards of offense, the Trojans only had 2 touchdowns to show.

USC’s first drive of the game went 12 plays for 47 yards but concluded in a missed 50-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Parker Lewis. The Trojans’ next drive ended following 4 plays and 15 minutes into the game.

However, the Trojans opened the second quarter in a different fashion. Dart found redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kyle Ford on third-and-16 for a 45-yard touchdown.

Unfortunately, for USC, it was its only touchdown of the half. The Trojans went scoreless from 9:28 in the second quarter to 1:36 in the fourth.

The five drives after the touchdown in the second resulted in a fumble, missed field goal, punt, turnover on downs and another fumble.

Redshirt sophomore running back Darwin Barlow coughed up the ball on the Trojans’ next drive for a fumble and Cal returned it for a 55-yard touchdown. Then, with the first half coming to a close, USC settled for a 43-yard field goal, missed again by Lewis.

On the season, USC had 25 touchdowns in 42 appearances. Its three trips Saturday resulted in 1 touchdown and 2 turnovers.

A red zone trip under 10 minutes left in the game ended with the Trojans’ second turnover of the game. Moss fumbled the ball on a sack and Cal recovered to score a touchdown.

The Trojans’ defense kept the Golden Bears in check throughout the game. Cal had just 260 total yards — a stark contrast to the 396.7 average yards per game. The Golden Bears were also 3-10 on third downs.

USC finished its season at 4-8, but even with that record, USC looks forward to Riley’s tenure, redshirt senior defensive end Nick Figueroa said after the game Saturday.

“We are starting tomorrow with Coach Riley, and we are excited about it,” Figueroa said.