Postgame notes: USC beats Cal
September, 22, 2012
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- No. 13 USC Trojans beat California Golden Bears for the ninth straight season on Saturday at the Coliseum, 27-9. Here are news, notes and quotes from the game that won't make it into our other coverage from the day:
Coach Lane Kiffin likes to begin his postgame news conferences after USC wins by telling reporters what the "story of the day" was.
Sometimes, he's right on target; sometimes he's not. He was exactly right with his opening comments this time.
"I think that the game was won at the line of scrimmage," Kiffin said, pointing out that his Trojans had seven sacks to Cal's zero.
That really was the single biggest reason USC beat Cal on Saturday, the single biggest reason the Trojans were able to put last week's upset loss at Stanford behind them despite a decidedly less-than-perfect performance on offense and in the secondary.
"They came around today," defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said of his unit.
USC's linebackers have been the defense's strength over the last season-plus, and it's not necessarily any different now, but the Trojans' linemen really made the three 'backers look good Saturday.
"It's great when the linemen are rotating, staying fresh and keeping their linemen off us linebackers," said middle linebacker Lamar Dawson. "Then we can make plays."
Weakside linebacker Hayes Pullard said the linemen forced Cal quarterback Zach Maynard into some unusual mistakes.
Defensive end Wes Horton, who played at full strength for the first time this season, said the Trojans noticed in meetings this week that Cal's offensive linemen wouldn't be difficult to beat if schemed correctly.
"They were OK," Horton said. "It was a matter of creating the right moves to beat them."
Horton and fellow end Morgan Breslin certainly found them -- Breslin was credited with three sacks, the most by a USC defender since Rey Maualuga's 2008 Rose Bowl performance against Illinois.
The left tackle battle
Kiffin decided pretty soon after last week's game that he was going to give left tackle Aundrey Walker a challenger in practice this week in freshman Max Tuerk, and that decision ended up being pretty crucial to USC's success Saturday.
Walker was dramatically improved from last week, both in terms of effort and overall play. Many of USC's bigger runs on the day came through the left side -- which was not at all the case against Stanford.
"I like to see guys respond the right way and not pout," Kiffin said of Walker. "Aundrey had a great week of practice and went out and played better."
During the first half, Walker and Tuerk split time, rotating every two series. He ended up seizing full control of the spot in the second half.
"It helped me," Walker said of having some time on the sideline. "I was just focused in on my job, focused in on my task."
An approaching bye
USC is about to get its only bye of the season this week, and Kiffin says he believes it's coming at just the right time.
The Trojans won't play again until next Thursday, Oct. 4, on the road against Utah. Between now and then, they'll practice a little more lightly in the first week and take two more days off than they normally would.
"I think we need it," Kiffin said. "We're pretty beat up. Even some guys that are playing aren't 100 percent. So it'll be really good to get those guys some rest. I think this team's a little tired in general -- we had a pretty hard camp and then going on tthe road the last couple of weeks, including a long trip.
"They seem tired to me. So I think this is really good for this to come up at this point."
At 3-1, USC has still finished only a quarter of its regular season, though. At least eight -- and up to 10 -- more games still await the Trojans.
"I wouldn't say we're tired," said quarterback Matt Barkley. "But I would say it comes at a good time."
Senior center Khaled Holmes started after missing last week's game because of a right ankle injury and provided a visible positive impact on USC's offense.
Kiffin said it made a "big difference" in two areas: "running the ball" and "sacks." It's hard to argue with either assertion, and both areas were significantly improved as compared to last week's numbers -- USC rushed for 296 total yards and didn't give up a single sack.
"I definitely think that having Khaled in there made for better rhythm, better communication," said right guard John Martinez.
Holmes had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game because of an apparent re-aggravation of the injury, which doesn't bode all that well for his availability in 12 days against Utah.
But he did return very quickly from injury last time.
Final notes: Pullard exited the game in the second half because of an apparent arm injury and left the Coliseum with a sling on his left arm. He said he had not yet received word on the injury but was not feeling any pain. ... Tight end Junior Pomee said the USC coaches were not upset at him for his personal foul penalty in the second half, but Kiffin indicated he thought the officials made the right call in flagging the hit. Pomee said he thought he hit the Cal player with his shoulder. ... Barkley said Cal didn't blitz "nearly as much" as Stanford did a week ago, and he didn't sound too surprised about it. ... Receiver George Farmer did not suit up for his second consecutive game, and neither did defensive end J.R. Tavai. Linebacker Scott Starr also did not dress.