Rodgers Can’t See It Through to Completion

Times Staff Writer

It might not seem fair.

For 3 1/2 quarters, California quarterback Aaron Rodgers was perfect.

Perfect as in 23 for 23. Perfect as in tying an NCAA record for consecutive pass completions in a game.

But what people might remember most about his performance are the last four times he dropped back to pass, his team within spitting distance of a winning touchdown.


Three incompletions and a sack.

“I’m frustrated,” Rodgers said. “I couldn’t get the job done.”

Considering what transpired during the first 58 minutes of No. 1 USC’s 23-17 victory over Cal at the Coliseum on Saturday, it hardly seemed possible that Rodgers would come up empty four plays in a row.

The junior quarterback entered the game having completed 74% of his passes this season, good enough to rank him second in the nation in passing efficiency.

Against the Trojans, he also proved to be exceedingly patient.

With the USC defense taking a bend-but-don’t-break approach, Rodgers was satisfied to throw quick, short passes underneath the coverage. Five yards here, eight yards there.

By the end of the first quarter, he had completed eight of eight for 63 yards.

“I knew I was perfect for a while there,” he said. “I was just in a zone.”

By halftime, he had kept his team within six points by connecting on 14 for 14 for 133 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Geoff McArthur.

“I lost track,” said USC Coach Pete Carroll, who doubles as defensive coordinator. “There would have been too much pain if I had known that.”

Not that everything went right for Rodgers. His fumble late in the first quarter set up a USC field goal that put Cal behind, 10-0.

It happened again at the start of the fourth quarter when USC defensive tackle Mike Patterson stripped the ball from Rodgers and recovered the fumble, ending a Cal drive that was nearing midfield.

Still, Rodgers remained flawless through the air, completing his 23rd consecutive pass with an eight-yard throw to McArthur a few minutes later. That tied a mark set by Tennessee’s Tee Martin in 1998.

Rodgers’ first incompletion came with 8:57 remaining when he was forced from the pocket and threw the ball away. He came back with a 15-yard completion on the next play.

For the USC defense, the key was to ignore those gaudy statistics and remain poised.

“We can’t get caught up in that stuff,” defensive end Lawrence Jackson said. “A player can have the game of his life and his team can still lose.”

With 1:47 remaining and Cal behind by six points, the Golden Bears had first and goal at the USC nine-yard line. All that mattered were the last four plays.

From there, the Trojans cinched down their pass coverage and trusted the front four to put pressure on the quarterback.

Rodgers missed his first pass to the right side of the end zone. Next came a five-yard sack by defensive tackle Manuel Wright and an incomplete pass.

On fourth and goal from the 14-yard line, Cal receiver Jonathan Makonnen ran a corner-post route and Rodgers put the ball just beyond his grasp.

There was nothing for the quarterback to do but walk off the field amid the thunder of a sellout crowd. His final statistics -- 29 for 34 for 267 yards and a touchdown, no interceptions -- had come up a few yards short.

It might not have seemed fair.

“Anybody who watched this game, I think you saw that we dominated,” Rodgers said. Then, for the sixth time in a brief talk with reporters, he added: “It’s frustrating.”




NCAA Division I record for consecutive passes completed in a game:

23 -- Aaron Rodgers, California

vs. USC, 2004

(29 for 34, 85.3 Pct.)


23 -- Tee Martin, Tennessee

vs. South Carolina, 1998

(23 for 24, 95.8 Pct.)


22 -- Chuck Long, Iowa

vs. Indiana, 1984

(26 for 30, 86.7 Pct.)