The going will get tougher for Trojans
It was separation Saturday for two ranked Pacific 10 Conference schools on a chilly East Bay evening at Memorial Stadium.
The team from the south, USC, went north and the team from the north, California, went south.
In a game two one-loss teams needed desperately but only one could claim, USC defeated California, 30-3, to keep hype alive in the vast, gooey-like landscape of the Bowl Championship Series.
USC’s fourth win sent the Trojans into their off week with a template for success: defense, defense, running and efficient play at quarterback.
Oh, there are still issues. The offense ran like a Rolls Royce between the 20s but sputtered near the goal line, settling for one touchdown and three field goals before scoring a late, tack-on touchdown.
“We’re still not where we want to be,” tailback Allen Bradford, who battered his way for 53 yards, said on the field after the game. “As the season goes on, we want to get better and better.”
And, you know what, it’s entirely possible.
Last week, the Trojans slogged to a sloppy home win over Washington State but moved up five spots to No. 7 in the polls because four top-10 schools lost.
Saturday, USC played its most complete game against a school whose name doesn’t start with “San Jose.” Yet, with no teams above them losing this weekend, the Trojans may have been running to stand still.
Pete Carroll sees improvement as he asks fans to pardon the dust.
“We’re growing,” he said. “It’s a process for us to come together. We’re in that process.”
The process involves the daily maturation of freshman Matt Barkley, who passed another test in a hostile environment.
The way Carroll spoke of Barkley, you had to check the stat sheet to make sure he didn’t complete every pass for 850 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Matt is our guy,” Carroll said. “He absolutely has done everything we can expect him to do. He did it at Ohio State, he did it at the Coliseum, he’s done it here in the conference. . . . You can talk all you want about him being young, but he is a real football player. He is playing as good of football as anybody we have ever had, already.”
It seems Pete is very high on this youngster.
Barkley completed 20 of 35 passes for 283 yards with no touchdowns. He threw one pass -- a late interception that led to Cal’s only points -- that should have never left his hand.
“He’s not a young guy,” Carroll said. “He’s the real deal.”
And he just turned 19.
Protected by a line that acts like a womb around him, Barkley made his proper reads and check-downs.
“I had all the time in the world to pass,” Barkley said.
Is this patience and package plan going to be enough to get USC to the finish line?
We’re about to find out. The Trojans have already sacrificed their annual defeat to an unranked team, so it takes only one time for Barkley to play like a freshman for USC to be eliminated from the national title race.
The Mt. Everest of statistics is still out there. Since 1972, no team that has started the season with a true freshman has won the national title -- so it’s going to be fun to watch.
This year’s Pac-10 race, also, is shaping up to be a spike strip.
USC won Saturday by a comfortable margin, but it was a mile from easy.
In two weeks, USC heads to South Bend in what could be the most competitive game since the Bush Push classic of 2005.
Notre Dame will enter the game with a win over a team, Washington, that has already defeated USC.
Stanford, all of a sudden, has grown biceps and that Halloween game at Oregon suddenly looks the game USC-Cal was supposed to be.
The Cal Bears?
Oh yeah, them.
Cal’s second conference loss might as well have been a tear-stained goodbye letter. No team that has started 0-2 in conference play has ever won the Pac-10.
The frustration of Cal fans was demonstrated -- they’re good at that here -- in collective hand wringing and choruses of “boo.”
Bears fans were not amused when their coach elected to kick a 29-yard field goal with 10 minutes 43 seconds left that provided Cal with its only three points.
Those three points added to last week’s three against Oregon equals six, which doesn’t quite offset the 72 points Cal gave up.
Cal took a 3-0 lead last week in Eugene and gave up 62 straight points before adding Saturday’s field goal.
Jahvid Best’s run for the Heisman Trophy is over. He wasn’t even the best No. 4 on the field, that distinction going to USC’s Joe McKnight, who gained 119 yards to Best’s 47.
In Berkeley, the cry is “here we go again.” Two years ago, Cal was yards from No. 1 before losing six of their last eight. Two weeks ago, Cal was ranked sixth in the nation and on a fast track.
“There is a lot of football left to be played,” Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said. “There is no way in the world that we are folding our tent.”
After Cal’s sixth straight loss to USC, though, camp appears to have broken down.