USC feasts on California’s turnovers for 30-9 victory

Reporting from San Francisco -- The score passed the eye test.

The margin of USC’s 30-9 victory over California on Thursday night at AT&T Park indicates that the Trojans are ready for the challenge of playing at Notre Dame and against seventh-ranked Stanford in the next two weeks.

Then again, look closer.

After giving up 84 points in their last two games, the Trojans had the national stage to themselves, to prove they were ready for prime time.

USC matched its season total by forcing five turnovers, an impressive total regardless of the opponent.

“We needed that,” USC Coach Lane Kiffin said. “It was much more important for this team to win like that and have a game like that for confidence after all the things that our defense has been hearing about them: staff, players, everybody involved.”


But again, look closer.

California, once a huge thorn in USC’s side, has lost eight in a row to the Trojans and devolved over the last three seasons into a first-half mess.

USC was ahead 20-0 at the break and has now outscored Cal, 82-0, in the first half in the last three games between the teams.

So, on an unusually temperate October night in the Bay Area, the Trojans improved to 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the Pacific 12 Conference.

“We played OK — we didn’t play great by any means,” said linebacker Dion Bailey, who intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble. “We played better compared to the last two games, but we have a lot of work to do.”

USC continued to give up wide swaths of yardage in the passing game. Cal’s Keenan Allen grabbed 13 passes for 160 yards, which does not portend well for next week’s matchup with Notre Dame star Michael Floyd.

Meanwhile, Cal mostly neutralized Trojans receiver Robert Woods and pressured quarterback Matt Barkley into an uneven performance.

Woods caught a season-low five passes for 36 yards and was held without a touchdown.

Barkley was coming off a record-setting game against Arizona two weeks ago, but he completed only 19 of 35 passes for 195 yards against the Golden Bears.

“Just all right,” Barkley said of his two-touchdown, no-interception performance. “Not good enough to win big games.”

It will get tougher against 4-2 Notre Dame and unbeaten Stanford, who both beat USC in Kiffin’s first season as head coach.

And it will be even more difficult without cornerback Anthony Brown and if receiver Marqise Lee and tailback Marc Tyler are unavailable or limited because of injuries.

Brown suffered a broken ankle early in the second quarter.

Lee said he injured his shoulder making a diving catch on USC’s first offensive play and then aggravated it on a 39-yard scoring play in the second quarter.

On the first play of the third quarter, Tyler suffered a dislocated left shoulder.

Cal (3-3, 0-3) cut the lead to 23-9 in the third quarter with a field goal and quarterback Zach Maynard’s three-yard touchdown run.

Bailey’s second interception with 5:50 remaining, set up Curtis McNeal’s short touchdown run for the final margin.

But look closer.

The enduring image from the game will be USC’s first possession.

Jawanza Starling forced a fumble on Cal’s first possession, giving USC the ball at the Golden Bears’ 37-yard line.

A Barkley pass to Lee gave the Trojans a first and goal at the six.

That’s where it got dicey for the Trojans.

Freshman George Farmer got his first carry at tailback on a pitch play to the left. He was stopped for a four-yard loss.

On second down, Barkley lofted a screen pass to Tyler moving to his left. He was eventually knocked out of bounds for a two-yard loss.

Barkley threw incomplete on third down, setting up an apparent field-goal attempt.

But the Trojans lined up in a spread formation, and center Chris Pousson hiked the ball to the left to fullback Rhett Ellison. Ellison fumbled and Cal recovered to end the threat.

Perhaps it’s not necessary to look any closer than that.