Four takeaways from USC’s win against Cal

Four takeaways from USC’s win against Cal

It was not complacency. Travis Dye warned against that particular road block several weeks ago What the USC running back experienced after the unexpected USC adjustment 41-35 victory over California Saturday was something else.


“We’re just not playing to our full potential,” said Dye, who had 98 rushing yards and a touchdown to extend his scoring streak to eight straight games. “And he is there. We’re a hair away, a third away, a stop away, a sack away from just beating teams.”

What looked like a mismatch on paper turned into a one-possession game as USC’s offense sputtered and their defense turned into another lopsided performance. The team that started the year looking ready for an unprecedented turnaround under first-year coach Lincoln Riley is now going through a midseason snafu.

Here are four takeaways from USC’s victory:

third chance difference

USC linebackers Tuasivi Nomura and Shane Lee close in to take down a Cal player

USC linebacker Tuasivi Nomura, bottom, linebacker Shane Lee, center, and defensive back Bryson Shaw, left, chase Cal running back Jaydn Ott at the Coliseum on Saturday.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

USC (8-1, 6-1 Pac-12) entered the game as the second-best third-down offense in the country, converting 54.7% of third-down attempts, but it was Cal, one of the worst third-downers. least teams from the country, which won the key battle on Saturday.

The Bears, converting 34.8% of their third-down attempts going into Saturday, kept the chains moving on eight of 15 third-down attempts against USC, their highest conversion percentage of the season against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. USC, meanwhile, connected on just five of 12 third-down attempts.

Linebacker Shane Lee lamented allowing easy third-down situations, but it was Cal (3-6, 1-5) who had a longer third-down distance than USC. Even averaging 8.6 yards for gain on third down compared to USC’s 6.8, the Bears converted three of six attempts with nine or more yards, while USC moved the chains in just one of four third-and-long situations. Cal quarterback Jack Plummer completed 12 of 13 third-down passes and finished with 406 yards and three touchdowns on 35-of-49 passing.

Caleb Williams, who had 360 yards and four touchdowns with a rushing touchdown, was just 2-for-8 on third down but used his legs to convert the biggest down of the day. He rushed for 15 yards on third-and-five with 2:11 remaining in the fourth quarter to help USC run out time.

defense dragging

The Bears celebrate when Cal wide receiver Monroe Young scores.

The Bears react as Cal wide receiver Monroe Young scores on a 2-point conversion attempt against USC in the fourth quarter Saturday at the Coliseum.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

It should have been a favorable matchup for a maligned defense to get its swagger back, but after Cal put up 469 yards and had his second-best scoring game of the season, the USC defense is still looking for answers.

The Trojans allowed 500 yards in consecutive games for the first time since 2013 and flirted with a third straight 500-yard game against a team averaging 23.4 points and 374.5 yards per game. USC showed glimmers of promise by rallying from an opening 76-yard touchdown drive and allowing only 88 yards for the remainder of the first half.

But the little mistakes — a botched coverage, a botched tackle, a penalty in the end zone that negated a stop on the third down and led to a touchdown on the next play — added up, allowing Cal to get closer to a touchdown. twice.

“When you give a team a boost like that, you’re asking them to take advantage of it,” Riley said. “So they did.”

special teams

USC coach Lincoln Riley reviews his game card during the Trojans' victory over Cal.

USC coach Lincoln Riley reviews his game card during the Trojans’ win over Cal on Saturday at the Coliseum.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

When asked about the USC special teams performance on Saturday, Riley shrugged.

“Some good and some bad,” the coach said.

The good stuff included an extra point blocked by Nick Figueroa and an Austin Jones tackle on the kickoff return that pinned Cal’s offense at their own eight-yard line. Riley noted a retrieved side kick that ultimately foiled Cal’s comeback attempt.

But that exhaling moment wouldn’t have been necessary if the Trojans hadn’t already missed a sidekick attempt that allowed Cal to gain momentum and inch closer to a possession. Riley said it looked like the Trojans were in position on the play, but they just didn’t get the ball back, allowing the Bears, who had just completed a 92-yard touchdown drive, to stay on the field. USC also had a bad hit on an extra point in the first quarter and Aadyn Sleep-Dalton punted five times without knocking down one inside the 20-yard line.

marker observation

USC quarterback Caleb Williams holds the ball while surrounded by opponents.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams remains in the pocket looking for a wide receiver against Cal at the Coliseum on Saturday.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

USC didn’t need the clock to strike three zeros to secure a victory on Saturday night.

The Trojans received help in their college football playoff semifinal bid Notre Dame and No. 10 Louisiana State, who defeated No. 4 Clemson and No. 6 Alabama, respectively. With two losses, the defending national champion Crimson Tide is effectively out of the playoff scene. Clemson can stay in contention as the ACC champion with one loss, but a Pac-12 champion with one loss, whether it be Oregon, USC or UCLA, may be more desirable.

After years of missing the playoffs, the Pac-12 had five teams in the top spot in the CFP, tied with the SEC and ACC for the most of any conference. But the Pac-12 has two teams, No. 8 Oregon and No. 9 USC, in the top 10 and four in the top 15 (UCLA at 12 and Utah at 14) compared to the ACC, which has four teams at 17 and under.

Riley, who led Oklahoma to four playoff appearances, has experience surviving as a one-loss team.

“We know we’re going to have to get better, but if you can get better by winning, you’ll be there at the end,” Riley said. “My experience with these things, you get to the end and no one remembers how.”

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