Southern California 35,
Southern California's return to the scene of its last loss was anticipated since the summer, when many projected California had the best chance of anyone on the Trojans' schedule to derail the two-time defending national champion. But top-ranked USC offered a most decisive indication of dominance Saturday, turning a must-see game into an anticlimactic yawn before 72,981 at Memorial Stadium.
The 35-10 victory, USC's 32nd straight, was never in question after the second quarter, when Golden Bears fans serenaded their quarterback with boos and the lead swelled to double digits.
"As a team, the way we've been dominating, it does feel like it's easy at times," said running back Reggie Bush, among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy. "It was easier than expected today, not to take anything away from them."
Bush, for one, is excited that his team will not have to leave the Los Angeles area again to capture what would be an unprecedented third national title. The Trojans (10-0) will host No. 20 Fresno State next week and then play No. 14 UCLA to close the regular season. And barring an unforeseen upset, the Trojans will play in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4 for the national title.
The ease with which USC won Saturday was significant, considering Bush did not score a touchdown and only rushed for 82 yards, 30 of which came in the first half. His backfield cohort, LenDale White, was more the star, racking up 75 of his 90 yards in the second half. White scored three of USC's five touchdowns. The others also were rushing scores, both coming in the second quarter when quarterback Matt Leinart ran it in from three and six yards. Leinart completed 20 of 32 passes for 246 yards and one interception.
The victory was as much a testament to USC's overall strength as it was to Cal's struggles under center. Joseph Ayoob followed a three-interception game last week in an overtime loss at Oregon by throwing four interceptions, including one on the game's opening drive. By halftime, he had half as many interceptions (three) as completions (six) and appeared out of sorts as he repeatedly misfired on passes.
Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said the problem was a combination of confidence and fundamentals, adding: "When you start pressing -- that becomes a confidence issue. He is very competitive, very tough. But we need to work harder on fundamentals to hopefully get his confidence back."
Nate Longshore had beaten out Ayoob for the starting job in the preseason but broke his ankle the second week of the season. On Saturday, Ayoob, who entered the game having completed 49 percent of his throws, completed 9 of 19 for 98 yards.
USC's defense, however, has been tightening up. USC forced Stanford into committing five turnovers last week and caused Cal to turn over the ball six times Saturday. What's more, Cal's 10 points are the fewest USC has allowed this season.
"We're playing better 'D' than other teams in the conference," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "The conference is so darn loaded with offenses, it's a chore on defense just to hold your own. We're making progress."
Results in recent weeks have exposed Cal as inferior against legitimate competition. The Golden Bears (6-4) have lost four of their past five games after starting the season 5-0 against a particularly soft schedule.
USC has been just the opposite, appearing even more commanding than ever in the weeks following the dramatic comeback victory at Notre Dame on Oct. 15. The memory of those early-season struggles at Oregon on Sept. 24 and at Arizona State one week later are all but forgotten.
"We feel good about what we're doing right now and where we are at," Leinart said.
It remains to be seen if either Fresno State or UCLA can provide any more drama to what has been an interesting, yet untarnished, Trojans season thus far.
"We had the opportunity to finish the road season," Carroll said, "and it's been really packed with drama."
Rather than concentrating on streaks or claiming a seventh Heisman Trophy for the school, players appear intent on winning three more games. When a reporter asked Bush what USC's current streak was after the game, the junior said he did not know. "I know it's in the thirties," he said.