Here’s the sixth post in our ‘film study’ series.
Every other day from now until Aug. 25, we’re watching one of the games USC played last season and putting up a set of pertinent-to-this-year notes, going of course in chronological order from the Minnesota season opener to the UCLA season finale. At the end, we’ll have one last post with our overall takeaways from the re-watching. By then, it’ll be the week of this year’s opener.
We’ve already done USC’s 19-17 win over Minnesota, 23-14 win over Utah, 38-17 win over Syracuse, 44-23 loss to Arizona State and 48-41 win over Arizona. Here, now, are our five notes — four big things and a bunch of little ones — from USC’s 30-9 win over Cal on October 13, 2011, which marked the halfway point of last season.
He got a little lucky, but Dion Bailey played smart ball in creating three turnovers in this game. He forced a fumble from Keenan Allen on Cal's fourth play of the game to get the Trojans good field position, then prevented a Bear touchdown at the end of the second quarter with a leaping end-zone interception.
In the fourth, when Zach Maynard was leading a little Cal run, Bailey calmly stayed the course in his zone coverage and seized on the opportunity when the ball headed toward him.
Two things of note: We've wondered why Bailey got so many offseason honors compared to his teammate Hayes Pullard when it appeared as if Pullard was better than Bailey in each of the first five games of the Trojans' 2011 season. This game serves as an answer in its own right -- there aren't many collegiate defenders capable of creating three takeaways in a single game.
And the other thing: Bailey showed how aware he is when he came up with the pick in the end zone. Instead of trying to make a break for it, he calmly kneeled to give the Trojans a touchback.
Part of Bailey's effectiveness also had to do with the fact that there was an actual pass rush from USC in this game. That wasn't the case very often for the Trojans before this point.
Smart running from McNeal
It became overwhelmingly obvious after this game that Curtis McNeal was the best running back on USC's roster. Four Trojans carried the ball against Cal -- McNeal, D.J. Morgan, George Farmer and Marc Tyler.
Morgan, Farmer and Tyler (who exited early with a dislocated shoulder) combined to carry 16 times for 37 yards; McNeal carried 17 times for 86 yards, including the game-sealing touchdown and several other remarkably shifty runs against a not-bad Cal defense. He flattened All-Pac-12 safety Sean Cattouse in the first half while gaining a dozen yards and consistently got five or six yards a carry.
McNeal's 86 yards were the worst total for him the rest of the season, though. After this point, he goes on to average 119 yards in USC's final six contests.
Struggling without Lee
Here's something that went totally unnoticed during the first viewing of this contest: USC really struggled without Marqise Lee in the second half.
After the freshman receiver went down with a shoulder injury in the second quarter, Matt Barkley just couldn't complete passes to Robert Woods, his usual favorite target. From Lee's exit on, Barkley attempted 10 throws to Woods and completed only three of them for 29 yards.
All year long, talk was that Woods was the perfect decoy that allowed Lee to get going without normal pressure. Some of that is certainly true, but maybe it's a little bit of both. One of the things that allowed Woods to have such a dominant 2011 was that he had another dominant receiver opposite him in Lee.
Lee played only 25 minutes but finished as the Trojans' leading receiver, with four catches for 81 yards and a score -- which came on the offense's most impressive play of the night.
George Farmer made his much-anticipated debut here after Lane Kiffin made the decision to burn his redshirt during the bye week following the Arizona game.
It wasn't spectacular. He showed his potential on a 14-yard catch that was close to being a big gainer, but his running out of the backfield wasn't impressive overall. Farmer also chose to run back a kick from the middle of his end zone and was tackled well short of the 20-yard line.
The best play he made all game was a special-teams tackle on a kickoff play in the first half, when he got down the field three or four yards ahead of the rest of his teammates and tackled a Cal returner around the 14-yard line.
Final notes: Morgan's deficiencies as a pass blocker were really clear in this game, and that's probably one of the reasons he only got one carry to McNeal's 17. Matt Kalil blocked another extra point in the third quarter. USC's going to miss that presence. ...You can hear Ed Orgeron screaming from the sideline several times during the fourth quarter of the television broadcast. ...Isiah Wiley got his first significant time in this game after Anthony Brown went down in the first half. He had an interception go right through his hands late in the fourth quarter.