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Inside The Locker Room: USC-Cal

LOS ANGELES -- Notes, quotes and anecdotes from the Coliseum after the USC Trojans (7-3, 6-2 Pac-12) defeated the California Bears (5-5, 3-5 Pac-12) 38-30.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian comments:

The game assessment:

Opening statement: “We played a great game defensively to hold that offense to that number of plays was a fantastic effort. We knew the passing game was going to be their strength. Nelson [Agholor], a fantastic ballgame. Cody [Kessler] was very efficient. It was a good win to get to 2-0 in November. The goal is to be 4-0 in November, we are on track to do that still.”

On the Trojans relaxing in the second half: “I don’t think our guys thought the game was in the bag. Because of the season we have had, the type of games we have played, those things creep into your head. We are a better team than we were a month and a half ago. We are going to continue to play with confidence because the game didn’t change. They were running the same plays. We have the ability to play better than that and we will work on it.”

On the massive amount of Trojans penalties: “I am going to refrain from getting a fine.”

On upcoming UCLA: “I have been part of this game so many times. I love this rivalry and it’s so uniquely special. It divides households. My two older sisters graduated there, so I have to keep my eye on them.”

Cal head coach Sonny Dykes comments:

The game assessment:

Execution issues: “We clearly didn’t convert on third downs, and it’s something our offense has struggled with all year and it put us in some third-and-longs. And we had too many penalties, which hurt. The penalties we got seemed to really have an impact. We played hard the entire game but not well enough to beat a good team.”

Controlling the USC passing game: “We struggled with the pass rush all season. We tried to blitz a lot tonight and we had some success at times, and at times we didn’t. Again, if you blitz, you can’t double people and that leaves you 1-on-1.”

On the penalty issues: “Both teams had a lot of penalties. It was not a clean game and it was pretty chippy out there. I talked to the team about the discipline we have to have to beat a good team on the road and not getting involved with extracurricular stuff.”

More notes and anecdotes

Key(s) to victory: Scoring on three of their first four possessions of the game by way of two Cody Kessler touchdown passes and a record-setting receiving performance by junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor, the Trojans flexed their considerable offensive weaponry in the first half but had to hold on at the end to defeat a competitive Cal Bears team.

A record: Agholor established a USC receiving record with his second consecutive 200-yard receiving game. Agholor finished the Cal game with 216 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The previous game at Washington State, Agholor had 220 receiving yards and one touchdown.

On establishing a record: Commenting on his new USC receiving record, Nelson Agholor said, “It just means I have a great offensive coordinator, head coach and quarterback to put me in that position. (Kessler) did an amazing job controlling the game, picking and choosing where to go with the ball."

Cody Kessler on Nelson Agholor: “I think he is the best receiver, in my opinion, in the country.”

The offensive explosion: The Trojans scored 38 points against Cal on Thursday. Prior to the Cal game, the Trojans were averaging 34.9 points per game.

On defending Nelson Agholor: Said Cal linebacker Hardy Nickerson, “We prepared for him and he’s just a great player who made some great plays. He’s shifty but also fast and we had our hands full with him.”

Defensive surplus: The Trojans defense allowed 30 points to Cal on Thursday night. Prior to the Cal game, the Men of Troy were allowing 22.6 points per game.

On the hair-raising finish: Trojans junior All-America defensive tackle Leonard “Big Cat” Williams said, “We’re glad we got the win, but it was too close at the end. We need to pick it [up] in the secondary and the D-line.”

Big pass rush: The Trojans defense recorded four sacks of Bears quarterback Jared Goff.

Offensive increase: The Trojans had 450 yards in total offense against Cal on Thursday. Prior to the Cal game, The Men of Troy were averaging 458.9 yards per game prior to the Cal game.

Fast start: The Trojans have now outscored opponents 129-22 in the first quarter this year.

No smack zone: On the upcoming UCLA game, Trojans sophomore tailback Justin Davis said, “We are SC and we’re humble. We’ll do our speaking with our pads.”

Defensive average: Against Cal on Thursday, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 384 yards. Prior to the Cal game, the Trojans were allowing 400.9 yards per game.

Winning the battle: Trojans corner Kevon Seymour said, “In the end, we had to win our 1-on-1 and we did most of the game, but they won the 1-on-1 battles in the end. We’ve got to finish.”

Rush-hour jam: Against Cal on Thursday, the Trojans rushed for 79 yards. Prior to the Cal game, the Men of Troy were averaging 172.4 yards rushing per game. Tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen was held to just 60 yards rushing.

The evaluation: On improving the running game, Sarkisian said, “I feel like we have been OK at the point of attack, quite honestly. We haven’t allowed our runners to get to the second level. We have to evaluate scheme, our techniques, our fundamentals and are we defeating the man across from us.”

Defending the rush: Against Cal on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed 105 net yards rushing. Prior to the Cal game, the Trojans were allowing 138.4 rushing per game.

Counting the house: The announced attendance was 64,615 for the Thursday night game, which was the lowest attendance of the home season.

Above the passing average: On Thursday against Cal, the Trojans passed for 371 yards. Prior to the Cal game, the Trojans were averaging 286.4 yards per game.

The Kessler stats: For the evening, Kessler threw four touchdowns and now has thrown at least one TD in 20 of his career games. Kessler was also 31-of-42 for 371 yards for the night.

Air defense up: On Thursday against Cal, the Trojans defense allowed 279 passing yards. Prior to the Cal game, the Trojans' pass defense was allowing 262.4 yards per game.

A Bears viewpoint: Regarding the Trojans pass defense, Cal quarterback Jared Goff said, “They schemed us well in the first half. I missed some throws and we had some costly penalties that held us back. If you want to beat a team like USC or a good team, you can’t do that. The second half we played well, but it was too little, too late.”

The flag is way up:The Trojans were penalized 14 times for 159 yards Thursday. Prior to the Cal game, the Trojans were averaging 74.8 yards in penalties per game.

Seeing yellow: After the Trojans scored in the final quarter on a Kessler-to-Randall Telfer 15-yard touchdown reception, Kessler was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for taunting the Cal bench.

Cody on flag: Reflecting upon his taunting penalty, Kessler said, “I was just emotional. I might have said ‘Yeah’ and turned to their sideline. I take full responsibility.”

Top tacklers: Trojans linebacker Su'a Cravens led the Trojans defense with 10 tackles followed by safety Gerald Bowman with 9 tackles.

MIA report: While there were no reported injuries, Trojans true freshman tight end Bryce Dixon was not in attendance due to what Sarkisian referred to as “a student conduct issue.”

Big Cat watch: NFL scouts in attendance to evaluate Leonard Williams, among others, were the Cardinals, Chargers, Vikings, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Falcons, Titans, Jets, Colts, Raiders and Browns.

Bowling alley: Representatives from the Alamo, Sun and Holiday Bowls were in attendance to watch the Trojans.

Celebrity watch: In attendance for Thursday night’s game was singer Miley Cyrus and comedian/actor Adam Sandler along with former Trojans All-Americans Matt Leinart, Marqise Lee, Shaun Cody and Curtis Conway.

Next game: The Trojans will travel to the Rose Bowl to face crosstown rival UCLA on Saturday, Nov. 22. Kickoff time will be announced on Sunday.