Cal hoping to avoid repeat vs. USC

Sometimes a football team so sparkles that a description of its performance should be inscribed with gold leaf on granite tablets. Other times a football team steps on a rake, falls into oncoming traffic and ends up face down in the sewer.

And sometimes the twain shall meet on the field of play, which is what happened in the first half of California's visit to USC last season.

USC rolled to a 42-0 halftime lead over the Golden Bears on Oct. 16, 2010. It piled up 372 yards and 20 first downs. Cal had 65 yards and three first downs.

Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley completed 20 of 29 passes for 257 yards with five touchdowns -- tying a school record before halftime -- and no interceptions. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley completed 3-of-12 for 51 yards with two interceptions.

"We didn't make any plays and they made every play," Cal coach Jeff Tedford recalled. "I thought Barkley played about as well as he could play. He was on big time. They had everything going and we didn't make plays."

USC coach Lane Kiffin, who was a reserve quarterback for Tedford at Fresno State, took his foot off the gas in the second half, and USC only ended up winning 48-14. Cal, however, didn't score until late in the third quarter.

"Everything just went right for us and went wrong for them," Kiffin said. "Everybody has those games every year or two. Even when you call a play that's not supposed to work, somebody makes a great play. It was just one of those games."

The Bears will get a chance for redemption Thursday night in AT&T Park when the Trojans visit (ESPN, 9 ET).

How things went down last season was unexpected (the Pac-10 blog -- cough, cough -- picked Cal to win). Cal was coming off a blowout win over UCLA, while USC had suffered consecutive defeats to Washington and Stanford. It was reasonable to wonder then if the wheels were coming off for the Trojans, who were in the first year of a postseason bowl ban and perhaps lacking motivation.

Further, USC's defense had been terrible. It came into the game ranked 100th in the FBS after giving up 69 points in those losses. Cal's defense, other than a big hiccup at Nevada, had given up just 27 points in its other four games.

This year, the USC and Cal defenses have been mostly mediocre, and the offenses have been inconsistent. The Trojans are coming off a bye following a win over Arizona, while Cal is riding a two-game Pac-12 losing streak after falling at Washington and Oregon.

What remains the same from last year is Barkley and his favorite target, receiver Robert Woods. Woods, who caught seven passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns in last season's match, presently ranks second in the nation with 149.4 yards receiving per game, while Barkley ranks 14th in passing efficiency.

"Barkley, when he's on, he can make you pay because he's got a lot of weapons around him," Tedford said.

USC is again banned from the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. Kiffin said he has tried to loosen things up this year and make things fun to keep his players motivated. But a second loss in three games might make the atmosphere around Heritage Hall less than jovial.

For Tedford, a three-game losing streak would have fans grumbling -- again -- and a repeat of last season's blowout might cause some to question his job security. While there are plenty of winnable games ahead, the Bears can't afford to lose their confidence at midseason.

As for last season's disaster, Tedford said revenge isn't big motivation.

"Of course, they remember it," he said. "But this is about this year's team. All that stuff goes out the window after about the first play."

Then it just becomes a football game, and the expectation is that both teams will be closer to their mean this go-around. What that means on the scoreboard remains to be seen.