USC boots Cal for share of fifth consecutive Pac-10 title
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Pete Carroll would love to lead his team in the national championship game for a third straight year. Right now, though, he's content on celebrating No. 4 Southern California's fifth consecutive Pac-10 championship.
"It's a statement of what we're all about, who we are, and it really makes you feel good," Carroll said after the Trojans rallied to beat No. 17 California 23-9 Saturday night to clinch a berth in the Rose Bowl.
John David Booty passed for 238 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, and the USC defense shut down California in the second half as the Trojans became the first team to win five straight Pac-10 football titles.
"I'm just proud of this moment. Just that thought is really strong in my heart about what we've done here," Carroll said. "I'm filled with that thought.
"We really had a lot of issues in this game. The second half, the defense shut 'em out, shut 'em down. The offense finds a way to make some timely plays. You work so hard to be good in these moments -- the guys did it."
USC also took another step toward a possible berth in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 1 Ohio State, a 42-39 winner over No. 2 Michigan on Saturday.
"Wherever they put us, they put us," Carroll said. "We play a great schedule, that's all I know. I'll be the last guy to campaign for us."
The Trojans (9-1, 7-1 Pac-10) need to beat No. 6 Notre Dame and crosstown rival UCLA to have a shot at playing in the national title game, although Michigan's performance against Ohio State might have been enough to get the Wolverines in. Those teams have completed their seasons.
"We showed we can handle big-time situations," USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson said. "The Pac 10 title was on the line. There was a lot riding on this game, and you can't expect to blow out a good team like Cal."
The Golden Bears (8-3, 6-2) were shooting for their first Rose Bowl berth in 48 years, but with speedy DeSean Jackson and Pac-10 rushing leader Marshawn Lynch mostly held in check, they couldn't get the job done.
"I think they're hitting their stride," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said of the Trojans. "You have to play your best against them, there's no room for mistake. They didn't turn the football over and we did."
Cal led 9-6 before USC scored on three straight possessions to take command.
"We had chances the whole first half," Booty said. "I knew it was just a matter of time. They weren't really stopping us, it was us. You're on the sidelines and you get the offense together and say, 'This is what we are here for.' It's what we dream of to play in this situation."
The win was USC's 32nd straight at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where a crowd of 91,672 watched anxiously until the Trojans broke the game open in the final period. They're 19-0 in November in Carroll's six seasons as coach.
Booty, who completed 5 of 12 passes for 69 yards in the first half, wound up 18-of-31 without being intercepted. Steve Smith caught six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, and Dwayne Jarrett made five receptions for 66 yards and a TD. Freshman C.J. Gable gained a career-high 91 yards on 19 carries.
Cal's Nate Longshore completed 17 of 38 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. Jackson, the national leader with four punt returns for touchdowns and the Pac-10 leader with nine TD receptions, caught two passes for 41 yards and returned two punts for no yards. Lynch, the Pac-10 rushing leader, gained 88 yards on 20 carries.
Jackson said he was surrounded by two or three defenders all night.
"We came here expecting to win, but we didn't come out on top," he said.
Booty's 25-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett with 13:01 remaining capped a 78-yard, seven-play drive and snapped a 9-9 tie. Booty's 13-yard pass to Jarrett on third-and-9 from the USC 34 kept the drive alive, and Gable turned a short pass reception into a 35-yard gain two plays before the touchdown.
Booty threw a 37-yard scoring pass to Smith on a fourth-and-2 play with 8:23 left to cap a 56-yard drive and complete the scoring.
Leading by three points, Cal moved into USC territory for the sixth time early in the third quarter, but Tom Schneider was well short on a 55-yard field goal try. The Trojans then moved into position for a 49-yard field goal by David Buehler on his first career attempt, tying the game 9-all.
The Bears got only two first downs after that -- both in the final minute of play.
Cal's 9-6 halftime lead was a surprising score considering the teams are averaging 66.7 points between them and the Bears rank ninth in total defense in the Pac-10. The margin might have been greater had they not committed two turnovers in USC territory.
2022 Pac-12 Conference Standings