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October 4, 2009

Big plays push USC past Cal

Berkeley, Calif.- Before the game, a slip of paper was placed on each of the seats inside Cal's Memorial Stadium. It informed Cal fans of the following Matt Barkley quote: "That crowd definitely won't be as loud as Ohio State, which will be nice."

The note encouraged Cal fans to "show him how nice it will be," and the crowd was absolutely bananas... for the first three minutes or so.

That's when a series of silencing big plays began turned Cal's cheers into boos for their team, helping No. 7 USC to a 30-3 win over the No. 19 Bears.

A Taylor Mays interception, a long Joe McKnight run and a great Damian Williams punt return pushed USC out a to a big lead early, taking the fans out of the game.

As for the note encouraging the crowd to get after Barkley, it made it's way into the freshman quarterback's helmet before the game.

"I thought about trying to pump up the crowd when we were on offense, but that wouldn't have worked," Barkley said. "I didn't have any problem hearing the cadence or with hearing myself. It was fine."

Barkley finished the 20-of-35 for 283 yards with an interception, and he continued to earn loads of praise from his head coach.

"This was a game where you were going to tell if Barkley was comfortable and could run the offense; there isn't any doubt," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "He might be a freshman, but he's not a freshman in my book. He just plays football like a real football player.

"I thought he looked great tonight."

Cal began the game by driving all the way down the field, picking up yards in chunks before settling down on the USC 6-yard line. After Mays stuffed Jahvid Best on a carry up the middle, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley rolled to his right and forced a ball to the back of the end zone.

Mays jumped up and snagged the pass for his first pick of the season. On the following USC possession, the Trojans moved down the field through the air before McKnight broke off a long run through the Cal defense.

"I was like, 'Finally,'" Mays said. "That's my first one in like 20 games."

Carroll said the pick set the stage for the rest of the game.

"We weren't going to let (a touchdown) happen," he said. "They had a couple of nice plays on that drive and got it moving. We were really stingy down there. It was a big statement at that point.

"But an even bigger statement was the drive after that- 80 yards down the field and go score a touchdown."

After a couple of big pass plays, McKnight scampered down the Trojan sideline 38 yards and laid out for the end zone, crossing the plane with the ball cupped in his hand for USC's first points.

USC would add three points on a Jordan Congdon field goal before Williams would electrify the USC fans that made the trip with a 66-yard punt return. Like McKnight, Williams took off before the end zone and stretched the ball over the goal line for the score.

Congdon also had a good night, making all 3 of his field goal attempts, and the Trojan special teams recovered a muffed punt late in the game.

"To feel the solid consistency of the special teams and the big play by Damian in the return game, it was really a good step in the right direction for us," Carroll said. "We're punting OK. We're kicking OK. And, we got some big plays."

The Trojans also got plenty of big plays on defense, limiting Best to just 47 yards on 14 carries and to five yards receiving. Cal (3-2, 0-2 Pac-10) gained just 285 yards of total offense to USC's 457. Mays played a big part in the defensive effort, finishing the game with a team-best 10 tackles.

"The consistency of our defense is just great," Carroll said. "We love the guys that left, but the guys that are here are playing really good football right now.

McKnight bested his No. 4 counterpart, Best, by rushing for 119 yards and two scores on 20 carries. Williams led both teams with 101 yards receiving.

USC played without its second-leading rusher, Stafon Johnson. Johnson severely injured his neck and throat during a weightlifting injury on Monday. Many players wrote Johnson's initials and number on their eye black before taking the field.

"We talked about him before the game, and after, we were just talking about him. He was a big motivator for us," Barkley said. "We might go see him tonight and tell him congrats. He was a big part of the win tonight."

USC (4-1, 2-1) now gets a weekend off for the first time this year, before traveling to Notre Dame in two weeks.


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