USC 27, California 9
For any of you remember, the USC Trojans was the absolute zenith of conventional boredom during the post-Reggie Bush era. Here is a standard successful USC drive.
Throw to the tight end
I'm sure if you dial up the USC offense from 2005 to 2009, you'll see that's USC's standard modus operandi. I call it the Chinese Water Torture offense, because it's a slow trickle. Boring, but effective.
Perhaps Lane Kiffin felt that in the race to keep up with the bruisers at Stanford and the Millenium Falcons in Oregon, he had to get fancy. He had to throw more, get in shotgun more, go empty set more, pass more and more and more. USC's loss to Stanford highlighted all the flaws of that approach when the run game isn't getting enough touches and the offensive line is sputtering and malfunctioning in their pass protection. Kiffin got away from what made USC really tick, and it cost them.
USC didn't really do anything that unconventional in their win over Cal. The Trojans put the ball on the ground 40 times compared to 34 passes, but this time USC had success in moving the football on the ground. After getting whipped up front last week, Khaled Holmes came back and USC had no trouble establishing the run on the Bears front seven. The threat of Matt Barkley kept the secondary back, but in general the Cal front was the weaker unit in the trenches. If Holmes is out for a sustained period, that could re-open trouble spots for USC down the road, but regardless it was a tough performance.
With the offense able to sustain good yardage, it set up 2nd and 3rd and short situations that allowed USC to open up the play-action bootleg and quick-hitting passes that really kept USC's offense moving with general regularity. Matt Barkley struggled a little bit in dealing with this approach, but he did have a few nice quick throws on his touchdown passes and overcame his two interceptions and occasional sloppiness.
Despite weapons like Barkley, Lee and Woods, twas the running backs and offensive line that really kept the Trojan offense moving the right way. Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd finally showed they were capable of being the one-two punch on offense that would give defenses fits to deal with and open up things for Barkley and Lee. McNeal and Redd both had huge gains in the first quarter, and from there on out seemed to rip off first down runs of six to seven yards with regularity. That sort of winning play on first down made victory far easier to attain, and USC's passing game only had to do just enough to move the football possession-by-possession.
Maybe boring will be the convention again with the USC offense. Maybe boring is a good thing.
SB Nation Snippets
The Trojans finished with seven sacks when it was all said and done, with three of those coming from Morgan Breslin. It was the most sacks by a USC player in one game since Rey Maualuga finished with three in the 2008 Rose Bowl. And many more times, Zach Maynard was flushed out of the pocket and forced into some really bad throws, including two interceptions (one by Jawanza Starling and one by T.J. McDonald). Maynard finished just 18-of-33 for 173 yards, along with those two picks. Cal's running game wasn't much better, either, as it managed just 77 rushing yards on 36 attempts (2.1 yards per carry). Thanks to constant pressure from the front four, Maynard and Cal's tailbacks weren't able to generate much offensively all afternoon long. But it just wasn't the play of the line, as the defense as a whole was responsible for holding Cal to just 250 total yards of offense. And for the second straight year, the Golden Bears could only muster nine points on offense.
The USC defense went back to the fundamentals on Saturday, and the defensive line whipped a depleted Cal offensive line. The Bears gave up seven sacks and really could never get anything going on the ground for more than just a few stretches, and the Trojans held Cal to 3-14 on third down.