November 9, 2008

Penalties can't help Cal past USC

Saturday at the Coliseum, USC defensive end Everson Griffen came off the edge to the backside of Cal quarterback Kevin Riley. Riley overshot his receiver, but well after the release, Griffen slammed into the Bears' quarterback.

After the flag for roughing the passer hit the field, a member of the Cal Bears walked up to Griffen and held out his hand in mock handshake.

Like the Trojans did on a regular basis Saturday, USC had just given Cal free yards and another chance. And like it's been on a regular basis, the miscues weren't enough to get the USC defense beat.

Another remarkable defensive performance helped the No. 7 Trojans fight past No. 21 Cal 17-3.

USC head coach Pete Carroll has spent lots of time this season worrying that penalties would eventually come back to haunt the Trojans. Saturday, it nearly did.

"We know that this is happening. We're working and doing stuff. We're on it, but it just continues to be a big factor," Carroll said. "But, it's not the factor that's going to lose us football games.

"It hasn't - but it could."

In the game, referees flagged the Trojans 10 times for 105 yards - only 60 yards fewer than the Cal offense was able to muster.

On Cal's only scoring drive, a personal foul on Brian Cushing for roughing the passer and pass interference on Kaluka Maiava nullified interceptions by Kevin Thomas and Taylor Mays, respectively.

"We were very timely with our interceptions," Carroll said. "It was right when you think something really good was going to happen."

The Bears ended up putting three points on the board after dodging two bullets - bullets that went promptly into the Trojans' feet.

Luckily for the Trojans, the flag were flying on both sides of the field. Cal penalties helped several Bear drives stall, with eight Bear penalties costing Cal 50 yards.

"Some (penalties) were sloppy," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said. "Others are are because guys are playing hard. When you get guys playing hard, sometime those things happen."

The Trojan defense didn't make things any easier, holding one of the nation's top offensive threats, Jahvid Best, to just 45 all-purpose yards. Entering the game, Best had been averaging 173.7 all-purpose yards - the sixth-best total in the nation.

Cornerback Josh Pinkard helped keep USC in the lead, with a pivotal interception in the end zone after safety Will Harris tipped a Riley pass up in the air.

"He made a good play," Riley said. "It was going to be a touchdown."

But because of Pinakrd's first interception since 2005, his sophomore season, it wasn't.

While the defense dominated, the Trojan offense didn't explode like it has so many times before. But, the unit didn't implode either.

The Trojan offense moved the ball down the field on its opening drive, going 56 yards on eight plays. The drive sputtered late, forcing the Trojans to settle for David Buehler's 27-yard field goal.

After Cal tied the score in the second quarter, the Trojan offense answered with six-play, 70-yard drive, culminating with Turner's diving touchdown catch in the end zone.

After those 10 points, the USC offense could not string together positive yardage, with Joe McKnight's fourth-quarter fumble stopping USC's best offensive drive since the second quarter.

USC quarterback Mark Sanchez said the Cal defense limited his aggressiveness, forcing him to play a more reigned-in game.

"They were stingy. They were a tough group," Sanchez said. "Like we knew coming into the game, they were going to drop back into their zones, and we had to play conservatively in the pass game.

"We just wanted to keep the ball out of their hands."

Heading into the game, Cal has intercepted a nation-best 17 passes. Saturday, the Bears got none.

Sanchez finished 18-of-29 for 238 yards and two touchdowns - including one late in the fourth quarter that effectively ended Cal's chances.

With the chance to put the game out of reach, the Trojan offense stepped back up.

"More than anything, we felt a real sense of urgency," Sanchez said. "We realize how well the defense has been playing, and we need to show them how appreciative we are.

Sanchez led the Trojans on a 13-play, 70-yard drive keyed by a critical Turner catch along the sideline on third-and-three. With the clock ticking under three minutes, Sanchez swung the ball wide to Ronald Johnson, and he dove into the end zone to secure the win.

But more than anything, Saturday, again, was about the defense.

All the extra yards and extra chances the 10 flags on the field caused couldn't account for one thing, defensive tackle Fili Moala said.

"Our defense has the mentality that is up to us to win the game," Moala said. "We have to make the stops. We have to take the ball away,"

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