Back home for just the second time this season and facing a supposedly beatable USC, the Bears put on a mistake-prone performance on national television in a 30-9 loss Thursday night in front of 44,043 at AT&T Park.
Quarterback Zach Maynard, who regressed last week against Oregon after a solid start, had a forgettable first half with two interceptions, a lost fumble and a couple of botched shotgun snaps. One of his interceptions came at the end of a promising drive to end the first half that would have given the Bears hope heading into the intermission.
Instead, Cal went to the locker room trailing 20-0 at halftime. The Bears are 0-3 in conference play (3-3 overall) for the first time in Jeff Tedford’s 10 years as coach, and they have lost eight in a row to USC.
Maynard had plenty of company in the error category. Other Cal mistakes included wide receiver Keenan Allen losing a fumble on the Bears’ fourth offensive snap and the Trojans (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) scoring a touchdown after the home team failed to execute a fake punt attempt from its own 32-yard line in the second quarter.
Cal’s defense, which was expected to have its hands full against USC’s passing attack, played at a high level but kept getting put in bad situations in the first half by an ineffective offense.
The Bears’ defense did a good job applying pressure to USC quarterback Matt Barkley
and covering USC’s receivers down field. Barkley threw three incompletions on the Trojans’ second possession, and they couldn’t do much later in the quarter after Maynard was sacked and fumbled, moving just eight yards and settling for a 39-yard field goal by Andre Heidari.
The Trojans extended their lead to 10-0 when receiver Marqise Lee beat Cal freshman cornerback Stefan McClure down the right sideline and Barkley hit him in stride for a touchdown. McClure was making his first career start in place of Marc Anthony, who missed the game with a shoulder injury.
McClure, who was beat a handful of times during last week’s loss at Oregon, comported himself well against USC’s explosive receivers. He helped limit All-American candidate Robert Woods to five catches for 36 yards. Woods entered the game tied for the national lead with 11 receptions per game and was second with 149.4 receiving yards per contest.
The possession following Lee’s touchdown catch symbolized Cal’s problems. Wide receiver Michael Calvin dropped Maynard’s handoff on an end around for a 13-yard loss. Under pressure on the next play, Maynard threw an ill-advised pass right into the chest of USC linebacker Chris Galippo. Cal’s defense muscled up and held the Trojans to a 29-yard field goal by Heidari, put the Trojans were ahead 13-0.
Galippo dropped a sure interception that had a good chance of being returned for a touchdown on Cal’s next possession. The Bears ended that drive by attempting the fake punt, but punter Bryan Anger was brought down two yards short of the first down.
Maynard completed two passes to Marvin Jones and one to Allen to move the Bears from their own 30 to the USC 9 as the clock was winding down in the first half. But with 49 seconds left before intermission, Maynard tried to force a pass into triple-coverage for Jones in the back of the end zone, and it picked off by Trojans linebacker Dion Bailey.
The Bears continued moving the ball in the second half. But more mistakes hurt them. Jones inexplicably called for a fair catch at Cal’s own 4-yard line, giving the Bears undesirable field position.
When the Bears finally scored their only touchdown of the game — a 3-yard run by Maynard — they were called for a personal foul and were forced to kick off from their 15-yard line.
Allen easily won the battle of All-America wide receiver candidates with Woods. Allen finished with 13 catches for 160 yards.
Cal is off to an 0-3 start in conference play (3-3 overall) for the first time in Jeff Tedford’s 10 years as coach.
Maynard has thrown for at least 200 yards in each of his first six games at Cal, and Allen has four straight 100-yard receiving games.
Former Cal All-America quarterback Craig Morton was elected to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl board of directors. The game is played on New Year’s Eve at AT&T Park.