Many Cal fans watching on TV probably did not make it through the first half of this game. Heck, USC fans didn’t even show up for this game—a significant portion of Memorial Coliseum was empty for this late Thursday night of middling Pac-12 teams (not a good look for TV). For Trojan fans, the first half was the Sam Darnold Show. For Bear fans, it was the No Show (particularly on defense).
Let’s look at the outcomes of Cal’s first four drives: punt, punt, interception, punt. For USC: touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown. What does that mean? By three minutes into the second quarter, the Trojans had jumped on Cal by three TDs. Down 0–21, Cal was in a humongous hole from the get-go.
Cal’s QB Davis Webb looked rusty in the first half. Webb completed 11 of 20 passes for 133 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. Webb’s throws looked weak. USC’s fast offense forced Webb to throw a large number of short slants and screens, dink and dunks that were mostly to no avail. On a few occasions, the short passing game did set up the longer bombs from Webb, particularly to true freshman phenom WR Demetris Robertson (who finished the first half with 4 receptions for 65 yards, including a 32-yard deep catch).
The Golden Bears’ saving grace in the first half was RB Khalfani Muhammad. The diminutive back was a steady workhorse for the Bears, amassing 9 carries for 55 yards, including a 24-yard scamper. Muhammad bailed out the Bears a number of times to help keep the chains moving.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cal’s injuries certainly caught up to them. As head coach Sonny Dykes shared in his halftime interview with ESPN, Cal’s defense was just running out of bodies and barely hanging on. USC QB Sam Darnold completed 14 of 20 passes for 193 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs at this point. RB Ronald Jones III had 9 carries for 151 yards. WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers combined for 9 carries, 142 yards, and 2 TDs. Cal’s defense was slow to the ball, horrid in wrapping-up and tackling ball carriers, and just generally sloppy the entire first half.
First-half score: Cal 10, USC 28
The second half didn't treat Cal much better than the first half. Cal got going on offense at times, then turned the ball over other times. USC's offense was clicking well at times, but also turned the ball over. Cal's defense was pretty much just as atrocious as in the first half, allowing USC to gash them for big-time yardage on multiple occasions.
For Cal, Webb definitely got his passing numbers up in the second half. By the end of the game, Webb completed 34 of 54 passes for 333 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. These were pretty subpar Bear Raid numbers. Webb connected with many receivers (11 in total), but had only two passing TDs—one nice fade to freshman WR Melquise Stovall in the endzone and another with RB Tre Watson doing the work on a 22-yard scamper. Robertson and Stovall were his main targets (9 receptions for each player, combining for 159 receiving yards between them).
Cal's ground game was relegated to bench status in the second half as Webb had to air it out in hopes of getting quick points for Cal. Muhammad finished with 15 carries for 89 yards. Watson had 11 carries for just 33 yards.
Cal's defense just put its offense in a hole from the get go—a hole so deep that even a Herculean effort would've fell short. Unfortunately for Cal, its offense didn't even play close to that. With superstud WR Chad Hansen out and Webb not looking 100%, Cal's offense essentially sputtered through the game. Perhaps the most telling sign of Cal's ineffectiveness was that it converted 25% (3 of 12) of its 3rd downs, compared to USC's 60% (6 of 10) 3rd-down efficiency. Dykes was brave in going for four 4th downs, but his team only converted two of them.
The real stars of the game? USC QB Sam Darnold scorched Cal though the air, finishing with 18 completions on 25 throws, 231 yards passing, 5 TDs, and 1 INT. USC RB Ronald Jones III also had himself a great game with 18 carries for 223 yards and 1 TD, including a long 61-yard run.
Final score: Cal 24, USC 45