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SPORTS EXTRA / COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Trojans Get Mad, Finally Get Even

Pacific 10: Anger over past failures fuels victory that makes them 5-5, the first time they've been at .500 since September.

November 11, 2001|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERKELEY — If the USC players were looking for a new attitude, a fire to go with their new winning ways, they might have found it in a dank locker room, at halftime on an otherwise dreary, rainy afternoon.

Ahead by three touchdowns against an outmanned opponent, the Trojans made themselves remember past games when they had struggled on offense. They thought about times they had let the lead slip away.

"We kind of took it personally," receiver Kareem Kelly said. "We all decided the second half was going to be a big half for us."

That meant throwing a bomb on the first snap of the third quarter. It meant trick plays and big plays. And it all added up to a 55-14 drubbing of winless California at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

USC was not the first visitor to win big at Cal this fall, but the effort spoke to a team that is trying to build momentum in what, just weeks ago, seemed destined to be a losing season.

So it was a big day for the Trojans in more ways than merely the margin of victory.

"We needed to score points to get some confidence," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "We just got that attitude and shoved the ball down their throats."

The Trojans won their third consecutive game and the fourth of their last five, climbing back to 5-5 after a 1-4 start. They have now reached the annual UCLA rivalry with a shot at a winning record and a bowl berth.

"Just a great win for us before the big game," fullback Charlie Landrigan said.

The Golden Bears were left to ponder a less inspiring set of circumstances. They are 0-9 and have lost 12 in row since their victory at the Coliseum last fall. This being their final home game, they have gone winless in Memorial Stadium for only the second time in school history.

They also set a school record for points surrendered in a season--with two games remaining on the schedule. Linebacker Scott Fujita said, "One of our downfalls is, we can't battle back from adversity."

Six times this season, Cal had surrendered 21 or more points in a quarter. Make that seven times.

As the rain began to fall in the second quarter, the score tied, 7-7, USC started a deluge of its own. First, Kelly caught a screen pass and cut inside his blockers for a five-yard touchdown. Then safety Troy Polamalu intercepted a Kyle Boller pass across the middle, returning it 58 yards to the end zone. Then freshman Chris Howard took a pitch and ran 15 yards for another touchdown.

With the score 28-7 at halftime, Cal seemed done. The crowd of 33,506 certainly was, most of them heading for the exits under umbrellas. But USC had just started.

The offense has often faltered this season, ranking last overall in the Pacific 10 Conference. The third quarter has been of particular concern, the Trojans having let leads evaporate against the likes of Arizona and Notre Dame.

So USC started the second half at Cal with a 52-yard bomb from Palmer to Kelly. And when the drive stalled, the Trojans ran a fake field goal. Mike MacGillivray, the holder, took the snap and flipped the ball to kicker David Davis, who ran three yards for a 35-7 lead.

"I didn't want to miss a chance to seize the momentum," Coach Pete Carroll said of the call. "To finish it off the way we did was real nice."

Overall, Palmer was efficient if unspectacular, completing about half of his passes for 230 yards and a touchdown.

His offense amassed 448 yards--well above the season average--by doing a little bit of everything, throwing short and deep, jump starting the ground game for 213 yards.

Just as encouraging, several unfamiliar faces stepped up.

Ever since starting tailback Sultan McCullough was sidelined by a strained abdominal muscle, the Trojans have subsisted on a diet of Sunny Byrd's inside running. About three yards at a time. On Saturday, they used the pitch play to get the freshman reserve, Howard, outside where he could show his speed.

The result: eight carries for 61 yards and two touchdowns.

At the same time, junior college transfer Devin Pitts and walk-on D. Hale played well at receiver. Even linebacker John Cousins--an occasional starter--got into the act by scooping up a fumble and running 89 yards for the final touchdown of the game.

Cal could not manage much of a response. Tailback Terrell Williams, coming off consecutive 100-yard games, was held to 63 yards in 14 carries. Boller ran a draw five yards for his team's first score but was otherwise hounded by the USC defense before being knocked out of the game on a late hit by a blitzing cornerback.

"He got hit in the jaw," Cal Coach Tom Holmoe said. "He would never take himself out of the game, so we pulled him out."

Holmoe, who earlier in the week announced he would resign at the end of the season, insisted that his players had not given up.

"People don't understand what we're going through," he said. "It's hard to overcome the constant emotions that [the players] are hammered with all season. They never quit, they just get down."

And USC was determined not to show sympathy. Not with a chance at a winning season. Not with rival UCLA coming to the Coliseum next Saturday.

Sitting around the locker room at halftime, thinking a few bad thoughts, they had promised themselves not to let up.

"This could have been an easy game to slap around and play at their level," Landrigan said. "But we didn't. We started fast and finished them off. That's a huge confidence booster for us."

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