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USC Begins Getting Take Signs

Turnovers make things a lot easier again as USC takes advantage of Cal's flustered quarterback.

November 13, 2005|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY — At every practice, during drills and scrimmages, USC coaches count the number of times their defensive players try to strip the ball

Takeaways have been a priority for the Trojans since Coach Pete Carroll arrived four years ago, and, last fall they led the nation in turnover margin. But this season, their efforts have not always produced results.

"There were games where we had 90 strip attempts and didn't get the ball," linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr. said. "We knew it had to come."

Saturday afternoon, the turnovers came in bunches, a big part of top-ranked USC's 35-10 victory over California at Memorial Stadium.

Two fumble recoveries. Four interceptions.

"It killed us," Cal fullback Chris Manderino said. "They have such an explosive offense, you just can't do that."

It was actually the second week in a row that USC excelled at takeaways. After a string of games in which the Trojans averaged fewer than two turnovers, they had two fumble recoveries and three interceptions against Stanford.

Apparently, those numbers whetted Carroll's appetite.

"That's what he talked about all week," defensive lineman Travis Tofi said.

Cal represented a chance to keep the momentum going. These are not the same Golden Bears that gave USC a hard time in recent years -- they have a new quarterback in Joe Ayoob and newfound trouble hanging onto the ball.

On the game's opening possession, a Cal receiver ran the wrong route and Ayoob's pass sailed into the arms of USC safety Darnell Bing. In the second quarter, another Ayoob pass was tipped at the line and intercepted by linebacker Rey Maualuga.

The defense could sense a big day.

"Once you get one or two [turnovers], quarterbacks start getting down," Bing said. "Then they try to force it."

Watching from the sideline, former USC safety Ronnie Lott -- who played for Carroll in the NFL -- was not surprised.

"Of all the coaches I played for, there was none better at talking about stripping and getting the ball," he said. "Pete teaches you about the moment ... the chance to be great."

It also helps that the defense, with so many injuries and new starters, is growing comfortable as the reserves get a few games under their belts.

At the end of the half, linebacker Collin Ashton intercepted a desperation pass. In the third quarter, Tofi hit tailback Justin Forsett hard enough to jar the ball loose, linebacker Keith Rivers scooping up the fumble.

"You have to give USC a lot of credit," Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said. "They are very difficult to move the ball on and they have a lot of great schemes."

Even when Cal drove deep into USC territory at the start of the fourth quarter, the defense recovered with a big play.

Safety Ryan Ting, in man coverage against the tight end, saw his line put a heavy rush on Ayoob. That allowed him to jump on the corner pattern, stepping in front of the receiver for an interception in the end zone.

"You could definitely tell the quarterback was flustered," Ting said. "You get the confidence to take a chance."

There was time for one more turnover, lineman Jeff Schweiger tackling backup quarterback Steve Levy, fellow lineman Kyle Moore making the recovery.

"Isn't that sweet?" Carroll asked, figuring that his defense was overdue to make some noise.

"It always just comes in bunches, it's always been like that," he said. "You might get quiet for a couple weeks, but if you stay after it ... it comes back around."

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