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No. 7 USC takes a big step forward in win

Trojans move beyond a difficult week in the wake of Stafon Johnson's injury, pounding No. 24 Golden Bears, 30-3, at Berkeley. Joe McKnight runs for 119 yards and two TDs.

October 04, 2009|Gary Klein

BERKELEY — It was written all over their faces, the toll and also the inspiration of an emotional week spelled out in white or gold letters on their eye-black.

Some of the patches read "Stafon." Others "SJ."

Most, however, just featured a number: 13.

With injured senior tailback Stafon Johnson on their minds, seventh-ranked USC left a wrenching week behind by dominating No. 24 California in a 30-3 victory Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.

Johnson watched the game from a Los Angeles hospital, where he is recovering from emergency throat surgery that was necessitated by a weightlifting accident on Monday.

USC players, to a man, said Johnson inspired them on a night when the Trojans reclaimed some of their swagger.

"It might have brought us closer together," receiver Damian Williams said of Johnson's situation. "It was difficult, but we managed to do it.

"The best way to make Staf feel better is for us to get out there and win every game."

On a cold and breezy night in Strawberry Canyon, USC won with two rushing touchdowns from tailback Joe McKnight, three field goals by Jordan Congdon and Williams' spectacular 66-yard punt return for a touchdown.

The defense also was stellar, shutting down Cal tailback Jahvid Best, making things tough on quarterback Kevin Riley and limiting the Golden Bears to a fourth-quarter field goal.

But underlying it all was Johnson.

"Stafon was on everybody's mind tonight," said McKnight, who rushed for 119 yards in 20 carries.

The victory improved USC's record to 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference. It also helped keep alive the Trojans' hopes for a drive to the Bowl Championship Series title game.

That didn't seem like a possibility two weeks ago after an upset loss at Washington, but the Trojans are showing signs of becoming a better-tuned machine.

"We're very solid right now," Coach Pete Carroll said.

Carroll gave much of the credit to freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, who was unfazed by the situation or the crowd of 71,799.

Barkley said he was no longer feeling the effects of the shoulder injury he suffered three weeks ago at Ohio State.

It showed in the longer passes he was allowed to throw and the confidence with which he completed several crucial third-down passes.

"We didn't get the ball in the end zone as much as we wanted to, but we put points on the board and that's all that matters," said Barkley, who completed 20 of 35 passes for 283 yards with an interception. "And if our [defense] is playing like that, we don't need a whole lot."

USC held the speedy Best to 47 yards in 13 carries. The junior ran several times after taking direct snaps but found no room to run against a defense that gave up only 86 yards rushing.

Riley was sacked three times and mostly struggled through a 15-for-40 game.

"We were zero-dimensional today because we couldn't run it and we couldn't throw it," Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said.

An eager crowd had packed the stadium hoping to see the Golden Bears reverse their fortunes after last week's embarrassing 42-3 loss at Oregon.

But USC safety Taylor Mays silenced the crowd by making the game's biggest momentum-turning play on the first drive.

Cal had blazed down the field for what looked like a certain scoring opportunity when Mays intercepted a Riley pass in the back of the end zone on third and goal from the Trojans' five-yard line.

It was the All-American's first interception since 2007.

"Finally, finally, finally," Mays said. "I'll take it."

USC wasted no time capitalizing, Barkley's 31-yard third-down strike to tight end Anthony McCoy keying a drive that culminated with McKnight's 38-yard touchdown run.

Congdon's 28-yard field goal extended the lead to 10-0 and Williams appeared to break the Golden Bears with his 66-yard punt return early in the second quarter.

Congdon added two more field goals, and when Riley threw incomplete on fourth and two with five minutes left in the third quarter, much of the crowd began filing out of the stadium.

USC now has a week off before resuming its schedule Oct. 17 at Notre Dame.

The Trojans are expected to get several players back from injuries, including defensive end Armond Armstead and wide receiver Ronald Johnson.

Stafon Johnson, though, will continue to inspire the Trojans.

"We're just going to keep pushing," Carroll said.


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