Trojans receiver Robert Woods gets past Golden Bears safety D.J. Campbell… (Kirby Lee / US Presswire )
Quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods spent the first half of the season mostly having their way with opposing defenses.
So when USC's potent passing combination struggled against California, the Trojans required and received a strong performance from their oft-criticized defense and improved their record to 5-1.
"Robert and Matt played their poorest game of the year between the two of them," USC Coach Lane Kiffin said Friday.
Now, as USC moves into the toughest part of its schedule, Barkley and Woods must regain their form.
Did Cal provide a blueprint for Notre Dame, Stanford and others to foil them?
Woods had been averaging 11 receptions per game. Cal often double-teamed the sophomore and limited him to a season-low five catches and no touchdowns.
"There were a lot of snaps, especially in the first half, where he was getting a corner sitting inside of him and safety on top of him," Kiffin said. "There aren't many routes that work very well versus that."
Barkley, coming off a record-setting performance against Arizona, "missed some big throws" against Cal, Kiffin said, with a performance that was "up and down."
After the game, Woods said the duo's timing was off.
"They were just slight misses," he said. "It happens. We've got work to do."
USC resumes practice Sunday in preparation for its Oct. 22 game at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish (4-2) have won four games in a row since losing to South Florida and Michigan.
Notre Dame has an open date Saturday.
"They're playing great on defense," Kiffin said. "With a couple of ball bounces here or there in that Michigan game it's a top-10 team."
The Trojans are hoping that freshman receiver Marqise Lee and tailback Marc Tyler recover from shoulder injuries in time to play against Notre Dame.
Tyler gained 30 yards in 11 carries against Cal before he was hurt.
Freshman George Farmer said he was surprised to be in at tailback during USC's ill-fated first series. Farmer was stopped for a four-yard loss on a first-and-goal play from the six-yard line.
"Before the snap you get the jitters," he said. "But I got the rock and I tried to push into the end zone, and when I saw nothing but Cal jerseys I felt like everything was my fault."
Farmer gained four yards in four carries and also caught a pass. He fumbled late in the fourth quarter.
"In practice I'll be working on nothing but 'high and tight,' — keeping ball security," he said.
Kiffin was mostly pleased by Farmer's performance and praised his work on special teams.
"We just have to continue to expand his role and develop him," Kiffin said. "We just made the decision that it was too important to get some speed on our football field and not redshirt him. Because if he's as special as we think, he's probably not going to be here for five years anyway."
Offensive lineman Matt Kalil blocked an extra-point attempt by Cal. The 6-foot-7 Kalil has blocked two field-goal attempts and two extra-point attempts this season The Trojans were off Friday.