USC Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Trojans' Win over Cal
That collective sigh of relief heard emanating from the Coliseum today was the welcome back to the win column for Lane Kiffin and his USC Trojans.
While it was less than scintillating, at this point, a win is a win, and although the outcome was in doubt in the fourth quarter, there were plenty of good things for the Trojans to build upon as they move forward.
At the same time, there is also just as much for USC to work on. This slideshow will focus on both the good and the bad as the Trojans head into a much-needed bye week.
Here are 10 things we learned from the Trojans' win over a game Cal Bears.
10. Welcome Back Andre Heidari!
Place kicker Andre Heidari was a surprise starter for the Trojans today, and boy, wasn't it nice to see him back?
Heidari, who had knee surgery only three weeks ago, kicked two field goals, both from 40-plus yards out, and his presence made Lane Kiffin's fourth-down decisions abundantly easier than last week when he felt forced to abandon three-point opportunities against Stanford.
Having Heidari available going forward will be huge for the Trojans, and although those six points he provided today were not the difference between a win or a loss, just having No. 48 back is a strategic weapon that will come in handy very soon.
9. Also, Welcome Back Khaled Holmes...Get Well Soon!
Another very welcome return of an injured player was realized when center Khaled Holmes made the start for USC today.
Anchoring a very effective offensive line against Cal, Holmes' presence today was obvious to anyone who watched the improvement of the O-line from last week's debacle against Stanford.
That is the good news.
The bad news is that Holmes limped off in the fourth quarter after re-injuring that same gimpy ankle.
Holmes' value to this offense cannot be overstated, and thankfully, he will have the bye week to get that ankle right.
8. And Finally, Welcome Back Matt Barkley...Sort of
After one of the worst games of his career against Stanford, USC quarterback Matt Barkley bounced back against the Bears...in a manner of speaking.
Barkley had an up-and-down game against Cal, throwing for two touchdowns but offering up just as many interceptions.
To be fair, this was a game where the Trojans successfully focused on the run, but for the second week in a row, Barkley threw for less than 200 yards and had a lot of balls tipped at the line of scrimmage.
While this was not one of his best efforts, it was a game that Barkley will use to hone his craft during the bye week, and it will surprise no one if he returns to his dominating form when the Trojans next take the field.
7. Still Too Many Turnovers and Penalties for the Trojans
While the Trojans did a lot of good things against Cal, two areas where they really need to improve are turnovers and penalties.
Losing the turnover battle against Cal 3-2, the Trojans will need to work on their ball protection after Barkley's two interceptions and a fumble by running back Curtis McNeal.
Meanwhile, USC committed eight penalties for 65 yards, and although these numbers aren't horrible, some of the penalties came at inopportune times.
6. The Trojans' Secondary Played Very Well Today
Much maligned through the first three games, USC's defensive backfield turned in a very nice performance against the Bears today.
Holding a talented wide receiver group that included Keenan Allen and freshman Bryce Treggs to minimal yards, the Trojans limited the Bears' passing game to less than 200 yards and just for good measure, safeties T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling both had timely interceptions.
This unit desperately needed a good game, and today, they delivered one.
5. The Defensive Line Had a Monster Game
Funny how things work out.
Perceived to be a Trojans "weak link," USC's defensive line has been pretty damn good in 2012, and in this game, they were simply dominant.
After holding Cal's rushing attack to a paltry 77 yards, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron's boys have been solid in that portion of their game all year long.
But as good as they were against the rush, they were special in delivering pressure to Cal quarterback Zach Maynard throughout this game.
That pressure included seven sacks, and my goodness, can anyone block Trojans defensive end Morgan Breslin?
Breslin has been the surprise of the year for USC, and in this game, he added another three sacks to his already impressive resume for 2012.
4. It Was Nice to See Both Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal Have Big Games
After going for almost 300 yards on the ground against Cal, USC's beleaguered rushing game might just be ready to make some noise for the rest of the season.
Specifically, Silas Redd and his 158 yards on 21 carries, along with Curtis McNeal's 115 yards on only 10 carries both portend of very good things for the Trojans if they can carry that production on to the rest of the season.
Unfortunately, McNeal put the ball on the ground once which was the likely reason he only had those 10 carries, but overall, this was a huge game for USC's two-headed tailback monster.
3. The Offensive Line Made Amends for the Stanford Game
Last week, the finger was pointed directly at the offensive line for the loss to Stanford, and although it was an overall dismal team effort in that game, much of the blame was shouldered by the "Big Uglies."
What a difference a week makes.
With the return of center Khaled Holmes (for most of the game) and Abe Markowitz replacing guard Marcus Martin, the Trojans O-line returned to the kind of play that was expected of them entering this season.
Now, they need to find consistency for the rest of the year.
2. Though This Was a Nice Win, It Was NOT a Statement Game
I guess after last week's monstrosity against Stanford, any win is a good win.
If so, this qualifies.
Still, it was not the dominating performance that many expected the Trojans to deliver, and although USC will take this win, it did not come easy.
With the game still in doubt late into the second half, USC struggled against a Cal team that may or may not be very good this year.
What is certain is that if Trojans fans were looking for that "statement game" to announce that their team is back, they were disappointed in this game.
1. The Trojans Still Have a Long Way to Go to Get to Where They Want to Be
As stated before, this was a nice win, but it also served to illustrate that the Trojans still have a long way to go improvement-wise.
Surprisingly, it is the Trojans offense that appears to need the most work after an uneven performance against the Bears that saw the passing game in need of further tweaking.
Fortunately, USC will have an opportune bye weak to get healthy and fine tune those areas of concern. Trojan fans should expect an improved product when they return against Utah a week and a half from today.
If so, perhaps, Trojans fans will be treated to the team everyone expected when the year started.
Wouldn't that make for a fun rest of the 2012 college football season?