For the second straight week, Cal outplayed a ranked opponent in the third quarter on the road to get back into the game. But for the second straight week, the Golden Bears were unable to make it pay off in a victory, losing to USC 27-9 on Saturday.
The Golden Bears were able to move the ball, but managed just nine points on five trips into the red zone, and none of those red-zone possessions turned into a touchdown.
The Golden Bears will have to make better use of their scoring chances to end their two-game losing streak in this weekend’s home game against Arizona State, which beat Utah 37-7 on Saturday.
Cal is capable of beating the Sun Devils, but not if it wastes opportunities as it did against the Trojans.
The critical play against USC came with a little more than five minutes left in the third quarter. Cal had scored field goals on its first two possessions of the third quarter to close the deficit to 17-9 and was facing a second-and-10 from the USC 14-yard line on its fifth advancement inside the USC 20.
Quarterback Zach Maynard scrambled to his left, but did not see wide receiver Bryce Treggs directly in front of him completely alone in the left side of the end zone. Instead Maynard tried to squeeze a short pass to C.J. Anderson along the left sideline and it was intercepted by T.J. McDonald.
USC turned that possession into a field goal, and the Bears never recovered.
Maynard was not as effective as he had been in the 35-28 loss to Ohio State the previous week, completing just 18-of-33 passes for 178 yards with two interceptions against the Trojans.
Again, he did not have sufficient pass protection, getting sacked seven times after being sacked six times by Ohio State.
Maynard also had no support from the running game, and Cal coaches may come in for some second-guessing with their use of tailback Brendan Bigelow. After rushing for 160 yards against Ohio State, when he had touchdown runs of 81 and 49 yards, Bigelow did not have a single carry in the first half against USC. He ran the ball four times in the second half for 31 yards, an average of 7.8 yards per carry, and was instrumental in giving the Bears those third-quarter opportunities.
Starting tailback Isi Sofele had just 16 yards rushing on eight carries, so it will be interesting to see how Cal utilizes Bigelow against Arizona State.