It’s not often that USC and UCLA each play in the Bay Area on the same day. Each did just that but with mixed results.
Playing without star running back Stafon Johnson – severely injured last week when 270 pounds fell on his neck/throat during a weight lifting session at Heritage Hall – the No. 7th-ranked Trojans rallied behind tailback Joe McKnight, and the play of true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, smashing No. 24 California, 30-3, in a Pacific 10 Conference battle at sold-out Memorial Stadium.
The Bruins weren’t as fortunate, falling to Stanford, 24-16, with bruising running back Toby Gerhart gaining 134 yards on 29 carries, and scoring three touchdowns.
USC pulled rank on the Golden Bears, and sank vaunted running back Jahvid Best, who was being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
His stock may have taken a hit after Best managed 47 yards on 14 carries. His longest run was 13 yards, and came in the fourth quarter.
McKnight was easily the best back last Saturday, gaining a game-high 119 yards on 20 rushes, including a four-yard touchdown scamper with just over five minutes left that gave the Trojans a 27-point lead.
Barkley has played in four of the five USC games, and hit 20 of 35 passes for 283 yards, with one interception.
“Stafon was on everybody’s mind tonight,’’ said McKnight, whose 38-yard touchdown run with 9:50 left in the opening quarter came after Cal quarterback Kevin Riley was intercepted by safety Taylor Mays in the back of the end zone. California had the ball at the USC five-yard line.
Can one play that early change the complexion of a game? It can. Coming off a 42-3 thumping at Oregon, Riley had to have a strong outing against the Trojans.
High and low with his throws, Riley completed 15 of 40 attempts for 199 yards, and was sacked three times.
The Trojans (4-1 and 2-1 in conference) took a 10-0 lead into the second quarter when Jordan Congdon added a 28-yard field goal with 4:43 left in the first quarter.
Wide receiver Damian Williams, who caught eight passes for 101 yards, made it 17-0 early in the second quarter when he returned a punt 66 yards.
For good measure, Congdon added a 25-yard field goal in the second quarter and a 23-yard kick in the third quarter.
The Bruins (3-1 and 0-1 in conference) are improved from a season ago when they finished 4-8 under first-year Head Coach Rick Neuheisel.
UCLA reserve quarterback Kevin Craft completed 22 of 34 passes for 204 yards, but was outplayed by Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who hit 14 of 20 for 198 yards.
The Cardinal (4-1 and 3-0 in conference) moved in front 7-3 on Gerhart’s five-yard run with 3:11 showing in the initial quarter, and his 10-yard spurt about nine minutes later made it 14-3.
Gerhart’s one-yard slunge in the final quarter gave the Cardinal a 21-6 advantage. Some have compared Gerhart’s running style to Hall of Famer John Riggins, and that seems about right.
At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, it’s a man-sized job just slowing Gerhart down. If you can do it on first take, that’s something to write home about, because it usually requires two, three, four and sometimes five defenders to halt this human tank. Just ask UCLA.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.