The fact that many came into this year realistically expecting losses in Cal road contests against Ohio State and USC, the pair of losses left little room for comfort when considering how eminently-winnable both games ended up being. Combined with the fact that even with two potentially-likely losses heading into the two-week road trip with the fact that little to no one expected an opening-game loss to Nevada and a 1-3 record at this point in time and it's hard to feel good at all with the predicament the Bears find themselves now in.
The roller coaster ride in Saturday's contest started with the Trojans quickly driving to the Cal 3 on a long 62-yard run by Trojan tailback. But after a tackle-for-loss on a Matt Barkley to Marquise Lee pass on the next play, Cal cornerback Steve Williams prevented a quick Trojan lead by intercepting Barkley in the end zone.
"Matt Barkley stared at the receiver and I intercepted it," said Williams. "I don't even think the receiver knew the ball was coming."
It didn't take the Trojans long to atone for the mistake as they drove 71 yards in 6 plays for the 7-0 lead, with Silas Redd breaking off another long Trojan run for the 33-yard touchdown.
The Bears defense would be torched by the Trojan running attack much of the afternoon, with both McNeal (116 yards and Redd (159 yards) eclipsing the 100-yard mark en route to 296 total rushing yards on the day.
The Bears brought the score closer with a Vincenzo D'Amato field goal after the Bears' drive stalled at the USC 11, hitting from 24 and cutting the deficit to 7-3 after missing his fourth straight field goal earlier from 35. The 15-play drive was the second time the Bears drove deep into Trojan territory in the half, only coming away with three points to show for it.
After the Trojans aswered quickly with 6-play, 75-yard drive culminated on a Barkley to Lee 11-yard touchdown pass, USC built a 14-3 lead they'd carry into the half.
Much of what Bear fans witnessed from starting quarterback Zac Maynard -occasional solid play mixed with mistakes and miscues would only be magnified in the 2nd half of a game that left many wondering why Cal head coach Jeff Tedford is so reluctant to try any other options at quarterback for the Bears.
"He missed some high," said Tedford. "Every time that happened he was under duress. We'll learn from that. We have to give guys a chance to make plays. Guys were open.
"Up front they played more physical than us. Zach was under a lot of duress and we couldn't get our running game going. Up front they were better than us."
Even though the Bears struggled to drive the ball much of the 1st half, the 2nd half showed that they were more than capable of coming away with a win but failed execution when given the opportunity continued to dog them for the season.
Three straight times to open the 2nd half, the Bears drove into the red zone only to come away with two more D'Amato field goals (26 and 35 yards) and a Maynard interception by safety T.J. McDonald after driving to the USC 14.
"It was unfortunate how a couple of our plays panned out," said Maynard, in the understatement of the day. "We had good plays, but there's not as much field to work with down there. They were crashing our run game and we just didn't have some plays pan out."
The defense did their part in the 3rd quarter, holding the Trojans scoreless and clinging to a 17-9 lead heading into the 4th.
The game would soon start to slip away however, as the Trojans added to their lead with a 41-yard Andre Heidari field goal and a back-breaking 14-play touchdown drive, with Barkley completing his second touchdown pass of the day to Lee from three yards out to take a 27-9 lead that would hold up the rest of the day with 5:51 left in the game.
In the ensuing possession, the Bears drove for the sixth time of the day into scoring territory at the Trojan 26 but the drive stalled with Maynard taking his 7th sack of the day on 4th and long.
The Bears struggled behind a largely-ineffective offensive line, giving up seven sacks and only averaging 2.1 yards per rush compared to USC's hefty 7.4 average on the strength of a trio of big runs.
Not possessing a physical line that can methodically pound the ball down the field, the Bears need to mix in big plays in both the running and passing game, though both were noticably absent on the day.
Maynard managed just 173 yards on 18-for-33 passing and two interceptions while overthrowing his receivers time after time.
Running back Isi Sofele was completely shot down, gaining just 20 yards on eight carries for the day, though fellow running backs C.J. Anderson and Brendan Bigelow faired much better, with 35 yards on five carries for Anderson and 31 yards on four carries for Bigelow, begging the question why neither back, particularly Bigelow got more touches than the ineffective Sofele.
"My confidence is growing, for sure," said Bigelow. "I'm ready to do what I have to do to help this team win."
"I think that the game was won at the line of scrimmage," said USC head coach Lane Kiffin. "We limited these guys to 77 yards rushing. Our offense and defensive lines, if you look at plusses and minuses when it comes to sacks, we had seven and they had none. That is an explosive offense, and at the end of the day we won it up front. I'm extremely proud of our players."
The offense is explosive when functioning and giving their biggest threats a chance to succeed but if the ball is rarely in their hands, against strong teams like USC, what was witnessed Saturday in the Coliseum is more likely the rule rather than the exception.
"There were a lot of play calls we couldn't get to because the protection keys were off," said Cal receiver Keenan Allen. "We couldn't seem to get it clicking until late in the second half.
"We have to execute consistently. It's something we have to work on. We need to get the ball in the end zone and get points on the board. Against top teams like this, you can't win with field goals.
"We blew a couple things out there that could've been touchdown plays. No one player is to blame. We we'll go into the film room and try to improve."
The loss leaves the season in jeopardy for the 1-3 Bears heading into a pair of home games that looked much more winnable than they do at present, with 3-0 Arizona State and 19th-ranked 3-1 UCLA coming to Berkeley.
However, regardless of the increased degree of difficulty with the two upcoming games, not to mention a road contest against a rejuvinated though still developing WSU squad, there is no reason whatsoever why a team with the talent of Cal's 2012 squad to not rebound with a winning record before their early Big Game showdown with Stanford.
And beyond the middle part of their schedule, the ability to reach a bowl game and salvage the season comes into question, though Tedford still has faith that the Bears will turn it around.
"There's no doubt in my mind," said Tedford. "There is a lot of football to be played. I have a lot of confidence in our chemistry. We'll be back to work. We have a tough conference but we have a good football team. We've got to make enough plays to get over the hump."
Suffice to say that many Cal fans don't share Tedford's same absence of doubt.
Part of getting over that metaphorical hump will undoutedly need to involve more inclusion of the talented Bigelow as well as the growth of offensive line, not to mention looking to the other four quarterbacks on the Bears roster if Maynard continues to struggle at important moments.
What the Bears do next weekend in Berkeley against the Sun Devils will likely tell us all we need to know about where the season is heading.