Instant analysis/reaction: Offense strikes late but strikes just enough as Cal bests USC

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Key takeaway

Cal’s defense did it.

Time and again, Cal’s defense has played masterfully, but Cal’s faltering offense couldn’t salvage enough rhythm to bag a win. But, finally, with the abandonment of the two-quarterback system, Cal’s offense got the job done for its defense. The result — a 15-14 win over USC — snapped a 14-game series win streak previously held by the Trojans.

Cal started its matchup against USC without its entire crop of starting wide receivers from 2018 — Jordan Duncan, Kanawai Noa and Vic Wharton III. Duncan and Noa had been ruled out injured, while Wharton eventually saw the field and scored his first touchdown of the season.

The Cal offense had been struggling on all cylinders in the past few weeks, scoring only one touchdown in two games. At the end of the first half at USC, Cal’s offensive production only seemed to worsen. But in the third quarter, quarterback Chase Garbers finally got the ball rolling.

The Garbers-led offense put up a stat line of 210 total offensive yards — not great, but impressive when considering that Cal did not amass a single first down in the second quarter. After several instances of backup quarterback Brandon McIlwain royally spoiling his opportunities, he did not see the field against the Trojans, and Garbers was forced to weather the storm on his own. The team finished with 117 rushing yards and 93 receiving yards.

Cal’s MVP

First things first — shoutout to defensive lineman Luc Bequette, who had two sacks and a forced fumble against the Trojans. With that remarkable performance, we were forced to name co-MVPs.

A product of St. John Bosco high school and a Los Angeles native, cornerback Traveon Beck had a lot riding on this game. And in front of his hometown, in the City of Angels, Beck put up a seamless execution of hitting his angles. His best angle of the night: an interception off of USC’s J.T. Daniels with less than 10 minutes to play in the third quarter.

Beck totaled four tackles and had a few huge, key stops for the Bears, including on a fake play by USC early in the game on fourth down.

Beck excelled as the nickel in Cal’s defense, exemplifying not only quick and shifty play, but smart play. Beck was far from the only player on the field with Southern California roots, but Beck made the most of his time in the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Eye-opening stat

The third quarter. That was it. Cal completely shifted the tone of the game and took the pep out of the Trojans’ step, ending their streak of 14 consecutive series wins.

Cal went from a dismal place, showing no semblance of an offense and getting beat on a few key plays on defense, to taking a 1-point lead over USC. Not only did the Bears put together offensive rhythm, but the defense held the Trojans to a total of just 14 offensive yards.

Looking ahead

The Bears now find themselves with a 6-4, 3-4 record, and it is going to be tough for Cal to topple either, or both, of its remaining opponents — Stanford and Colorado. Cal’s defense has single-handedly kept the team afloat this season and is the driving reason why this team will be playing in the postseason.

Christie Aguilar covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @caguilarsports.