LOS ANGELES — No. 7 Southern California put on another dominant display of bone-jarring defense. Trojans coach Pete Carroll loved it, even if the offense didn’t measure up and the team’s penalty problems continued.
Mark Sanchez threw two touchdown passes, and USC battered No. 21 California’s high-powered offense in a 17-3 victory Saturday night, keeping the Trojans’ national championship hopes alive.
“The defense just played crazy lights-out again,” Carroll said. “The game was more in control than it looked because the score was so close. The guys just keep playing, quarters after quarters after quarters. They just don’t give up anything.”
The win was the sixth straight for the Trojans (8-1, 6-1 Pac-10), who have outscored the opposition 231-23 since losing 27-21 as 25-point favorites at Oregon State. The Trojans came in averaging 40.25 points and the Bears were averaging 36.4, with a single-game low of 24.
USC is 25-0 in November games since Carroll became coach in 2001, and has won five straight over the Bears. The Trojans have also won 43 of their last 44 games at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where a crowd of 88,523 watched their latest triumph.
“November’s here, we’re in the midst of it all,” Carroll said. “We’re fired up the way we’re playing.”
USC has allowed an NCAA-low 6.7 points per game, giving up just seven touchdowns this season — four by Oregon State and three by its other eight opponents combined. The Trojans have allowed only 13 points in the second half.
“We punish offenses when they come into the Coliseum,” linebacker Brian Cushing said. “We hurt ourselves with penalties, we were too aggressive. We’ll take a look at the film on Monday and we will correct that problem. If we don’t, it will come back to hurt us.”
The Trojans were penalized 10 times for 105 yards. That’s been a problem all season — they’ve been penalized 77 times for 708 yards compared to 56 penalties for 422 yards by their opponents.
“I love the way we’re playing and we’re not going to change that,” Carroll said. “It’s not worth it. (But) we’re going to try and keep working on (the penalties).”
Oregon State topped UCLA 34-6 earlier Saturday, leaving the Beavers (6-3, 5-1) in position to play in their first Rose Bowl game in 44 years if they beat Cal, Arizona and Oregon to finish the regular season. USC has won or shared the conference title and played in a BCS bowl in each of the past six years.
Despite a 56-0 victory over Washington last weekend, the Trojans fell from fifth to seventh in the BCS standings because the Pac-10 isn’t as strong as it’s been in recent seasons. The Trojans still need help to play for the national title, but they’re taking care of their business.
USC probably won’t drop again Sunday, but it couldn’t pull away from Cal.
“They have speed and talent, and we knew they could break a big play any time,” USC safety Taylor Mays said. “But our defense takes pride in our play, and we played to our assignments.”
Sanchez completed 18 of 29 passes without being intercepted. Cal’s 17 interceptions were tied with North Carolina for the NCAA lead entering the weekend. C.J. Gable rushed for 79 yards on 10 carries and Stafon Johnson added 60 yards on 14 attempts for the Trojans, who rolled up 411 yards of total offense to Cal’s 165.
Nate Longshore made his third start of the season at quarterback for the Bears (6-3, 4-2), but was pulled at halftime after completing 11 of 15 passes for 79 yards. He was sacked only once despite being under constant pressure.
Kevin Riley completed just 4 of 16 passes for 59 yards with one interception and was sacked three times in the second half. Riley sustained a mild concussion in Cal’s 26-16 victory over Oregon last weekend, but returned to practice Wednesday.
“I didn’t think Nate was playing poorly,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “The pass rush was pretty heated, and we thought Riley could make a few more plays with his legs.”
David Buehler kicked a 27-yard field goal to give USC an early 3-0 lead.
Giorgio Tavecchio’s 35-yard field goal midway through the second quarter tied it for Cal.
USC responded by going 70 yards on six plays, scoring on Patrick Turner’s diving catch of a 19-yard pass from Sanchez to give the Trojans a 10-3 lead, and that’s how it stood at halftime. Replays appeared to show the pass to Turner touching the ground, but it was not overturned by video review.
Sanchez threw a 6-yard scoring pass to Ronald Johnson with 2:59 left in the fourth quarter, capping a 73-yard, 13-play drive.
“Our job is to score points and we only scored three, so we failed,” Riley said. “We had our chances. They have athletes making plays everywhere. We had guys open, but they closed fast, and you don’t get too many opportunities.”
The Bears moved into USC territory three times in the third quarter, but came up empty. A 27-yard touchdown pass from Riley to Shane Vereen on their first possession of the second half was called back because of an illegal receiver downfield.
“Everyone understands what a special group they have on defense,” Tedford said. “You can’t beat yourself in situations, have penalties, get a touchdown called back, especially when you play a defense like that.”