The week leading up to the Cal game was an unexpectedly rocky one for the Trojans. The hangover from the tough loss to Stanford, press conference issues and the uncertain injury status of some key players made things a little unsteady in what suddenly was a very important game.
The Trojans needed a win against Cal. They needed to regain their momentum as they headed into a bye week. A loss, or even a close win without playing well, would have taken things down a different path.
Prior to the season, one of the discussion points about the Trojans was about how they would fare once they faced some adversity. One of the common answers was that the veteran leaders of the team would step up to steady the ship if that were to happen. The Stanford loss certainly gave an opportunity to test that theory, and the Cal game provided an answer in resounding fashion.
There might not have been a more important player for the Trojans against Cal than Khaled Holmes. His absence against Stanford was huge for the USC offense, and it was feared that he could have been out for several weeks with his injured ankle. With the stakes so high against Cal, Holmes made sure he was out on the field, and it’s no coincidence that he helped lead the best ground attack of the year for the Trojans.
There was a point in the game, however, when Cal was still in it and the Bears were threatening. It was in the third quarter, with the score at 17-9 in favor of the Trojans. Curtis McNeal had just fumbled the ball near midfield and Cal had driven down into the USC red zone. Cal quarterback Zach Maynard scrambled and made a throw but T.J. McDonald swooped in front of the receiver to make the interception at the Trojans seven-yard line. It was the clutch play of the day, and one that swung the fortunes of the game as the USC took the ball and kicked a field goal to help increase its lead.
There will be other moments this season when the team gets tested, and we don’t know which players will lead the way in those times but in this game it was Holmes and McDonald -- two team captains -- who played key roles in coming away with the win.