After Dominant Start, Cal Self-Destructs

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LOS ANGELES-Shoot them like a horse, right?

Not on Saturday.

"We shot ourself," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said after a 30-28 loss to USC. "In the second half, we gave the ball away twice, had some key penalties and just didn't execute very well."

The Cal football team couldn't seem to execute at all in the second half of the loss.

After building a 21-3 lead in the beginning of the second quarter, the Bears' final five possessions resulted in three punts, an interception, and a late touchdown. Cal (4-3, 1-2 in the Pac-10) surrendered 27 consecutive points and the game.

"We need to learn to deal with adversity," Cal quarterback Kyle Boller said.

In what seems to have become a trend, the Bears gave up another big lead, coming out of halftime with some sort of unexplainable funk.

"I wish I had an answer for that," Tedford said of the second half turnaround. "We had big leads and let them slip away. They dominated us in the second half."

Tedford's players were just as clueless concerning the meltdown.

"It happens every game," cornerback Jemeel Powell said. "We need to learn to come out with the same intensity. I don't know, we always let it go in favor of the other team. You shouldn't be beating a team 21-3 and lose the game."

Staff/Soummya Datta
Joe Igber got in to the endzone here off a pass from Kyle Boller, but the Cal offense fell silent soon after as USC compiled 27 unanswered points and the game.

With the second quarter underway, Cal seemed to be in the driver's seat.

Boller was already 9-for-12 with 103 yards and a touchdown and the Bears' defense had been stellar with two Powell interceptions. But then momentum seemed to switch jerseys on a single play.

With 9:04 left in the second, Boller dropped back to pass and was hit by USC linebacker Matt Grootegoed, causing a fumble Grootegoed recovered.

It was the first in a series of breaks that swung the direction of the game.

First, Carson Palmer escaped three Cal tacklers to complete a 32-yard pass to Mike Williams.

Three plays later, he found Kareem Kelly for a six-yard touchdown, which was ruled a catch in spite of all the visual evidence.

Following the turnover, Boller and the Cal offense ground to a halt, not scoring again until their final drive of the game.

Even after the Bears were given life by a Sultan McCullough fumble with 3:23 to go in the fourth quarter, they wasted the chance.

The Bears produced only 107 yards in that half.

Boller's first pass of the drive hit USC linebacker Matt Pollard's back on the drive, and flew into the waiting arms of Trojans defensive back Jason Leach, who started for injured star Troy Polamalu. From that point on, Cal was praying for an onside kick.

Boller suffered a contusion on his left hand on the first series of the game. While Boller refused to use the injury as an excuse, Tedford said he limited his playcalling because of it.

Cal's defense also fell apart in the second half. The Trojans pounded the Bears with a relentless rushing attack and a more efficient Palmer.

Running back McCullough ran for 176 yards on 39 carries and seemed to get stronger as the game wore on.

Staff/Soummya Datta

"We knew our offense was potent," McCullough said. "We just had to keep pushing and pushing. Somebody's got to carry the load and it was me."

Palmer also seemed to step it up in the second half, overcoming his two first-quarter interceptions to pass for 289 yards and three touchdowns, throwing 25-of-39.

"So far this season, we've been up but we keep letting teams come back on us," wide receiver Jonathan Makonnen said. "We think the game is won."

Considering the Bears' dominance in the opening quarter, most people were thinking the same thing.

USC gained negative yardage on two of its three drives leading up to Boller's fumble.

In the first quarter the Bears had an average starting field position at their own 30, while the Trojans were held back at their own 14.


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