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Trojans Throwback: 2004 USC vs California

The 2004 clash between USC and California was a wild game that had potential BCS National Championship implications and featured a nearly perfect performance from Aaron Rodgers and a Goal line stand.

NCAA Football 2004 - Cal vs. USC Photo by Tim Tadder/Corbis via Getty Images

USC and California will meet for the 106th time ever. The two programs has had historic clashes through the years. Recently the Trojans had a 13 year winning streak over the Golden Bears, however that was snapped when Cal defeated USC at the L.A. Coliseum. This year USC comes into the game looking to avenge a loss to the Golden Bears. The last time that happened? 2004.

The 2004 meeting between USC and Cal was a highly anticipated match up in the Pac-10 and in the nation. USC was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 team, a ranking that they’ve held throughout the 2004 season, and was looking to capture the BCS national championship. California came into the game ranked No. 7 and was led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

This game was circled on the schedule by both the Trojans and the Golden Bears. The previous year Cal upset USC in triple overtime. That would end up being the lone loss of the season for the Trojans, which held them out of the BCS National Championship game. However, USC managed to win the AP national championship and split with LSU. The Trojans came in looking for redemption while California was looking to knock off USC again and which could propel them towards a potential BCS national championship berth. The game was so big that ESPN’s College Gameday made their first appearance in Los Angeles in front of the Coliseum.

NCAA Football 2004 - Cal vs. USC
Cal Quarterback Aaron Rodgers would have a record setting day completing 26 consecutive completions and a competition percentage of 85.3.
Photo by Tim Tadder/Corbis via Getty Images

USC struck first after stopping Cal’s first drive with a turnover on downs. Not long after that the Trojans got on the board when quarterback Matt Leinart hit LenDale White for a 5 yard touchdown score to cap off a 9 play drive. USC jumped to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, however the second quarter Cal’s offense got going as Aaron Rodgers continued his record setting day. Rodgers went on to complete 23 consecutive passes which tied an NCAA record. Cal got on the board with a field goal to make it 10-3, only for the Trojans to answer back with a field goal of their own to push the lead back to ten. Rodgers finally got the Bears into the end zone with a 20 yard touchdown throw to Geoff McArthur to bring the margin to 3. USC drove down the field to set up another Ryan Killeen field goal to end the half and put the Trojans up 16-10 at the half.

USC got the ball to begin the second half and marched down the field. During the drive Leinart hit Steve Smith for 31 yards and two plays later connected with Dwayne Jarrett for a 16 yard touchdown pass to put USC up 23-10. Cal refused to let the game get out of hand as Rodgers continued his perfect day. Marshawn Lynch gashed the Trojan defense for 13 and 14 yard rushes while Rodgers connected with Chase Lyman for 16 yards and a big gain to McArthur 20 to put the Bears down on the Trojans 1. Lynch capped off the drive with a touchdown rush up the middle to make the score 23-17. On the ensuing kickoff Reggie Bush broke off one of his signature kick returns to put the Trojans into plus territory. Unfortunately for the Trojans that drive ended after Leinart’s pass deflected off Jarrett’s hands and intercepted by Harrison Smith.

NCAA Football 2004 - Cal vs. USC
USC’s 2004 victory would begin a 13 year winning streak over Cal. The streak came to an end last season when the Bears defeated USC 15-14.
Photo by Tim Tadder/Corbis via Getty Images

The Trojans finally slowed down Rodgers during the fourth quarter. The junior quarterback was sacked was forced him to fumble. Mike Patterson recovered the fumble giving the Trojans the ball back. Both USC and Cal were unable to capitalize on opportunities given to them. With 4:30 left in the game, Rodgers orchestrated a drive to potentially win the game for Cal. Rodgers connected with McArthur once again for 17 yards to put the Bears down at the USC 9. From there the USC defense would have the biggest goal line stand in program history.

Rodgers threw an incomplete pass on first down then was sacked by Manuel Wright on second down for a 5 yard loss. On third down Rodgers threw another incomplete pass to set up a 4th and 14 from the Trojans 14 yard line. Rodgers threw a pass intended for Jonathan Makonnen, however Makonnen fell while running the route causing the pass to fall incomplete and sealing the Trojans win over Cal 23-17.

Leinart would end this game passing for 164 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Rodgers on the other hand would out perform the eventual heisman winner by setting school records. The junior threw for a school record of 26 consecutive completions and had a completion percentage of 85.3 which was also a Cal single game record. Rodgers threw for 267 yards and 1 touchdowns. Despite that Leinart came away victorious in the duel. Cal’s running back J.J. Arrington had a day against the Trojans defense on the ground, rushing for 122 yards on 21 carries.

USC would march forward towards the BCS National Championship game where they would blowout No. 2 Oklahoma 55-19 in route to their second consecutive national championship and finish 12-0. For Cal the loss would end up being their lone one of the season as the Bears finished 10-1 on the season and ended the regular season No. 4 in the BCS Polls. Unfortunately, California was snubbed from a Rose Bowl berth. No. 5 Texas passed over the Bears after Longhorns head coach lobbied for voters to give his team the at large berth over California. The Golden Bears went on to play in the Holiday bowl where they were defeated by Texas Tech.

The Trojans victory over Cal would start the 13 year winning streak, which came to an end last season.