BERKELEY — Ed Orgeron does not have fond memories of Memorial Stadium.
The last time he visited, 10 years ago, Orgeron was the defensive line coach for a third-ranked USC team that spotted California a 14-point halftime lead before losing to the Golden Bears in triple overtime.
It was a turning point for USC, which bounced back from the defeat and went on to win 34 consecutive games and two national titles.
However, the circumstances of the loss remain vivid.
"It was just devastating," Orgeron said. "It caught us by complete surprise as a staff that we weren't going to play well. That was the last thing I expected that day."
Orgeron, now USC's interim coach, hopes to avoid a repeat Saturday when the Trojans play struggling Cal, which has not defeated USC since.
USC is not ranked. But after winning at Oregon State for the first time since 2004 and improving to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-12 Conference, the Trojans went into this week very confident.
The Golden Bears are 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the Pac-12 under first-year Coach Sonny Dykes.
Could USC be too confident?
"You're always looking for signs," Orgeron said after practice Thursday, about an hour before sixth-ranked Stanford kicked off against second-ranked Oregon.
Stanford's 26-20 victory over the Ducks sets up a monster game for USC next week against the Cardinal, making the temptation to look past Cal even greater.
USC has reason to be cautious: The Trojans have struggled against spread offenses. USC gave up 612 yards in a 62-41 loss to Arizona State that marked the end of the Lane Kiffin era. In Orgeron's first game as interim coach, the Trojans gave up 508 yards in a 38-31 victory over Arizona.
USC defensive players said they were prepared for a Cal offense led by freshman quarterback Jared Goff.
"Nothing we can't handle," linebacker Hayes Pullard said of facing another spread attack.
USC still has injury issues — linebacker Morgan Breslin will have hip surgery, and defensive end Leonard Williams is questionable for Saturday's game because of a shoulder problem — but the Trojans are returning to full strength at receiver.
That is a welcome turn for quarterback Cody Kessler, who has passed for more than 200 yards in five consecutive games and appears to be gaining confidence.
Last week against Oregon State, Kessler connected with Marqise Lee for a 71-yard touchdown on the Trojans' first offensive play. He also rebounded from an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
"Offensive players were saying, 'Keep your head up,'" Kessler said. "Guys on the defense were running over to me saying, 'Hey, keep your head up, you're playing great. Keep it up and we'll get it right back.'"
A victory over Cal would improve USC's record to 4-1 under Orgeron, and keep alive his drive to become the full-time coach. It would also qualify the Trojans for an automatic bowl bid.
USC players have universally praised Orgeron for creating an atmosphere of fun in the program. Earlier this week, he treated players to burgers and shakes from In-N-Out Burger.
Lee said Orgeron also has given players more time off.
"One of the ways to pay coaches back is actually playing your all," Lee said. "I'm not saying we didn't do it before. It's just like, now, it's everybody."
Orgeron, who was hoisted upon players' shoulders after last week's 31-14 victory at Oregon State, is encouraged by the Trojans' recent play.
But the memory of a loss a decade ago will keep him vigilant during final preparations for Cal.
"Hopefully, we can stay focused," he said, adding, "We'll see Saturday."
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