A win is a win
The USC Trojans defeated the San Jose State Spartans 21-10 at the Coliseum in front of 45,568 as Sultan McCullough led the way with 167 yards and 3 touchdowns for victory number one of the Pete Carroll era. It was a solid performance for the Trojans that showcased the potential for the new offense and proved that it is not simply a passing system but a system that will use the pass to set up the run. We also got our first look at the speed of the defense and how quickly they can attack to the ball as Spartan RB Deonce Whitaker was held to only 25 yards on 15 carries after the first quarter as the defense consistently swarmed to the ball and took away any holes. It was not a dominating performance by any means but it was an excellent way to get a fresh start for a team that certainly needed one.
Notes from the sidelines
Antuan Simmons is officially back. If there were any questions about his ability to return to his physical style of play they were quickly answered with a wicked hit on a Spartan WR in the 3rd quarter…..Carson Palmer was extremely efficient as he completed 21 passes to 7 different receivers and he also executed a terrific pump fake on the trick play that resulted in the first touchdown for Sultan…..Kori Dickerson did exactly what he was supposed to do as he caught the ball down the middle of the field and showed great hands.
It was supposed to be the debut of the wide open attack, the passing system that had launched an assault on the NCAA record books but what we got in this game was a reminder that we have a pretty darn good running back right now who can do a lot of damage when given the opportunity. We have seen good performances from Sultan in the past but he is running with much more confidence right now and his sidestep move on the defensive back when he slowed up during his 2nd touchdown run was a sign of his tremendous growth as a runner. His teammates say he has freakish natural strength so he can take the pounding that comes with 25 carries a game but when he came off the field after his final score and accepted congratulations from teammates he buried his face in the chest of Charlie Landrigan, exhuasted from the effort he gave on the field. Sultan has made it clear he wants to be the next Heisman winner for the Trojans and consistent performances like the one he gave on Saturday would certainly earn him a mention for that kind of honor.
Frank Strong made a smooth transition to linebacker and led the team in tackles with 7 and also added two pass deflections in his first game at the new spot. His speed and vocal leadership are key ingredients that have raised the level of play for the defense.
Charlie Landrigan came up big on the receiving end with 4 catches for 45 yards (both career highs) including a nice 19 yard gain on a throwback pass. His ability to block, run and catch will give him a major role in this offense.
Carson Palmer said Grant Mattos would be the surprise player of the team and the JC transfer wasted no time in showing that he could be the possession receiver we need.
It was an impressive group of recruits at the game including RB Hershel Dennis (LB Poly), P Tom Malone (Temescal Canyon), WR Brandon Browner (Sylmar), LB Alex Ligon (North Torrance), LB Danny Urquhart (LA Southwest JC), DB Darius Connor (Inglewood), DB Justin Wyatt (Dominguez), RB Loren Wade (Serra) and RB Marcus O'Keith (Narbonne).
Perhaps the most important thing to come from this game was not the much needed victory but the sense of excitement returning once again to the Coliseum as anyone who was around for the conclusion of the Washington State game last season remembers the sad sight of a Trojan crowd void of emotion. On Saturday the old stadium was buzzing once again and from the start with the way the team arrived it was clearly a different day that began with the peristyle walk by the players through a tunnel of fans, a new tradition started by Pete Carroll that allows the players to enter the Coliseum through the majestic front entrance and get a better sense of their home field. The opening game was Christmas in September for Trojan fans who were anxiously awaiting their first look at the wide open Norm Chow offense and the attacking Pete Carroll defense but once the game got going it was hard to tell if it was 2001 or 1979. Sultan McCullough could easily have been mistaken for Charles White with the way he gobbled up yardage and made defenders miss while accounting for all of the Trojan scoring. Carson Palmer did his best Paul McDonald impression with an efficient performance that saw him spread the ball around on short passes and keep the mistakes to a minimum while the hit by Antuan Simmons would have made Ronnie Lott proud. This team certainly has a long way to go before they can be compared with the 79 team but the fact is we have the athletes who can accomplish great things and they gave us enough glimpses on Saturday to know that much is possible in the future. We saw an offense that was unpredictable and just a joy to watch and by halftime there were cheers of "Chow for President" heard in the stands, while that may be premature the smiles on the faces of Trojan fans as they were leaving the game show that the fun is back. The players will point to the enthusiastic Carroll as a prime reason for the change in emotion and Carroll certainly seemed to enjoy his return to the college sideline. He took a pause from pregame warmups to watch the band enter the field, he met with recruits on the sidelines and when the game was over he brought the team over to celebrate with the student section. The victory over the Spartans was important but on this day it was not the only thing to celebrate for the Trojan football program.
Key to Game: Defensive adjustments
It was a bit of a shaky start for the Trojan defense and it looked like things had picked up right where they left off when Spartan RB Deonce Whitaker rushed for 40 yards in the first quarter with much of the yardage gained right up the middle. Whitaker did an excellent job of hiding behind his huge offensive line and USC tried blitzes and stunts but still San Jose State was moving the ball and we weren't getting much pressure at all. Pete Carroll was known in the NFL for his excellent game day adjustments and at this point he decided to simply go back to a base defense and let our talent take over. The defensive line had asserted some control early with Bernard Riley making a huge play on a 4th down inside the USC 35 and then a key three play stretch saw Kenechi Udeze make a tackle for loss and then Lonnie Ford and Omar Nazel each knock down a pass at the line. The Spartans were never able to consistently put together any kind of a passing game and that opened up the opportunity for the Trojan linebackers to take over the game and they did a terrific job. Frank Strong was all over the field with as much speed as any player on either side of the ball and Mike Pollard overcame a slow start to be in the right position and have a solid game. The moves at linebacker were made to increase the speed at the position and in this game we saw exactly why that was done because it now gives the Trojans one of