How Sweet Was That?

Click below for the WeAreSC newsletter recap of the Trojans 23-0 victory over Auburn on Saturday:

 

 

 

 

 

How Sweet Was That?

Well, that was fun to watch.  The Trojans put in an impressive performance on Saturday in front of a national television audience as they thoroughly dominated the Auburn Tigers for a 23-0 victory in front of 86,063 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.  You can point the finger in a lot of directions when giving credit for this victory but the coaching performances, led by Pete Carroll on defense and Norm Chow on offense, set the stage for the USC players to perform and they came through with flying colors.  Even the special teams, for so long a thorn in the side of our program, were outstanding as the Trojans outplayed Auburn in every phase of the game and left some pollmakers questioning the early decision to place the Tigers at the top of the national rankings.  

Passing the Test

We knew the Trojans were going to be good this year but when trying to figure out how good there was some hesitation caused by the fact that there were some newcomers at key positions. How would Matt Leinart respond to replacing Carson Palmer?  Could Hershel Dennis carry the load at running back?  What about the middle of the defense?  We were breaking in a new middle linebacker in Lofa Tatupu and certainly there was no way Darnell Bing, no matter how much potential he had, could replace the playmaking ability of a Troy Polamalu.  It was only one game and these guys have a long ways to go before comparing themselves to those Trojan legends but the early returns are that the USC football team is in good hands right now as these youngsters are ready to go. It didn't take Leinart long to take advantage of his first opportunity.  Courtesy of an early turnover, Matt came on the field for his initial drive as a starter and found himself with a very short field.  A couple quick handoffs got his feet wet and then his first official pass was a strike to Mike Williams in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.  Leinart didn't do anything the rest of the night to make people forget the rocket arm of Palmer but he did a lot of make Trojan fans remember the cool leadership of Paul McDonald.  Leinart has a similar quiet air about him and the fact that both are lefty throwers makes for a natural comparison.  Dennis had an early 22 yard scamper and then put an exclamation point on the scoring with a nifty 14-yard TD run that saw him break several tackles.  Perhaps the most important stat for the offense was the zero in the turnover column and that speaks volumes when the ball was in the hands of two newcomers for so much of the day.  Tatupu, the son of former Trojan Mosi, was a major unknown to most fans heading into the game but the coaching staff was sold during spring ball with his savvy play and football intelligence. All Lofa did in his debut was lead the team in tackles and add two sacks while flying all over the field to make his father proud.  Bing didn't have a big night in terms of tackle numbers but he was in the right place at the right time to get an interception, courtesy of a tipped pass by Kevin Arbet, and later to recover a fumble after a jarring hit by Matt Grootegoed.  The interception was a dagger in the heart of the Auburn faithful who were hoping to run the ball down our throats as it stage the stage for the Leinart touchdown to Williams and a quick Trojan lead.  All in all it was an impressive beginning, literally and figuratively, for the Trojan newcomers. 

Extra Points

Terrific Tatupu - Lofa Tatupu led the Trojan defense with 12 total tackles (including 8 solo), two sacks and three tackles for loss. 

Special Teams Success - Ryan Killeen was on target the entire night with 3 for 3 field goals (including a 42 yarder) while Tom Malone showed his range with a 70 yard punt and another that rolled out at the two-yard line. 

Loving Leach - The Trojans lost one big hitter in Polamalu but Jason Leach laid a hit that was Troy-esque when he popped the helmet off a Tiger receiver with a well-placed blow. 

Key to the Game— Trojan defensive line

That was domination, pure and simple, by the Trojan d-line.  All night long, from every angle, on every play, the Trojan defensive line caused problems for the Auburn offense and never let their vaunted running attack get started.  When it came time to pass, that just meant the Trojan line had a chance to pin their ears back and let it fly.  The defensive stats for USC were impressive (6 sacks, 3 of 12 third down conversions, 43 rushing yards on 36 attempts and only 164 yards of total offense on the night) and it all started on the line.  From the start the Trojans caused problems with their slants and zone blitzes, the TV announcers kept talking about how the Trojans were guessing right so often on slants but when you guess right over and over again it might have something to do with good coaching.  The one thing USC didn't do in the first half was get to the quarterback often and Coach Ed Orgeron let his boys know in the locker room that he wasn't too happy about that fact.  By the end of the game that deficiency was cured and you could go one by one down the line and point out a major contribution.  Shaun Cody (how great was it to see him back on the field) was batting down passes and dragging runners down by the shirtsleeves, Mike Patterson was unblockable at times with his quickness, Omar Nazel had a sack and a recovered fumble which was caused by LaJuan Ramsey.  It was a true team effort and one that will go a long way in cementing this groups reputation as perhaps the top d-line in college football. 

Notes from the Sidelines

Kevin Arbet wasted no time in making an impact after sitting out last season with an injury.  Arbet did a good job to tip a pass on the opening possession which was intercepted by Darnell Bing. Kevin later took a big shot when he fielded a punt and was immediately clobbered….Mike Williams picked up right where he left off by catching an early touchdown and notching yet another 100 yard receiving day despite suffering from cramps during the game.  Leinart went to Williams on five of his first eight pass completions, a good strategy by Matt to get the ball in the hands of the 6-5 playmaker…..Matt Grootegoed fought through a bad back which forced him to miss a lot of practice last week but you would never know that based upon his play in the game.  Matt was his usual aggressive self and in one two-play stretch he forced the quarterback to bobble the ball for a loss (Campbell was lucky the ball came right back to him) and then Groots tackled a receiver in the open field while placing his helmet directly on the ball to cause the fumble which was recovered by Bing…..The Trojans forced three turnovers and scored 17 points off those turnovers…..Will Poole had a pair of fine open field tackles.  The first came on a big Malone punt to allow for a huge field position swing and the next came on a 3rd down scramble by Campbell…..Chauncey Washington sure ran hard in him limited playing time at the end of the game.  There has been a lot of attention focused on the two other freshmen running backs, and deservedly so, but Chauncey gave us a reminder that he'll be a player to watch as well…..John Drake and Travis Watkins did a good job of filling in on the left side of the line when Rogers and Vandermade went out during the game.

What more do they need to prove?

Those were supposed to the kind of conditions that make teams quiver, an early season match-up in the heat and humidity of the Deep South against a powerful SEC opponent that some were calling the top team in the land.  Of course, we were supposed to face a similar test last January when going up against the smash mouth style from the Big Ten champion Iowa Hawkeyes.  That game also followed a contest with Notre Dame that was supposed to expose the Trojans as a good team but one that wasn't quite ready for a return to the big stage.  Well, for anybody who is paying attention, it's time to note that these Trojans under Pete Carroll have been answering the bell every time and doing it with such style that they firmly deserve to be mentioned among the elite teams in the nation. 

You can choose any element of that game on Saturday and the results will show a dominant effort from the Men of Troy.  We went down into the bowels of Jordan-Hare Stadium, a place that had been described as a nightmare for opposing teams, and ended up giving the Tiger fans a reason to head home early to beat the traffic.  It has become a tradition of sorts in recent games for opposing fans to vacate the stadium sometime early in the fourth quarter rather than continue to watch the methodical destruction being wrought by the Trojans.  Our second half performances are not usually thrilling but instead we seemingly spend our time squeezing the life out of the other teams offense to the point where the results are predictable.  Sooner or later the concessionaires at other stadiums are going to complain when the Trojans come to town because we force such a mass exodus. 

We've said it before, Pete Carroll is as good as we've seen at taking away one element of an opposing offense and the Trojans virtually stopped the new "Four Horsemen" in their tracks.  It was a silly boast by the Tiger running back to claim that they were better than the Notre Dame group which inspired the name, and this comes from a Trojan fan who is in no hurry to give props to the Irish, and Carroll and company certainly proved the point on this night.  Once the Auburn ground game came to a halt the Tigers were forced to try and beat us with the pass and that just wasn't going to happen. 

The Trojan offense was efficient on this hot and muggy night as they held the ball and gave the defense a chance to rest on the sidelines.  Norm Chow simply does an outstanding job of putting players in position to make plays and the opening play of the second half was a great example of that.  Chow called a misdirection pass to Dominique Byrd which found Dom so wide open that he ran for twenty yards before coming across an Auburn defender. 

On top of all that, we finally saw the special teams turn in a special performance. Kudos to Dennis Slutak and all the other coaches who work on special teams because we saw last night just how important those areas can be in terms of field position and game management. 

It was a great day to be a Trojan and to witness such a satisfying win. 

WeAreSC dinner - Join Trojan greats Sam Cunningham and John Papadakis at the WeAreSC dinner on Wednesday, September 3rd at Papadakis Taverna in San Pedro for a wonderful evening of USC football talk.  For more info please call 310/543-5557.


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