There are so many aspects to this game, it is a bit difficult to know where to start, so let's start with the quarterback. Last week, in his first major college start, Matt Leinart was efficient at worst and pretty darn good at best. Well tonight, he seemed to be split into a dual personality, at least for major parts of the game. In the first quarter and for part of the second, he once again was simply efficient. However, from late in the first half, from just before he threw his fisrt pick, till the last major drive of the game which resulted in a nice TD pass to Mike Williams, Matt's play was less than awe inspiring. I would be shocked if there were not many many SC fans calling for a change at quarterback by midway through the fourth quarter. However, as all Trojan fans should know by now, Norm Chow changes quarterbacks about as often as , well, --not too often. Certainly it was discouraging to see Matt throw three picks and for him to start off something like 1 for 9 in the second half. It really looked like things were going from bad to worse. Then much to his credit, Matt Leinart lead the team to a game securing score culminating in a sweet touchdown pass to Big Mike Williams. There may have been a number of fans wondering outloud if Leinart could move the team with all the marbles on the line and when the pressure is really on. I believe that he showed that he can be a clutch player. That final long drive which he orchestrated showed me alot.
So why could the Trojans not run the ball very well at all? Is the Offensive line not playing up to expectations? Did the BYU scheme of 3-3-5 really confuse the Trojans and their young quarterback? Was the USC offensive line really that much slower than the BYU Defensive line or were they simply unable to ever really get down their blocking assignments when facing this new fangled Defensive scheme? I hope that the answers to these questions are answered very soon, because judging by the relative success enjoyed by the BYU Defense, I don't think it is a stretch to think that many of our future opponents might review that tapes of this encounter with great interest and for them to try and emulate what BYU did. I no longer question what Coach Chow calls, since he has proven to be a real offensive guru and superb coach over and over again. Having said that, I could not help but wonder if a few more misdirection type plays or reverses might not have helped against this overpursuing defense of BYU. It did seem like the misdirection bootleg by Leinart did work like a charm. It seemed like most of the guys on the Oline played pretty much the entire game with the excpetion of Fred Matua who alternated many series of plays with number 73, John Drake. From the television view, it was hard to see who was and who not taking care of business on the offensive line.
The defensive front played very well, but due in large part to a lackluster offensive performance for much of the game, the D line was out there for a few more plays than they might have anticipated. It seemed like they were chasing the BYU qb around all night, but that kid Berry moved very well and had a good arm of his own. Despite some big successes in the second half by the BYU Offense, they also turned the ball over a couple more times and those BYU passers took some huge hits all night long. The SC linebacker and dbacks appeared to play reasonably well against a very potent passing team. BYU's passing statistics, depending on which official source one checks, were reasonably impressive with them completing 27 or 39 passes for 297 yards, at least according to the article I read. BYU also managed to break some nice runs against a D that was seemingly getting a bit tired. In fact, late in the game, I heard and saw the BYU Head coach telling his players that SC was wearing down and that BYU was getting stronger. I honestly did not think I would ever hear those words in this lifetime. It seemed so strange for anyone other than Pete Carroll to be saying something like near the end of a big game. Of course, in the end, Scoreboard Baby!!
Special Teams were a mixed bag tonight. The coverage teams were very good and Tom Malone punted very well. Kileen's kickoffs went long and deep, despite the fact that BYU returned several that were so deep in the endzone that it surprised my friend and me. The one glaring problem tonight was the missed field goal. Whereas I realize that nobody is going to hit all attempts, I could not help but get nervous before Kileen's long field goal attempt which turned out to be justified. That was a big attempt and SC is most fortunate that was not a turning point in the game.
If there was one uniformly bright spot to today's game for USC I really feel it had to be the job done by the receivers as a group and certainly the all world performance by a guy we have come to expect that from, namely, Mike, BMW, Williams. I don't recall one dropped pass that should have been a catch. I also can't recall seeing a much more spectacular performance than the one Williams showed tonight. He made brilliant catch after catch and he had all the right moves and not a single turnover after the catch. He is clutch all the way. Now, if only Matt Leinart can form a bond with another SC receiver to complement his karma with BMW, then SC might just be set. There are others on the team with great hands such as Colbert and Steve Smith and even Justin Wyatt showed a nice tough to hold onto one pass. A few more big catches by some of them will surely pay huge dividends as this season progresses.
How about SC's tailbacks? Were they off their game or was there simply no running room. Of course not everything is visible to the TV viewer, but as best as I could tell, with few exceptions, tonight there was precious little operating room for the trio of tailbacks that carried the ball. None of the trio consisting of Dennis, Bush and Washington ever got in a grove and no matter how good a runner is, in most cases there has to be at least a small seam through which the tailback or running back can maneuver. I know these kids can run pretty well, so hats off to BYU and their Dline and Dcoach for coming up with a scheme that makes running very difficult. Nevertheless, I want to mention that on a couple of occasions, Reggie Bush was oh so close to breaking it and his day will come soon.
Well, now what? Hawaii comes to town next week and they bring their own version of a spread, run and shoot type offense. What will Pete come up with to stop their attack? Will our offensive line be ready to open some big lanes through which the backs can run through? Will Matt Leinart have to scramble for his life as often as he seemingly had to do tonight? Ironically, although some people consider Leinart to be slow, to my eye he was more mobile and quicker tonight than at any other time I have seen him. I tought he actually moved pretty well indeed and I can't think of many recent SC quarterback who would have done a better job escaping pressure tonight than Matt did. That BYU defensive line and scheme gave the Trojans all they could handle.
One final note worth mentioning is ironic. Tonight, USC won the football game. They beat a very good BYU team 35-18, yet the tone of this opinion and of some of the conversations I have had is almost that of the losing team. That just goes to show how easy it is to get spoiled. USC has a long winning streak going and in many of those games, USC was dominant. However, tonight BYU outgained SC 371 to 312 ( or thereabouts) and they held the ball for more total plays. Their scheme was superb and they appeared to get the most out of their talent and then some. Hats off to the Cougars, but even more props to USC. In the end, it was still a Trojan Victory and in this day of parity with so many upsets in major college football, a win is nothing to sneeze at. I am thrilled that our D caused so many turnovers and that some young kids are growing up very quickly on this team. It is the sign of a very good team to be able to win a game when not all cylinders are clicking and that is exactly what happened to the Southern California Trojans tonight. The team will grow as a result of this game and the results will be evident for the rest of the season.