USC finishes strong for victory

The USC Trojans defeated the BYU Cougars on Saturday by a score of 35-18 in front of 75,315 fans at the Coliseum. It was a much closer game than any Trojan could have imagined after USC built an early 21-0 in the first quarter but with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter it was 21-18 and it took late touchdowns on a pass from Matt Leinart to Mike Williams and a run from Hershel Dennis to finally put the game away.

It was one of those days

The USC vs BYU game may have been closer than expected but a quick check of the teams ahead of us in the national rankings shows the Trojans actually fared better than most on Saturday.  Oklahoma came away with a 7-point win over an Alabama team that is still finding its way under a new coach, Ohio State needed a 100-yard interception return to key a 3 point victory at home against San Diego State while Miami provided some 2nd half heroics to come from behind in an exciting win over Florida.  By comparison the Trojans 18 point margin of victory seems quite lofty but, of course, appearances can be deceiving.  The first thing we need to do is give credit to BYU.  The Cougars came into the Coliseum to play a team that was riding a 9 game winning streak overall and a 9 game winning streak at home.  The Trojans were also coming off a demolition of an Auburn team that was ranked by some at the top team in the nation heading into the season.  BYU had a solid victory of its own under their belt after an opening win against Georgia Tech but nobody was really sure what that meant.  Well, after seeing what Georgia Tech did to Auburn it can be argued that the Cougars are a pretty darn good football team.  They got down early against USC and didn't panic.  The Trojans helped them by going a little flat through the middle part of the game and BYU benefited from some timely Matt Leinart interceptions and a terrific day of kicking from Matt Payne who nailed a pair of field goals from over 50 yards and added a 26 yarder as well.  The Trojans seemed to be stunned toward the end of the first half after Leinart was tackled in the end zone for a safety.  To that point in the 2003 season there had been nothing but goose eggs next to the opponent and our defense took great pride in that fact.  "We saw those two points on the scoreboard and were pretty shocked," said Omar Nazel. "They got some momentum and took advantage of it.  When a team plays a top team early in the season they get up for it because that's the biggest game of the year for them."  It didn't help that the Trojans were unable to establish an offensive rhythm while BYU found success with screens and quick passes against a USC defense that was spending a lot of time on the field.  Fortunately for the Trojans we saw a spark in the offense just in time as they finally clicked on a drive late in fourth quarter that was keyed by three completions to Mike Williams, including the final play of the drive that was a beautiful pass from Leinart to a wide open Williams for the score.  It says something that USC can win a football game by 18 points and consider it a less than stellar effort.  It wasn't too long ago, in the darkest days of JRII and Hackett, where any victory would have been cherished and celebrated.  We won't dwell on this one too long,  we will simply take the victory and move on to the next game with a smile on our face.   

Key to the Game - Tom Malone

There can be no doubt about the impact of Mike Williams to the win but perhaps no Trojan was more important to keeping his team in the game than punter Tom Malone.  Tom has increasingly become more consistent in showing the signs of the strong leg that has been so evident in practice and this game was his most complete performance.  He hit five kicks of over 50 yards in length (59, 50, 54, 58 and 55) and that's not to mention the 69 yard free kick he boomed after the safety in the 2nd quarter.  Things were definitely going Tom's way as even his one off-kick of the night was a 36 yard punt in the first quarter that was fumbled by the Cougar return man and led to the opening score of the game.  Malone also contributed to win by firing up his Trojan teammates, most notably Matt Leinart, with one of his kicks in the 4th quarter.  The team showed their appreciation on this night when the offense struggled to put together much in the way of sustained drives yet Malone allowed us to keep pace in the field position battle.  USC ran for 71 total yards in the game and the offense went seven straight possessions with either three and out or a turnover but thanks to Malone the Cougars were still faced with the prospect of driving the length of the field after each of his punts. 

Extra Points

Opportunistic Omar

Omar Nazel returned an interception for a touchdown to provide one of the highlights on the night.  It was the 3rd career pick for Omar as he read the screen well and held onto the ball when it came right to him.  Omar said he didn't know how to react when he crossed the goal line "I said, Whoa, that's a touchdown".

Wonderful Williams

Mike Williams turned in a routine huge game by grabbing 10 balls for 124 yards and two touchdowns.  He went to the locker room during the game with a sore wrist but returned to provide the game clinching plays on a drive in the 4th quarter.

Dynamic Duo

Will Poole and Marcell Allmond complemented each other well as each provided big plays.  Poole is similar to Marcell in aggressive style and his acrobatic interception showed his athletic ability.  Look for Will to become a key part of the defense in coming weeks.  Marcell is solid at CB, had a pick, and his KO return gave the offense great field position late in the game. 

Notes from the Sidelines 

The run after catch that resulted in a 48 yard touchdown for Keary Colbert showed just how valuable Colbert is.  He kept his legs moving, broke tackles and used his better than advertised speed to get into the end zone….After watching this game it's no surprise that the Trojans went so hard after Dan Coats.  When he was being recruited Coats strongly considered USC before signing with his home-state school and he came to the Coliseum and put up 8 catches for 114 yards with a touchdown.  Pete Carroll commented "I'm disappointed we didn't handle Coats.  We need to do a better job of taking away the key guys"…..Matt Grootegoed recovered a fumble deep in BYU territory late in the game which led to the last minute touchdown by Hershel Dennis…..Colbert and Jacob Rogers have been invited to play in the Shrine All-Star game in January…..Matt Leinart saved his best performance of the night for the key drive in the fourth quarter including an excellent pump fake and pass to Williams…

Final Thoughts

One of the more pleasant aspects of the recent Pete Carroll era with Carroll calling the defense and Norm Chow calling the offense is that it's become routine for the Trojans to head into a game knowing they will outcoach an opponent.  We've seen time and time again the USC team make adjustments and call plays which baffle the opposition and that's what made the BYU go so surprising because, at the very least, you would have to call this game a coaching draw.  BYU did a great job of picking up the Trojan blitzes and there was a lot of respect in Carroll's voice after the game when he talked about the offensive schemes of the Cougars, "They are an excellent pass protection team.  We did all the stuff we normally do on defense but their coaches had a good concept and we didn't figure it out tonight.  I was impressed.  I can't wait to look at film because they did some pretty good things".  Carroll was also quick to point out that BYU never got a deep pass behind the Trojan defense and the fact that USC was able to keep most everything in front of them certainly limited the success of the Cougar passing game but it takes a secure coach to admit that he's looking forward to watching the film to see what another team did to slow him down.  The Trojan defense doesn't get slowed much these days and we know Carroll will thoroughly study the situation until he figures out what happened.  For the Trojan offense, the 3-3-5 system utilized by the BYU defense proved to cause more problems than anticipated.  This was the first opportunity for Norm Chow to face his former team and most expected Chow to give BYU fans a firm reminder of what they were missing but things didn't work out that way as Leinart struggled to find his consistency and the running game wasn't much of a factor for the majority of the game.  You have to tip your hat to the BYU coaches.  They had every reason to wring their hands in worry after watching the Trojan machine in action against Auburn but they came to the Coliseum prepared and they matched wits with the USC coaches until the end.  To say the Cougars matched up talent-wise with the Trojans would be a false statement but they were surprisingly physical and played a tough style of football.  Thankfully one of the biggest traits that Carroll has installed in this team is the need to finish and his squad came through in the fourth quarter in a big way.  A huge punt from Tom Malone, the MVP for the Trojans on this night, seemed to spark Leinart and after missing his targets throughout the game the sophomore QB was suddenly throwing with confidence and zip.  It helped that his passes were sent in the direction of Mike Williams because that's proven to be a pretty good recipe for success.  Williams made two big sideline catches and then somehow found himself wide open on a third grab as he strolled into the end zone to put the game away.  The Trojan players in the locker room used words like "overcoming adversity" when describing the win and a large part of that adversity was due to the performance by both the players and the coaches from BYU.


USCFootball.com Top Stories