Aloha also means goodbye and that is what the USC Trojans will be saying to the University of Hawaii football team about ten minutes into the first quarter.
Hawaii, 1999. I should have bought a t-shirt. That week in Hawaii was a glorious four day pre-game and another three post, basking in the glow of one of SC's more dominate victories. It really was a coming out party for Paul Hackett's Trojans - especially Carson Palmer. Anyone who think Palmer was a one season wonder needs to watch the tape of that game. I don't remember exact yardage but suffice to say, it was a Heisman calibre performance - a sign of things to come.
USC arrived in Honolulu with so many potential distractions. No one picked the Trojans to be more than a mediocre team. Carson was still the "Golden Child," but not great enough to draw national attention. Then the Trojans, at a time so late in the evening and a time zone so far removed from the mainland, dismantled a fairly well respected UH team. Hawaii introduced their new head coach and former player, June Jones, along with new emblems for their helmets. They'd gone away from the soft "rainbow" and adopted a more culturally scripted H. And by combining the hiring of Jones, a well respected offensive guru from the NFL, they served notice to the college football community that they were going to be taken seriously. Hawaii was tired of being the place to come for schools that wanted to reward their teams with a holiday. Then the Trojans hung sixty-two points on the Rainbow Warriors.
Being at a stadium full of "locals" I thought there might be a problem. The UH fans take their tailgaiting as serious as they do their team. Add a little kava to the mix of a blowout game and I thought this hoale might wind up "swimmin' with da fishes," but instead the Punaho boys couldn't have been more cordial. They appreciated good football and they also honored the Trojan connection. USC has always been one of the top university's for Polynesian players, whether they be Tongan, Samoan, or Hawaiian. SC has fielded some of the best athletes from the rich Polynesian culture. Recent players include, Troy Polamalu, Lenny Vandermade, Lofa Tatupu, Salo Faraimo, Faaesa Mailo, Fo Mackenzie along with SC coaches like Keith Uperesa, Kennedy Pola, and Norm Chow have given their talents to the Cardinal and Gold throughout the years, traditionally being some of SC's most passionate and talented.
Because of that connection, "Da boys" were cool, but hanging sixty-two on a team can make their fans restless. Luckily SC had the island connection and the people celebrated that, more than stewing over the loss. So many things happened in that game. Fo was back from injury and scored his first touchdown since his freshman year. Carson made his presence know. Markus Steele had his first start and came out hard hitting.
SC's version of the "Three Amigos" - Kareem Kelly, Marcell Almond and Steve Stevenson took their first snaps. Lenny Vandermade and Jacob Rogers were freshmen. I remember meeting the Vandermades along Wakiki during their first Trojan roadtrip. That was the season Petros broke his foot in Fall workouts - I think from a downfield tackle by Sultan Abdul Malik out at Irvine. I remember seeing Petros' father John at the game in Hawaii, pacing back and forth on the skywalk that connected the two major sections of the stadium. He was thrilled that SC was winning and looking so solid, but you could tell he wanted his son on the field, not in a hospital with a major infection.
Truly that Hawaii game was the launch of the return to USC football. It was such a magnificent performance and said so much about the potential of Trojan football. Five seasons later and Pete Carroll has taken the basics of Paul Hackett's humble beginnings and turned the Trojans into a place USC had once taken for granted - being a national powerhouse. Fond memories...
That was then, this is now. June Jones was in his first season and working with players he had not recruited. So many season later, he is fielding only his players. His team is lead by Heisman hopeful, Timmy Chang at quarterback. Chang thrilled people with is four thousand plus yard season in ‘02. It was that performance that moved him into the Heisman spotlight. And it is that level of offensive production that has many sports writers convinced that the Trojans will struggle to put UH away. Those are fantastic yards but it is important to realize that was achieved over a fourteen game season and not against anything close to the USC defense.
The USC defense. That will be the difference in this game and probably every matchup throughout this season. As a unit, there isn't a better group in the nation. What makes this game interesting is that it may not be the defensive line that will garner most of attention for the Trojans. Because Hawaii's Chang will be putting up fifty plus passes, it will most likely be the linebackers and secondary that will be the difference makers for USC. Will Poole and Marcel Almond are the two most shutdown corners USC has fielded since McCutcheon and a young Simmons. Add to these NFL ready db's are the deepest collection of safeties ever at Southern California. Jason Leach has continued the tradition of heavy hitting begun by players like Ronnie Lott and maintained by first round draft pick, Troy Polamalu. Newcomer Darnell Bing, already with an interception and fumble recovery will not play in Saturday's matchup. This will give Trojan fans to see the outstanding skills of Florida native, Mike Ross. Dallas Sartz will also see time, spelling Ross when necessary. Sartz's increased size with great football quicks could make him an NFL safety just a few short years from now. Coupled with SC's linebackers, the back seven will be much more than Hawaii can handle. They will give Hawaii's offense fits, especially considering UH will be without their most productive receiver for the ‘02 season. Two other WR's for Hawaii will be playing hurt and this will quickly prove to be Hawaii's achilles heal.
Chang, himself, will be taking his first snap of the year, despite the fact that Hawaii is entering their second game of the season. Chang was put on a one game suspension for his team's opener. Having to face the Trojans will give Timmy no time for a warmup. He either comes out piping out, or his team may spend the day ice cold. The pressure SC's defensive line puts on Chang and his young offensive line, will cause Timmy to throw before he is ready. The blanket like coverage our linebackers and d-backs put on his second and third string receivers will be so tight that turnovers will ensue. These turnovers, look for three picks and two fumble recoveries will give SC the short field they need to put points on the board.
Sports writers and fans have talked about the points given up to BYU last week by SC's defense. It is important to note that three Cougar fieldgoals were from forty plus yards or deeper. That's nine points. Another two came off a quick whistle safety on Matt Leinart. That totals eleven points and leaves just one real score for BYU against SC. That's the first touchdown SC has given up this season. Don't look for much offensive production inside the redzone to change that any. Also, don't look for SC to go on a scoring frenzy themselves.
Norm Chow is going to run the ball this weekend. He has to iron out the last wrinkles in his offensive line now, prior to the meat of league play, if he hopes to compete for a Pac Ten and maybe National Title. The Trojans need 150 yards on the ground every game and generate two scores per contest to solidify their hopes of a top ranked season. The coaches will do all they can to establish this now against a lesser opponent like Hawaii before launching league play with Cal at the end of the month.
Speaking of lesser opponents, again sports writers and fans have jumped on and off the Trojan band wagon due to the level of competition they have faced. Going into the season, people felt that nothing could be tougher than playing Auburn at Jordan Hare. Shutting them out, put the Trojans in the top ten with a bullet until an unranked Georgia Tech squad handled the Tigers just as easily. SC followed that game with a fourth quarter win against BYU. Combined one might think the Trojans could be a very overrated team. People also think this has worked against SC by affecting their national respect. Personally I don't think it could get any better for the Trojans. Right now people who don't know the team, don't know how good they really are - especially on defense. Hawaii, because of BYU's performance, is convinced they can not only play with SC, but actually beat them. Nothing could be further from the truth and the speed of SC's defense, along with the hard hats they bring to every game, will be testimony to that fact.
SC has faced better quarterbacks than Timmy Chang. Derek Anderson, Cody Pickett, Andrew Walters and Kyle Boller were each abused by the ‘02 Trojan defense (a lesser version than the ‘03 group) so heavily that more than one tapped himself out of the game. No, Hawaii will not hang with SC. They simply don't have the horses. And as good a coach as June Jones is, once again, he is not enough to compare to SC's real difference makers - the Trojan coaching staff. Pete Carroll and Company are the most complete staff in the nation and they will be the ultimate difference for USC throughout this season and next. They will be the reason why the Pac Ten and maybe National Title will be theirs.
Look for Smith, Colbert, Byrd and Lewis to get more looks catching Leinart passes. Bush will finally have the sort of game visitors at Trojan practices have come to expect. Washington and White will get their carries too, while Dennis will carry the load. Leinart shouldn't struggle as much, considering the more traditional defense Hawaii runs versus BYU's. With that said, once the Trojans are comfortably up, I can't imagine not seeing Booty under center for a series or two. SC will show, just like it did in 1999 that aloha also means goodbye, when they help Hawaii pack their bags for the second part of their two week road trip.
SC scores 5 touchdowns, three set up by the defense and special teams. Add to that, two to three fieldgoals from Kileen, giving the Trojans at least 41 points.
Hawaii will get their yards and first downs but once they near the red zone, USC will shut them down. Look for Hawaii to put up three scores with no more than a 17 point total.
SC covers and wins.