Let's start out with what was good, perhaps very good on USC's part. The Trojans never quit and they came back from a big deficit on the road and tied the game. It might have been easy to pack it in and just about concede defeat. However, despite the fact that SC ultimately did lose this game, they showed tremendous heart, effort and determination in mounting a very nice comeback. They played their hearts out and for a short period of time, they even looked they would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Unfortunately for the Trojans and their fans, this game was just not meant to be. They could never get totally over the hump and USC simply never lead in this ball game. Despite the loss, it would be terribly unfair not to congratulate the guys for two fine blocked field goals, the second one probably bound for the "plays I'll never forget" list. It would also be a mistake not to congratulate the receivers, particularly Williams, Colbert and Byrd. Even thought USC lost, all three of them made highlight film catches and it would be easy to argue that without great, even spectacular individual efforts of their parts, the game would have been a blowout loss to the highly motivated and very hot California team.
How about the bad parts of this game? Well, to my way of thinking there were many points that deserve mention from this particular encounter. First, for some periods of time, with the plethora of badly timed penalties and miscues, this team resembled those teams of the Hackett Era more than those that Pete Carroll has coached. One of the Bears scores was aided by two consecutive penalties, one being on the point after a TD and the other coming on an offside on the kickoff itself. Instead of having Cal pinned way back in its own territory, the Bears started a scoring drive with excellent field position. There was also the first half play of the defense. There is no way to say this other than to point out the obvious. For the entire first half and late in the second half and in overtime, Cal's Offense simply outplayed the USC defense. They ran the ball very well with one guy getting well over 100 yards rushing and not one, but two quarterbacks absolutely toasted the USC defense. I know that many if not most SC fans thought that the Wild Bunch II is invincible, but today should have put a permanent end to that theory. Although the defense did toughen in the second half, the Bears were still able to get out of trouble to score the go ahead field goal after starting on their own 5. At one point in the game, they had converted something like 12 of 16 3rd down attempts and once again memories of unsuccessful years gone by came to my mind. Anytime a team can convert time and again on third and long , it means the Defense is in trouble and usually so is the whole team.
Perhaps one of the more interesting questions about this game is whether or not the USC rushing attack was bad or flat out ugly in this game. At no time did the Trojans ever get into a rushing groove and no rusher distinguished himself in a positive manner. Lendale White faired reasonably well with one touchdown run, but Dennis and Bush did little to bolster the rushing game on this particular day. As has often been the case, when SC did run wide, they often did so to the short side of the field and although I may be in the minority, I will never quite understand that call. Dennis was unable to break many good runs until overtime and then of course his superb run was followed by the fumble that was caused by a terrific stick by the Cal defender. On two occasions, Bush was unable to achieve his goal and it sure looked like putting a shoulder down and powering his way might have helped on one if not in both cases. That is something that the radio and TV announcers made apparent in their commentary. Whereas some of the reverse directions and cutbacks tend to work in high school, one has to wonder if they are often successful at this level.
It would also be reasonable to ask how to appraise Matt Leinart's game. He did throw three picks and anytime a guy has more picks than TD's, it makes a fan wonder if the quarterback got the job done. Certainly Matt L took a step up in the second half as compared to the first, but even in the second half, some of his statistics and completions were more the result of terrific individual efforts on the part of the receiver than on a great pass by Leinart. He was behind his receivers on numerous occasions and it was obvious that he missed a wide open receiver on a flea flicker that had TD written all over the place. As much as anything else I had hoped Matt would lead the team to a huge victory tonight so as to quiet any looming qb controversy that might be brewing. Instead, if history is indicative of anything we are likely to see, the bring on Cassell or bring on Booty chants might now get started on the various message boards in a big way. I don't think it is accurate or fair to hang this loss on the quarterback or on any one player, including the field goal kicker. For the most part, the loss was a team effort.
How about SC's special teams? Were they ugly? Well, hard to say in all honesty. Having a punt blocked and missing a game tying field goal does not bode well for the special teams. Getting penalties after a point after TD and being offside on a kickoff is not something to be happy about either. The punts coverage was good and the kickoff coverage was average so each person can decide for himself how to classify the special teams in this game.
What about the coaching? I can't help but wonder how many fans are less than thrilled with Chow's play calling. Of course, with the record SC has had over the past two years, any criticism of this type is sure to draw many boos on its own. But what the heck? Aren't many fans very disappointed indeed with the play calling on the last series. in regulation? Don't many wonder why SC ran up the middle so many times including unsuccessful attempts to get third down conversions. And of course, are there any people out there who are already saying that it's time for Chow to make a qb change? I really don't know, but time is sure to give us the answers.
How about SC's defense? Are they going to continue to be as vulnerable to the good passing teams as they were against California? They were simply torched tonight. Both qb's were on target and the SC defensive backfield was not effective for much of the time. A good part of the problem was that the California offense was simply outstanding. Time and again their qb's made fine throws and their receivers made awesome grabs. Yet at other times one had to wonder if for one of the few times, it was the SC guys that were overmatched. Cal's Oline did a great job of picking up the blitzes yet when we did not blitz and he had time to throw, he picked apart out db's almost flawlessly for large portions of the game. Much of the credit goes to California and it seems that the defensive backfield still has a way to go before this defense can really be considered anything close to great.
So what happens now? I guess we won't be reading much about New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl from now on. It is unlikely that a team with a loss will be playing for a national championship. Unfortunately, this loss also means that SC does not control its own destiny at this time for the Rose Bowl either. Losing a conference game so early on really puts the pressure on. How will this team and staff react to this loss? Remember, it has been a very long time since SC last lost a conference game. Last year the California game was a turning point of sorts. One can only hope that this loss serves to help the team correct what needs correction and that the team refocuses and starts a new win streak. Whereas a team with one loss might make the Rose Bowl, I doubt a two loss in conference team is not a likely Rose Bowl participant this year. And before ending this opinion, I also have to wonder about the ramifications of the injuries suffered in this game. We are already thin at linebacker and on the oline and if the injuries to Tatupu and Justice are anything serious, SC could be in a heap of trouble. Here's to hoping much is solved in a positive manner in the upcoming week and that the Trojans come out fired up and ready to play next week against ASU.