Tough loss for Trojans

It was a very hard loss to take for Trojan fans as the team came out with a slow start but battled back to put themselves in position to win. In the end, it was a series of missed opportunities and inability to slow the Cal offense at key times that helped lead to the loss which now forces the Trojans to run the table in the Pac-10 if they are to have any hope of spending New Years Day in Pasadena.

Best of times, Worst of times

There is an old saying "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times" and that thought certainly applies to the game we saw yesterday.  As much as this loss hurts, for every bad thing that happened to the Trojans there was an equally impressive good moment that, under winning circumstances, would be celebrated and cheered.  As bad as the Trojans played in the first half, and we certainly seemed lethargic and uninspired through most of the opening two quarters, the team battled back after halftime and got right back in the game with chances to win in regulation and overtime.  For all the third down conversion success by the Bears in the first half, which led to them putting 21 points on the board, our defense tightened in the second half and only allowed three points while providing a touchdown of their own with the interception return by Lofa Tatupu. 

We saw Matt Leinart struggle in the first half while completing only 5 of 15 passes but he rallied the team at the end and it was the passing game which put us in position to win.  Matt missed a wide open Dominique Byrd streaking to the end zone on a flea flicker yet came back later on a clutch 4th down and 9 play with a completion to Mike Williams that led to the tying field goal late in the game. To complete that pass when we absolutely needed it was a huge play for both Leinart and Williams, no matter what happened the rest of the night. Ryan Kileen missed a field goal in overtime which opened the door for Cal to seal the victory but the Trojans would not have advanced to OT without Kileen nailing a 33 yard field goal with under a minute to play.  The fumble by Hershel Dennis in the overtime period was crucial yet it followed the best run of the day by Hershel as he sprinted for 20 yards to get the ball down to the five yard line.  The effort by Keary Colbert on his touchdown reception in overtime deserves mention as well because of his leaping and diving effort to not be denied the goal line.  It was the type of play where a senior simply put the team on his back and he delivered.

To focus on the missed opportunities is natural, especially in a game such as this which leaves such a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.  There was never a lower moment on Saturday than the sight of Dennis putting the ball on the ground because surely there was no way the Bears would fail to connect on a field goal to put the game away but here came Gregg Guenther flying through the air and blocking a kick to keep it going.  When was the last time the Trojans blocked not only one but two kicks in a single game?  Moments such as that one were genuinely exciting and it's a shame that the joy of those plays will be lessened due to the overall results on the day.

Key to the Game— Sluggish Start

When the Trojans faced the Cal Bears last year we saw Cal jump out to a quick lead but we were able to mount a comeback which eventually led to victory.  This year it was much of the same as Cal came out and moved the ball up and down the field on offense while building up a 21-7 halftime lead but, unfortunately, we weren't able to climb all the way back this time and ended up falling short in overtime.  Cal coach Jeff Tedford has a reputation for being an offensive specialist and he certainly did nothing to damage that reputation as his schemes and formations battled wits with defensive specialist Pete Carroll.  The Trojans were flat early in the game and it showed with missed tackles, a lack of pressure on the quarterback and the kind of shaky coverage in the secondary which we simply aren't used to seeing from a Carroll-coached defense.  In the first half Cal held the ball for 22 minutes while converting 7 of 9 on third downs.  They did it both running the ball, a major surprise considering our recent success against the run, and passing with quick throws over the middle on three step drops to counter the blitzes from the Trojan defense.  USC mounted an admirable effort in the second half to make it an exciting game but, in the end, we simply weren't able to overcome the hole we had dug for ourselves in the opening half. 

Extra Points

Wonderful Williams

Mike Williams was dominant at times but there was no bigger play than the reception he made on 4th down on the final drive of the 4th quarter.  Mike was double covered yet he made the play that kept his team in the game.  He finished with 6 catches for 96 yards.

Cruising Colbert

Keary Colbert delivered his usual circus catch with a juggling grab over the middle but it was his touchdown reception in overtime which really stood out.  Keary took to the air and stretched the ball across the goal line for the score to force a 3rd OT.  He finished with 8 catches for 81 yards.

Guenther Flies High

Gregg Guenther launched his 6-8 frame on a field goal in overtime and was able to knock the ball down with one of the most clutch plays you will see.  Gregg also added a pair of receptions on offense but it was his special teams contribution which was special.  Kudos to Chris Carlisle for the training which led to the vertical leap we saw from Guenther.

Notes from the Sidelines 

Lofa Tatupu provided the Trojans with a game tying score in the 3rd quarter when he intercepted a pass that was thrown right to him and he returned it 26 yards for the score. Tatupu later left the game with an ankle injury, as did Winston Justice, and the status of those two players will be vital as the Trojans continue with conference play…..Dominique Byrd continues to show that he can be a pass catching weapon in this offense.  He had a pair of catches, including a beautiful downfield completion, and was open in the end zone on a flea flicker….It's easy to see why Cal DT Lorenzo Alexander was a major recruiting priority for USC as he had success for much of the night….LenDale White ran hard when given the opportunity and he punched in a touchdown run in the 3rd quarter.  White does a nice job of squaring his shoulders when heading upfield and he should get more opportunities in the coming weeks...The Trojans saw several streaks come to an end including the 11 game win streak and the 16 game stretch in which the USC defense didn't allow a 100-yard rusher...Shaun Cody had a blocked kick in the fourth quarter...Matt Leinart had a slow start but responded by hitting 16 of 24 passes to finish the game, including 3 of 3 in the overtime periods.. ..RECRUITING NOTES….The Trojans received a verbal commitment last week from Westlake WR/DE Michael Stuart (6-4, 220) after Pete Carroll and Ed Orgeron visited one of his games during the bye week.  Stuart then came out last Thursday in a game against Hart on Fox Sports Net with a dazzling performance that showed exactly why the Trojans offered him.  Michael had 11 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns, including a score with under a minute left which led to the victory.   Fellow Trojan commit Jimmy Miller also had a solid game with a key catch late in the game to keep the final drive alive….USC wide receiver recruit Derrick Jones will be in action this Thursday on Fox Sports Net 2 as LB Poly takes on Mission Viejo.  The game will be shown live at 7:00pm.  The Trojans are also taking a look at Mission Viejo two-way star Marty Tadman and underclassmen QB Mark Sanchez, OL Kevin Bemoll and FB Chane Moline. 

Final Thoughts

In the game of football you are going to have days when things don't go your way and that was certainly the case on Saturday when the Cal offense did some serious damage to the Trojan defense.  Is there a Trojan fan out there who thought our defense could be exposed for those type of numbers?  The Bears put up 469 yards of total offense including 147 rushing yards from a back who played his HS ball in our own backyard and yet never received any recruiting attention from USC.  The Bears did this despite changing quarterbacks after starter Aaron Rodgers seemed to complete passes at will in the first half. Rodgers did throw a pair of picks and there was talk of him not feeling well which led to the switch but Cal coach Jeff Tedford seemed to be doing the Trojans a favor when he inserted Robertson into the game.  Granted, Robertson put up decent numbers as well but he wasn't the same passing threat we saw from Rodgers. 

The Trojans seized some momentum of their own to open the second half with a key drive that featured Matt Leinart throwing the ball downfield and we marched in for a score with relative ease. Rodgers came out after throwing a pick to Lofa Tatupu which tied the score and it appeared as if the danger had been averted and it was now time for the Trojans to cruise to another victory.  Unfortunately, that's not the way things worked out.  The Trojans still had their chances, however, and when Leinart was faced with a 4th and 9 situation late in the game and he completed the pass to Mike Williams (what a fantastic grab by Mike) it seemed as if we figured out that riding our talented wide receivers to victory was a pretty good strategy to take.  Inexplicably, that was the last ball Williams saw on the day as we immediately went to three straight run plays before settling for a field goal to force overtime.  It would be easier to understand going to the run if Hershel Dennis or the other backs had seen any kind of success in the game but they hadn't.  We had scratched and clawed our way back to brink of victory and that effort had been led by the amazingly talented duo of Williams and Keary Colbert yet for some reason we went away from them at the end.  Our only touchdown in overtime came on a individual play from Colbert where he launched himself into the end zone and showcased exactly why you put the ball in the hands of your best players when the game is on the line. 

If you're going to go down in a game, it's always best to go down with your best because at least then you know your best players weren't able to get the job done.  In this case we'll never know because Williams and Colbert were little more than high-powered decoys.  This was a game that saw the Trojans outplayed, give the Bears credit for that, and yet we still had more than enough opportunities to scramble out of there with a victory and that is what hurts.  We'd become accustomed to seeing our team find a way to win and it came as a shock when it didn't happen on Saturday.


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