A few things led to USC being defeated on Saturday, one of which was an 11-game win streak which we should all as Trojans be very proud of. It's been 25 years since we did it last and every team in the country would be thrilled to have a streak like that. Second, the bye week. Third was being heavily favored and going into a hostile environment to open up the Pac-10. The Trojans were definitely not playing at home and that place was rocking. All the streaks were bound to fall eventually and the key for the Trojans is the fact that they did not wilt in the face of adversity but we'll get to that later.
I'm not interested in getting into the logistics of who missed what kick, worrying about play calling or any of that. This is not going to be about that. I'll give you my own particular overview. It was an exciting game and both teams play their hearts out to the end. Coming into the season we knew that there were question marks facing this USC team, particularly on the offensive side of the football. Many of us grew complacent and cocky because of the three game win streak to start the year off. I, myself, have been guilty of cockiness on radio and television while talking up the Trojans but we found out Saturday that everyone is beatable. I thought that they were going to lose against Auburn and when they didn't, coupled with the good feelings people have for Pete Carroll and the type of team he puts out on the field, many of us started talking about a national championship. Now that the national championship talk is all but eliminated, and they're on their heels in the Pac-10 to start out, the Trojans can actually get down to the business of playing football week in and week out and fighting in the trenches with the rest of the conference. The Pac-10 smells blood in the water and saw David beat Goliath on Saturday. We will find out about the character of this football team going to Arizona State, playing Stanford at home and then heading to South Bend, Indiana. All games the Trojans should win and build confidence. I don't believe we will be disappointed watching Pete Carroll and his boys regroup from this tough loss.
USC's defense was shown a lot of looks early in the game that they did not expect and which were not shown to them in Cal's first five games. Jeff Tedford set up his team to basically play a Super Bowl against the Trojans at home. Adimchinobe Echemandu threw his body continually into the USC defensive front and had a lot of success running the football and he looked good doing it. After being caught off guard in the first half, the Trojan defense did adjust and play more inspired and solid football in the second half. In fact, most of us have already recognized that the Trojans were lucky to only be down by 14 because as Cal gained success their confidence seemed to grow. It was unfortunate that the offensive inconsistencies, which have plagued the Trojans for most of the season with the exception of the athletic mismatch against Hawaii, did not allow them to take and keep the lead in the second half of this football game. The basic reason why things were so tough for the Trojans on Saturday were as follows:
1) The California football team had to play the game of their lives against USC and they did. Congratulations to them and give them credit for one of the best and exciting wins they've had in over 25 years.
2) The inexperience at quarterback and tailback for the Trojans is basically hurting the offense. Matt Leinart is up and down and, though he's thrown three interceptions in two of his four starts, he often makes great plays at times. He's learning as he goes and is doing the job to the best of his ability. I'm not sure what the future holds for Matt as the USC quarterback but so far he's been a game to game enigma. With the speculation about opportunities this season for star freshman John David Booty, and unrest from some less than understanding football fans, Matt Leinart has had a very tough road to travel this season and it just got harder with the loss. Saturday we had a chance to witness the kind of quarterback he was coming from behind instead of playing with the lead and I'm positive this Cal game will be instrumental in his maturation process as a starting quarterback. He's still the guy and he needs the confidence and support from his teammates.
3) The running back situation is what is most puzzling about this early football season. The strength of the Trojan football team is without question the defense and in order to play our strength we must be able to establish the run. Hershel Dennis is not running with a lot of confidence right now and has not really been given the ample amount of carries to get a rhythm in the game as a guy who is supposed to carry the load. He's constantly stopping his feet at the line of scrimmage and seems to be running for the two to three yard gain instead of the twenty to thirty yard gain. That's not to say that Hershel isn't running hard, he is, but confidence seems to be the issue right now. Reggie Bush is an electric and fast football player but he seems to be running as if he's still at Helix High School. The jump backwards move to elude defenders cannot work in a Pac-10 football game and Reggie found out the hard way. In my humble opinion, LenDale White appears to be the ballcarrier of the future for the Trojans. LenDale is much bigger than Hershel or Reggie, he runs with confidence and he's had a lot of success when given the opportunity this season. Now, I know it's early to call somebody "the Man", and that with LenDale being as young as he is he doesn't have the proper understanding of defensive fronts for pass protection and other purposes to play every down, but as far as carrying the ball I would love to see more of him. Not to mention Chauncey Washington who is out with an ankle injury right now. He also seems like a guy who can hammer it up in there and help the Trojans avoid many of the third and long situations they have found themselves in recently. Ideally, Hershel Dennis will turn the corner and make the plays he's capable of making so these young guys aren't put in a position to attain knowledge that may or may not be beyond them at this point in their careers.
4) The hubris of early National Championship talk. The measure of success at the University of Southern California is the Rose Bowl and it now saves us all a lot of money not to have to worry about traveling to New Orleans for the holidays. If you're going to talk about the SC football team and brag about your coaches and players, now just talk about the Rose Bowl because it's a very realistic goal. The Trojan players and coaches cannot afford to look that far ahead right now. Even as you're reading this column they are re-grouping and questioning their identity for purposes of moving forward. Time spent lamenting this loss is wasted time. The rest of the schedule awaits and the Trojans must fight on (not to be cheesy).
For those of you who read this column once a year after the weekender to find out if I made a fool of myself I will not disappoint you just because the Trojans were dealt a devastating loss by the California Golden Bears. The answer, of course, is yes. I did make a fool of myself and more than normal. Friday night while speaking to what had to be one of the largest crowds at a USC road pep rally ever, I offered to buy everyone there a drink under the stipulation that if they could find me, I would comply. I was found by far too many of them and did not want to be rude and have them drink alone. That is enough on that subject only to say I was a little belligerent and publicly urinated (twice) as I visited some of my favorite places in the Bay Area.
I trust that next week in Phoenix I will lay much lower. Maybe it's just me but all I can think about when I think of Arizona State is the movie "Waiting to Exhale" with Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett. Not really because it has anything to do with ASU, other than the fact that the movie is based in Phoenix, so I guess that's just a weird thing for me. Fight On.