Sun Devils wilt under Trojan pounding

The Trojans overcame an injury to their quarterback and saw a freshman lead the way with the running game as they came away with a victory in a game they needed to have by defeating ASU 37-17 in front of 56,527 in Tempe.

The Trojans overcame an injury to their quarterback and saw a freshman lead the way with the running game as they came away with a victory in a game they needed to have by defeating ASU 37-17 in front of 56,527 in Tempe.  After a disappointing loss last week to Cal the Trojans were struggling in the first half against the Sun Devils but Matt Leinart shook off a sore knee to respond with a solid second half effort and LenDale White pounded out 140 yards in 21 carries with two touchdowns as USC kept their Rose Bowl hopes alive. 

Notes from the Sidelines

The Trojan d-line was terrific in the game with six sacks and several tackles for loss.  Leading the way were performances by Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson.  The Sun Devils had allowed only five sacks coming into the game but the USC pressure really got to Andrew Walter in the second half….Ryan Killeen was a perfect three for three on field goals and hit several kickoffs into or out of the end zone….Mike Williams made a wonderful diving catch along the sideline and added yet another 100-yard game….

Matt Leinart left the game in the first half with a sore knee but came back to lead the victory with some accurate passing (158 yards in the 2nd half) and solid leadership.  He was sharp on the opening drive when we marched right down the field and his only pick came after the injury.

Keary Colbert caught three passes from Leinart for 93 yards, including a 57 yard score, on the first drive for USC. 

Greig Carlson had a very good day returning punts as he showed an ability to gain yards after the catch.  There is little doubt about his hands, he proved that in the Orange Bowl when he hung on to the ball despite taking an early shot to the chin, but in this game he also added big yardage on returns.  The Trojans lost one kickoff return and bobbled another punt deep in their own end so it was good to see Carlson hold the ball.

White delivers run game

One of the biggest keys to the magical season in 2002 was the emergence of a power running game when Justin Fargas established himself in the line-up.  You can also look to the improvement we saw two years ago when a struggling USC team was forced to put Sunny Byrd at tailback. Sunny is never going to be confused with Justin in terms of overall ability but we did see increased results with the offense, and in the win column, once he saw the field because of the impact he had with running the ball in a pounding fashion.  There is something to be said for keeping the defense honest with a running back who hits the line every time and delivers a blow on every carry.  We saw once again how important that can be this past week with the performance of LenDale White.  The freshman from Colorado had been a part of the running back rotation early in the year but with the inconsistent results we saw against Cal it was clear that the coaches wanted a return to a power attack.  On the practice field last week you saw White get more carries as he prepared for an increased role and he took advantage of his opportunity against the Sun Devils.  He had a good first half but his real impact started to come in the third quarter after an ASU score when he took a handoff and hit the middle of the line only to bounce outside and sprint to the end zone for a 25 yard score.  Later in the fourth quarter he put an exclamation point on the victory with a drive that featured a whole lot of LenDale and ended with him going in for six yards and a score. LenDale runs hard and we saw the other Trojan backs, namely Hershel Dennis and Reggie Bush, benefit from his pounding style when they got into the game. For all of the history with the running back spot at USC, you don't get to be called Tailback U for nothing, White is only the 6th true freshman in Trojan history to go over 100 yards in a game and his 140 yards were the most ever for a true frosh in one game.  That puts him in rare company and it will be exciting to see what can happen in the future.

Key to the Game— A familiar feeling

One of the marks of a good football program is the ability to establish an identity, a pattern of performance that embodies the type of football you play.  For the Trojans under Pete Carroll, one of the patterns we've seen is the ability to make adjustments at halftime and come out in the 2nd half to take control of a game.  One of the biggest shocks of the Cal game was the fact that we came back in the 2nd half but we weren't able to find a way to win.  It had been so long since that happened that many Trojan fans were sent into a state of shock while trying to figure out what went wrong.  Against the Sun Devils we saw many of the familiar signs as we went into halftime tied but Carroll and company reminded us just how good it can be when they begin to slowly choke the life out of an opponent.  A quick ASU score to open the 3rd quarter was followed by Trojan dominance and one series of plays showed our offense going for the jugular when we had them on the ropes.  Norm Chow called for consecutive deep pass plays to Colbert and Williams, neither play worked despite good throws from Leinart but it was good to see us go for the kill shot.  There was also a big stop by the defense when a Trojan penalty made it 4th and 1 instead of 4th and 6 and ASU decided not to punt.  A short run was stuffed by Kenechi Udeze and Melvin Simmons to turn the ball over to the Trojans and any hope of a Devilish comeback was thwarted. 

Extra Points

One of the keys to the improved running game with LenDale White was the performance of the offensive line.  It was particularly noteworthy since the Trojans were playing without starting RT Winston Justice but they were able to sustain good blocks and keep the pressure on Leinart to a minimum.  John Drake filled in admirably for Justice and Jacob Rogers had a good day at the opposite tackle spot as well…Danny Urquhart replaced Lofa Tatupu at MLB and had a shaky first half but came out in the 2nd half and received praise from Pete Carroll for being involved in so many plays.  Danny isn't as quick as Lofa but he is very physical.  Melvin Simmons took over the defensive play calling for Tatupu….Dominique Byrd continues to provide athletic plays from the tight end spot.  Dominique is excellent at catching the ball on the run…..Matt Cassel played in reserve of Leinart and showed himself well.  Cassel was consistently starting in poor field position but he had his first completion when he found Williams for 39 yards on a pass from his own 10 yard line…..Mike Ross provided the hit of the day with his kickoff coverage tackle on the final play of the first half….Ronald Nunn also had a nice hit with a blitz on Andrew Walter…..Frostee Rucker had the hustle play of the day with his downfield tackle which forced a fumble that was recovered by Nunn.  It was great to see a defensive lineman so far downfield trying to make a play…..Jason Leach added an interception…Brandon Hancock returned from his fall camp ankle injury to score a touchdown on a screen pass in the third quarter.  Brandon made a nice twisting catch of the ball and then ran untouched into the end zone for his first score as a Trojan

Final Thoughts

This has been a key stretch of the season during the last several years, a time when the Trojans have lost a game and then proceeded to watch their season head off in one direction or another.  Last season the Washington State loss marked the start of a dramatic run that was filled with memorable victories and awards but too many times in recent years the journey through October and November games has also featured its share of low moments.  It's usually around this time every year that each team also begins to find their own personality and that is so very important.  Much was made coming into season about the loss of Carson, Troy, Justin and the other seniors as Trojan fans wondered who would step forward and claim a leadership role.  No team is the same from year to year and it's a reality of sports that we needed to answer those questions but in this game we started to see a clearer picture of which players have grown into the role and accepted that responsibility.  The Trojan team that entered Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday was reeling from a tough loss to Cal and there were probably more questions surrounding the team than there really deserved to be.  No player represented that uncertainty more than quarterback Matt Leinart.  Leinart had performed well in the first weeks of the season but with visions of Carson Palmer still dancing in the heads of so many fans the effort of Leinart was bound to come up short.  He brought us to the brink of victory at Cal but the eventual loss allowed the floodgates of questioning to open.  Matt was also suffering from a sore knee and when he went down in the first half against ASU it was unclear what his future would be.  His response to the adverse situation should leave little doubt about who is the leader at quarterback for this 2003 team.  With a tightly taped right knee Leinart came out and was crisp in the second half as the Trojans took control of the game.  His play inspired his teammates and their comments in the locker room after the game reinforced the notion that Leinart is the guy.  Mike Williams and Keary Colbert, the two most dependable playmakers on the team, both voiced not only their support of Leinart but also made note of his courageous play.   That's good news because with the addition of a tough runner in LenDale White and the rounding into form of an experienced o-line you can start to see the shape of a pretty good offensive unit.  We've also seen the Trojan defensive line show their leadership to this point in the season.  Shaun Cody is back to his old self and that is certainly bad news for opposing offenses.  Now that Shaun is causing his usual havoc we've also seen Mike Patterson making more plays including a pair of tackles for loss in the first half.  The defense is also seeing leadership from one of the quietest members of the group in Matt Grootegoed.  It doesn't seem to matter where we play Groots because all he's going to do is line up to find the football and that kind of play is admired by his teammates.  Not to be forgotten in this mix is Tom Malone who has shown how dramatically a punter can affect the field position battle during a game.  The pieces are starting to fall into place for this USC team and the play of these leaders in the next few weeks will go a long way in determining the outcome of the season. 


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