First, congratulations to the USC Football Team for putting on one of the most awesome first half displays of great offense that I can remember and that memory stretches back a good number of years. It seemed like they could score at will in the first half and they did it through the air and on the ground. If one did not know better, one might assume that SC had not missed a beat and had simply started this game where last year ended. Boy were they tough. And what can anyone say about Matt Leinart's game tonight? With the exception of a couple of low passes that were once again tipped, he played almost perfect football. Despite a noticeable limp, he scrambled well enough to avoid sacks and he threw tight spirals that were right on the money as well as long passes that also hit their target. He hit 67% of his throws and I remember at least two drops counted against that percentage. Previously I mentioned that perhaps this kid is simply a gamer and judging by the second half of the ASU game and by the first three quarters of this game, he fits that bill to a tee. The kid is simply one tough competitor.
It would be unfair to assign all the accolades to the teams offense. The Defense also showed up with what appeared to be a renewed urgency and they just pounded the Stanford quarterback and harassed him on numerous occasions. It got so bad for Trent Edwards, I actually think he welcomed the substitution that brought in the second Cardinal quarterback, Chris Lewis. For the first half and even through the third quarter, the SC Defense was strutting its stuff and making life miserable for Stanford. As a fan I just loved it and I have to feel that there were many across the country who watched this game and now know that SC's defense is as tough as most any other celebrated unit in the country. The down four played well and the play of Will Poole really caught my eye as well. It was great to have Lofa Tatupu back and Grootegoed once again got to showcase his speed and playmaking ability.
One can't help but notice the much improved running game that the Trojans showed tonight. They gained over 200 yards on the ground and they looked very good doing it. Each of the three tailbacks, namely LenDale White, Hershel Dennis and Reggie Bush gained over 5 yards per carry and they were all effective. In fact they were so good, I was wondering if we have now reached the point where we will finally be able to run on almost any team we face. The reality is that it will take time to see that and SC is about to get their running game tested but good in South Bend next Saturday. I also wonder if any of the improved rushing is due to the presence of John Drake on a regular basis. I saw that guy pull on one play where he went from his right tackle spot to his left and he pulled so well and so forcefully that he literally knocked some poor dliner completely out of the play as if he were toying with the guy. He looks as good as any other oliner that I noticed out there tonight.
It is always a touchy subject to mention anything about the coaches for fear of some negative feedback, and that is being kind. Nonetheless, since this is just one man's opinion, I figure that even the coaches are fair game for some comments. Am I the only one who was a bit disappointed that John David Booty did not come in a bit sooner? Since it was seemingly decided that he is number two and he was going to play, I had really hoped he would get most of the second half, at least from the time it was obvious that our Defense was still playing well and that Stanford was very unlikely to overtake the Trojans. Unlike some, I am not concerned with the redshirt issue at all, I simply would feel better knowing that Booty had played more than he did if Leinart gets hurt or is ineffective against the Irish next week. And for those who wonder about redshirting Chauncey Washington, forget it as well. He is number 25, right? Well a number 25 played on special teams and that means no redshirt, unless, of course, that it was Alex Gomez or somebody else who was also wearing number 25 that saw action. We also learned that Manuel Wright is playing this season as he saw some major minutes in the second half, yet Ryan Kalil, a guy I was hoping would get more game experience did not seem to see the field much if at all. I bring this up only because it seems interesting to me and it is a subject that usually evokes much discussion on Trojan Internet sites.
While on the subject of the coaches and the calls, I also thought the quarterback sneak with a gimpy Matt Leinart was a most interesting call. I was surprised, but not shocked, I guess this staff figures that if a kid is healthy enough to play, then they won't baby him. Ordinarily, a 6'5, 220 pound guy would be a good bet to make that yardage, but I was a bit surprised due to his leg injuries and considering that the tailbacks were all kicking butt. I was also surprised that we were not a bit more aggressive in the third and fourth quarter on offense. Considering that Stanford is not one of yours truly's favorite teams, and considering a big win might help with the BCS, I really wanted to see SC annihilate them. (shame on me!) Believe it or not, I am not critical of the calls at all. I think they simply reinforce the notion that the staff really does have control and the only thing that do consistently is keep us guessing and break trends more and more all the time.
The field goal kicking and kick offs were once again very very good. A large number of the kickoffs were not returned and I don't recall Killeen missing any field goal attempts. The punt coverage was good and the kickoff coverage only had one major breakdown. However, for some reason, there did appear to be more penalties in this game than in recent memory and I can' t help but wonder if there are some hard feelings between players on these teams. Once again Tom Malone made the best of his relatively small number of punts and Greig --hands like glue--Carlson showed why he is the punt returner. I must also admit that in all my years of watching SC Football, I can't recall ever seeing a play like the one that involved Allmond on the kickoff and end up with a Stanford TD. From the Television angle it was hard to see, but I do know that in a matter of a few seconds, Stanford had scored two touchdowns. Fortunately, that was about the extent of any meaningful scoring that the Cardinal was to do on this given evening.
So now what? Personally, I will be leaving on Thursday morning for Chicago and this will be my sixth trip to the SC-Notre Dame game at South Bend. I have never been there for a Trojan victory, so I figure I am due. However, reality does not work like that. After seeing the Irish run right through and over Pitt today, I know we will have our hands full with them. This is not likely to be quite like last year's massacre of the Irish and they now have their best running back in full stride. Matt Leinart looks pretty banged up at this time, though to be honest, he has played his best ball of the season while hurt--go figure football. The victory over the Stanford Cardinal is barely over and now all I can think of is the Fighting Irish. USC suffered a major loss tonight when Byrd got hurt and one can only hope that Guenther and Kurt Katnik can step up. Personally, I think it might make sense to give Matt Cassell the chance to help out at tight end, but who knows if that really makes any sense at this point. I feel better knowing that JD Booty has at least gotten his feet wet should he be needed next week. After seeing the Irish D clobber the Pitt quarterback today, I think Matt Leinart might really take some big hits next week. I just have a feeling that this is going to be a very interesting week for the team and fans alike.