Coming into the game, there was much discussion on the various football boards as to which team really had the better defense. It seemed to me that the much heralded USC defensive line came into this game determined to make the point that it is their unit, and not the statistically more highly rated Cougar unit that is the conference top defensive line. Well, if that was their goal, they achieved it and removed any and all doubt. Prior to the game, Washington State's DE Isaac Brown talked up his unit and emphasized their speed. However, it was the USC defensive line that wreaked havoc on Washington State and their quarterback Matt Kegel. He was sacked repeatedly and on those plays that he was not sacked, he was often hit so hard and fast that it is a wonder that he survived the beating. The down four, also know as the Wild Bunch II, really came to play tonight. They sacked the quarterback at least five times and hurried and hit him on countless others. They also shut down the Cougars rushing attack and forced WSU to pass on almost every play. It certainly appeared that Shaun Cody is back to his pre injury level and it was the USC defensive end trio of Omar Nazel, Big Keneche Udeze and Frostee Rucker that looked like the superior unit tonight.
Having just written that about the Washington State defensive line, I would not want to make it sound like they posed no threat or challenge to USC. For the first half of the game they gave SC all it could handle. Matt Leinart was under lots of pressure, and although he was only sacked once on an all out linebacker blitz, he had to hurry many of his throws and in the first half in particular, he was not quite as sharp as he had been in the prior four games. However, he was still very efficient and he showed lots as he stood in tough against the pressure and he ended up with a most respectable 17 for 31 for 191yards and once again without throwing an interception. For those lingering doubters of Matt's ability, the lone question that seemed to remain was how well he would stand up to intense pressure and could he get the job done. To my way of looking at things, he silenced most everyone with tonight's performance. Whereas he was not necessarily dominant, he was efficient and effective and ended up with three TD passes without any interceptions. He is really showing himself to be a most capable and talented replacement for Carson Palmer.
And what can anyone say about the USC ground game? It took a little while to get going, but when it did, oh what a show the runners put on. USC ended up with 222 yards rushing and this was against one of the nation's leading rush defenses. The trio of Reggie Bush, Hershel Dennis and Lendale White, with the help of the conference's if not the nation's elite offensive line, just shredded the Cougars. LenDale busted through for two long runs and the only questions on both of them was how far could he go before he ran out of steam. It did provided some great suspense as we sat there screaming and hoping that he would make it all the way on both of his runs. Of course that was not to be, but he did show great speed and endurance for a kid who is over 220 pounds. And speaking of the offensive line, it would be not to mention that they gave up only one sack and at that, it was not avoidable. The Cougars had the right play called and the Oline was simply outnumbered. A football team simply cannot run and pass the way USC is currently doing both without a stellar Offensive Line.
SC fans were treated to some most unusual plays tonight. High on the list was the flea flicker to an injured Mike Williams. He was supposed to hit a wide open Keary Colbert, but when rushed by the defense, BMW improvised greatly and he completed a beautiful pass and play to Greg Guenther. Similarly, Trojan fans got their first opportunity to see a great play by a guy that I feel will take over nicely next year for Colbert--Steve Smith. On a third down conversion, Smith took a nice short pass, made a fine move on the defender he needed to beat and he raced to the endzone. Much has been said about Smith's speed or lack thereof, but all that really needs to be said is that Steve Smith is simply fast enough. Although Whitney Lewis did not get the ball thrown his way, it is nice to see him getting more plays every game. It is only a matter of time before he presents that one additional offensive weapon to break the back of SC's opponents.
It is hard to say much negative about a game when the team destroys its highly rated opponent 43 to 16. However, there are surely a couple of issues worth mentioning. I have learned my lesson with regards to Coach Norm Chow. He knows more than the rest of us and I am not going to challenge his decisions. But, I still have to ask a couple of questions. First, were my TV buddy and I really the only two guys going nuts when SC had a fourth and 2 only to run LenDale up the middle with what seemed like no chance for success. It was a drive killing play and it seems like SC could have made 2 or 3 yards almost anytime by simply throwing a short out to Guenther or Williams. I also can't help but wonder about USC's defense over the middle. All game long, almost every team just hits guys who are open in the seems over the middle. Would it be unfair for anyone to take a leap of faith and figure that many fans go nuts watching completion after completion to the opposing receivers in the middle of the field? I suspect that many folks are wondering the same thing, though not everyone will fess up. I also wonder if there is a reason that SC's defensive backs and linebackers never seem to jam their guys at the line of scrimmage.
One must assume that keeping the middle of the field relatively open, but keeping the plays in front of them is actually part of Coach Carroll's overall scheme. Since I am a results driven person, I can't argue that whatever Pete has in mind, and no matter how nerve racking it is to watch and endure, his methods are working. SC gives up some yards, but as the saying goes, SCOREBOARD BABY!! Most often, it is USC and their system that comes up on the winning side, so no matter how painful it might be at times to watch the other team hit their throws, they usually don't convert to big-time points. As I watched the game tonight and that topic came up with my TV buddy, I just said that if the Cougs keep up those throws, eventually three bad things will happen for them. They will get their quarterback annihilated, the receivers will get whacked ferociously and will cough up the rock and/or Kegel will throw a pick. Fortunately for SC, all three of those things did take place. No system is perfect, but with a record of 8-1, USC's is pretty darn effective. And on this particular night, the special teams also played very well with Tom Malone kicking the ball very well once again and with Ryan Kileen not missing any extra points or any field goal attempts.
So now, as USC heads into a much needed by week prior to playing Arizona, it is now obvious that this team is very good and USC FOOTBALL IS DEFINITELY BACK. The offense puts up big yards and big points, even against nationally acclaimed defenses. With a veteran and talented offensive line, the young quarterback and running backs, along with a super receiving corps is simply too much for most teams to handle on a given night. As far as the Rose Bowl is concerned, USC does control its own destiny. If SC wins out, at the very least the Trojans play in Pasadena. Of course, if SC wins out, they might actually end up playing in New Orleans for the National Championship. It really isn't too early to finally mention these things. It will only take one more conference loss to put an end to both of these dreams, so winning out is essential and that means showing up to play each and every game and taking one at a time. As for the BCS, this season could end it as we now know it. With Miami having lost to Virginia Tech, and Florida State having lost to Miami, somebody could very likely end up rated below somebody they already beat. It is not inconceivable that USC could be number two in both polls and still trail once beaten FSU in the BCS. But, enough of that for now. At this time, I offer my congratulations once again to a fine coaching staff lead by Norm Chow and Pete Carroll and I hope we get the job done each and every week. The rest will fall into place one way or the other.