It was an exciting atmosphere at the Coliseum on Saturday as a Homecoming crowd of 82,478 was on hand to watch a match-up between two of the top ten teams in the country and the Trojans continued their solid play with a 43-16 victory over Washington State. The game was tight at halftime with a 15-10 margin but once again USC came out firing in the second half and cruised to the win as they outscored the Cougars 28-6 the rest of the way. It was the 13th home victory in a row for the Trojans as they moved into a tie for 1st place in the Pac-10.
A familiar pattern
It has become a routine for USC games this year to see the teams head into the locker room in a close contest at halftime only to have the Trojans come out and absolutely take care of business in the second half. This game, as it turned out, was a continuation of that pattern. There was nothing easy for either team in the first half and that can be credited to the fine defense being played on both sides of the ball. We all know what the Trojan defense is capable of but the Cougars came in with a solid unit of their own led by a defensive minded head coach in Bill Doba. Doba has exceeded the expectations of most college football fans so far and he has Washington State playing good football as they seemed to have raised the bar from recent successes under Mike Price. We saw Matt Leinart struggle in the early going and the Trojans missed a golden opportunity when we were forced to settle for five points after two muffed punt snaps by the Cougars (including one that gave USC the ball inside the five yard line). The only touchdown for the Trojans in the first half came on a fine run by Hershel Dennis but for some reason there wasn't a great sense of worry among the Trojan fans because Washington State hadn't been moving the ball on our defense either. We all knew Pete Carroll would continue to tighten the grip on their offense and it was only a matter of time before our offense got untracked. That moment came in the third quarter when we hit Steve Smith with a long touchdown pass. Shortly after that the Cougars were mounting a drive only to have QB Matt Kegel fumble with a recovery by the Trojans. The next play was a long 49 yard run by LenDale White and then we saw a little bit of trickery with a pass from Mike Williams to Gregg Guenther. It was good improvisation by Mike as the planned pass to Keary Colbert was covered so Mike scrambled and hit Guenther. Williams then caught a touchdown on the next play and the rout was on.
Notes from the Sidelines
LenDale White has been the physical spark for the Trojan running attack and in this game he not only continued with those skills but he also broke off two long runs, one for 49 yards and one for 66 yards. White ended the game with 149 yards on 12 carries with one score….Dallas Sartz got the start at SLB with Groots still nursing an ankle injury and he got the job done with 9 tackles (2nd on team) and good coverage. He played at both LB and SS in the game…..Some members of the Washington State team had made comments questioning the play of the Trojan d-line and they got an up-close view of just how relentless Ed Orgeron's group can be. The d-line not only put up big numbers but they came up with plays at key times and also spread the wealth among the group. Each starter got at least one sack (Kenechi Udeze had two) while Shaun Cody also caused a fumble on a 3rd down play that was eventually recovered by d-line reserve Frostee Rucker…..Keary Colbert led the Trojans with nine catches, including a score, and he contributed to the victory in another way with the fine performance by Steve Smith. Colbert has been a mentor to Smith since summer passing drills and this game was our first look at the big play ability of the freshman. Steve broke a solid tackle attempt and sprinted to the end zone (he was a state level relay runner in track) for his first touchdown as a Trojan…..Ryan Killeen made two field goals and after his 30 yard effort the first person off the bench to congratulate him was Mike Williams…..Tom Malone averaged over 51 yards on three kicks but he may not qualify for national rankings because he doesn't have enough attempts…Hershel Dennis made three nice cuts on his TD run in the first half but he later left the game with a sore hip and didn't return…..Mike Williams was noticeably hobbled on his sore ankle and he had to get an IV at halftime. He was held to four catches but he also added a pass completion to Gregg Guenther on a trick play. Mike did a good job of keeping his head up when moving around to find the open receiver…..It wasn't too long ago that his numbers would have been cheered but now when Matt Leinart completes 17-31 for 191 yards and three touchdowns it's considered a solid, if not spectacular, effort. It shows how far Matt has come in recent weeks…..Darnell Bing added an interception late in the game…..Lofa Tatupu led USC with 11 tackles….You don't want to criticize the officiating too much but it seems as if there were an awful lot of questionable calls in this game…Dominique Byrd underwent surgery last week and he said everything went well....
Key to the Game— Line of Scrimmage
It's an old adage in football that the game is won in the trenches and that is exactly where the Trojans won this game on Saturday. WSU came into the game with a run defense that was giving up only 68 yards per game on the ground, they had a lot of size up front and figured to challenge the Trojan run game but the USC o-line created big holes for Dennis, White and Bush to do some damage and the result was 222 rushing yards on the day. We can't give enough credit to Tim Davis for the job he has done in having his group playing at such a high level. Perhaps Davis and his o-line have improved in part from going against the USC d-line every day in practice. It has to be a bit of a relief each Saturday to face someone other than Udeze, Cody, Patterson or Nazel. The Cougars sure wished they didn't have to face those four in the second half. Washington State only completed one deep pass on the day because the Trojans were simply putting too much pressure on Matt Kegel (the USC d-line had five sacks to none for the Cougar d-line). Kegel left the game at one point in the first half with a knee injury but returned to try and rally his team after halftime. He was successful to a point by hitting short, intermediate patterns underneath the Trojan defense but that just isn't going to get it done, especially when the USC d-linemen are pinning their ears back and rushing the passer with abandon. As far as a run game for the Cougars, there was none as they ended the day with –25 yards rushing. That number may be a little misleading because it includes the yardage lost on the botched punts but it doesn't hide the fact that they couldn't run all game.
time now for the bye week and a chance for the Trojans to re-group before
beginning the final stretch of the season.
Normally all thoughts at this point would be on the Pac-10 championship
and the resulting trip to the Rose Bowl.
That's the way we were raised as Trojans because we've always believed
there is no finer destination than Pasadena on New Year's Day. It's hard to
deny, however, that while we may have one eye on the Rose Bowl these days the
other eye is firmly planted in the direction of New Orleans. You can blame the BCS for this
situation, they have taken a bowl system that was steeped in tradition and
replaced it with a set-up that places all the importance on one game. With that being said, we're not foolish
in our love and respect for the Rose Bowl.
We want to play in the Granddaddy of Them All but if we have a shot at
the national title and it means playing in a domed stadium called the Superdome
then book a flight to Louisiana and let's play football. As we sit here at the beginning of
November it's clear that this is a viable opportunity for the Trojans. As we began the season it seemed to many
as if this would be a rebuilding year for Pete Carroll and company but much has
come together and this squad has earned the right to be considered one of the
two best teams in the country. It
remains to be seen if the conglomerate of BCS computers will agree but we don't
have time to worry about that right now.
Carroll has placed a priority on keeping his team focused on the task at
hand and that means Arizona in two weeks.
It is a well-timed bye for USC as they have several players who can use
the extra rest but you can be sure that Carroll will be paying attention to
maintaining the edge that his team has right now. The last time the Trojans came off a bye
and played on the road against a team they were supposed to beat it resulted in
the only loss of the 2003 season and Carroll has no desire for that kind of
history to repeat itself. The
opportunity to compete for a national title doesn't come around every day and it
will all mean nothing if we get distracted by those thoughts and don't take care
of business in the coming weeks. A
loss in any of our remaining three games, all games in which the Trojans should
be solid favorites, would not only mean the national title hopes are dead but it
would also mean the Pac-10 title is gone and we could look forward to a lovely
holiday season in El Paso. Nothing
against the fine citizens of El Paso (including UTEP QB Jordan Palmer, the
younger brother of Carson) but the vast majority of Trojan fans would consider
it a disappointment to be shopping for trinkets across the river in Mexico
instead of strolling the streets of the French Quarter. The University of Southern California
football team has eight national championships but that doesn't mean we're above
getting excited when the opportunity rolls around to add another one to the
list. Perhaps it's because it's
been so long since we were legitimate contenders, perhaps because we know we're
good enough to challenge any team in the country. Whatever the reason, we won't have to
wait long to find out how this will all play out.