Six plays that changed the gameIt was the same old thing. The Trojans look promising, they make some good plays but eventually lose. They came ready to play on Saturday and didn't let the hostile crowd bother them but all season long we have seen games decided by just a few plays and this was no exception. Here's a look at six plays that made a difference:
1) Reggie Williams catch on the deep post route. The Trojans were in a three deep coverage with DeShaun Hill having the specific assignment from his free safety spot of stopping any passes deep in the middle of the field but somehow Williams went against double coverage and made the catch. It was not the only big play on the day for Williams as he showed the simple ability to go up and get the ball no matter what.
2) Pickett holding on high snap. Cody Pickett was forced to leave the game at QB due to an injured shoulder but he continued to serve as holder on placekicks and made a great save and hold on a high snap which allowed for the tying FG.
3) 4th and 1 on the opening drive. USC had taken the kickoff and marched impressively down the field behind a rejuvenated line but the drive stalled when the line got pushed back and Carson Palmer was stuffed on a quarterback sneak.
4) Kareem's drop in the 4th quarter. Yes, he made an excellent play for the TD later in the quarter but the timing of the dropped ball took away some vital momentum at a key point in the game.
5) Willie Hurst on final drive to put the game away. It wasn't one single play but Hurst ran six times for 29 yards and made defenders miss between the tackles.
Notes from the SidelinesTroy Polamalu continues to be the best player on the field for the Trojans as he led the team in tackles and provided a spark in the first half with a 22 yard interception return for a touchdown…..USC started off 3 for 3 on 3rd down conversions but missed on their next 9 attempts to finish 3 for 12…..When Sultan McCullough gains 132 yards on the ground it should mean a Trojan win
Line of the Future
The play of the freshmen on the defensive line was very encouraging. Kenechi Udeze had his best game of the year as he was extremely active while Shaun Cody contributed five tackles and Mike Patterson recovered a fumble. Jason Wardlow also saw time on special teams.
FB and TE
In the first half Charlie Landrigan caught a touchdown pass and Alex Holmes caught two passes but we didn't go to them in the second half. With the speed of our receivers it will be the TE and FB who get single coverage and need to be factors in the offense. The team also ran the ball well with Holmes in the lineup as he is a tremendous blocker.
USC has forced 11 turnovers this year after only having 17 all last season.
Good news/Bad news
On special teams the Trojans did an excellent job covering kicks against a Washington unit that was among the best in the country but the punting by Mike MacGillivray consistently gave the Huskies good field position which hurt the Trojan D.
Key to Game: Time of Possession
Rick Neuheisel is 17-0 in games when the Washington Huskies win the time of possession battle, a key statistical edge which the Trojans held for most of the game until the 4th quarter when Washington took control and moved the ball down the field when it counted. The USC teams of the past used to dominate the 4th quarter by wearing teams down throughout the game with the knowledge and confidence that the final period belonged to them. In this game the Trojans had control early by running the ball and hitting the high percentage passes and utilizing the tight end and fullback. In the 2nd half Washington brought the safeties up to try and take away the run and the corners rolled up in their coverage which basically dared the Trojans to try and throw the ball downfield. That is where the USC passing game began to fade and a long string of 3 and outs not only failed to produce any points but it left the Trojan defense on the field to the point where they started to lose some toughness by the 4th quarter. Carroll has based his defense upon speed, a fashionable trait among coaches today who look for their players to fly to the football but it comes at the sacrifice of size and our players could only hold on for so long. It has to a concern that this has happened four weeks in a row where a team has taken control of the fourth quarter on their way to victory against a defense coached by Pete Carroll but our failure to hold the ball on offense meant little rest on the sidelines for our defenders between series and the Husky offense took advantage of that by playing the type of smash mouth running football which Trojan fans recognize so well.
Linebacker Chris Prosser sat out the 2nd half with a concussion and he is one player the Trojan defense cannot afford to lose right now….Carson Palmer opened the game completing his first 7 passes and looked terrific but then misfired on his next six before recovering in time to hit Kareem Kelly for a game tying score late in the 4th quarter. You don't want to stop Carson from using his running ability but it is also becoming a major concern every time he takes off with the ball due to the risk of a fumble….The offensive line has taken a lot of criticism lately and they responded with a tremendous leap in performance. The Trojans stayed committed to the run throughout the game because the line was doing their job and Carson was only sacked twice, a major improvement from recent weeks…..One change on the line was Norm Katnik in place of Lenny Vandermade at center because of "performance reasons" according to the coaches….. Lonnie Ford batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage on the final Husky drive….. For a change it was the opponent who was heavily penalized as Washington drew 10 flags compared to 3 for USC
Quote of the Day
"We know how close we are. It may not show up on the scoreboard but we know" Kareem Kelly
One former Trojan football player commented that the hardest thing to do in football is to think and play at the same time. We know we have good athletes at USC who can make spectacular plays but we also have too many instances where players make mistakes that may seem minor at the time but could end up having a major impact on the game. Keary Colbert was called out of bounds on one completed pass near the sidelines and simply ran back to the huddle as if nothing was wrong but a look at the replay shows that Colbert had little or no awareness of the fact that the sideline was rapidly approaching as the ball arrived. He made no attempt to drag his feet or even to look down at the sideline after the catch to see if he had made the play. It was great that the ball was caught but unless you are in bounds it doesn't do any good and a wide receiver for the USC Trojans should be savvy enough to pay attention to that kind of minor detail. This is not meant to pick on Colbert because there have certainly been a fair share of missed opportunities this season for the entire team but it shows a good example of how we are lacking the ability to execute when a clutch moment is presented. Those plays are usually subtle and not recognized when they are made but a good player needs to have a sixth sense of when it is time to step up and make a big play, it is not an instinct or skill that can be taught by the coaches, it is something that a player must feel on his own. Washington WR Reggie Williams showed the ability in this game by consistently beating the Trojan coverage, often with two men, and going up to battle for the ball in a way that would have to impress any coach. The quarterback for Washington was backup Taylor Barton and he was shaky but Williams helped him make enough plays in the 2nd half to lead his team to victory. There has been a lot of heat lately on Trojan quarterback Carson Palmer and he is not without his own faults this season but we have certainly not had the benefit of a receiver who goes up and battles for a ball like Williams does. If Carson makes a perfect throw it often results in a completion but if not the ball will usually fall to the ground. Rodney Peete is remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks in USC history but his passes were rarely on target and instead he was often rescued by circus catches from Erik Affholter or John Jackson. Those teams won because the players knew how to win and they may not have made all the plays but they made enough when they counted. It is great for the future that we have been close in these games and when we turn it around it will be fun to watch but USC is not a program that should have to wait for the future. We have enough talent to win now and recent games have proven that to be true. The players played hard in this game, we know that, and the coaches did a good job as well because we saw improvement. Unfortunately that hasn't been enough lately and we will continue to fall short unless we find those players who cannot only make the big plays but who are smart enough to know when to make them.