For all the many positives that were part of this game, there were unfortunately some very meaningful negatives. First and foremost, USC lost one of its most valuable offensive linemen for the remainder of the season, including whatever bowl game is in the future. John Drake suffered a broken ankle, (and for those who wonder, a break and fracture are the same) and he will not be available to play until well after the bowl. Unfortunately, John David Booty also suffered an injury to his left wrist and at this time, the exact nature of his injury is not know. If it is a sprain, he will be back this season, but a fracture would put his availability in serious doubt and I believe it will turn out to be a fracture. He looked a bit shaky in his brief appearance, but he did show some decent mobility and he did hit 2 out of 3 passes. SC fans also got to see that freshmen tend to make freshmen mistakes, even when as talented as Booty and Reggie Bush. I have a serious feeling that Reggie will not be so careless with the ball near the goal line in the near future.
Going into the game, UCLA fans and announcers alike were touting the UCLA defense as being one of the best units around. It was their linebackers and defensive backs and their down four that were this and that and they were going to put up a great fight and the like. Well, from the outset, it was evident that no part of UCLA's defensive unit was up to the challenge presented by the outstanding first string offense of USC. The Trojans moved the ball and scored at will for much of the early part of the game while the outcome might have still been in doubt. UCLA could not stop Matt Leinart, they could not cover Mike Williams and they were totally ineffective. This may sound a bit like a Trojan bragging, and perhaps it is. However, make no mistake. UCLA's defense was not up to the task. For a team that had they nations leading sack artist in Matt Ball, they could not get to Leinart at all while Jacob Rogers was in at Left Tackle. SC was able to run the ball effectively enough and the passing game was on fire, so why not stick with what was working. I read over and over how good the UCLA linebackers are and they are so superior to the USC unit. I also read that UCLA did not think SC's dline was up to the level of the Oklahoma unit. I wonder what they think now! It is only by the grace of Pete Carroll that this USC squad did not hang 70 or more points on their unit. Add the fact that against SC's first string defense, the UCLA offense was totally inept. Olsen got sacked twice for fumbles that lead to SC dlinemen scoring and to my recollection this dline looked more dominating against this Bruin unit than the Sooner unit.
What more can anyone say about Matt Leinart? He is simply amazing and this is coming from a guy who honestly did not think he would keep his starting job for more than half of the season. Some question this and that, he is not athletic and the like, but his record speaks for itself. He rarely makes a bad throw, he moves well enough to get out of harms way, his toughness is undeniable and he has set the record for passes without a pick and as the saying goes, it ain't even close. At the end of the first half he was 20 for 27 for 273 yards and had Pete Carroll let him stay in for the game, he might have thrown for well over 400. I can say without hesitation that right now, this is MATT LEINART's team and deservedly so. Karl Dorrell had better thank his lucky stars that Pete does not subscribe to the Bob Toledo school of end of the game ethics. I did not see Pete allow his team to run bootlegs at the end of the game as you know who allowed Cade McKnown to do some 6 short years ago. Oh how things have changed.
Mike Williams, for the first time since I can remember, did not play in the second half and I do not believe he was injured. If there is a better receiver in the United States, I have not seen him. He is so big, he is so strong and he is fast enough to give dbacks a major headache. Even the supposedly talented Matt Ware was no match, not even close to this absolute stud. I honestly believe he was toying with his Bruin counterparts. When that little gutty Bruin tried to cover him, memories of Gerald Henry covering Stokes came back to my mind. One should not forget that other SC receivers were also quite productive. Keary Colbert, despite missing a couple of catchable balls, made his now usual one superb catch. Gregg Guenther is proving to be quite a weapon and for a guy his size, he also moves reasonably well after the catch. Steve Smith is becoming more productive and it is fun to see Whitney and Greg Mitchell out there as well. I guess some might wonder why Matt does not look for some of the other guys more often and the answer just might be, why should he? There is an old saying that some use and it is, keep doing something till they take it away.
Well, did anyone, and I mean anyone, see UCLA take Mike Williams away??? I believe that this ABC crew, one that had not yet seen USC this season, could not believe their eyes. Bob Griese, a guy who I don't think is the biggest SC fan in the world, could not help but say that he though USC was definitely the second best team in the land and most deserving of the slot with OU in the Sugar Bowl.
How about USC's amazing defense? I had watched the OU-UCLA game and I came away thinking that OU can be run on. In fact, UCLA did just that. However, there was no way those guys could run on this SC team. NO WAY could they move the ball at all against this SC defense. Most of Olsen's passing yards came against a team that was on cruise control. Even at that, the SC dbacks came up with pick and the SC defensive backs more than held their own for much of the game. I did note, however, that Marcedes Lewis did beat his old high school teammate, Darnell Bing, for a touchdown and I guess that may be the subject of some future ribbing, though Darnell can always come back with the old Score Board, baby, routine.
It would be a mistake on my part not to mention that this game had some of the weirdest plays and sequences that I can ever remember seeing in a USC-UCLA football game. First, the Bruins scored two points on a blocked extra point. Maybe USC is the only team in America to have that happen in successive seasons. Then Reggie Bush returns a kick all the way, only to have his Bruins counterpart, Maurice Drew, return the favor on the ensuing kickoff. How weird was that? To make it even more amazing, the Bruins went for two points, and on the pass by Olsen, Dallas Sartz tipped the ball and Shaun Cody picked it off in midair and raced almost 90 yards before Marcedes Lewis caught him from behind. It would have been great to see Shaun score, but since we did not need the points, I am glad he did not lateral the ball. I might never get to see a dtackle race that far without being caught again in my entire life. And speaking of D-tackles who can move, has anyone ever seen a guy look better running the ball than Mike Patterson looked returning that recovered fumble. NO kidding he was fluid beyond what one might expect. Then again, who can remember seeing two different USC defensive tackles actually scoring touchdowns in one game?
So what can anyone say now? USC has one regular season game left. If USC wins, will SC get invited to the Sugar Bowl? Maybe, but maybe not. USC will not get any help whatsoever from the strength of schedule factor. It did not help anything that Washington beat Washington State and Oregon beat Oregon State. For some reason, the Big Ten is perceived as being stronger than the Pac-10, yet Oregon beat Michigan and Ohio State is nothing but a big pretender who had a road record or 2-2 this season. None of those Big Ten Teams can stop a truly balanced team and not one of them is likely to have much luck stopping this SC offensive juggernaut. As for LSU, well they had lots of trouble with Ole Miss today and I have no doubt that with a win over Oregon State, USC deserves the Sugar Bowl invitation more than any and all others. Of course, the final voting will be out of our hands, so all USC can do is win out. Judging by the way that USC has been prepared for all these other big games, I have no doubt that Pete and his staff will once again have these guys ready to go for Oregon State. USC has had to overcome a seemingly unbelievable number of major injuries, but this team has the staff and players to get the job done. One again I can't do anything other than congratulate the team and staff for a job well done. I asked if SC Football is really back before this season started. The answer is an undeniable and capital Y-E-S, SC FOOTBALL IS BACK. Oh how great it feels to say that and mean it.