In the last two years we've seen the USC vs UCLA rivalry become a bit one-sided but on Saturday the outcome of the game was decided quicker than normal thanks in large part to the precision of the Trojan offense. From the opening drive we were able to march right down the field seemingly at will against a Bruin defense that somehow came into the game as the top ranked pass defense in the conference. The Trojans scored on their first six possessions and by the time the first half was over Mike Williams had amassed 11 catches for 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
For some reason the Bruins decided to play one on one coverage on Williams to start the game and one can only imagine the smile that came across the face of Norm Chow when the saw that alignment. Chow wasted no time in getting the ball to Williams early and often and yet the stubborn UCLA coaches refused to change their strategy. They tried putting different guys on Mike but it didn't matter who was on him because Williams just simply overpowered anyone in his path. A touchdown pass to Williams was followed by a short LenDale White touchdown run to make it 14-0 but on their following drive the Trojans were actually stopped by the Bruins on 3rd down. Incredibly the Bruins accepted the penalty which gave us another shot at the 3rd down opportunity and we made them pay by, surprisingly, going right back to Mike Williams for a first down completion and then hitting him with another touchdown throw a short time later on the first play of the 2nd quarter to make it 21-0.
By that time the game was over in terms of the competition as the Trojan defense was doing their part as well. In the first half the Bruin offense had more penalty yards than total offense, that is an amazing statistic. The Trojan defense even got into the scoring act on their own after Reggie Bush had fumbled the ball near the goal line. Ronald Nunn came on a corner blitz to force a fumble by Drew Olson which was recovered in the end zone by Kenechi Udeze. It was one of those days for the Trojans where everything seemed to go our way and there was nothing they could do to stop it. It's starting to become a familiar feeling in this rivalry.
Mike Williams showed once again why he is a special player. Keyshawn Johnson was on the sidelines and he was impressed by the performance of the man who will go down as the best WR in USC history….There were a lot of stars for the Trojans in this win but no unit contributed more as group than the defensive line as they simply controlled the line of scrimmage against an overmatched Bruin o-line. Kenechi Udeze and Mike Patterson both had touchdowns on fumble recoveries (Patterson showed good speed for a big man) and Shaun Cody almost returned a blocked kick for a 2-point score of his own….Jacob Rogers anchored yet another solid performance from the Trojan offensive line. Jacob went up all day against Bruin DE Dave Ball, who came into the game with over 15 sacks, and didn't allow a single sack. The line gave Matt Leinart time to throw and that helped lead to the passing display he put on with Mike Williams…..The Trojans are the first Pac-10 team to score 40 or more points in six straight games…..Dallas Sartz did another terrific job in place of Matt Grootegoed as he led the defense with 9 tackles…..Leinart ended the day with 23 completions in 32 attempts for 289 yards, two touchdowns and no picks as he continues to put up impressive numbers…. Marcell Allmond forced the fumble on a corner blitz which led to the Patterson score and he also added the only interception of the game with a pick inside the USC five yard line….The Trojans did suffer two key injuries in the game as RG John Drake will be out for the year with a broken right ankle while back-up QB John David Booty broke his left wrist but might return for a bowl game...Will Poole had recently been moved to the punt return spot but after battling a punt in the wind he was quickly replaced by Greig Carlson….Hershel Dennis showed quick feet while leading the team in rushing and he also did an excellent job in pass blocking.....Craig Fertig called the stretch at the end of the third quarter "one of the damnedest things I've ever seen on this field". It started with a Will Poole fumble recovery which was followed by a Booty fumble. UCLA converted with a TD pass to Marcedes Lewis and then kicked off to Reggie Bush who returned it 96 yards for a touchdown. The Trojans kicked off to Maurice Drew and he returned it 99 yards for a touchdown but the conversion failed and Shaun Cody raced the length of the field with the ball only to be tackled just short of the goal line.
Key to the Game - Coaching
One team was prepared to play this game with a focused offense, an inspired defense and opportunistic special teams. The other team drove over from Westwood and went through the motions. What we have seen in the last three years of the Trojan vs Bruin rivalry is different than anything we've seen before and the primary reason for the that is the difference in coaching. In the last three years under the Carroll regime the Trojans have taken the drama out of the game. It was such a shock during the 27-0 game when it seemed as if the Bruins stopped playing late in the game because you just never saw something like that in a game between these two rivals. Last year again we saw a smothering performance from the Trojans and the game was in such control that the majority of powder blue faithful were out the door before the fourth quarter started. This year we saw the Trojans build upon that domination once again and the difference between the two programs has been magnified to new heights. The Trojan team was ready for anything the Bruins threw our way (as one coach said "we game-planned the hell out of them") and after that we just allowed the talent to take over. USC is the complete package these days because we have the best defensive strategist in Pete Carroll and the best offensive strategist in Norm Chow and they are surrounded by an excellent group of assistants. The head coach also places a premium on recruiting so these great strategists now have a wide array of weapons to choose from when preparing for a game. What we saw here on Saturday is real because the Trojans have been prepared the right way and we also saw what happens when your program is in disarray.
There is a Sugar-coated carrot dangling in front of the Trojans these days and the UCLA Bruins didn't offer much of an obstacle in our pursuit of New Orleans. For tailgating Trojan fans who were glued to a television set watching the Michigan vs Ohio State game before entering the Coliseum, the knowledge of the Wolverine victory and possible return to the #2 spot in the BCS rankings was fresh in our minds as we watched the USC offense move up and down the field with relative ease. The Trojan team had no idea that a win would put them one step closer to a national championship game, Pete Carroll had instructed Coliseum officials not to announce the score of the Michigan game because he didn't want to distract the team, so they simply took care of business and quickly dispatched the Bruins.
With a bye week coming up you can be sure the players will have plenty of time to talk about what is possible in the coming weeks and it will be the job of Carroll and the coaches to remind them not to let their minds wander too far into the future because we still have an important game with Oregon State in two weeks. With such dramatic stakes ahead, it's hard to imagine that Carroll will allow his team to enter that game with anything less than complete focus and attention to detail. For Trojan fans, there will be calls to travel agents and a mad dash for game tickets. There is a possibility, according to some BCS "experts", that LSU can still jump USC for the #2 spot at some point before the process is finalized, but the odds favor the Trojans and so travel plans need to be made. What has not been a realistic opportunity for many years, a chance to play for a national title, is now within our grasp and you can be sure the Cardinal and Gold will be well represented on Bourbon Street.
it really only three years ago that the Trojans finished last in the Pac-10 for
the first time in history? It seems
so long ago. The impact Pete
Carroll has had on the Trojan program should be enough to convince any fan of
the importance of coaching. We've
been lucky at USC to have been blessed with some of the top coaches who have led
us to national titles and Carroll seems like a logical choice to be next in
line. Not only do his teams win but
they make a Trojan proud of the way they play football. They win with class, there was no fake
end-around on the final play on Saturday, and they represent the university
well. Let's all enjoy these next
few weeks and what is possible because we've learned in the past two decades
that these opportunities don't come around every year.