The smiles on the faces on the USC players after the game told the story as the Trojans finally got over a hump and, at a time when they needed a win, put together the best complete game USC performance in a long time on their way to a 48-17 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils in front of 43, 508 at the Coliseum. There were plenty of Trojan heroes to go around from the inspired play of Carson Palmer to the unsung running back in Sunny Byrd to the playmaking ability of the wide receivers to the swarming presence of the defense.
At the start it looked like we were in for the same old thing after the defense began yet another game with a turnover on the first possession but the offense went three and out with two quick sacks. At the end of the first quarter the Trojans had minus 13 yards of total offense and, while we all hoped that it was only a matter of time before the offense clicked into gear, it was hard to know when it would happen and there was no reason to expect it when it did. However, at 9:41 of the 2nd quarter the Trojan team suddenly found whatever inspiration had been lacking and started clicking. The quarterback was throwing short and deep passes with equal accuracy, the wide receivers were fighting db's for the ball and winning most of the battles, the TE's and FB were an integral part of the offense while the rb's were hitting the holes and gobbling up chucks of yardage behind an offensive line that suddenly could do no wrong. When momentum starts to go your way it can turn into a powerful, contagious force and the Trojans rode it throughout the remainder of the game on the way to a much needed win.. We even finished the game right by controlling the ball for 9:19 of the final 10:20 in the fourth quarter in vintage Trojan style. There could not have been a better game for the Trojans and the emotional state of the team because even the luster of a positive coach like Carroll is going to wear off without results at some point but now the players have seen it work and the job now is to carry that momentum into next week and the matchup in South Bend.
Notes from the Sidelines
Lonnie Ford started the day off right for the Trojans with a strip and caused fumble from ASU QB Jeff Krohn which was recovered by Mike Pollard. Ford has made a habit this season of making at least one big play per game and that is providing excellent senior leadership for the young dline…...The ASU offense was averaging over 44 points per game but the Trojan defense held them in check by only allowing 17…..Charlie Landrigan caught a touchdown pass for the 2nd game in a row from his fullback spot
Carson was cruising
Carson Palmer did it running, he did it passing, he did everything necessary to lead the team to victory. He was 18 for 26 with 295 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions but, most important, he combined with his receivers to consistently make the plays in key situations.
The Trojans had three interceptions on the day by Kris Richard, Frank Strong and Kevin Arbet. That gives the team eight for the season after totalling seven all of last year.
Welcome to the end zone
Four different Trojans scored their first career touchdowns during the game. Kori Dickerson caught a rope over the middle from Carson, Sunny Byrd gave us a running touchdown right before the half, Alex Holmes caught a short pass after a long fade pattern to Kareem Kelly, and then true freshman Darryl Poston made a nice run late in the game to end the scoring.
Thank you, Walt Wolf
Wolf was the game official whose screen allowed Carson to elude the defender on his way to a key 20 yard scramble.
Key to Game: Make the Play
The biggest difference in this game compared to the early part of the season is that when the Trojans had an opportunity to make a play against Arizona State, it didn't matter if it was a veteran or newcomer, they stepped up and made the play. When Sultan McCullough left the game early with an injury the offense turned to two freshmen and a seldom used back up fullback to carry the load and they responded. Sunny Byrd didn't do anything fancy and he played like he had been there before despite the fact that he rarely gets any work with the 1st string offense as a tailback during practice. The receivers, who have been criticized lately for not making enough plays, each stepped up in a big way as well. Keary Colbert made the same aggressive catch along the sideline that we saw Reggie Williams make against us last week and Colbert did it by catching the ball with his hands and keeping it held high while he focused on coming down in bounds and not letting the defender have a chance to knock it out of his hands. Kareem Kelly finally adjusted his fade routes by creating spacing along the sidelines as he ran his route and Carson was able to throw it up there and give Kareem the opportunity to make a play. We have seen the fade run many times over the past several years, one could argue we have seen it too much, but this was the best execution because of the adjustments that have been made. Finally, an excellent example of ignoring everything else and just making the play was kicker David Davis who got drilled on a field goal attempt thanks to a missed block but kept his focus and made the kick. No excuses, he just made the play.
Kevin Arbet has been the most valuable player on special teams this season…..After not playing last week Lenny Vandermade saw action at both center and left guard during the game and we also saw Norm Katnik at right tackle in addition to center. The ability of these players to step in at multiple spots gives Keith Uperesa a lot of options to find the best possible combination…..Bernard Riley will have surgery to repair the ACL in his knee but the MCL will be allowed to heal on its own. Riley is expected to return for the start of next season and will spend some time this fall as a volunteer off season coach for his sister's basketball team at Los Alamitos HS…..Chad Pierson was hoping to return for the ASU game but was held out an extra week and is scheduled to play against Notre Dame. Pierson gives us another valuable weapon out of the backfield with his ability to run and catch the football…..This game showed that wide receiver coach Kirby Wilson is making progress in his attempts to install more discipline into the routes and timing of his receivers and the results paid off with play after play.
The noticeable change in performance this week for the Trojans came on the offensive side of the ball but it should be noted that we have seen a fairly solid effort from the defense all season and maybe it took this type of game from the offense to appreciate what the defense has done. When Pete Carroll looked at his roster in the off season he saw a defense that lost a lot of talent to graduation and other key players due to various issues and so he took some drastic steps to remake the unit into one that could fit his style of play. The result has been a defense that is featuring over half the starters still adjusting to playing a new position for the first time as well as one that has needed major contributions from multiple freshmen along the line but so far we have seen a good job of controlling the opposing offense while the struggles of our own offense have hindered the overall results for the team We saw in this game how effective our defense can be when they are not consistently worn out after being on the field for the majority of the game following too many 3 and outs by the offense and the defense should only get better as the players continue to mature into their new spots and enjoy the benefits of the progression by the offense. We also saw a terrific change in strategy this week after knocking out Sun Devil starting quarterback Jeff Krohn in the first half. In the game against Washington last week the Trojans also saw the opposing starting QB leave with an injury but we saw no major changes in the defensive attack to account for the new QB and Taylor Barton was able to utilize the more experienced running game of Willie Hurst to help lead them to victory. This week we adjusted and as soon as the reserve QB entered the game the Trojans made the commitment to stopping the run and basically dared Cooper to beat us with the pass. The result was three interceptions for the Trojans, including a big runback by Kris Richard at the end of the first half that set up a Sunny Byrd score. This was an entire team effort by the Trojans, one that gives hope for the remainder of the season because it shows that we can do it, that it is possible for all phases to come together at the same time. One game does not make a season, of course, but you have to win the first one before you can win them all and this was certainly an enjoyable way to win the first of what will hopefully be many more Trojan victories in similar fashion.
WeAreSC DinnerJoin us Wednesday, October 17th at the Blue Moon Saloon in Redondo Beach for our monthly WeAreSC dinner featuring speakers on the state of Trojan football and USC recruiting. Special guest speaker this month is former Trojan WR John Jackson. For information, please call 310/543-5557