It seems like it was just the other day…
The '02 Trojan football season getting underway: SC starts off their non-conference schedule in fairly solid fashion and then launches Pac Ten play with a shut out of the then top 25 Oregon State Beavers. What remains so vivid in my mind from that 22-0 shelacking was the Beaver's quarterback, Derek Anderson tapping himself out of the game. I hadn't seen a player do that since Ken Norton, Jr. played linebacker at our former cross town rivals…ah, what's their name..? Oh, yes the Bruins. I digress, but with such a sinister smile on my face. It's good to be the king and the USC Trojans are deserving of their reign. But back to Derek "take me out of the ball game" Anderson and why I think he will play such a crucial factor in the USC vs. Oregon State match-up. Again, I am drawing on my memory, but it seems so crystal clear, just like it were yesterday… Derek couldn't take the punishment. And I promise, the moment he sets foot on the Coliseum floor for Friday warm-ups, the memories will come rushing back for him, too... It hurts to get that hard so often. USC went on to manhandle every quarterback they faced last season. Derek turned out to be nothing more than an appetizer for a season's long feast. Unfortunately for him, in 2003, he and his beleaguered Beaver bretheren are going to be treated much more like a main course. And, it's become obvious, the '03 version of the USC Trojans are some Hungry Men.
Last year in the Coliseum, No. 18 USC used a dominating defense, plus a pair of touchdown passes from QB Carson Palmer to WR Mike Williams and 3 field goals from PK Ryan Kileen, to shut out high-powered No. 23 Oregon State, 22-0, in the Pac-10 opener for both teams. It was USC's second shutout in its last 3 home games, its first whitewash of Pac-10 foes in back-to-back league games since 1982 and its first shutout in a conference opener since 1976. It also was the first time Oregon State was blanked since USC did so in 1997 and only the second shutout in OSU coach Dennis Erickson's career (pro or college). It was the Beavers' 19th consecutive loss to USC in the Coliseum. The Trojan defense thoroughly throttled OSU, which entered the game second nationally in total offense (499.8) and scoring offense (47.5). The Beavers managed just 131 total yards (only 51 rushing) on 60 plays (2.2 average), 8 first downs, 1-of-15 third down conversions (and 0-of-2 on fourth downs) and 22:05 of possession time. OSU also was sacked 4 times, had 3 turnovers, was penalized 12 times, punted 10 times and never got closer than the USC 24-yard line. In the second half, OSU gained just 33 total yards.
33 yards… That sort of stat, like the 12 total rushing yards USC's former cross-town rivals put up against the Trojans in the latest match-up, is a stat that sticks in one's mind – kind of like that vivid memory thing. It just won't go away. Nobody on that Beaver squad, a team, arguably better than this current OSU group, wanted anything to do with the Trojans after half-time. That Beaver squad was ranked in the top 25. This Beaver squad isn't anywhere close. The '02 Trojans were headed into conference play number 18. They are wrapping the '03 season number 2, primed for a shot at the national championship. OSU is fresh of a loss to their rivals. The Trojans might just have ended any concept of having a rival, following their last performance. The spread is 21 for Saturday's game. The question I have to ask, is why does anyone think it's going to be that close?
OSU wants the Trojan faithful to think the Beavers have nothing to lose. Their bowl game, spending the Christmas Holiday in Lost Wages, is locked. SC, they say, on the other hand has the entire world primed to slip through their fingertips. Hogwash. Since when does having the Pac Ten Championship wrapped up, nice and neat, coupled with a slam-dunk slot in the Grandaddy of all bowl games not look like a tastier treat than anything the Beavers might enjoy?
Pete Carroll has managed this season to near perfection (I will close my eyes to the Cal game, when saying that) and kept his team focused on the prize. Taking care of Trojan business. For, arguably the best USC head coach since '72, this has been about winning one game at a time. His goal of playing in a national championship game have come one, maybe two years, ahead of schedule. All he has asked of his young charges is that they play as a team and respect the system. In return, he promised them all that success could deliver. For USC, that has always equaled playing in the Rosebowl. The 2003 Trojans have secured that right – the first to do so in a very long while. Their season is delivered at a far greater place than anything OSU has to look forward to. So, the pressure-cooker scenario is simply unwarranted. What isn't unwarranted, however, is Derek "take me out of the ball game" Anderson's memory.
As much as Beaver head coach Mike Riley would like his team to believe… they cannot beat SC by playing smash mouth football with their very talented running back and soon to be NFL first rounder, Steven Jackson. They could, if SC didn't have an offense, but Troy does. In fact, it's so heavily armed, the US Navy should name a destroyer after it – make that battleship. The destroyer should take on a moniker sponsored by SC's defense. The point being, OSU cannot hope to run the ball and gobble up time off the clock, to keep this a low scoring affair. Norm Chow will unleash the hounds in a barrage of points that will force the Beavers play catch up and rely on a player who just wants to tap out… Derek Anderson.
It seems odd that I might single this young man out, but I believe he will be the Beavers' demise. He has had some very solid performances, taking his team to a respectable seven win season. But, when under attack, he has looked more like a soldier in search of a fox hole than anything resembling the leader of one of the Pac Ten's top offenses. And in those less than stellar performances, he never once faced a team as talented or devastating to opponents as the Trojans. The last time he saw a team that good was over a year ago and that resulted in SC's first shut out in over two decades.
No, the Beavers' are in trouble and as much as they'd like to play spoiler to a Trojan national title run, the only program close to being capable of dashing those hopes, isn't even a university – it's stack of computers called the BCS.
Oregon State is a better team than the Trojans' last opponent, now my memory fails me to name them – if only they were a rival. So, I am hesitant to predict a blowout. But, what I will predict is a near shutout and similar "shut down" of a solid Beaver squad. USC doesn't need to beat the Beavers by a boat load of points to impress pollsters. No, shutting out, yet another opponent, will be what it could take to keep the Trojans in the nation's favor. SC has that ability and doing so will send the message out that all Trojan fans already know to be true – this SC team is for real. When oddsmakers pick them to beat an opponent by more than twenty, you can bank on it. They are that talented and will carry their level of play to one more game after Saturday's match-up. Whether that be cross town or across the nation, it doesn't really matter. Both are great bowls and the result of yet another "championship season."
USC 34 OSU 3