As for the game itself, what an amazing game it was. Oregon State moved the ball up and down the field, yet they could not muster enough points to ever really threaten the Trojans from early in the first period. Although USC gave up a mind boggling 543 total yards, they did not break and the SC defense actually came up solid against the run and they took away four picks. Give credit to the Beaver's quarterback and excellent receivers. Despite a constant pounding by the SC defenders, Anderson hit 34 of 60 passes and several of his receivers made catches that would make any pro proud. With the exception of the long bomb on the opening drive, the long ball was usually well covered and an old addage was proven. No matter how well a db covers a receiver, a great pass and a great catch will usually prevail. Time and again the SC db's were in place only to have the receivers make great grabs. It should also be noted the Oregon State Mike Riley came in with a great offensive game plan. The Beavers exploited the center of the field and that is the one soft spot in the Trojan's Defensive scheme. However, the defense also played a crucial role in four scores and that should not be forgotten. I have to believe that this is one example of a situation where statistics are misleading. Many of the Trojan scores came as the result of them having a short field whereas many of the Beaver's yards came in the middle of the field, only to give up a pick of having them fail to score.
Oregon State has a great running game and a terrific tailback in Steven Jackson. However, the Trojan Defense virtually shut down the OSU running game and Jackson could never get in a rhythm and he never broke a long run. The linebackers and defensive line played lights out against the run and they missed leading the nation against the run by a very small number of yards yielded. It is a credit to Coach Holt and his unit to have done such a fine job against the run in this game and for virtually the entire season.
I would be remiss not to mention what a great job the special teams did today. I did not see one breakdown other than a holding call. The Trojans blocked two punts, (although only one counted ) and they also blocked what appeared to be two field goals. Their kick coverage was terrific and Malone had a lights out punting game. Killeen made all is extra points and he made his only field goal attempt. As one could see by watching the Oregon State Beavers, even trying to get a punt off is never a sure thing.
For the first time in many weeks, USC did not gain 400 yards on offense. The single biggest reason is quite simple. They did not have to gain all that many yards to put the game away. On severa occasions the offense benefited from having a short field and they were very efficient in capitalizing on their opportunities. The offense responded with machine like efficiency when SC found itself trailing very early in this game. They also came from being down 7 to 0 to being up by a score of 21 to 7. In my opinion, a real test of a great team is how the team responds to adversity. Can there be any doubt that USC responded with brilliance. Once they took the lead, they never relinquished it and the game was never again in doubt. Matt Leinart broke the record for consecutive passes without an interception and then proceeded to have two picks in the game. To my eye, it looked as if the first interception was a result of miscommunication between the receiver and qb, but the second pick was a legitimate bad pass. Against that kind of pressure and considering the great talent that Matt has displayed, he was overdue to have a bad pass or two. Overall, however, he had another tremendous day and anytime a qb goes 22 for 38 for something like 278 yards, he has had a fine outing. I was also very impressed with Matt's overall decision making and he also displayed some pretty good wheels to get out of harms way. One should not forget that OSU has a very tough defense and they did get to Matt one time. They also hurried him on a number of occasions. However, in the end, they just could not stop a very oportunistic USC offense.
The running game was not as potent as it had been and the Beaver defense is repsonsible in large part. However, the coaches must have seen something because for much of the early part of the game, Leinart was simply passing the ball time and again and there was no obvious attempt to run. When SC finally did run the ball, they did manage to get over a hundred yards and there was once again at least one amazing run by a freshman tailback. This time the run was not by LenDale White. This week, Reggie Bush made one of his now infamous cutbacks and with the aid of a highlight film block by Mike Williams, he came very close to scoring a rushing touchdown on a play that should have been stopped for almost no gain. And speaking of Mike Williams, has anyone ever seen a more amazing grab than the one handed job he made for a touchdown. In all my life, I have never seen a more amazing catch. One can only imagine how the Beaver defenders might feel. BMW was well covered, yet he still came up with the catch and touchdown.
As for the rest of the passing game, it is very encouraging to see the emergence of Steve Smith. For those who wondered if he would make an impact, one need not give that any further thought. Stever has arrived. He has also dispelled any notions that he is not fast. He caught a short slant, split two defenders and then put bigtime distance between the two of them and himself. He has another gear which many of the fans had not yet seen. He looked like a sprinter as he raced for a touchdown that put a virtual end to any and all chances the Beavers had to make a comeback. We also got to see Reggie Bush display his amazing hands again and even David Kirtman got into the act. It should also be noted that Greg Guenther went out of the game with some kind of injury and never came back. That left USC to play with its fourth tight end--Kurt Katnik. Talk about being snake bitten at one position. It is somewhat amazing to me that SC could still function with yet another tight end being injured. This team evidently has more depth at certain positions than anyone could have ever imagined.
I also have to credit the offensive line. That was perhaps the best Dline that SC faced all year and yet they gave up only one sack. For the most part Matt Leinart had enough time to pass and when he was hurried he showed some reasonably efficient escapability. There were those who wondered aloud if Matt would crumble when he faced real pressure. He answered that question clearly in my opinion. This kid is a gamer and he has Heisman like numbers--something that perhaps nobody but his very own Dad might have predicted at the beginning of the season. He is simply amazing.
The tailbacks shared the limelight and the three headed monster performed well enough if not in an overwhelming fashion. I can imagine that one might get a bit frustrated as a member of that committee, but it is working very well and as the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The only other aspect of coaching that might come to one's mind is what can be done to make the middle of the field not so vulnerable to a good passer. From the excellent seates that I was fortunate enough to have, it was obvious that when Anderson had time, he did significant damage going after the receiver he sent down the middle. What was not so apparent was that many of the Beaver receivers were evidently starting to hear footsteps later in the game. Many seemingly catchable balls ended up on the ground once they had to endure some of the ferocious hits by guys like Darnell Bing and Will Poole. The Beaver receiver performed well, but to my eye, it looked to all the world that they were hearing footsteps and they were getting tired of all the hits they were getting.
This game was also special for several other somewhat personal reasons. I was most fortunate to get to talk to the parents of several SC players and Kenechi Udeze's mother was very gracious, informative and friendly as was Lenny's mother. It was fun meeting and talking to Greig Carlson's mom and Spencer Torgan's Dad. I don't often get the chance to meet and talk to many former Trojan Greats but it was a blast to see and speak with Anthony Munoz and later in the day, I realized that former Trojan standout John Michels was sitting in front of me. He was also quite gracious and very nice to talk with. Other faces from the past that were around included Byron Darby and Riki Gray Ellison. I think to a man (or woman), each person I had the privilege of speaking with shred one common idea. Each and every person was thrilled to be a Trojan and each was also convinced and proud that USC Football has made it all the way back. How long has it been since any fan can look anyone in the eye and declare that without having to wonder for one second if it is really true. And one other special note needs to be mentioned. One of the better known posters on the WeAreSC.com private board, HawaiiTrojan1 made a bold prediction early on. He and his brother,SBLeft both posted that the SC offense was just too good and too explosive for this team to fail. I read the predictions of success for the quarterback and a season no worse than 11-1. Well, hats off to you guys. You were both right on the money and boy am I happy you were.
So now, all we can do is wait. By this time tomorrow, we should know the fate of the Trojans. Obviously this season has been a huge success and even more so considering how young this team is and how many devastating injuries the team had to overcome. Kudos to the best coaching staff in college football. Somebody is going to be very disappointed tomorrow and I only hope it is not Trojan fans. However, even if we get the shaft and don't make it to the Sugar Bowl, it should never be forgotten that 11-1 is a fine season and this team had to overcome a tremendous number of hardshiips. This is truly one of the great Trojan teams of all times, at least in my opinion.