What a game this was today. Nobody that I know or talked to doubted how tough the Wolverines are. For some strange reason, however, there seemed to be some unwarranted questions about how tough our Dline is and whether or not the Trojans would be able to handle the rough and tough Oline from the mighty Michigan Wolverines. In the post game shows seen on ABC and ESPNews, I believe Mike Williams answered in an articulate yet emotional manner. He announced on national TV that the conception that only Iowa, Michigan and the Big 10 plays physical football while SC plays the finesse game is simply not true. For two consecutive years, SC has made that point on the field. The Michigan Team came into this game having yielded only 15 sackes the entire year. Their offense average some 447 yards per game and their great running back, Chris Perry was almost unstoppable. At the end of this game, Michigan had surrendered 9 sacks, though my friend Terry pointed out that we should have had 12 and Coach Pete Carroll confirmed that very fact in his post game television conference. Similarly, USC's very tough defense held the magnificent Michigan offense to 320 net yards, Chris Perry was held to 84 yards and SC clearly outplayed the Big 10 Champions. USC is not only a fast, athletic squad, they are tough, strong and they don't get beaten up by anyone. The Pac-10 plays great offense, teams will give up some yards and points, but this is one TOUGH USC TEAM.
Where does one start when describing this game? One might start with the magnficent quarterback, Matt Leinart. I am as guilty as anyone and perhaps more than some, in that I did not expect Matt to be an exceptional quarterback. Going into the Auburn game, I had no idea what to expect. Well, I can say without hestitation that what SC got is a great, not just a good, a great college quarterback. Today, he threw for 327 yards on 23 for 34 (67%), 3 touchdowns (against a team that had given up only 5 prior passing touchdowns the whole season) , no picks and he even caught a touchdown pass from the most efficient passer on the team, Mike Williams (2 for 2). He simply gets the job done and he gets it. Enough said. USC might have a potentially great backup quarterback waiting in the wings, but to this fan, USC is Matt's team and I can't see him doing anything but getting better as he gets yet another year under his belt in this rather extraordinary offensive system. Michigan's defense was rated very highly yet USC once again ended up with over 400 yards in offense--410 to be exact. Whereas the Trojans' string of 40 point offensive performances came to an end, they were efficient and productive nonetheless. They had a chance to score more points, but I guess one just should not get greedy, or should they?
What about USC's defensive and offensive line play? Well, SC's Dline absolutely lived up to all the hype of being labeled as the Wild Bunch II and they played what might be their best game of the season. Michigan's highly touted offensive line could not handle SC's down four nor could they figure out the blitzing packages that sometimes involved SC's linemen dropping back. I do think, however, that it is important to note that it was not just finesse and speed that SC displayed. I can't help but think back to a certain bullrush by one Manual Wright and he simply smashed right through two blockers from the Michigan Oline who could not keep him out. Similarly, our offensive line allowed Matt Leinart the time to get off most of his passes and to my recollection he was only sacked once for a loss of 11 yards. Sorry folks, but to my way of thinking, that also proves that SC is not just a quick, finesse team. They also play mean, tough football in the trenches and the final score and statistics bear this out.
Much was made about how soft our pass defense might be at times. Well, fortunately for USC, today was not one of those games. SC played lights out pass defense and they made the Michigan receivers pay for their yards. We were not soft and anytime SC gives up only 14 points to a team as talented and capable as Michigan, there is nothing soft about their play. I thought Will Poole played a lights out ballgame, but the play of Marcell Allmond and Ronald Nunn was also really outstanding. Ronald made a tremendous sack and Will was all over the field. If there are many college corners better than he, I am going to be surprised. I also thought that Darnell Bing and Jason Leach more than held their own against one fine offensive football team. The Michigan recievers are no slouches, but none of them really schooled the SC defenders and hats off to the kids and the coaches who prepared them for this bigtime football game.
USC's receivers played a magnificent football game. There were no drops that I can remember. Every ball that was catchable was caught. The one that Keary Colbert could not hold in the endzone was a nearly impossible grab. He got killed by the two defenders and to have held that ball would have rivaled his other superb catches on the day. One might assume that Keary got a bit tired of hearing and seeing Mike Williams make that once in a lifetime one handed grab, so he made one of his own. I am not sure I have ever seen a play quite like that before. The Wolverine defender was all over him, only to see Keary make an impossible catch and then literally walk into the endzone. Steve Smith made a big catch, Mike Williams was clutch as usual and Gregg Guenther made one catch, but boy was it a wonderful catch. That play, as much as any other seemed to aboslutely seal Michigan's fate. That first down kept the Trojans last major drive of the game alive, and although we did not end up with points due to an untimely fumble, it allowed SC to nearly run the clock out. For much of the game, the Michigan defense and their fine defensive backs were simply kept off balance and they could not stop all the various weapons that SC brought to the table.
All told, the special teams played a big role today as well. Although Tom Malone did not have many punts, he excelled on his attempts. Michigan was never able to mount any significant returns. Although Ryan Kileen missed his field goal attempt, his kickoffs were deep and they allowed SC to avoid having to face a very fine return squad that performs for Michigan. SC also covered the kickoffs that were returned quite well. Shaun Cody also managed to block Michigan's lone field goal attempt so all told, today's special teams effort was quite fine.
What can anyone say about the incredible coaching job done by the SC staff. To start with, the team had to deal with the fact that their linebacker coach was leaving and Coach Holt also had to deal with viral meningitis. Nonetheless, the linebackers played a great game and they more than held their own. The defensive line came to play and Coach Oregeron really had them on their game. The SC offense was very productive against one tough defensive team and what more can anyone say about Coach Chow. That play from Mike Williams to Matt Leinart was on Coach Chow as Pete alluded to in several various post game interviews and if that was not a typical example of Chow's genius, then I don't know what is. And after leading his team to a national title in only his third year as head coach, what more can be said about Pete Carroll?? Simply put, there appears to be a perfect marriage between Pete and USC and they really appear to be tailor made for one another. His exuberance, personality and incredible knowledge of football and defensive football is remarkable. I could not help but chuckle when during one of the post game interviews on ESPNews, one of the reporters asked Pete how he knew that the corner blitzes would work against Michigan. His answer was classic. He simply told the reporter that he certainly was not about to tell him that answer. Side out to Pete on that one!
So, as this season comes to an end, what's up next? First and foremost, we must all wait for the final polls. One can't help but assume that SC is going to be number one in the AP Poll. They entered the game number one, they made a real statement by soundly defeating a fine Michigan team and the AP has never demoted a number one team that went on to win their bowl! Will the coaches defy their supposed obligation and vote their hearts, thus keeping SC number one even in the ESPN/USA Today Poll? I guess as the saying goes, only time will tell. And how about recruiting? Will SC land another stellar class? One can only guess, but I will be shocked if the Trojans don't get the vast majority of guys they really want. They might not get them all, but they will most certainly get their fair, or maybe unfair share from other teams' perspective. And one last point comes to my mind that I have not mentioned previously. All through the season various players have starred and have received accolades for their various efforts. I just want to take this opportunity to recognize the many walk-on who show up for practice day after day and help the many scholarship guys improve and learn day by day. Guys like Spencer Torgan, Greg Farr, and Collin Ashton, to name a few make valuable contributions and are a vital part of the team. Ashton played very well when called upon, Farr saw some minutes as a backup safety and Torgan might be the only guy I can remember to have played minutes on the oline and dline in one season. I just figure that when they also play on a National Champion, they have also earned recognition. To them, all the other walk-on players, to all the scholarship players and to the staff, a hearty congratulations. You are now among the great teams to have ever played football for the University of Southern California.