The USC Trojans made it three wins in a row on Saturday as they defeated the California Golden Bears by a score of 55-14 in front of 33,506 fans at Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley. It was far and away the best overall performance of the season for the Trojans as they exploded offensively against a Cal team that capped only their second winless home schedule in school history. The timing of the offense getting in gear couldn't have come at a more perfect time with the matchup against the bruins waiting next week.
Key to Game: Play Calling
This was the offense we have been waiting to see since it was announced that Norm Chow would be coming to USC. It helped that we played with passion but the key to this game was the variety of play calls that put our offensive players in a position to succeed and the results were a joy to see. Instead of consistently being tempted to throw the deep pass to the speedy Kareem Kelly and seeing that play fail more often than not we concentrated on getting him the ball with short passes and then allowing him to use that special ability to make the plays we so desperately need him to make. Kareem responded with a terrific effort that included a nice reverse as well as a touchdown on a well executed inside screen. Trojan fans everywhere love Sunny Byrd for his hard running but we saw today what an impact speed can have when Chris Howard got to the outside on a pitch and ran untouched for a score. Chow has been forced to adjust on the fly as the game preparation he anticipated for Sultan and Malaefou is likely much different from what will work for Byrd and Howard but on this night it all came together and we saw the full impact of what Chow can do. We saw the kind of creativity and trickey that gives the players incredible confidence and that showed in the 2nd half when we were finally able to finish off a game in the proper way and really dominate in all phases. Too many times this season we have seen the Trojans play well in the early going only to falter late in the game but Chow wasn't going to let that happen on Saturday and the result was exactly what this offense needed as they prepare for the bruins.
Notes from the Sidelines
Chris Howard took advantage of extended playing time with a two touchdown performance that featured a nifty run around end in the first half. Frank Strong was expected to see more action at RB but with the injury to Matt Grootegoed the coaches couldn't use Strong on offense so Howard got the call and answered with an impressive performance…..Groots will miss the UCLA game after breaking a bone in his right leg, a major loss for the Trojan defense.
Matt Does It All
Matt Cassel saw his first action at QB in his Trojan career but that certainly wasn't the only way he contributed to this win. Cassel is starting to look more and more like John Fox with his style of play as Matt caught a pass, threw a key block to spring a TD run, made a tackle on kickoff coverage and then added a 20 yard run and a completed pass while leading USC to a late score at QB .
Ford Is Fine
Lonnie Ford shrugged off his shoulder injury from last week by adding a sack as well as a tipped pass which led to an interception by DeShaun Hill.
David Davis has been consistent kicking the ball all year but he added a TD run on a fake field goal to cap off his best performance as a Trojan.
One of the best parts of a blowout win is the opportunity to see plenty of reserves get their chance to see the field and in this game we saw several of those players not only get their first real game experience but they also made plays once they were in the game. Matt Cassel made an impact in several ways while Chris Howard provided an added dimension of speed that had been missing from the offense in recent weeks. D. Hale and Devin Pitts contributed with key catches after beginning the season deep on the wr depth chart and both should see extensive action next week against the bruins. Hale could be the next Matt Nickels as a walk on who earns playing time in the rotation. Eric Reese is one of the elder statesmen on the team and is a married man with children who has bounced between RB and CB throughout his career without much success but his nice TD run capped the offensive scoring in this game. John Cousins finished things off for the day with an 89 yard fumble return for a TD that was caused by a wicked hit from Kenechi Udeze. Much has been made about the fact that Cousins is deaf but he is not a novelty as a football player and the Trojans are going to need him next week with Grootegoed out of the game. The most unlikely Trojan hero on the day may have been freshman walk on Justin Tolliver, the son of former Trojan WR Kevin Williams, who intercepted a late pass in the 4th quarter. In a season full of ups and downs it was nice to see those players have their moment in the sun..EXTRA POINTS
Carson Palmer played perhaps his best game as a Trojan. His stats could have been even more impressive if not for a couple key drops and he showed how effective he can be when given just a little bit of time as we rolled him out and took advantage of a poor Cal DL. He also added a long run although he fumbled at the end of the play…..Troy Polamalu returned an interception for a touchdown, the 3rd time that has happened in his Trojan career…..Antuan Simmons looks more comfortable at corner than at safety and he put a big hit on Cal RB Marcus Fields. The Bears also threw at Kris Richard rather than Simmons and Richard was able to put himself in the right position to make several plays but came up short….Jacob Rogers left the game due to an elbow injury suffered last week but the Trojan OL played very well with Norm Katnik simply moving over to LT…..10 different Trojans ran the ball and 9 different players caught passes…..
Quote of the Day
"That's a huge confidence booster for us."
The Trojans needed a win to keep the momentum going, to keep their bowl hopes alive, and now everything they need to take a major step forward for this program is waiting for them at the Coliseum next Saturday. A win over UCLA would give the Trojans a winning record (as well as a three game streak over the crosstown rivals) and a chance to experience a bowl game and the extra weeks of practice that come with it but more than that it would give the players something positive to take from this season. The state of the football program has been well documented since the dismissal of Paul Hackett and the arrival of a new attitude as the current players bought off on new coach Pete Carroll and his enthusiastic approach which came with promises that things would be different. The players put in the effort during the off season workouts and began the season with much anticipation but unfortunately things did not go our way too often in the early going and Carroll faced the danger of having the players start to wonder if the new system was working. The past 3 games have pumped new life into this team and the world of college football can be a very wild place once a team begins to believe that anything is possible. The Bruins are reeling right now and the team that was recently cackling about national championship hopes is now distracted with thoughts of SUV's and NCAA probes so there couldn't be a more perfect time for the Trojans to be gelling and playing with a sense of purpose. Not too many players on this squad were around for the lackluster showing by the Trojans in El Paso during the last Trojan bowl appearance and this team wants badly to enjoy the experience and all that it has to offer. Coach Carroll is salivating at the thought of additional practice time for his young team to build upon the momentum he has seen during the past month and that is why the UCLA match up takes on such added importance this year. The most important thing we have seen in recent weeks is not the victories so much as it is the progress but it is going to take a victory over UCLA to put ourselves in the position to continue that progress for another month which will also provide a tremendous boost to the Trojan recruiting efforts. The USC vs UCLA certainly doesn't need any additional motivating factors but for the Trojans the fact is it's a must game if they want to continue with the momentum they have worked so hard to enjoy.
Join us this Wednesday (November 14th) 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 OL Mike Lamb. For information, please call 310/543-5557