Mission Control

You listen to new Trojan and Colorado transplant, Jeff Byers speak, and you hear respect for the Ram program. He knows their hearts beat loud. He knows they will come with everything they have. He knows that these are the sort of men you go to war with. He grew up a Ram and he knows what it takes to be a winner. That's why he became a Trojan.

"Houston, we have a problem…," might have been the words uttered to Colorado State running back Marcus Houston by his offensive coordinator this last Saturday night when he failed to reach the endzone on successive attempts. Bedlam in the coaches' booth, instead of certainty and a series of perfectly controlled calls in the final thirty seconds of their most heated rivalry game, was the difference between success and failure. Mission: Control.

College football is such a competitive business in our modern world, a coach doesn't win unless he is nearly one hundred percent – in control. Last Saturday night against the Colorado Buffaloes, Sonny Lubick and his staff were not, when it mattered most, in control. Because of that – they failed to win the game.

Winning isn't easy. If it were, everybody would be doing it. The scramble to be atop the college football poll would look more like 25 insane pit bulls at the peak of blood lust – it wouldn't be pretty.

Head Coaches and their failure to remain in perfect control will be witnessed by fans across the nation from August to January. Each will fall by the wayside, until there is just one. Three coaches come to mind, who made the tumble over the opening week of college football:

Frank Beamer, despite calling an excellent first half, abandoned the legs of his star quarterback via the option, choosing to test his arm instead and in so doing, allowed the Trojans to make their own adjustments and basically shut Beamer Ball down.

Mike Riley, in the game of a lifetime, against a top five team, with a minute left in the first half and the ball on the 45, took a knee. He then repeated this insane maneuver at the end of regulation, with 50 seconds left and chose to play for overtime. When you're an unranked team, and you've got a national co-champion on the ropes, you don't let them get back to throw a haymaker – you go for the kill. Those who hesitate, meditate in a horizontal position – Riley's been lying flat on his back since.

And the last of these respected gentlemen, who win more than they lose, is Sonny Lubick, head coach of the Colorado State Buffaloes. Sonny, God bless him and along with his players and staff, forgot where they were for thirty seconds last Saturday night. They weren't in the endzone. They were on the one yard line. They didn't have to spike the ball on first down, but could've tried a keeper, naked bootleg, dump to the tight end, anything while their opponents, the Buffaloes were reeling. Game over. But instead they spike the ball, lose count of their downs, call a running play that gets stuffed, once more for the Gipper, lose ground and instead of spiking it then, to set up a field goal and overtime – when it makes sense because ole mo is on your side, try it one more time, with the wrong blocking assignments and to the wrong side and watch the game slip away.

Sonny's been around too long to ever let something like this happen – lose control of his sideline. I could see if he were Joe Paterno, then I'd say he's been around too long period and momentary lapses are to be expected. Or if he were Karl Dorrell who hasn't been around long enough to even know where he belongs on his own sideline, but this is Sonny Lubick. In the fine state of Colorado – he's a near institution. Sonny can't make a mistake like that, lose a game that could make or break a season – not when he's got the University of Southern California up next and Minnesota batting clean up.

You've got to know Sonny's boys have such a bitter taste in their mouths, after that dismal Saturday night dance, it can only be compared to a mixture of coarse sand and fresh camel dung. I mean they've have all, probably, been close to wretching, each and every day this week. They played a great game – until it mattered. There are no moral victories to be gained from that experience. The only way to quench their thirst, cleanse their collective pallet, if you will, is on the field of battle – with Trojan blood. The USC Trojans know they will be playing the entire season with a target on their backs and no team wants to hit the bullseye more than the CSU Rams.

People can talk talent all they want. Who's got the best back from Colorado? CSU with Marcus Houston or USC with Lendale White? White seems deserved of the call. What about defensive front sevens? No question, the Trojans. Quarterbacks? There's only one Heisman candidate and he's a cool handed lefty, not a wide-eyed green horn. The comparisons could go on, and surely a few chips might fall the Ram's way, but man for man, muscle for muscle, speed for speed – logic says the night belongs to Troy.

Logic says, but what of that greater muscle, the one that turns ordinary men into heroes, what of the heart? You listen to new Trojan and Colorado transplant, Jeff Byers speak, and you hear respect for the Ram program. He knows their hearts beat loud. He knows they will come with everything they have. He knows that these are the sort of men you go to war with. He grew up a Ram and he knows what it takes to be a winner. That's why he became a Trojan.

USC versus CSU, Cardinal and Gold against the Green and Gold, The President of the United States (Reggie Bush) toe-to-toe with the Mayor of Colorado (Marcus Houston). It would appear there are so many similarities, but in reality they are two teams that are clearly night and day.

The Rams played a fantastic second half against their rival Buffaloes. They reached deeper than they ever had before, to pull out a victory – but came up short. The Trojans, with what seemed to be with one hand tied behind their back having their running backs as their only offensive weapon to catch and run, beat a Virginia with relative calm. Both teams played in front of capacity crowds, but CSU hopped a bus for a twenty minute ride, while USC flew across the country and into a hostile stadium. When time got tight and things went wild, the Trojans hunkered down – the Rams unraveled. If winning were easy, everybody would be doing it. Pete Carroll knows. Unfortunately for Sonny Lubick, Pete's going to reinforce that lesson.

When Saturday rolls around it will be imperative for Coach Carroll to start the lesson early – show Sonny and his Rams who's in control. He's got to force Sonny's thumb toward the panic button right at the opening whistle and have him frantically pushing it until the final seconds tick away.

To do this, the Trojans need to score quickly and then knock Holland, CSU's young but solid qb, right out of his cleats when he takes the first snap. Mike Patterson has to say hello early and often, the linebackers need to stay so close to CSU's talented tight end that their colors bleed, the Trojan corner backs need to bump the Rams two pass catching receivers off their routes before they even get started and each time Marcus Houston is handed the ball, whoever is up to the line has got to smack him in the teeth so hard his brain rattles. From start to finish, the game plan has to be total devastation.

It's unfortunate for Sonny Lubick and his Rams, that Pete Carroll and Company need to deliver a message so loud and so clear that it's heard across the nation. To protect their perch atop the polls, the Trojans need to let every other contender and pretender know - winning isn't easy and their can be only one. Right now that team is the University of Southern California. There will be others who might come close but it won't be CSU.

I'm looking to see USC unleash their offense in ways that youth prevented in the first game. I'm looking to see Chow deal dead man's hands to the Rams throughout the night. I'm looking for an early lead and a fourth quarter finish that leaves no question as to who's number one.

The Rams will bring their best and they will play with all their heart, but as the game goes on, they will not be able to keep up with the Trojans – not in any facet. Holland won't get the time he had against Colorado. His receivers will not get the separation and even if they do, the ball won't be there to meet them. SC's D-line will make the difference, as will the coaching. The young WR's will be sent deep and the TE's will be brought in together for mismatches. SC's weapons will just get to be too much for a tough Ram club and eventually they will wear down. Will USC cover the spread? If they score early and remain relentless until it's over and we could see 45 plus. If not, they win by 17.

Final prediction: USC 34 CSU 17


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