There were a couple of surprises in this game worth mentioning. First, I was most surprised to see Matt Cassell as the first quarterback in to replace Matt Leinart. Eventually Cassell was replaced by Brandon Hance, but it did surprise me to see Cassell get the first call. Of course neither quarterback did anything other than hand the ball off to a running back, but one can't help but wonder if the order of appearance has any real significance. One also can't help but wonder if the absence of playing time for John David Booty is indicative of a coaching decision to redshirt the sophomore from Louisiana. Will either Matt Cassell or Brandon Hance be able to lead the team effectively and run the offensive efficiently should Matt Leinart get hurt? Or, depending on the time of the year, would a presumably healthy John David Booty be called upon to run the offense. Of course, nobody other than the staff might know the answer with certainty, but it does make for some interesting conversation. As the saying goes, only time will tell. The other major surprise of this game was the uncharacteristic play of Greig Carlson. Known for having some of the surest hands one could ever want to see, this was simply not Mr. Carlson's night. Hopefully, he has had his off night for the season and his sure hands will return by the time the Trojans meet BYU next week.
Many have wondered how this year's team, the offense in particular, would compare to the prior two editions. Looking back over the past two seasons, it seemed to take the offense a good four to five games or more to really take off. If tonight's game is indicative of this team's offensive ability, the future is bright indeed. In only its second game of the season, the USC offense began to resemble a well oiled machine. They brought a very balanced attack to the field and the Trojans gained some 553 net yards. Matt Leinart was his usual efficient self, hitting 20 of 31 for some 231 yards and who knows how many yards he would have had if the receivers did not drop several passes that appeared to be catchable. If the passing game was good, then the rushing game was simply out of sight and unstoppable.If my memory serves me correctly, it has been a while since I have seen such a balanced and dominating rushing attack by the SC runners. LenDale White averaged 8.8 yards per carry, Reggie got 7 yards a try, Desmond Reed rushed for 7 yards a pop and even the quarterback, Matt Leinart averaged 6.6 yards a try. Perhaps just as encouraging, emerging Mr. Dependable, David Kirtman also averaged 5.7 yards a try. All told, the Trojans were simply unstoppable on the ground when matched against this outmanned Colorado State Defense.
It was a mixed night for SC's receivers. On a positive note, Steve Smith looked every bit the part of Mr. Dependable. Every player is an individual, but I hope Steve does not mind the constant comparisons to Keary Colbert. He runs some of the same patterns that Keary ran and he catches the ball in the same dependable manner. Tonight, he caught 8 balls for 79 yards, but his Yards After Catch (YAC's) was impressive and he showed excellent speed and talent. It seems like he took a step up in the second half against VTech and he continued to be in a groove as this game progressed. The other young receivers, namely Chris McFoy and Dwayne Jarrett each had his moments, although each also showed signs of their respective youth. As I watched the game it was apparent that both of these guys have a world of talent, but neither has yet shown themselves to be ultra dependable and steady. However, both made some superb plays and in my opinion, two of the acrobatic catches by Jarrett illustrate his incredible potential and it is obvious that he is just beginning to scratch the surface of his immense ability. It was quite enjoyable to see the televised interview with his mother up in the stands. She publicly explained that Dwayne is quite homesick and the touchdown will do wonders for his ego and self esteem. And of course, everyone knows that Mother knows best. I should also mention that it was very nice to once again see the steady blocking and receiving on Alex Holmes. I don't think it is a mere coincidence that SC runs the ball much better when Alex is in there to help block and to provide yet another receiving threat. He only caught one ball, but the D never knows what to expect when Alex is in the game and when he is healthy.
How about that SC defense? There has been some real concern on the part of the fans about the defensive backs. Well, if tonight is any indication, I think the corners and safeties are developing quite well and a team that threw for over 400 yards last week against Colorado, scored no points at all and they were held to 229 yards through the air. That is some accomplishment, especially considering just how potent that Ram's passing attack was last week. SC picked off four passes and they seemed to keep Holland dazed and confused for a good part of the night. Judging by the two picks by Groots and the one pick by Sartz, it appeared that Holland was kept off balance by SC's blitzes and disguised coverage packages. It should also be noted that SC had the opportunity to play several defensive backs. Scott Ware started at safety in place of Darnell Bing and seemed to improve as the game progressed. He missed a critical tackle early on, but he tackled better after playing more minutes. Jason Leach played a very steady and impressive game and it was his jarring tackle that put the Rams ballcarrier Tristan Walker out of the game. Most impressive was the excellent play of Justin Wyatt and the other corners. On several plays when Wyatt appeared to be in man coverage, he stuck to his man and he again demonstrated fine tackling ability. Eric Wright also showed excellent coverage skills which allowed him to make an acrobatic interception. To my eye, the cornerbacks on this squad who play the majority of minutes have excellent speed and they appear to tackle quite well. Of course, the play of the dline was self evident. That group pressured the quarterback and rotated many players in and out. It was especially nice to see the return of LaJuan Rasmsey, a guy who can play both inside and outside and who might provide critical backup minutes as the long season progresses.
The lopsided nature of this game allowed many of the second and third string players to see major minutes. After hearing so much about guys like Jeff Byers, Jeff Schweiger, Rashaad Goodrum, Thomas Williams, Terrell Thomas, Drew Radovich and Keith Rivers, among others, it was great to see these guys get some major minutes. It was easy to see the tremendous potential of some of these guys. Rivers is a stud who flies around the field. Kyle Williams played a nice ballgame, seeing significant minutes at both right and left tackle. Fred Davis was in on a number of plays though he did not get any passes thrown his way and Dale Thompson also was in there running around very nicely. There were a host of other youngsters who saw the field including Jody Adewale and knowing how hard these kids practice day in and day out, it is very enjoyable to see these kids get some PT. I was absolutely thrilled to see Desmond Reed get some real minutes. He might already be a star on a team with less competing talent. This guy has some great speed and I don't think there is anyone with better quicks with the ball than this kid has. It will be fun to see if he gets more shots at making some big plays of his own as the season progresses.
Kudos to coach Tim Davis. His rather inexperienced line is improving and once again they played relatively error free ball. I don't recall any holding calls on the big uglies and they opened some rather large holes. They did not allow Matt Leinart to be sacked and to my eye they are more comfortable with their assignments. Perhaps as comforting as any other factor is that this line seems to have up to ten guys who can play and contribute significant quality minutes when and if they are called to do just that. Baker, Drake, Kalil, Matua and Lutui form the nucleus of this line, but Radovich, Byers, Kyle Williams, and Watkins all seem to have the ability to help this team. As he recovers from surgery, perhaps Tiny Malu will also be added to this group. As the season progresses, I now believe that this unit will not only be good, but it might very well progress into a real plus for this team. If the Trojans can muster a rushing attack of 322 yards this early in the season, who knows what will happen later in the year.
When a team beats a respectable opponent by 49 points, it is hard to find too much to criticize. The special teams were not called upon to do too much tonight other than to cover kickoff returns. That mission was accomplished. The punting was pretty good if not spectacular with Malone averaging 43.3 yards for four punts. All extra points were made and no field goals were attempted. The punt coverage team was pretty effective, though Desmond Reed did get a penalty call for hitting the punt receiver before the ball arrived, but all told, things went extremely well.
After two games there really is not much to be upset about. The offense and defense both improved after the Virginia Tech game. Of course, after seeing that the Hokies put up over 60 on Western Michigan, maybe the defense was already outstanding. The staff did a great job of preparing this team and Coach Carroll managed to keep the team relatively well focused in the second half, despite the fact that the game was essentially over before the second half ever started. Now it will be interesting to see how the squad reacts and prepared to play a talented and upset minded BYU team that put a real scare into the National Champion USC Trojans last year and the game was in Los Angeles. Playing them in Utah will be a challenge as will facing the unconventional defense that the Cougars bring to the table. It did not appear that the Trojans suffered any critical injuries so with some luck this week, SC will enter next week's game healthy and ready. Let the best team win.