As much as anything, what was impressive about the way the Trojans played football on Saturday is that they came out with the swagger of a team that is ready to compete for another national championship. We made the plays when we needed to, the big run, the key block, the turnover, we did it all and we did it in a convincing fashion. That swagger wasn't evident during the Virginia Tech game but from the opening kickoff against Colorado State the Trojans played inspired football and didn't let up until the final whistle blew. Perhaps the bye week helped the USC players to confirm just how good they are in relation to the other top teams in the country. After an off-season filled with distractions, not to mention the loss of some pretty good underclass football players, the USC closer than expected victory over the Hokies prompted some in the media to wonder if the Trojans really deserved the top spot in the rankings. Now that they've seen the other teams in action the Trojan players understand they are just as explosive on offense and just as overpowering on defense as any team in the nation. If this team continues to improve throughout the season they should be a confident group as they go about defending their national title.
Matt Leinart – Set the tone for the game with his cut block on the opening drive to spring LenDale for a big gain. Matt had a critical block last year against Hawaii but he was quick to point out that this was a cut block and he'd been waiting to do that in a game. He had the team moving through the air on the first drive until a bad exchange with Carlson turned the ball over on a reverse attempt. That didn't slow Matt down at all as he continued to make the key throws that led to touchdown drives and even got the ball into the end zone a couple times with completions to Smith and Jarrett. He didn't get sacked, he didn't throw an interception and he contributed 46 rushing yards of his own. Right now he's doing everything you would expect from a Heisman Trophy contender.
LenDale White – his hard running was an important factor which helped the Trojans rush for 322 yards overall, their highest total in over a decade. Not only was he almost impossible to tackle on the first hit, he also displayed his increased speed on a key 40 yard run to get us out of our own end following the pick by Eric Wright. LenDale also had a 17 yard run on a 4th and 1 call.
Matt Grootegoed – It was great to see Groots back on the field creating so much havoc. He caused a fumble at the end of the first half which was recovered by the Rams. Matt had two interceptions and both of them stopped CSU drives and then led directly to Trojan touchdowns. His first pick was deep in Trojan territory when he got a terrific jump on the play and then returned the ball 57 yards (shades of his days at Mater Dei as a star running back). On the next play from scrimmage Leinart completed a deep pass to McFoy to the one yard line and LenDale pounded it in from there. His 2nd interception gave USC the ball and they quickly marched down for the TD to Steve Smith.
Key to the Game – Wyatt turnover leads to clinching score
Not that the game was ever in doubt but with the score at 21-0 in favor of the Trojans we saw Greig Carlson, normally as sure handed as they come, try to direct his blockers while the punt came down and he muffed the ball with the Rams recovering inside the SC 10 yard line. The first half was coming to a close so a quick touchdown could mean heading to the locker room at 21-7 and anybody in green and gold would've taken that scenario. On the first CSU play they completed a pass to the tight end and he got inside the five before Justin Wyatt was able to strip the ball and it was recovered by Jason Leach. Two Trojan plays on offense went nowhere and on 3rd and 8 Leinart completed a short pass to LenDale who used good footwork to scoot for 22 yards. USC kept the ball for a 9 play, 96 yard drive which ended with a 7 yard TD run by Bush. The drive basically ran out the clock and the Trojans headed to the locker room with a 28-0 lead and the game well in hand.
Jason Leach got the start at SS, moving over from FS while Scott Ware got his first start at FS, and Leach provided several big hits and also recovered a key fumble. Jason was known as "The Hammer" at Bishop Amat HS and we saw why on Saturday…..Ware missed a tackle in the open field but was generally involved in a lot of plays. He said it was good to finally get some game action so he could hit somebody who wasn't wearing Cardinal and Gold. Darnell Bing also played and this trio should be a very good one as the season rolls along…..LaJuan Ramsey returned to action and immediately had an impact with his beautiful crushing block on the first interception return from Matt Grootegoed. Ramsey got a running start and the defender, #92, never saw him coming…..David Kirtman is becoming an effective player in many areas and he should continue to earn playing time. He had a nice block on a reverse to Reggie Bush…..Bush had a good day of his own with 84 yards on 12 carries and a score…..Whitney Lewis and Chauncey Washington were both on the USC sidelines. Lewis told the OC Register that he recently completed some JC classes and will work with a personal trainer to prepare for his return to USC next spring.....The USC offense had 18 plays that covered more than 10 yards in the first half alone (9 that went 15 yards or more). There was also one seven play stretch where they either picked up a first down or scored a touchdown on every play….It must have seemed like a break for the OL to face a defensive line less talented than the one they go up against in practice every day. It showed with a physical game that saw USC linemen opening up big holes, John Drake created a huge opening on one LenDale White run, and the kept the pass rush off of Leinart. Fred Matua continues to show that he's the emotional leader of the unit as he went around giving high fives to his fellow offensive linemen after a CSU defender jumped offsides….Dallas Sartz had an interception where he went up to get the ball…..Manuel Wright didn't see much action but when he was in there he made an impact. Manuel led the team with six total tackles and he added one sack, he also showed good form while running to the end zone with a fumble recovery….Among the recruits spotted at the game were; Patrick Turner, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Thomas, Brandis Dew, Bret Lockett, Kevin Ellison and Erik Lorig…..Turner was on his official visit to USC and said ""I'm having a great time. Dominique Byrd is showing me around and I had a chance to meet Mike Williams too. That was a fun game to watch, I like seeing Dwayne Jarrett out there because it shows me I could come in here and contribute right away as a freshman. This trip puts USC way up on my list." Turner said he is also considering Tennessee, LSU, Florida and Miami……
Focus on: Young Guns
One of the benefits of an extended lead is the opportunity for the coaches to play a lot of young players, including plenty of first year players seeing their first action in the Coliseum, and it gives Trojan fans an early peek at the future of the program. After what we saw on Saturday, the future looks pretty good. Dwayne Jarrett celebrated his 18th birthday on game day with his mom in the stands, he struggled early with a few drops but ended up responding with an important touchdown catch to close out the third quarter. It was almost ironic to see the drops considering the comparisons that are made between him and Mike Williams but if Dwayne can perform in the future like Mike did after his tough outing at Kansas State then we'll all be pretty happy. Jeff Byers had a key block to help spring LenDale on his long run after the Eric Wright interception. Wright made the athletic play as he continues to shine when given a chance to see the field. Jeff Schweiger might be the most impressive of the newcomers in game action so far. He's just so quick in his pass rush and he also had 2.5 TFL's, a sack and a caused a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Manuel Wright. Desmond Reed had the opportunity to show what he can do with the ball in his hands and he took advantage of it. He carried the ball throughout the fourth quarter and gave a great effort to try and get in the end zone on the final play of the game. Keith Rivers saw action as well, he had five tackles and showed his good pursuit speed.
One of the keys to this season, if the Trojans hope to reach their ultimate goal of playing for the national championship, will be the play of the wide receiver position. In recent years we've always seen a nice blend of experienced players who have been around to help the talented newcomers develop without having to force them to do too much. This season isn't going to allow for such luxuries as we're being forced to throw the players on the field to see how they will react and, while there are things to work on, there was also a lot to like about the way they played on Saturday. Steve Smith took another step forward in his resemblance to Keary Colbert. Steve caught the ball in traffic and made the important catches that led to Trojan scores. He caught a pass at the 11 and took a solid hit on the play before the first LenDale touchdown run. He followed that later with a 28 yard gain down to the three yard line before LenDale's third TD. Chris McFoy had a timely catch of his own following the first Groots pick when he caught a pass at the one which led to yet another LenDale running score. The performance by Jarrett showcased the pros and cons of needing to depend on 18 year old freshmen. There's no doubt that he will be a dynamic player in the future but we need him and the other young receivers now and the learning curve for the entire position can't involve too many dropped passes if the Trojans are to reach their goal as a team. This group will need to continue getting it done on the field to the point where they are a dependable unit for Matt Leinart as a proper balance to the run game for the Trojan offense to really succeed.