In 1999, BYU made a major blunder – they ignored Norm Chow and for that, he went away. Norm packed his bags, filled with the knowledge that creates Heisman hopefuls and National Champions, and walked out the door of Lavelle Edwards Stadium. He walked so far, he left the state of Utah, entirely. Since his departure that "state" of Utah might be more accurately described as a "state of anxiety."
Gary Crowton, hired in place of coach Chow, has had two unimpressive, consecutive losing seasons. At the beginning of the 2004 Cougar campaign, his job wasn't on the hot seat, it was in the fire. Those flames were doused with a hard fought victory over has-been Notre Dame, then quickly rekindled after an unraveling against the Stanford Cardinal – a team that hasn't broken the .500 club in…forever. By the time the Trojans are done with him, it could be an inferno for poor old Gary.
Coach Chow does not sound like a person who holds a grudge. In fact, when asked about his first return to Provo since his departure in 1999, he responded with a rather blasé "When we hit the field, they're just another team in different color jerseys." Chow, would've made the perfect professional gambler, Old West gunslinger, or modern day heart surgeon – just as cool and steady as a man can get. Instead, he chose to be a coach and soon proved to be a genius – an offensive genius and the best there is, or has been, in the business of college football. BYU is going to relearn this, come Saturday, but this time they will be on the receiving end of another Chow master plan.
In the last meeting between the two clubs, the Trojans jumped out to a 21 point advantage, which is only five short of tomorrow's spread. The Cougars battled back, coming within a score, before SC closed the door and ended the game with a fourth quarter flourish. Much credit was given to the 3-3-5 defense run by the boys in blue.
Granted, it did give the Trojan offense fits at times, but that was due to never seeing it before. The Cougar's defensive coordinator has promised some new wrinkles to an already complex package of stunts and coverage to keep the Trojans guessing. My guess is it won't be enough to slow down what Chow is putting together as his coming home present.
3-3-5. Think about it. Three down linemen to handle a very disciplined, talented and albeit young Trojan offensive line. Three backers that hope to contain White, Bush, Reed and Dennis. Five defensive backs to corral Leinart's air attack. Put that against Coach Chow who takes what you give him and it seems the possibilities are endless. The dink and dunk will be like the bob and weave to a prize fighter – impossible to combat and then it's followed with the knockout blow. An upper-cut named Holmes or Davis on a skinny post. A right hook to the jaw by Reggie Bush via a dump pass in the flat. And the haymaker delivered by Mr. White himself with a blast play right over those three down linemen. Each one a blow to the body, a shot to the face and the black, blue and white will be looking to throw in the towel.
John, not Jeff "two turntables and a microphone," Beck will be BYU's starting quarterback for this Saturday's matchup. Starting but maybe not finishing. With a grade 2 shoulder separation coming into the game he might be the wiser to leave that shoulder at home, as it could be the only body part to survive the contest. The Trojans seem to have developed a nasty habit of beating opposing quarterbacks senseless. With him already a bit worse for wear, this could come early for the young man. Because of the injury, Beck won't be able to deliver the long ball with his normal velocity. Tight end Daniel Coates, who gave the Trojans nothing but grief last season could be Mr. Beck's savior.
Tight ends have faired well against SC this season and last. Virginia Tech exploited it to perfection in the Trojans' first game and Colorado State attempted to continue the punishment in the second. That middle area on the Trojan's defense always seems to be a weakness. Thankfully Coach Carroll recognized it too, and after instructing his linebackers to drop back into coverage, was able to see two interceptions as the result against the Rams. Those adjustments did not materialize until the second half of that game. One would think they are already in play for this game and every one from here on out.
Without an arm, it will be up to the Cougars' quarterback to use his and his running backs' wheels to get the show on the road. The problem is that BYU does not have a running game that is good enough to set up any sort of passing game – or at least they haven't yet. They showed glimpses against Notre Dame. They even out-gained the Cardinal, but they haven't dominated anyone. And against a front seven like USC's, they won't be dominating anyone soon. Really, when you think about it, this whole game could be ugly, really ugly. The 26 points tossed BYU's way might be optimistic thinking if things go as planned.
Driven to drink. Utah, Provo more precisely, is a tough place to buy a cocktail. The Mormons have worked hard to build a place they can call their own. Their religion requires that followers not put impurities, like caffeine, nicotine or alcohol into their bodies. Many of their players come from Polynesian background, such as Tongan and Somoan. The Tongan culture makes a drink for special ceremonies called Kava. I'd describe the process of straining and the ingredients that create this concoction used to welcome men into adulthood, or to celebrate some special event, but it'd make your toes curl – or your tongue numb, as is its reputation. Before Saturday night is over, Kava might be the refreshment of choice at Edward's stadium because whatever the outcome is, it guarantees to be sobering for BYU fans. Sobering enough for them to realize they made a mistake – the mistake of a lifetime, they let Norm go.
We talk a lot about Coach Chow, but that doesn't mean the best defensive mind in college football is forgotten. One word for Coach Carroll – Shutout. Pete Carroll has pitched more shutouts in the last two seasons than most major league pitchers do in a career. Tomorrow's game could be another notch on the belt. The Trojans would have to implode not to win against the Cougars. It is how they win that will be interesting. Who gets in to play, what sort of production and improvement the Trojans see and how they finish that will indicate how the season is progressing. For now, though, from morning to night this game is dedicated to the greatest offensive mind ever in the game. The day and night belong to Norm. It's Chow time.
USC on five offensive touchdowns, one defensive and two field goals versus BYU's first quarter touchdown, two field goals and a garbage time score.
Trojans 48 BYU 20