As some read this I can just imagine somebody saying or thinking , "Nothing is good enough for some guys". Truth be told, for yours truly, any win is a big accomplishment, especially on the road in this day and age. I would have been quite satisfied with a one point victory, so long as the final result was a win. That being said, for the first time in as long as I can remember, USC played what looked like some sloppy football and it just goes to show how easy it is to get spoiled. The Trojans ended up winning going away, 42-10, yet I found myself thinking of the penalties, the two horrific series when SC was pushed backwards and the somewhat lethargic third quarter performance. The only explanation must be that I have become so accustomed to championship level football being played by the Pete Carroll coached USC Trojans (and I bet I am not the only one), that anything less than a mistake free game actually surprises me. And certainly, some real credit has to go to the BYU Cougars. For the second straight year, they played the Trojans tough, though this time, I never had the feeling that the Trojans might actually lose. I just knew Norm Chow would come up with the right calls to help the Trojans win this game in the stadium he called home for so many years.
The USC offense ending up gaining some 528 yards with 292 of them coming on the ground. Both LeDale White and Reggie Bush each ran for over 100 yards and it is hard to imagine anything but a victory when that happens. Late in the game, when the tired BYU Dline had to face the second string SC offensive line as well as Desmond Reed and the recently reinstated Hershel Dennis at tailback, it became quite apparent just how deep and talented the Trojans are at tailback. Any time a team sells out at the line of scrimmage with up to 9 in the box as BYU does, there is the possibility, if not probability that a good runner is going to break off a long run or two after getting through the initial resistance. Such was the case twice tonight as Reggie had a TD run of 66 yards while the other half of the dynamic duo, Lendale White broke off a run of 43 yards, also ending with a score. These two guys demonstrated once again that they form as fine a tailback duo as there is likely to be in college football today. The Oklahoma Sooners have talent of their own, but after watching both sets of runners today, I can't imagine anyone having the edge on this terrific twosome that SC brings to the game.
Matt Leinart had a most efficient game, connecting on 22 of 35 passes for 236 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. After seeing Matt throw his first pick in what seems like forever, I was at a loss for words, (though not for long). This kid is such an accurate passer and so football savy, that it has become a relatively rare even to see Matt have his pass intercepted. Much to his credit, Matt did not let that interfere with his overall performanace as he went on to have a most productive game. He kept his composure and he once again showed what a calculating weapon he can be when he is forced to run. Though certainly not a typical scrambling quarterback, Matt Leinart once again showed just how valuable a quarterback can be when he can scramble and pick up much needed first downs to help keep a drive alive. I would be remiss if I did not mention that despite his outstanding performance, Matt looked less than thrilled at times when there were TV closeups. It was almost as if he got a bit disturbed by the routes some of the receivers were or were not running. To my eye, he just did not seem as relaxed as his usually seems. Perhaps, that is due to the fact that he had to face that unorthodox scheme that BYU brings to the game. If nothing else, after three games, I think it is quite safe to conclude that USC's starting quarterback is a true All American and that his main backup(s) are apparently quite adept at handing the football to the tailbacks or fullback Through the first three games, Matt Leinart is the only quarterback to have thrown a forward pass, though Reggie Bush did get into the act tonight when he threw a nice ball that was called back due to a penalty.
Speaking of penalties, this was a game in which SC was called for 8 penalties resulting in 73 lost yards. Prior to Coach Carroll's arrival at USC, those numbers would have seemed quite acceptable. At this time, I can't help but believe that the total yards penalized was just too high. However, to be fair, I think SC got no break on the intentional grounding call since Steve Smith was in the genereal vicinity of the thown football and the personal foul against Reggie Bush was an "interesting call" since the "late hit by Reggie" actually took place while the play was still in action.
There seemed to be much anticipation about how the Oline would do against BYU and their unorthodox defensive allignment. With the exception of two series which ended with "Hackettesque" like backwards progression, the Oline did very well. How could anyone conclude anything much differently when SC piled up 292 rushing yards. Yes, Matt L did get sacked a few times, but for the most part, he had ample time to throw, though on a number of occasions he ended up running, either because his receivers did not get open or perhaps because there was some type of miscommunication about routes being run. Watching the game on TV allowed one to see many of the replays and with a couple of exceptions, not that many of the Olinemen seemed to whiff or blow their assingments. Drake and Lutui are just huge and it can't be just a coincidence that the Trojans put up such great and balanced offensive numbers. And speaking of watching on TV, I tought I was seeing double one time when Reggie came off the field and passed a guy who looked like Pete Carroll's clone in different clothes. Well, just coincentally, it turned out that Pete's brother was along the sideline and it sure helped explain what looked to be just another weird aspect of this game.
The defense played a very solid game. BYU was able to muster only 221 net yards and that is quite an accomplishment for any defense. The Trojans neutralized any threat of a running game the Cougars have and to my eye, BYU only got one really big offensive play in which Watkins got behind the SC dback and he caught a stike from John Beck to score BYU's only touchdown. Most of the time, SC was just too tough for the Cougars to handle. Either SC brought pressure, or they played a straight four man rush and dropped back into coverage. This stategy worked well.
Anytime a BYU Cougar team can be held to only 10 points at home, the opposing defense has excelled. It was nice to see Shaun Cody do well at DE and later in the game, it looked like he might have moved inside once again. Not many teams at this Division 1 Level have kids who can alternate between DT and DE so very well and not give up much of anything. There was much rotation on the Dline and the speed, strength and depth of the Trojans down 7 seemed to wear out the battered Cougars. I also think much credit needs to go to the defensive backs and linebackers. They neutralized the BYU tight ends and recievers for most of the game, and that was a huge step up from last years. And anytime a team that throws as much as BYU can only get one long completion, the defensive backs are playing quite well. Terrell Thomas and Darnell Bing each made a nice interception and SC once again won the battle of the turnoevers.
It has been interesting to follow the development of the USC recievers. Each guy seems to be improving, though Dwayne Jarrett is making it hard to know just what to expect, at least up to this point. On the one hand, he will miss a couple of very catchable looking balls and then he will go out and make all world type catches. One can't help but get the feeling, that sooner, not later, Dwayne is gong to make the straightforward catches routinely and not just hold onto some of the toughest passes of the game. He surely has much God given ability and it is never boring to watch Mr. Jarrett. Chris McFoy seems to be coming along just fine as is Steve Smith, the sophomore veteran of the active recieving corps. The tight ends are also being utilized a bit more often and it was nice to see Fred Davis get more minutes tonight. It is apparent that he brings that combination of size and speed which Coach Chow loves to utilize at that spot.
So how about special teams? The punting game once again is efficient if not spectacular. Nobody is able to muster major punt returns against the Trojans and Tom Malone is kicking reasonably well. Tom averaged a very respectable 44 yards per kick and helped SC with the ever important field position. I don't recall any kickoff returns of note being run back against SC other than one for 26 yards by Antoine Harris. Killeen is putting most of the kickoffs deep into or out of the endzone which is terrific. Thankfully, Ryan is also hitting his extra points. As witnessed in several big games thoughout the nation on Saturday, the PAT's no longer seem to be automatic. The national rankings will be affected in a big way in no small part due to missed PAT's in the LSU-Auburn game and the Tennessee-Florida game. Unfortunately, the USC field goal kicking is just awful right now. Ryan Killeen has made only 1 of 4 attempts so far this year and if SC is involved in a close game, that is not a comforting thought. Whether or not that situation will be remedied is a mystery that has yet to be solved.
Before the season started, I wrote that it would take three games for me to get a feel for this team and what kind of season we might have. Overall, I am most impressed. The coaching has been as fine as I have seen. I think the Oline is progressing even better than I thought it would. The defense is dominating at times and the young corners are really coming on, especially Wyatt, Wright and Thomas. Over this early part of the season, there has been outstanding balance between the run and the pass and with Reggie Bush and Lendale White, the Trojans have demonstrated excellent big play ability. So far no reciever has made me forget the magnificent Mike Williiams, but every so often, Dwayne Jarrett makes me smile and Steve Smith reminds me of Keary Colbert. At this time, I do have to say that we are ahead of where I tought we would be. I don't see a single game on the schedule that is not winnable, but it will take the best SC has to offer and a little luck along the way to run the table. Some are touting this schedule as being soft and conducive to an undefeated season. After watching Cal, ASU, and even Oregon State, I think SC will have to continue to improve to win this league, but I feel that the Trojans have as good a chance as any other team in America to end up the season as number one.