It has to be a nightmare for any opposing defensive coordinator when facing the Trojans. On one play you may be facing the bruising power of LenDale White and then on the next play you're forced to defend the flat out speed of Reggie Bush. On this night, the Cougars had their share of problems containing both Trojan backs as White and Bush became the first pair of USC backs to go over 100 yards in the same game since 1996. It's quite a testament to the run game to see such a result but what's also impressive is the way they alternate and complement each other so well. They offer such a contrasting style that is has to be frustrating trying to keep pace for an entire game. It was a career night for Bush as Reggie established a new rushing high with 124 yards on 14 carries (one rushing TD). His first touchdown was vintage Reggie as he caught a short screen pass on one side of the field and ran completely untouched to the other side of the field for the score. That's a lot of ground to cover without a defender laying a hand on you yet Bush seems to make it look effortless. He also benefited from a terrific call by Norm Chow, and an excellent block by John Drake, which allowed him to burst quickly into the secondary for a long 66 yard dash and once he's in the open field it's fun to sit back and watch him run. He barely missed completing a long pass as well when a penalty negated his fine throw to Steve Smith (you have to like Chow breaking out that trick play on his return to Provo). Not to be forgotten, LenDale showed his ability on a touchdown run of his own during the 4th quarter. White broke several tackles with some hard running and then broke loose in the secondary to show his improved speed on his way to the end zone. White had 110 yards total on 17 carries. Another good thing we saw from this dynamic duo in this game was their ability to block. Bush had a very nice block which helped spring Leinart on a scramble down the BYU sideline while White had a solid pass block which also helped lead to a first down scramble by Leinart.
Keys to the Game
* Offensive Line
These were difficult conditions for the line with the high altitude and a confusing defense but they responded with a terrific effort, especially in the 4th quarter when they were just dominating the Cougar defenders. We rushed for 292 yards in this game which gives us over 600 for the past two weeks.
* Matt Leinart
Leinart had to be the happiest Trojan to get out of town and head back to LA. For a quarterback, the Cougar defense is something he rarely sees and it causes a lot of headaches. It's a defense designed to stop the pass more than the run and we saw the confusion for Leinart on his interception. Matt's first read was to the slot receiver on the bubble screen but the corner came up so Matt made his read progression to the outside receiver heading up the seam. Under most circumstances that play is wide open but because the Cougars have that extra defensive back, and because they guessed right on that play and he was shaded toward the sideline, he was in a spot that allowed him to make the play. It's a sign of how far Matt has come that the defense didn't slow him down that much, he still completed 22 of 35 for 236 with a pair of scores, and he also ran well for the 2nd week in a row including a one yard sneak for another score.
* Chess Match
On his triumphant return to Provo we saw more examples of why Norm Chow is one of the top coaches in college football history when it comes to the chess match within the game of play calling. On one play the Trojans were only up 7-3 and the game was in doubt when Reggie Bush lined up in the backfield with a pair of receivers to the left and two tight ends on the line. In most cases that would be a passing situation or a run to the strong side but Bush ran a backside power and went easily for the score. Chow was presented with a game ball in the victorious Trojan locker room.
One of the biggest differences between last year and this year was the impact of the Cougar mid-range passing game. Last year TE Dan Coats hurt the Trojans but this year he was limited to three catches for 25 yards. One of the ways USC stopped him and the others was with good drop coverages by the linebackers. This unit is so savvy and they do a great job of baiting quarterbacks and breaking well on the ball, even if you do complete a pass against one of our linebackers he is usually right there to make the big hit. The abilities of the Trojan linebackers in pass coverage are much improved over last year.
Good to see Lee Webb get rewarded with a touchdown run, especially after it looked as if a penalty was going to take away his chance for a score. Webb is a punishing blocker who rarely gets a chance to see the ball come his way…..Ryan Killeen did a nice job putting his kickoffs into or out of the end zone but his two misses on field goals allowed the Cougars to stay in the game, however briefly. At some point this season USC may need a timely field goal to help put an opponent away and Killeen has struggled lately in that department…..Darnell Bing made a terrific read on his interception in the first half…..David Kirtman continues to show good hands with a pair of timely receptions….. Shaun Cody had a nice sack inside the one and ended up with a pair of sacks and two TFL….Rarely do you see a battle of two punters as good as Tom Malone and Matt Payne. Malone had a long kick of 54 yards and, like Killeen, the fact that he puts the ball into the end zone means the opponent has to drive 80 yards against our defense and that's not going to happen a lot. Payne had an impressive 79 yard punt…..Rashaad Goodrum had a sack…..Ryan Ting tipped the ball which ended up in the hands of Terrell Thomas for a late interception…..The intentional grounding call by Leinart was questionable but you have to love how Matt makes sure to throw the ball away in those situations. He doesn't throw it to the sidelines, he throws it to the stands.
JJ talks about the wide receivers
"The wide receivers are getting better every week. Don't forget this is a young group so we should plan to see them continue to get improve even more as the season goes along. Steve Smith is starting to step up to become the dependable option Leinart needs in tough situations. Smith is catching the ball in traffic with blinders on and it's as if he doesn't even recognize defenders in the area. That's a good sign. Dwayne Jarrett, that was a Mike Williams-type catch in the end zone. He used his body as a shield, that was a real veteran move. It shows he has "it" and we just need to have patience with him. I was impressed with Chris McFoy and his runs after the catch. He got some good YAC in the middle of the field." - John Jackson, former Trojan wide receiver
Focus on: Trojan defense
It's unbelievable when you think about what this defense is able to do week in and week out. In this game, we basically forced BYU to be perfect and they weren't able to do that. We only allowed them one real drive, a nice 10 play drive that mixed the run and the pass and ended in a Payne field goal. The also got one big play, a long 69 yard touchdown pass where the receiver got behind the Trojan DB. Other than that, we shut them down all night. The Cougars gained a total of 220 yards and 69 of them came on one play, you can't expect much more than that from a defense. We took away their run game, they barely averaged one yard per carry, and picked up turnovers in bunches. It's amazing how this defense is able to come up with turnovers. The Bing interception was a great example of how the entire defense works together to force a turnover. The credit goes to Bing for the pick, and deservedly so as he made a nice play, but it started with Frostee Rucker applying hellacious pressure on the BYU quarterback. Frostee didn't just rush the passer, he went at him full speed and forced Beck to throw the ball on the run at full speed. Most quarterbacks throwing on the run will like to be a little under control when releasing the ball but Beck didn't have that luxury with Rucker breathing down his neck. The pressure forced a throw that sailed and it landed in the waiting arms of Bing. Overall in this game we didn't get particularly great pressure from our line and our secondary play was decent but the linebacker play was outstanding and it was a tremendous effort for the defensive unit to come out of here with such a solid performance.
In case you haven't noticed, times are good right now for the University of Southern California football program and it doesn't seem like much can rattle us these days. While getting ready to face BYU there was a question as to which Cougar team would show up; would it be the team that beat Notre Dame two weeks ago, a victory that looked better following the Irish defeat of Michigan, or would it be the squad that lost to Stanford in a weak showing against the Cardinal? As it turned out, the BYU team that showed up yesterday was closer to the one that beat Notre Dame because the Cougars came out playing solid ball and they stayed in the game for much of the first half. The Trojans remained calm while BYU stayed close and in the long run the Trojans were just too strong for them. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around the USC starters were on the bench and the game was well in hand and it was at that point that you noticed another sign of the good times at USC. Pete Carroll has created an atmosphere that revolves around enthusiasm for the game and that was very evident when watching a sideline full of starters cheering on the reserves late in the game. Instead of lounging on the bench after a hard day's work we saw Matt Leinart, Alex Holmes and LenDale White yelling and screaming from the sidelines and encouraging their teammates on the field. We have such spirited competition for playing time but everyone still wants the other players on the team to succeed. Desmond Reed got into the ballgame in the 4th quarter and looked good during his carries until Hershel Dennis was sent into the game. You know that Desmond wanted to stay in to take advantage of some rare opportunities to touch the ball but the first thing he did on his way to the sideline was pat Hershel on the butt and give him a word of support. Such cohesiveness is something that all coaches strive for but only few achieve. Another reason his players love Carroll came after the first touchdown by Lee Webb which got called back due to penalty. The sidelines had been going crazy after Webb scored so Carroll quickly called in the next play "Run it again!" and Webb bowled into the end zone again, this time from five yards further out. It's that kind of connection with his players, knowing that they wanted to see the hardworking Webb get rewarded, that helps define this team. Right now Carroll has the Trojan program clicking on all cylinders and it's a joy for the fans to watch.