The Trojans thunder and lightning combination of Bush and Lendale White has received massive amounts of national recognition for USC's dominating rushing performances the last two games in which the Trojans have rolled up 614 yards on the ground. But much of the credit belongs to the guy behind the guys. Or, put literally, the guy in front of the guys. That "guy" is John Drake.
Coming into the 2004 season, USC's biggest question was on the offensive line, as the Trojans were forced to replace an All-American tackle in Jacob Rodgers, an All-Pac 10 guard in Norm Katnik, as well as three year starter Lenny Vandermade, and 2004 pre-season All-American Winston Justice. Little did coaches, fans and alumni know that last season's biggest loss was the broken leg John Drake suffered in the UCLA game that left the Trojan running game stagnant for the final two and a half games of the season. Drake sat out spring practice and was not initially named a starter for the 2004 D.C. opener. However, Drake, a 6 foot 4, 360 pound senior and monster of a left guard from Long Beach has made an immeasurable impact on the USC rushing attack these past two seasons.
Drake saw his first action as a Trojan filling in for Winston Justice at right tackle during the Arizona St. and Stanford games last season, and the Trojan running game caught fire as Lendale White became the first true freshman in USC football history to have back-to-back 100 yard rushing performances. When Justice returned, Drake replaced Fred Matua as the left guard. He would remain in that spot until the UCLA injury, after which, the Trojan running game suddenly stalled.
In his two seasons as a Trojan, John Drake has started and finished 9 games for the Trojans at three positions; right tackle, right guard, and for the 2004 campaign, left guard. No matter his spot on the line, when Drake is in the lineup for a full game, the Trojans dominate on the ground, and dominate the game as a whole. In eight of those nine games, the Trojans have rushed for at least 195 net yards in all but one, this year's opener against Virginia Tech. In the other seven contests, including the UCLA game that Drake left early because of the snapped fibula, the Trojans never reached the 200 yard plateau and topped 100 yards only four times.
The averages really demonstrate the power and consistency that Drake brings to this offensive line. In those nine aforementioned contests, the Trojans average 221 yards per game on the ground. In the seven showdowns when Drake wasn't the starter, the USC run game averages a meager 108 yards per outing.
Last season, the USC offensive line gained more and more credibility as the season went on, increasing Leinart's time to throw and elevating the three-headed running game of White, Bush and Dennis to new levels. Much of the credit during the 2003 title run went to the left side of the line which included standouts Katnik and Rodgers. But throughout the early part of the season, the Trojans could not rush the ball to the highly-touted left side. So Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow went with the lesser-experienced side of the line that included Drake and superstar-in-the-making, Winston Justice, and USC began to shift in gear and begin their title march.
Coming into this season many alumni and analysts alike wondered who could cover that left side of the line and protect Leinart's backside. Drake and highly-touted tackle Fred Matua kept Virginia Tech's speedy defense in check and the USC O-Line as a whole allowed only two sacks against BYU's 3-3-5 defense and their deceptive blitzing schemes. Leinart has yet to see much backside pressure this season and has not been hit from behind significantly enough to force a fumble.
The growth of this offensive line has already been evident throughout the last twelve quarters and should only grow infinitely through the next ten games. Next time that Lendale bruises his way for a 35 yard touchdown, or Reggie makes a cutback and burns the opposing secondary for a long score, pay attention to number 73. He'll leave the field without the TV cameras ever seeing him, and without ever setting foot in the end zone, but he is the real hero.