There are so many different facets of this game worth mentioning it is hard to know where to begin. I suppose the play of the defense and the adjustments made is as good a place as any to start. In the first half, Trent Edwards had just enough time to throw and he made the most of it. The Stanford receivers showed some good hands and the kid throwing the ball was playing lights out football. Just as Rogers from Cal shredded the Trojans defense last year, this kid was on fire. Even when the reciever was covered like a blanket as was Evan Moore by Kevin Arbet on the fade route in the endzone, the pass was perfectly thrown and the Moore is so big and tall, there was nothing that could be done. Stanford was hitting lots of underneath passes and the D line simply could not and did not get to Trent Edwards fast enough. In a very calm manner (yeah right!!), I turned ten shades of red and screamed at my buddy who I watch all the games with and pleaded for him to explain to me why SC was not sending everyone to nail Edwards. It did not matter who was playing db. This kid was so hot that if he got the pass off, it was going to be completed. I did realize that once or twice Trent Edwards avoided the blitz pressure and scrambled for great yardage, but at least he had to work for them. To my eye, it seemed like SC's Defense simply let him get into a groove in the first half and did not do enough to get him out of his rhythm. Of course, the reality is that much credit simply has to go to Stanford. They were well prepared and for the first half, their coaching staff has an answer to almost everything SC tried and they honestly looked like the better team.
As stated before, this is a game of two halves. It was evident from the beginning of the second half that the team made both physical and mental adjustments at half, and the first tow times Stanford got the ball it was KABOOM--3 and out and Trent Edwards was suddenly running for his life and getting smacked around with ferocity. The hard rushing freshman Keith Rivers used his amazing speed to cause a fumble and the Oline for Stanford which had done a great job in the first half was suddenly under seige. The pressure was now coming from all over the place and the tone of the game had been reset and changed to favor USC. In the end Stanford incredibly made only one first down in the entire second half, and the Cardinal gained only 36 total yards in the second half after wracking up something like 291 in the first half. As poorly as the defense seemed to play in the first half, that is how dominating and tough they were in the second half. Speaking of the first half, I can't say I have ever seen anything like the last play of the first half. When Stanford was clearly just trying to run out the clock, their tailback, JR Lemon broke loose and ended up scoring on an 82 yard play to end the first half. Now I bet I am not the only guy who will say that play was aided by some uncalled holding on Stanford, but nonetheless, it was one of the single worst defensive efforts I have ever seen since following SC Football. It sure looked like some of the defenders quit before the whistle and by the time they realized what had happened, Stanford had six. If there was any type of silver lining to that play, it was that once again, Justin Wyatt showed some of the best football speed I have ever seen, similar to the way he displayed it against UCLA's Maurice Drew.
How about the defensive backs and linebackers? I really thought they played pretty well, even when Stanford was kicking butt. I am sure not all will agree, but to this very day, I still believe there is only one effective defense that works against a quarterback who is in a zone and Edwards was in that zone today. Folks, the qb has to be put on his back and he has to be hit every single time it is legal. If a quarterback is white hot, no defensive back in the world can stop a good passing game. Otherwise, fewer points would be scored. I also thought Arbet made a very nice pick and he made it when he was able to use his savy and play in space as opposed to having to cover a streaking wr running down the field. The db's were giving lots of space at first, but they tightened it up in a big way in the second half and the result was very few receiving yards in half number two.
One should never forget that a win is a win, and this one tonight was huge. Although closer than some would have liked to see, the Trojans picked up the W in a hostile environment against a well coached team that was ready to play. This game might just help propel the Trojans to many more victories this season. USC did what champions need to do. They fought back against a tough opponent and simply refused to lose. Down by 11 points at half instead of being down by only four, SC could have hung their heads and folded. BUT, they did not. They came out fighting like true champions and simply put, USC refused to lose. Matt Leinart played a very good game although he made one of the few mental mistakes I can recall of this season. On the first drive of the second half, Matt took a couple of sacks which resulted in SC being far out of field goal position, (although some might argue that just about anything is out of FG range these days). The first sack may not have been avoidable, but Matt has shown that on most plays like the second sack, he would have at least dumped the ball. Being the leader and smart player he is, I am confident that if faced with a similar scenario, he would not take a similar loss.
How about the SC offense? In the first half, it was not so much a case of them not showing up to play as it was that they could not seem to get onto the field. The SC Defense could not stop the Cardinal and the time of possession was such that the offense did not get that many tries. When on the field, Matt was very efficient, though the running game was not dominant, questionably in part due to Lendale White's bad ankle. The receivers have continued to step it up, and one could argue that all three guys, Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett and Chris McFoy had breakout games of sorts. Despite his one fumble after getting crunched going over the middle, Steve Smith took control. He had 8 receptions for 154 yards and he helped keep scoring drives alive in the second half. Jarrett has taken a step up and he caught five balls without any obvious drops, though one was a "sort of". McFoy made one of the key plays in the game. When SC was driving to take the lead, he made a great play on a third down and SC got the first down and sustained the drive. What a terrific and athletic play by Chris. It was also nice to see Fred Davis make his first catch, and although he fumbled the ball, he got it back and his role is sure to increase with time. That kid has very much a Mike Williams type of body and he is a major weapon in the making. It was also nice to see Alex Holmes getting more action tonight and 9 times out of 10, he makes that touchdown catch that he dropped. He is not the fastest guy on the team, but he does have some of the very best hands and oh what a blocker he is.
The Oline gave up some sacks but when the going got really rought and tough, so did this line. As the game wore on, those huge bodies took their toll on the Stanford Defense and the holes were opening up and there were not a bunch of holding penalties or bad mistakes. The line is coming alive and it is nice to see that Leinart is not afraid to let em have it after a sack. There appears to be mutual respect and as this line continues to mature and improve, SC's offense is going to be all the more potent. It also appears that when the Trojans really need some tough yards, they look for that mountain of a man, John Drake. He moves so well and he blocks out the sun as well as anyone who gets in his way. He looks too heavy, but he moves great and he did not seem to need much or a rest tonight. In the end, he and the other members of the Trojan Oline were still standing while the Stanford dliners were winded, beaten and sucking gas.
On some of the various message boards, there has been some question as to whether or not the SC really has a go to guy this year, the type that can be counted on to take over and do what is physically necessary to will the team to victory. My vote goes to Reggie Bush. He is not as big as Mike Williams, but he is faster and is many ways, more versatile. Whether it is running inside or outside, catching a ball out of the backfield or from the wr position or from the slot, or returning kickoffs or punts, Reggie is a superstar and he does it all. Some have wondered aloud if Reggie is, or can be an every down kind of player, especially at tailback. Well, he proved that he can be. He ran tough , right up the gut and that is where he was most effective tonight. Time and again he darted through a small hole and made tough yards. Needless to say, his punt return in the fourth quarter set up the winning drive and he put on more moves in the one return than many guys display in an entire career. Yep, in my opinion, Reggie is a go to guy. I also believe that Steve Smith is another go to guy and if they need him to do something to get the Win, he can be counted on to do it. I also believe that when healthy, Lendale White can take over a game. To make things even scarier for SC's future opponents, this team also has a couple more candidates for star status. It is only a matter of time before our three main wr's and Fred Davis at tight end become one of the most feared and respected receiving corps around. It is going to happen.
So what about special teams? Kickoff coverage had been good up till tonight. Maybe Stanford is just that good. One has to give credit where credit is due. However, the Trojans were horrendous on kickoff coverage until the very last attempt. On that play, Thomas Williams made a hit that will remind some of the old timers of a simlar hit made by lineback David Lewis many moons ago. I was amazed that the Stanford kick returner was able to get up. The punting game was fine and so was the coverage. The extra points were perfect, but "how about those field goals?"---YIKES!. I don't want to be overly cruel, but Houston, we have a problem. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff and players respond to this situation. Will the head coach put the fate of the team in a close game on the kicking game? I really don't know the answer, but one can't help but be concerned.
How about the coaching itself? Am I the only guy around who honestly felt that in the first half, the SC staff got schooled? It seemed like Stanford was very well prepared and they showed formations and then went against tendencies. They seemed to have an answer for just about everything SC brought to the table. It sure seemed like the Trojans were not bringing enough heat in the first half, or was the truth really that Stanford had an answer for just about everything? I am not sure, but I do know something else. In the second half, USC and their coaching staff owned the game. It was the Cardinal that had no answers, and I mean none at all, in the second half. Once again SC looked like the much better second half team and although it took a while, order was restored. This game will surely help SC and its numerous fans understand that the schedule is NOT SO EASY and that it will take an all out effort in every game to get the win, especially on the road. This is a talented, tough and improving group for sure and if history follows form, USC will benefit greatly from this tight and hard fought battle. Next up is the California Bear team and one needs to say no more than that. I anxiously await that game and the chess match is on. Will Tedford once again have the right game plan, or will the Trojans be ready and waiting to win that game. As the saying goes, only time will tell.