Coming into this game, there were many questions that needed to be answered. First, does Cal's coach, Jeff Tedford really have Pete Carroll's number, so to speak? Could USC move the ball against the highly rated California defense? Could the highly touted SC Defense manage to slow down the nations highest scoring football team, the Cal Bears? How would USC adjust to the absence of rush end Jeff Schweiger and would USC's secondary show major weaknesses without budding star strong safety, Darnell Bing? Would Cal once again be the only team to manage to run the ball very effectively against the SC defense and who would win the battle of the highly ranked quarterbanks. The individual kids themselves, Matt Leianart for USC and Aaron Rodgers did not publicly make much of the battle, but the press and many posters did. Would Cal really be able to contain Thunder and Lightening better than most had so far? Would the tight end finally emerge as a star in the USC offense, now that Dominique Byrd was returning?. And would SC's young receiving corp finally emerge and play as well as the more highly touted Cal receivers, namely, McArthur and Lyman.
It is certainly hard to make a case that one coach has another's number, when his record in head to head games is now 1 win and 2 losses. Having said that, it sure does seem that Tedord manages to devise offensive schemes that have relatively little trouble making major yardage against Pete Carroll's defenses. Today, at times it seemed as if SC was in over its head. At one point in the game, Cal had marched from their own 20 yard line and scored on two successive drives with seeming ease. Aaron Rogers put on one of the all time amazing displays that I have ever seen by a college quarterback. Last week I asked if anyone could play a much better game than Stanford's Trent Edwards played against the Trojans in the first half. I honestly did not think so, but boy oh boy was I wrong. This kid Rogers is a star and he was on fire. At one point he had hit 24 consecutive passes and ended up tying Tee Martin for the NCAA record. The kid is simply amazing. He threw strike after strike and it was obvious that for the most part SC could do little if anything to stop him. Now since Cal ended up scoring only 17 points, some might consider any criticism of the defensive scheme unfair and unwarranted and just another example of a know it all fan mouthing off. Even if that is the case, I can 't help but wonder something. Why didn't SC bring heat more often? Time after time USC rushed only four guys and Rogers had more than enough time to complete his passes. On those few times when SC really brought heat, they finally got to the Cal qb and one time it helped lead to a fumble. I certainly realized that an all-out blitz on most every down would have failed, but when the opposing qb is literally carving up a defense, one can't help but wonder what there was to lose by trying?
With Rogers hitting almost every pass he threw, (ending up with 29 of 34 for 267 yards,) it certainly kept the SC defense off balance and it also helped California to continue its excellent running game. Arrington was able to go for 112 yards on 21 carries while Lynch also ran for some 36 yards on 8 attempts. All told, the California offense dominated time of possession but in the end, it was the Trojans who held them out of the end zone more often than not and the Bears could muster only 17 points. As this season progresses and as the Bears continue to play lights out offensive football, I believe that will end up being one of the D's major achievements for this year. I also think it is worth commenting on the play of a few specific guys. I tought Scott Ware played a nice ball game. On first glance I did not notice any major lapses on his part and he laid the wood nicely on a few occasions. Each person can judge for himself how well the corners played. They did not give up the long ball, that is for sure. For the most part they were in reasonable position. I can say that I like Eric Wright's speed and athleticism and I hope we get to see more of him as the season progresses.
What happened to the USC offense? The Trojans netted only 205 yards, gaining a modest 164 through the air and 41 on the ground. Of course, the rushing statistics are a bit skewed for a few reasons. First, they lost 30 yards on sacks and sometimes they had a relatively short way to go to score since they recovered 3 fumbles and got excellent field position thanks to a great kickoff return by Reggie Bush. That not withstanding, to my eye, this offense was out of sync much of the night and Cal came in well prepared. At the beginning of the year, I felt that the team could go only as far as the Oline would take it. It may sound somewhat harsh, but it looked like the Oline took a step in the wrong direction in this game. Leinart was sacked four times and he was visibly rushed on several other occasions.Watching the game on television, it was apparent that the Right Tackle got schooled on more than one occasion as did the Left Tackle and it was also obvious that there were some real missed assignments. Truthfully, this was to be expected this season and credit the Cal Staff for exposing some problems. At times it looked like SC could move the ball at will, but for whatever reason, SC could never establish any real prolonged offensive rhythm. It sure seemed like SC had to settle for 3 field goal attempts on drives that should and could have resulted in touchdowns. I have learned not to question Norm Chow, and I am sure that at the Monday Morning Quarterback Luncheon, it will be explained why this and that occurred. Having said that, my friend and I both wondered somewhat loudly, (HMHM-that is being kind) why we never really tried to pound it into the endzone on some of those drives. It really looked like we would go away from Lendale if on one attempt he did not make it all the way. It also looked like California exposed a real USC weakness. The Trojans did not handle the pressure well at all. Matt did not move around especially well and there seemed to be far too many negative type plays on several of the offensive series. In the end, the final score ended up as SC had hoped, and I realize some will once again say that any such criticisms are unwarranted, but I have to say that SC's offensive production was nothing to write home about.
Despite the problems with some aspects of the offense, there were some real bright spots. It was terrific to see Dominique Byrd back on the field. I hope that as the season progresses, he becomes more and more integrated into the scheme of things. It never hurts to have a massive guy such as he who can run hit and catch. I also am just thrilled with the emergence of Dwayne Jarrett. He is now holding onto the ball and he made some very "Mike Williams like catches today," with one being as acrobatic and amazing as just about any I have seen as of late. On the pic that Leinart threw later in the game, it sure looked to me that Dwayne was hit every bit as hard as Groots hit the California reciever when he was called for pass interference.. The difference, of course, was that Cal got the call and SC did not. In some ways, one might argue that could have been up to a 14 points swing. However, bad and good calls are part of the game and nothing can be done to change that, at least not without instant replay. I also thought Steve Smith once again stepped way up and until he got hurt, he was huge. SC fans can only hope his leg injury is not too serious because next week against ASU, if he is not there, he will be missed with a capital MISSED.
It's about time to congratulate this number one rated team with regards to the play of the special teams. Tom Malone punted twice and averaged a much needed 57 yards and that was huge. Ryan Killeen had a career day. He made 3 field goals without a miss, and perhaps almost as importantly, he boomed every kickoff and Cal was unable to return a single kick. Considering that Reggie Bush ran one back some 80 plus yards to set up a golden scoring opportunity, that accomplishment by Killeen must not be minimized. California has a fine returner themselves in Lynch and it is frustrating as the dickens for the Cal guys when they never get a shot at a return of their own. USC also won that battle of turnovers. Although the Trojans fumbled once, they never lost possession. Cal, on the other hand, fumbled 4 times and lost three. As stated previously, it was the margin of turnvovers and the special teams that really allowed SC to win this ballgame. Many many times those aspects of games have not gone SC's way and otherwise not so close games, have been far too close for comfort. This time, although SC lost the battle of the statistics, with the help of the above, SC won in the only way it really counts---on the scoreboard.
As I look forward to next week, I can't help but reflect on something important. Although this game had some real negative aspects, I have not had to write an opinon about a losing effort for over a full year. That is not a trivial point. Last year, we lost to Cal, and this year, even without Mike Williams, Keneche Udeze, Keary Colbert and a verteran offensive line, this team was able to do something last year's championship team could not do. This team beat the University of Calfornia. For that, congratulations are in order for the team, the players, the staff and everyone involved with this effort. Even in the heydays of the 1970's , I can't recall going this long without losing. Obviously this team reflects the personality of the Head Coach and they are trying to have fun while always competing and trying to bring home the W. After viewing today's victory, it is as if they simply refuse to lose, even if all did not go as desired. In contrast to the Hackett teams which found ways to lose, this Pete Carroll team finds ways to win. To be less than a total hypocrite, I have to say that I was not all that complementary about many apsects of this game while it was in progress. One might even say I was "out of control". See, that is what high expectations and success can do. Five years ago, I had acclimated myself to SC losses against fine teams such as Cal. And make no mistake, This California Team has a better offense than any other team I have seen all year long. They are really tough. Yet now, I get a headache and bent out of shape even when the Trojans beat the number 7 team in America. Yep, one just has to love what Pete has brought to the table at USC.
The Sun Devils might be just as tough as the Bears. They also have a real gunslinger, (the Pac-10 is loaded) and it will not be a gimme. If any coaching staff in America can will its team to improve and avoid a letdown after a big win and week such as this, it is the SC staff. I am sure Pete and company will work on the schemes and try to improve on the weaknesses exposed in this game. On the other hand, they will also emphasize that tough, never say die attitude and terrific Defensive talent that held on in the end to seal the deal and victory today. It is going to be an exciting rest of the season and to quote Pete, "It ain't gonna be easy."