Where does one start when discussing this demolition? I guess one should start at the beginning with the crowd. I have followed the Trojans since 1967 and I can't ever recall seeing back to back sellouts at the Coliseum with USC as the Home Team. Prior to UCLA's move to the Rose Bowl, SC would play the Bruins at the Coliseum as the visiting team followed by the home game against the Fighting Irish. Those games excepted, never have I seen over 90,000 fans fill the Los Angeles Coliseum to attend back to back football games. What a terrific plus that is for the home team and what a magnificent recruiting tool that is. For other fans across the country who might have the bizarre misconception that there are no fervent College Football fans out in LALA land---wrong again. USC now has as big a home advantage as most any other team in college football and I personally believe that is a huge plus. When things get cooking at the Coliseum it is hard to hear oneself think and it is not fun for the opposition. I just have to love it!!
As for the game itself, this was a near flawless exhibition of college football. USC did everything well. They threw the ball, caught the ball, played well on special teams with the exception of one fumble and their defense was TOUGH--no other way to describe it. I guess it is understandable that some might feel SC would be flat after their back to back tough games with Stanford and Cal, but with Pete Carroll at the helm, that is just not something that is likely. One has to feel that having played two tough teams on successive weeks served to make this Trojan Team tougher and more focused than ever. They did not play like a team that could not get it together. Instead, they played in an almost professional manner and they reflected the fine coaching that they received. After a rather poor performance last week against the California Bears, the Oline looked much better today and they protected Matt Leinart and they opened lanes for Lendale White and Reggie Bush just enough to keep the ASU defense, labled as a tough, aggressive unit prior to this game, completely out of synch. Oh would I have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the room when Oline Coach Tim Davis had an up close and personal discussion with his Oline during this week.
Perhaps the most encouraging facet of this game is the emergence of a powerful and sufficiently balanced offense. Although the team scored only 3 points in the second half, the offense functioned like a well oiled machine. And make no mistake. They did this without the services of their leading receiver Steve Smith. However, to be truthful, it seemed like they did not miss him. This is not meant as a statement of disrespect to Steve. Rather, it is highly complementary to the other memebers of this offense. Dwayne Jarrett-DJ- stepped up and caught 5 passes for 139 yards and 3 touchdowns for which he was chosen as the SC player of the game by ABC Sports. As I stated previously, this guy is rapidly becoming unstoppable in his own right and today he even showed that he can go long and he is fast enough to get the job done. However, as amazingly well as DJ played, my favorite offensive moments of this game were provided by Dominique Byrd. Oh man, what a weapon. He catches the ball very well and then what happens is a sight to behold. He absolutely reminds me of a name that will bring back memories for some older readers--John Mackey. This kid Byrd is an absolute freight train with the ball and he simply refuses to go down. Add to that how fast he is and it is easy to see just what a weapon he is and how much he has been missed. It was also great to see Reggie Bush who has hands second to nobody on this team make perhaps the catch of the game when he gave it up on the fade route. I just don't think there will be any team along the rest of the schedule that can handle this SC passing attack. The kids are growing up and with the return of Byrd, the versatility of Reggie and the accuracy of Matt Leinart, if the Oline blocks, this offense will put up some big numbers. Remember, this was a very highly rated ASU defense that got schooled today.
How about the running game? SC rushed the ball 38 times and they gained critical yards when they had to gain them. For part of the third quarter and for virtually the entire 4th quarter, SC stuck to a vanilla running game with their substitutes and they still moved the chains. The two main men are obviously Lendale and Reggie, but one has to know that if called upon, Hershel can get it done and after watching all the games this year, I have the feeling that either Lee Webb or David Kirtman could also play powerback if necessary. I still love the moves of Desmond Reed and who knows just what he would do if he ever played behind the first string Oline in crunch time? Some might feel that this post is far too optimistic, but I vehemently disagree. One has to remember that this performace comes after back to back killer type games against Stanford and Cal. The team grew up in front of out eyes today and they put together their best total effort of the season. They ran when they had to and Coach Chow showed that he will pass and run against tendencies when it is in the interest of the team.
So how good was the defensive effort today? It was awesome, that's how good! This ASU team was boasting that they would not try to dink and dunk their way up and down the field. They have a good oline, they protect their man Andrew Walter very well and they are going to play long ball. Well, no they didn't and no they couldn't, not against this first rate Trojan defense. SC brought relentless pressure against Walter and then against Sam Keller. Prior to this game, ASU had allowed somewhere around 5 sacks. Today SC nailed the ASU qbs some 9 times and rushed him countless others. The Sun Devils had no running game to speak of and they never were able to utilize the long ball effectively. SC picked off two Walter passes and they played excellent coverage on the long passes. ASU's only consistent spark on offense was the sensational freshman tight end, Zach Miller. That kid is a stud and he challenged the Trojans as well as he possible could. However, even Zach was somewhat limited as the game progresses. I thought Dallas Sartz played some really tough man to man Defense against Zach later in the game. It was also nice to see how tough the Trojans continued to apply pressure and this week, they were able to utilize the corner blitzes most effectively. It was particularly pleasing to see freshman Eric Wright nail Andrew Walter. In my opinion, this kid Wright is the next great corner to emerge at USC. He is very quick, very athletic and incredibly tough. As the television announcers noted, the kid is a very fine tackler , in some ways defying his size. It was also very nice to see the entire second and third string defensive units get significant playing time in the fourth quarter and still managing to maintain the aggressive style and to preserve the shutout in the fourth quarter. It was also wonderful to see Darnell Bing return and he is living up to the hype that preceeded him. The kid is getting better each and every time he plays.
For a guy who took all kinds of heat over the course of his career, Ryan Killeen is rapidly becoming a real key to the special teams for USC. He simply boots kickoff after kickoff out of the endzone or too deep into the endzone to allow a return. That is not only a great physical advantage which causes the other team to start at its twenty, but it provides a huge psychological edge by working against the minds of the opposition. Every great kick return yearns for that chance to take it all the way back, and Killeen has simply been saying, "NO WAY--not against me you won't" time and again. Despite Ryan's somewhat tough start this year with his field goals, he has not missed an extra point that I can recall and this year in college football, that is no small accomplishment, for whatever reason. The punting game is very interesting. Tom Malone simply continues to punt well and our returns have become an adventure worth the price of admission. For all the attention that other guys across the nation get, probably nobody is more dangerous returning punts than SC's own Reggie Bush. Antonio Perkins gets tons of press for OU, but Reggie has as many moves on these returns as I have EVER SEEN-EVER! I readily admit that he did fumble one today and it does concern me that he might get hurt, but there is an old saying. To get, ya have to give. Reggie is so good and so dangerous, that SC simply has to give him the rock and let him do his thing, so to speak. Although the punt return today was not good for a touchdown, it was oh so close and boy does it lift the crowd and the rest of the team. I have my doubts about Reggie returning these punts and kickoffs, but the reality is just how can Coach Carroll not give him the shot? Our own kickoff and punt coverage has been very good and it sure looked like Shaun Cody broke through and partially blocked the lone field goal attempt by ASU.
How about Matt Leinart? Well, what more can one say. He threw three TD passes, all right on the money and he snuck in another for a score. The kid is simply money. When he has time, he is as accurate as anyone I can remember, with the possible exception of the kid Rodgers from Cal. However, Leinart is something that few other proven qbs across the country have proven to be. He is a proven Winner, that's what. Who cares about this and that, so long as whem Matt starts, this team wins. Think about it. USC has lost how many games with Matt as the starting quarterback? That's right, they have lost only once and even that game went to 3 overtimes in somebody else's house. Matt Leinart is one tough, bigtime winner. He does not always look all that fast and his passes are not bullets, but they are more often than not on the money and in this system of Coach Norm Chow's, the kid is as good as any I have seen. He just gets it, all of it.
It is rapidly becoming evident to me that the coaching staff is coaching lights out football this year. They have had to deal with all kinds of injuries and they have had to proceed without a couple of superb players who they actually thought would be back, namely Mike Williams and Winston Justice. They have had to blend and form a virtually new offensive line and they have had to deal with freshmen issues such as homesickness. The refs never seem to give SC any major breaks as we noted last week in the Cal game and coming into the season rated number one in both polls, SC has had to deal with the issue of playing with a huge target on their shirts. It is not a little task to get these kids to take one game at a time. Say what you will, SC had to have been thinking about Cal for much of the off season and then they beat the Bears, only to read and hear that the Bears are actually the better team. Ah, ya know what you can do with that analysis, right. Make no mistake, the best team won last week, the best team won this week and with this staff, if it not inconceivable that this squad could win next week as well. The Trojans are tough, they take one game at a time, their kids are growing up and they have a superb coaching staff. I think it is fair to say that USC is not number one for nothing! And until and unless somebody knocks of our favorite team, USC is going to stay number one and they richly deserve to be rated as such. For all those who tout OU and Miami for this and that, I hope you were all watching the games this weekend.