Move Those Chains

I felt, and still feel, that the Arizona State Sun Devils are a quality football program and could make an impact on the national scene. But I also had the feeling that the Trojans had simply been rope-a-doping the college football world. The Trojans took a few body shots from Virginia Tech and a few more from BYU. They had to cover their head as the Cardinal and Golden Bears threw blow after blow at them, never knocking the Trojans off their feet.

I guess Dorothy said it best. "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home." As I've previously admitted to, I was not in attendance for the game against Cal last week, so the Arizona State game was my first opportunity to witness this supposed "raucous" sell-out crowd at the Coliseum. I had been hearing all week, just as you had, about how these Sun Devils would be ready to pounce on the Trojans, utilizing their talented array of offensive weapons and taking advantage of USC's struggles moving the ball. Arizona State fans were also boasting about how there would be a surprising amount of Sun Devil supporters making the trip from Tempe. Now, I'll be honest. After the first five minutes of the game, it wouldn't have mattered if they'd played in Arizona State or at the center of the earth; the Sun Devils were completely outmatched. But leading up to the game, and on both teams' opening drives, I have never seen nor heard that kind of atmosphere and emotion in the Coliseum during a non-rivalry game in my twenty-one years of following Trojan football.

As for the game itself, I mean, what is there to say really? When it was over, the only people who actually had to comment on it were those who were apologizing for picking against the Trojans. And each and every one of those articles had better have contained the phrases, "sorry", "never again", "Reggie Bush" and "football God" in them.

I felt, and still feel, that the Arizona State Sun Devils are a quality football program and could make an impact on the national scene. But I also had the feeling that the Trojans had simply been rope-a-doping the college football world. The Trojans took a few body shots from Virginia Tech and a few more from BYU. They had to cover their head as the Cardinal and Golden Bears threw blow after blow at them, never knocking the Trojans off their feet. And when teams and analysts thought they had this Trojan team pegged: no offense, tiring defense, little to no game plan; they uncoiled and landed a haymaker right on the Sun Devil's goatee. After watching this game, there can be no doubt that these Trojans have found their footing and are coming out swinging. (Don't ask about the Colorado State game. It doesn't fit in my brilliant analogy.)

With all due respect to Reggie Bush, the maturation of Dwayne Jarrett has been the most exciting chain of events through the first half of the year. We all knew what Bush brought to the table, but there were questions, especially after the first few games, if Jarrett would become what the Trojans needed at the wide receiver position. He answered that question with one play on Saturday. The most important play Jarrett turned in wasn't on any of his three touchdown grabs, although the speed he displayed in breaking away from his defender on all three was an unexpected surprise. It was a simple first-down conversion where Matt Leinart floated the ball down the sideline and fully expected Jarrett to somehow come up with the catch. Jarrett got separation from the defender with his body and cradled the ball in his hands, getting both feet in bounds before being pushed out with a 16-yard gain and a first down. The Trojans were on their way to a 28-7 lead, and it was visions of Mike Williams all over again.

The emergence of Dwayne Jarrett had a profound impact on the entire Trojan team. Matt Leinart finally had a Matt Leinart-type game. He had one play during the opening drive where he thought about the throw too much and pump faked before firing an incompletion, but that would be it for mistakes made during this game (except for when he overshot a wide-open Alex Holmes on a fourth and six play. But I'm overlooking that because he made that play so entertaining). He looked like he was having fun out there on the field again, reasserting himself as the best quarterback on the best team in the Pac-10.

After talking for so long about how he was the best quarterback in the Pac-10 and perhaps the nation, Andrew Walter sure looked like the prey against the Trojan defense. I can't really finish the lion, puma, antelope metaphor, because Walter didn't even have a shot at running away from the Trojan's vicious attack. He was like the cow that gets lowered into the raptor cage in Jurassic Park. He was so intent on proving to the nation that he is a premier passer that he wasn't able to calm himself down and take what the Trojans gave him. Aaron Rodgers of Cal was so successful against the Trojans because he worked in that little five to ten yard area in front of the linebackers and safeties. Walter, however, continued to try and force the ball deeper downfield and, against the quickness and strength of these Trojan defensive backs, found little success. His two interceptions were indicative of his style of play. On the first one, he tried to force the ball into a receiver on a deep slant and it was intercepted by Matt Grootegoed. Had Matt not picked the ball off, there were eight other Trojans waiting to get their hands on it. The second interception was a bad decision, but helped in illustrating just how far Darnell Bing has come as a complete defensive player. He read Walter the entire time and dropped straight back, while drifting to the sideline to position himself for the leaping grab. The Sun Devil receiver never had a chance at the ball.

Since there were so many stars in this game for the Trojans, there really is no way to mention them all. Dominique Byrd comes to mind, of course. It's so important to have him back in the lineup. He is so quick for a guy his size and when he gets the ball in open space, it looks like Shaq running a fast break with the defense drawing straws to decide which of them has to stop him.

Another guy that is making his presence felt is Eric Wright. He doesn't know it yet, but Eric Wright is my boy. I love watching this guy play. He is one of the fastest players on the field at any time and he has the ability to hit like a safety. He has yet to miss a tackle, wrapping up wide receivers, running backs and now quarterbacks with regularity. At this point in time, I'd really like to see Wright out there with the starters. I imagine it's how Boston Red Sox fans feel about Mark Bellhorn and Pokey Reese about now. They understand Bellhorn has made his contributions, but it's time for Reese to see the field. The same can be said about the Trojan cornerback position. While Kevin Arbet and Ronald Nunn have played admirably, Eric Wright is simply the better option right now.

Reggie Bush. I realize that I could just leave those two words as their own paragraph and you would all nod along knowingly. I think Will Ferrell was actually talking about Reggie Bush during that Inside the Actor's Studio skit when he coined the phrase "scrumtralescent." That is exactly what Bush has been this year. The 41-yard punt return he had was simply breathtaking, the routes he runs against linebackers and cornerbacks alike makes him one of the five best receivers in the nation, and that's to say nothing of his 52-yard "what just happened?" touchdown pass to Dwayne Jarrett.

The Trojan defense finally returned to form as well. The linebackers were again stepping in front of the tight ends and receivers running those short routes. This led to the interception, as well as numerous batted balls and near-picks. The defensive line played as well as they have all season, contributing heavily to the eight recorded sacks. If this Trojan defense can duplicate this effort in each of their remaining games, as they are easily capable of, opposing teams will have difficulty getting into double digits on the scoreboard. The Trojans have taken their lumps; now they're coming out fighting.

Halfway through the season, and the University of Southern California Trojans sit at 6-0 on the year. This game against Arizona State alerted the nation, Trojan fans and perhaps even the Trojans themselves of just how good they can be. It was a total team effort, fans included; and it's going to be fun watching this Trojan team as it marches toward Miami. The Washington Huskies have to be hoping that this Los Angeles rain intensifies and floods the Coliseum, because that's the only thing that can save them from facing a similar fate as the Sun Devils. It'll be interesting to see what kind of fan support turns out for next weekend's game as well. The true "home-field advantages" throughout college football exist in places where fans show up in force no matter who the opponent is. I now know the Coliseum crowd can get as loud as anywhere; let's see if we can keep it up.

Erik McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing.  He can be reached at mckinno22@yahoo.com

 


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