Move Those Chains

The game against Washington served as a perfect tune-up game for this Trojan team. The depth on both offense and defense was on display yet again as thirteen different receivers were on the opposite end of either Matt Leinart or Matt Cassell throws. By the way, that's four more people than even touched the ball for Washington's offense.

It's been three full days since the USC Trojans faced off against the Washington Huskies and I still can't shake the image of one of the most embarrassing displays in the history of Trojan football.  I was one of the more than 72,000 observers on hand at the Coliseum this past Saturday and I'm not sure where to go or who to talk to, but I do know that I deserve an apology.  Over the years, The University of Southern California has been a university of proud, upstanding traditions.  Whether it's on the athletic field, in the classroom or just around town, the majestic hues of cardinal and gold have always represented what is noble, just and good. 

            However, what took place late Saturday afternoon on the hallowed turf of the Los Angeles Coliseum flew in the face of everything that this great university stands for.  As I sat there, staring in disbelief at what was unraveling before me, I could only come up with one question: How ridiculous is this half-time show?

            Honestly.  This is the "world-famous" Trojan marching band.  They've performed for millions of people, rocked with famous bands and entertained leaders of nations (if they haven't, they should), and here they were, serving as an afterthought to one of the most insane and ludicrous halftime performances I've ever witnessed or even heard about.  I can understand that the band had been working long and hard on the James Bond theme, but the plan to incorporate it into the show while a Bond look-a-like Tommy Trojan attempted to foil the Washington mascot's plan to make people root for the opposing team while randomly shooting off fire extinguishers, (got all that?) was something that third graders come up with for class skits; not something you put on display for thousands of people to see.  The Trojan marching band is too good and too proud to have to share the field with something like that.

            Oh ya, there was a football game too.

            While the outcome of the game was never truly in doubt and while I am far from being one of those Trojan fans who think that any drive ending in a field goal was put together by a monkey, or, like the guy sitting behind me, don't consider the Trojans to be "winning" until they are up by at least twenty points, I will say that scoring ten points against any program in the shape that Washington's is in right now, is underachieving.  The good news was that those ten points only represented one half of the game and the Trojans were able to turn their amps to eleven during the second half and ultimately dominate the Huskies.  The bad news was that the first half was one of the worst and most uninspired thirty minutes of Trojan offensive football we've seen in the past couple of years.

            I hate to call Matt Leinart anything other than a Heisman trophy caliber college quarterback, but the fact of the matter is that the season he is putting together this year pales in comparison to the one he just completed.  And I'm not simply talking about statistics, because stats don't win championships.  I'm not sure whether it's injuries, lack of confidence, or any other such ailments, but through seven games in 2004, Leinart has not been the same, dependable signal-caller he was throughout the 2003 national championship season.  He's been streaky; at best, he's thrown the ball with authority and deliberateness, moving the ball downfield in large chunks and reminding everyone exactly why he is so highly regarded throughout the college football world.  However, at times he's seemed out of place, out of rhythm and out of touch as his throws sail high and wide, landing harmlessly on the sidelines.  I didn't think it was the case at the beginning of the season, but maybe all the Heisman hype really is playing games with him.  Maybe it's in his head now that he can't throw interceptions, or that he's got to put up 300 yards passing every game.  He's got so many weapons at his disposal: from thunder and lighting LenDale White and Reggie Bush, to (Earthquake and Avalanche?) Alex Holmes and Dominique Byrd, to his vast array of talented receivers.  The pressure to be perfect shouldn't be weighing down on the shoulders of Matt Leinart.  He knew that last year, hopefully he'll get it again this year.

            Speaking of Reggie Bush, this now begins the part of the column where I talk about Reggie Bush.  People like Reggie Bush don't happen in real life.  They happen in movies, or in stories you hear from a friend who heard it from a friend.  The ability and character that this young man has displayed throughout his two years here are remarkable. It's getting to the point where opposing coaches are going to start sounding like Verbal Kint.  "Let me tell you something, Lee Corso.  I believe in Norm Chow and the USC offense, but the only thing that scares me, is Reggie Bush."  Against Washington, it was another game, another touchdown for number five in cardinal and gold.  Reggie Bush is far and away the most exciting player in college football in years.  If this were reality TV, he'd be the anti-Benefactor.  And this concludes the Reggie Bush portion of the article.  Those of you reading this who are fans of teams other than USC, may now throw away your Kleenex and continue reading.

            While the Trojan offense has been hit-or-miss at times this season, the defensive unit has established itself as, front to back, the best in the nation.  It all starts up front for the Trojans and their defensive line was rock solid against an above average Washington running attack.  They consistently pushed the Husky offensive line into the backfield and blew up every option attempt before it ever got a chance to hit the corner.  The linebackers continued to step up their play in Saturday's game as well.  In the Trojans' defensive scheme, the opposing quarterback must force the ball into the middle of the field and over or around these athletic linebackers.  Washington was able to do this a grand total of seven times on Saturday, which was about Nebraska's average during the early 90's.  The Huskies ran fifty-five plays for a total of 113 yards.  Now, I'm no mathematician, but that seems to be about a two yards-per-play average.  You simply cannot be beaten if you allow a team an average of only two yards per offensive play, unless you're either Penn State or Iowa. 

            The defensive backfield for the Trojans has been the one supposed weak spot on the team for two years now.  What Will Poole did in stepping up and solidifying one of the two cornerback positions and helping the defense turn a corner in 2003 is exactly what Eric Wright is starting to do for the team in 2004.  Wright is already simply one of the best cornerbacks I have seen at USC or any other school.  He is constantly blanketing wide receivers and is as solid of a tackler as any safety.  You only need to look at two plays from the Washington game to realize what kind of player Wright is going to be.  On one play when a Husky receiver had a step on him to the inside of the field, Wright dove in front of him at the last second to bat a perfectly thrown ball to the turf.  And on another, Wright's physical wrap-up of yet another wide receiver directly led to Keith Rivers' first career interception.  Given time, Eric Wright could develop into one of the nation's premier cornerbacks; he just has to crack the starting line-up first.

            The game against Washington served as a perfect tune-up game for this Trojan team.  There were basically no negatives in the game (save for a batted-ball interception and a LenDale White freak fumble) and plenty of positives to take away as they head down the backside of the schedule.  The depth on both offense and defense was on display yet again as thirteen different receivers were on the opposite end of either Matt Leinart or Matt Cassell throws.  By the way, that's four more people than even touched the ball for Washington's offense.

            This Trojan team continued their reign as the number one team in the nation by easily dispatching the Huskies and will look to make it a northwestern sweep when they go into Pullman next weekend to face the Washington State Cougars.  A few guarantees: Reggie Bush will score a touchdown.  I will be watching.  And, it will be better than the Washington game based solely on the fact that James Bond won't be responsible for the halftime show.       


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