All over the country on Saturday we saw some of the top teams in the nation struggle to come away with close victories (Oklahoma) or losses (Miami and Florida State) and in those cases you could argue that the opponents posed no more of a danger than the one the Trojans faced in Pullman. It's true the Cougars are not at the top of their game and they've been hit by some key injuries but USC didn't exactly come in at full strength either. We're down our top receiver, our power running back didn't practice much last week (although you wouldn't have known it by the way he played) and both our offensive guards were also limited in practice due to various injuries (for the majority of the game we ended up having to use a true freshman at left guard). On top of that it was a cold and windy day on the open plains of Eastern Washington and it was just the kind of game a team could overlook during a stretch of games against schools located in the lower half of the conference standings.
Did Miami have it any tougher going to face North Carolina in Chapel Hill? Probably not, the Heels aren't exactly striking fear into anybody these days yet they were able to pull the upset. How about Florida State taking on Maryland? The Terps had never beaten the Seminoles in ACC play but they found a way to get it done yesterday. The Trojans, on the other hand, pounced quickly and kept the pressure on throughout the whole first half while building a huge lead. The only reason the final score was as close as it was is because Coach Carroll tried to reward the reserves with some extended playing time but a series of miscues on the offensive side of the ball, which led to the only WSU points of the night, forced Carroll to insert many starters back in the game in order to maintain focus and finish the game right. Carroll has made "finishing strong" one of the major components of his program and he can't afford to let his team lose focus as they begin the stretch run toward a national title. To this point in his USC career Carroll has yet to lose a game in November so he knows what it takes this time of year and by putting starters such as Matt Leinart back into the game he made it clear to his players that a certain level of performance is expected of those who are on the field representing the Cardinal and Gold.
For Trojan fans judging the state of their program right now that one move is yet another indication that we are prepared to make a run at something special in the coming weeks.