Mike Riley is a coach that was a serious candidate for the USC job prior to the hiring of Pete Carroll. There are many who liked him as a potential candidate and there were others who said he just does not have it and he would have been a terrible choice. After seeing the Beavers move the ball on USC for the past two years, it should be evident that if nothing else, Mike Riley can get his team ready to play some serious football, especially on the Offensive side of the ball. Tonight, even though the Beavers could not run the ball effectively against the Trojans, they did manage to throw for 316 yards, they ran more plays than the Trojans and they put up a very good fight. They are the first team to score a fourth quarter touchdown against USC all season long. Truth be told, USC was very fortunate that the Beavers did not hang a much higher total on the scoreboard. USC benefitted from a very fortunate interception near the Trojan endzone when Eric Wright somehow knocked the ball out of Hass' hands and Jason Leach was able to complete a very headsup play to get that pick. SC was also most fortunate that pass interference was not called in the fourth quearter when it certainly looked like either Eric Wright or Darnell Bing interfered with the OSU receiver. Had that been called, this game might have ended far differently.
Despite the final score, and despite the fact that USC gained 425 total yards, the Southern California offense never quite seemed to be running on all cylinders. Either Matt was off on his throws, the receiver would break the wrong way as it appeared that Mitchell did on the play that led to Matt's interception, the wideouts could not get separtion, or the play calling simply defied logic. I honestly had to wonder if Matt Leinart could see his receivers at time. Watching the game on TV, things were almost comical. The announcers had no clue who was involved in some plays and that was certainly the case from the television views. Matt was hurried time and again and he just never seemed to find the groove. Of course, he ended up being 17 out of 31 for 209 yards which are quite respectable numbers. For one of the rare times in recent history, USC actually rushed for more yards than they passed for. USC rushed for 216 yards while passing for only 209. I would imagine that many are pleased with those numbers. I would also venture to say that no matter how many yards SC (LenDale White in particular), gained on the ground, there was some serious screaming all over the Southland and in SC households all across the nation, wondering exactly what Chow was doing . In the first half, with SC trailing 13-0, it seemed to me and others I spoke to that White was running almost at will, yet no sooner would he have a nice gain that we would then see several passes, some of which were absolutely horrible plays.
It was another interesting game for SC's young Oline. Strangely enough, the new kid on the block, Jeff Byers, seemed to be a solid link on this line. However, the left tackle was in quite deep against Swancutt and I am sure Matt Leinart won't miss playing against that kid in the near future, or perhaps ever, for that matter. It seemed like on far too many occasions Swancutt was chasing Matt, hitting Matt or trying to separate Matt from the ball. Every time I tried to focus on Jeff Byers, he looked to be finishing his blocks and he seemed very very smooth for a true freshman. Although the Oline had some problems with pass blocking, the unit did well with their rushing blocks. There appeared to be adequate running room, especially up the middle for much of the game. That is exactly what seemed so exasperating. Petros does not always make terrific points in his commentary for Fox Sports, but he sure mentioned this ad nauseum. It seems as if he, and many others, I may add, simply can't understand why we don't stick with LenDale, at least till the opposition takes the plays away.
Although the wide receivers seemed to be having a tough time running their routes and getting separation from Oregon State's excellent defensive backs. it was some kind of career night for the SC tight ends. Alex Holmes made one of his longest plays in recent history on a very nice pass and catch with a superb gain after the catch. Needless to say, Dominique Byrd has emerged as a budding superstar, at least to my way of thinking. He provides a real vertical option to the TE position and he can simply catch the ball and run like the wind with it once he grabs it. The OSU conrerbacks must wonder about SC and one handed catches. I was really surprised that the announcers failed to make a comparison between Byrds' phenomenal one handed catch for a critical score in the second period with a more widely publicized one handed catch by Mike Williams against this same Beaver team last year. And while we are on the topic of Mike Williams, I am going to go out on a limb and write something that I have believed for some time and now I feel is true more than ever before. Although some might vehemently disagree, I absolutely believe that Dominique Byrd can bring much the same to the wr-tight end position as did Mike Williams. Dom is big and strong, he has great speed , he can't be brought down easily by one person and he make fearless catches in traffic. His most amazing catches tonight were made on routes that one could easily envision Mike Williams running. I just think Byrd can take over a game just as Mike Williams did and I never thought I would see another SC receiver who could match up with BMW. I do now!
How about SC's defense? I thought they played very well. This OSU team is tough and when Anderson gets time, he can be money. The Dline sacked him several times and made him rush his throws countless other times. Despite all that, he threw for 330 yards on 21 of 51 and with that excellent receiver Mike Hass catching just about everything in sight, the Beavers are a formidable opponent. They have obviously improved since their drubbing by Cal and this is a team that can beat some contenders on a given night. It was sad to see Kevin Arbet being carted off with some serious injury. I was stunned to see number 39, Ryan Ting playing serious minutes at corner in prime time. The play of backup, and now probable starter Eric Wright was inspiring. He rarely gets toasted and he is usually where he needs to be, or at least somewhere close. For much of the second half, the trio of Justin Wyatt, Wright,and Terrell Thomas were the corners in the game. Talk about some talented youth. Holding this inspired Oregon State Team to 20 points was a pretty good achievement tonight. In fact, winning the game on a night when it looked like it wasn't going to be an SC night was a bigtime achievement. This game, much as I figured, was not a gimme and the Beavers were well prepared and in position to pull a National Championship Season Ending upset. Fortunately, and in no small way due to the defense, that was not to be.
For one of the few times this year, the Trojans did not win the battle of turnovers. To be fair, they did not lose it either. USC lost two fumbles and gave up one interception. They also picked off two passes and they lost one fumble. The turnovers committed by SC were uncharacteristic of Pete Carroll's teams, but I guess any team can have an off night. It is also esential to give OSU their due. One sight that has become all too familiar is that of a failed field goal attempt. Although one can't honestly blame Killeen for having his first attempt blocked, one might have a legitimate beef with his miss on the second attempt. Unofficially, that puts him at less than 50% for the season on field goals. Obvioulsy the coaches have the final say, but it is not very encouraging to think that this whole team's future could end up riding on this kids foot. I honestly hope we start going for it on more fourth downs if the other option is a relatively long or bad angle field goal attempt. This is not a cheap shot. It is simply a reaction to what has in fact happend. On the other hand, despite a fumble on one punt return, I would never mind putting the game into Reggie Bushes hands and legs. He once again provided an urgent lift when he made another of those incredible punt returns for a touchdown. There simply can't be any better punt returner in the country and that includes that kid Perkins from Oklahoma who toasted the Bruins for about a million yards last year.
What about the coaching job this staff is doing? Overall, I am absolutely thrilled . However, I would be a total two faced jerk if I did not fess up that for the first time in a very long time, I was more than a little irritated with SC's unwillingness to stick with the run in the first half, especially when SC was down and the run was working and when it seemed that Matt and the receivers were having a time of it getting untracked. Having said that, once again the staff encouraged the kids to bring it and the team responded by coming back from a 13-0 deficit to take a 28 to 13 lead before giving up the first fourth quarter TD by an opponent this whole year. Traveling up to Corvalis and beating the Beavers in a hostile stadium with bizarre weather was not an easy task to accomplish. Now the magic number is 3 to get to the Orange Bowl. I know everyone has to take one game at a time, but it is too late in the season not to mention overall goals. Next week is Arizona and although anything can and usually does happen, they are not a very good team, yet. Hopefully the staff will help keep the players focused and SC will come out breathing fire and put the game out of reach early in the first half. My guess is that SC will win big.