One Man's Opinion - Arizona review

If all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, the Trojans won't be in Pasadena this year. Although nobody would complain too loudly if that is where SC plays, I suspect that another visit to South Beach and to the Orange Bowl would be the desired destination. Most of us have tried to avoid looking to far ahead, but in reality, it is not possible any longer. First it is the Irish and then........only time will tell how it will all play out.

For the first quarter and perhaps for most of the first half, one had to wonder if USC was playing some uninspired football for lack of any better way of describing it. Coach Carroll, the assistant coaches, and each player interviewed all said the politically correct things prior to the game. They were taking the University of Arizona seriously and there would be no letdown. However, these players and coaches are human and after watching most of the first half, it surely seemed that SC had all it could handle to stay focused on the game. At the beginning of the game, The Wildcats actually took the lead, 3 to 0. (of course they were helped along by the blown call by the refs as it was obvious that SC had recovered a backwards pass). Although USC accumulated a fair number of first half yards, the offense did not seem to click and they were never totally in charge. Perhaps the low point of the somewhat lethargic looking first half was yet another missed field goal by Ryan Killeen. But, in the end, all was right for USC. The Trojans won the game 49 to 9 and they also locked up their third straight Pac-10 Championship and isn't that something very special indeed!!! Just four short years ago, that hardly seemed to be even a remote possibility. Yet tonight, not only did the Trojans win the game and clinch the Championship, they also secured a bid to the Rose Bowl. And once again the politically correct answer was, "The Rose Bowl is always our goal". Of course that has some element of truth to it. But what Trojan fan does not think that with Pete Carroll at the helm, the real goal is now the BCS Championship game which just happens to be the Orange Bowl this year!

The offense took a while to get in gear, but once things started to click, there was no stopping the Trojan juggernaut. Arizona plays some tough and firey defense, but they were essentially powerless to stop the Trojans tonight most notably in the second half. . USC ended up with a 49-9 victory while gaining 577 net yards. They picked up 343 passing and 234 through the air. Matt Leinart wound up completing 27 of 35 for 280 yards and 3 TD's without throwing any interceptions. It was great to see him finally air the ball out which he did when he hit Dwayne Jarrett on a 55 yard pass that was perfectly thrown. The rushing game was also most productive with LenDale White leading the way, gaining 117 yards on 16 caries for a 7.3 yard average. He finally broke a long run during which he showed excellent strength, speed and some very interesting spin moves. Although Reggie had a very average night from the line of scrimmage rushing the ball, he still contributed heavily, especially with a dynamic and crowd thrilling punt return. Of all the rushers, the guy who looked the quickest with the ball in his hands from the line of scrimmage was Desmond Reed. That kid is simply lightening and even with Reggie Bush on the team, there simply has to be a way to incorporate a talent such as Desmond into the scheme of things.

This game was quite productive for the receivers. For much of the first half, it was all about the tight ends. Dominique Byrd ended up with 8 total catches for the game and Alex Holmes also came through with three big receptions. Even the announcers made note that for much of the early part of the game, the wide receivers were not significantly involved. Personally, I think that emphasizing the tight ends is the perfect antidote to the tight coverage being applied to the young and/or inexperienced wideouts. There is simply no way any linebacker can consistently cover the SC Tight Ends. Sooner or later, the safeties or somebody is going to have to offer help or SC will march up and down the field via the Tight Ends alone. The end result is that the coverage seems to loosen up on the wide receivers and they are open and able to make several major receptions. In this game, the wideouts more than held their own, albeit much more in the second half than in the first. Dwayne Jarrett made 6 catches for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns, both of which were very nice catches. Jason Mitchell also stepped up with 5 receptions and William Buchanon also contributed with 2 receptions. For all the questions raised about Chow and his decision making it should be noted that any time a team wins 20 straight home games, and any time a team puts up 49 against a team with as good a defense as Arizona has, something very right indeed is taking place. In the second half, the quick strike capabilities of this offense clearly surfaced and I thought it was as powerful as the offense that SC brought into the Rose Bowl last year. With healthy tight ends, a developing wide receiving corps currently led by DJ, Dwayne Jarrett, and as deep a group of quality tailbacks that I can remember having at USC, things are really starting to click, though it does not always show in the first half.

What about the offensive line play? To my eye, it is improving all the time. Yes, the Trojans do have occasional problems with assignments and picking up the blitz, but overall, the unit has surpassed my hopes for this season. I felt that a competent unit would be a real plus and it would be much to hope for considering the overall youth. Yet, what we are seeing is a good to very good unit out there on the field. Again, I can't emphasize how amazing that is considering the youth. For a significant portion of this game, we had RS Frosh Sam Baker, Frosh Jeff Byers, Sophomore Ryan Kalil, RS Sophomore Fred Matua and RS Soph Kyle Williams out there together. To allow enough protection to run for over 200 yards and to pass for over 300 yards is incredible. To think that this unit will only improve as time goes on can't help but bring a major smile to the faces of Trojan fans and coaches alike.

What can one really say about the USC Defense? I have watched SC teams for many many years and I am hard pressed to recall any unit that was better than this group of guys. They are fast, quick, strong and smart. One should not forget that SC has some injured guys out there yet they play lights out particularly Frostee Rucker. If Pete did not call off the dogs late in the game the opponents would have even more modest yardage totals than they have now. Of Arizona's net total of 253 yards, more than 65 of them came against USC's second and third string defensive units at a time when the outcome was no longer in doubt. Tonight, SC had to use some relatively uncommon combinations due Manny Wright's injury. As it is Manny was already a replacement for Frostee Rucker, but when he got hurt tonight, LaJuan Ramsey had to come in for some prime time minutes. No matter which combination of players was on the field for USC, the results were similar. Arizona had a heck of a time moving the ball and SC was just too tough on Defense! There are so many talented players on the unit that it is hard to believe. I also feel that Eric Wright more than held his own in his first starting role and Darnell Bing just continues to improve. It seems like he has finally started to prove to everyone that he is indeed the player he was reported to be when he came out of Long Beach Poly High School.

With all the positives mentioned, I would be remiss not to bring up a few noteworthy negatives that emerged in this game that need to be improved if SC is to reach the Orange Bowl and then win it. All of a sudden, SC seems to have developed a case of fumbilitis. SC put the ball on the ground 4 times tonight and three were lost. If that trend continues, (and I just know it won't), it will eventually cost the Trojans a win. I suspect that the coaches will address that issue with authority tomorrow and I would love to be a fly on the wall to hear just what is said. The Trojan field goal game is also in a bad state at this time. It is not my opinion that Killeen missed yet another attempt tonight and unofficially that makes him something like 7 of 16 for the year. That just doesn't cut it. It would make just as much sense to try and make the first down as to roll the dice and have a less than 50% chance for success. Hopefully, the coaching staff will not allow any game to hinge on the field goal kicker if there is any viable alternative, at least until there is good reason to believe that things will be much improved.

As the Trojans head into a bye week, it is time to do some reflecting. USC is now 10 and 0 and they have not lost since the California game at Berkeley in the 2003 season and it took 3 overtimes at that. Who really thought that Pete Carroll would lead SC to 3 consecutive Pac-10 Championships and have the Trojans in a strong position to play for the second consecutive National Championship? Of course SC is not there yet. The Trojans have two full weeks to prepare for the Fighting Irish and then for the annual battle with the Bruins. Nothing would please Trojans everywhere more than to once again sweep the two biggest rivals. In my opinion, despite what some fans think, both games might be much tougher than anticipated. Notre Dame, though certainly not a top ten team, has the capability of putting up a stout defensive effort and with luck they could pull an upset. It is too far in advance to say much about UCLA except that I hope we enter that game still undefeated and then let the best team win. The Defense can use some time off to get some players healthy (I hope Manny Wright is not hurt seriously) and the offense anxiously anticipates the return of Steve Smith. If all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, the Trojans won't be in Pasadena this year. Although nobody would complain too loudly if that is where SC plays, I suspect that another visit to South Beach and to the Orange Bowl would be the desired destination. Most of us have tried to avoid looking to far ahead, but in reality, it is not possible any longer. First it is the Irish and then........only time will tell how it will all play out.


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