So what really happened today? For one thing, one of the unsung heroes for the Southern California Trojans was none other than Ryan Killeen. Of all the guys in the world to play a perfect game, Mr. Killeen could not have picked a more opportune time. On a night when SC could move the ball but not finish its business, Ryan came to the rescue. He was an icredible 5 for 5 and SC needed every single point it could get. For one of the few times this season, SC could not get the ball into the endzone. They did very well moving the ball until they got down to the25 yard line or thereabouts, but then they just could not finish. Either the Bruins came up with a big sack, Leinart overthrew his receivers, the Trojan rushing game was stuffed or on one play, SC lucked out when Reggie Bush seemingly fumbled the ball and thanks to a blown call by the refs, USC averted disaster. When a team gains some 474 yards on offense it is hard to feel that the team was relatively nonproductive, but anytime a team setteles for five field goals, something was not clicking. On the other hand, just perhaps the Trojans really did play like champions. After all, not all teams can pull out a victory against their crosstown rival on a night when they are not clicking on all cylinders.
For the last four years USC has been a passing team first and then a rushing team. Some lamented that Trojan Football means running the damned ball and that is the way it should be. Today, USC ran for some 255 net yards with Reggie Bush single handedly gaining 204, but on a night when their passing game was only moderately successful with 243 yards and no touchdowns by Matt Leinart, it just looked like USC was struggling. How is that possible? Of course, the bottom line is what counts and SC did win this game. But the offense was not consistent and Matt did not throw a touchdown for the very first and only time since he has been the SC starting quarterback. So we had a situation where the Trojans ran the ball very very well, yet the offense as a whole was not as productive as we have grown accustomed to seeing. Personally, I just want to see SC win the games and in the process, I love to see the Trojans clobber their opponents and score as many points as possible during prime time. If that means passing first and running second, I will stick with my feelings. I love to see that explosive offense and I love to see SC blow out their opponents.
The special teams play tonight was highly unusual. The punt and kickoff coverage was less than awe inspiring. The Trojans gave up a 96 yard punt return and a 55 yard kickoff return. They had a punt blocked and they were victomized by a blocked punt. On the other hand, Killeen was absolute money. In addition, as the game progressed, Killeen kicked the heck out of the ball on kickoffs. It just goes to show that one just never knows what will happen and that is exactly why they play the games.
What really did happen to USC's offense today? After all, Leianrt's statistics really weren't bad at all. He hit 24 or 34 for 243 yards with 0 TD's and only one pic. The rushing game gained some 255 yards headed by Reggie Bush's fantastic game with 204 net yards. How come this team had to settle for 5 field goals when they usually dominated games in the second half and scored touchdown after touchdown? In my opinion, the anwer has many components. First, UCLA deserves credit. For most of the game, they made big plays when they had to do just that. They brought blitzes and USC never really seemed to figure them out. The Bruin Dline managed to overpower some of USC's younger Oliners and they just schooled them. On more than one ocasion, Jeff Byers was taken to school and he was simply run over. On other plays, the USC receivers uncharacteristically dropped the ball. We have not seen anything like that for several games. We also saw Matt Leinart miss open receivers in a most uncharacteristic manner. When is the last time that Matt overthrew open receivers on three or four consecutive plays. How many fans have now become accustomed to Matt hitting an open guy like Steve Smith was on that long post pattern? Yet even with that, Matt did hit 70% of his throws. I will never use any excuses, so suffice it to say that SC's offense was simply good enough to get the job done. They were not as productive as they have been for much of this season, but they put up 29 points which is not all that bad. There are a couple of questions that do seem to come to my mind. First, did the off the field rumors concerning Coach Chow take any toll on anyone and did SC have a bit of a problem bringing it all for two consecutive weeks against their two biggest rivals, Notre Dame and the UCLA Bruins? Each person will have to decide that for himself.
How about USC's defense? I can only say they played a lights out game. UCLA, a team which averaged some 200 yards rushing or thereabouts could not run the football. They gained a net of only 17 yards. Surely they did miss their superb running back, Maurice Drew. On the other hand, SC played the run as well as they have at any time in recent memory. They swarmed, closed the middle and simply shut down the Bruins. To UCLA's credit, they did pass the ball well enough and Drew Olson managed to avoid a couple of huge near sacks in the fourth quarter and managed to lead the Bruins to a huge touchdown, one helped by a phenomenal catch by Tab Perry. Time and again UCLA's receivers came up big. To their credit, the SC db backs also played very well and the SC Defense came up with two huge picks. The first interception by Lofa Tatupu should have been a game sealer but it was not. Then Jason Leach made a nice pick to seal the deal, though he inexplicably fumbled the ball and Darnell Bing recovered it to save the day. Once again, USC's defense did bend a bit in the passing game, but they did not break. Any time a defense can hold an athletic and open offense like UCLA's to 284 total yards, that is truly a great day's work.
I have felt all along that UCLA and their coach are underated. They have been up and down, but they came up to play ball today and they gave it quite an effort. For all the criticisms Karl Dorrell gets from many people, his team looked well coached and motivated today. They had a stellar game plan and they did a better job shutting down Matt Leinart than most of his peers. One can only imagine how difficult it is for Coach Carroll and his staff to keep the team ready to play, week after week and to prevent an emotional letdown after that huge win over Notre Dame. Say what you will, the talk of Norm Chow leaving had to have affected the kids if not the entire staff. These kids are only human and they do not live in a bubble. On top of that, they not only had to worry about winning, but they were probably concerned about winning convincingly. Think about that.These kids really had to overcome quite a bit. In the end, SC won the game, Coach Carroll is still undefeated and with any luck at all, USC is going to the Orange Bowl. This can't help but help recruiting and once it becomes official, yours truly is going to book his flight to Fort Lauderdale and for the first time ever, I will hopefully get a chance to see USC play for the BCS Chapionship. Yeah, I guess will be well that ends well.
Addendum: As I am finishing this opinion, Tennessee is giving Auburn quite a game so things should and could come out in SC's favor, though I still won't be happy till it's all official.