So what happened and is USC really that good? What happened is this. For the first time all season, USC came to a game with all their offensive weapons reasonably healthy and ready for action. Big John Drake, literally speaking, was able to play and so was running back supreme LenDale White. Steve Smith was healthy and he had recovered from his broken leg. Tight ends Alex Holmes and Dominique Byrd were both ready and healthy. Dwayne Jarrett was healthy and no longer suffering from early season homesickness. Chris McFoy was about 95% or so his Dad told me. Reggie Bush was-well--Reggie Bush! Matt Leinart was healthy and he showed no sign of early season tendinitis in his throwing arm which seemed to have hampered him at times earlier in the season. But more important than anything else, Norm Chow had a full month to work with Pete Carroll and formulate an offensive game plan and Pete Carroll along with Ed Oregeron had the same period of time to set their defensive game plan. In other words, when all was said and done, the Sooners simply had no chance.
This game was one which showed total superiority by USC in every phase of the game. Coming in, all the geniuses such as Craig James and Trev Alberts harped on the idea that SC was simply not that good. Their defensive line would finally meet its match when it had to go up against the mighty OU senior laden line. The Sooners would not allow their quarterback to be sacked and harrassed. The Trojan Dline, headed by Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, both All Americans in their own right, would not be able to dominate and penetrate as they had so many times in the recent past. Well, once again the know it alls were dead wrong. USC's dline and down seven put the clamps on Adrian Peterson and of equal importance was the fact that they were able to rush Jason White and either sack him--they had two sacks--hurry him---I can't count that high--or just flush him out of the pocket and force him to either run, something he hates to do, or to force up a bad pass which he did, about three times or more. The result was great for the Trojans. White threw 3 picks. Although Jason did manage to hit for 66%, some of his most vital completions came to receivers wearing Cardinal and Gold. As for the vaunted Sooner rushing attack-forget about it. Adrian Peterson is a superb young running back. But he had never competed against the likes of this USC defense and I can only assume that he will not soon forget this particular game. AD as he is known gained a very modest 82 yards on 25 carries for a 3.3 ypc average. Although this is quite respectable, it was nothing like the average he had accustomed himself to having.
Coming into the game I had mentioned that Manuel Wright would possibly be a key guy who would be very much needed. As it turned out, he was huge and sitting in the section where I was, I had a very clear view of Manny. He was a man out there and his presence in the middle helped shut down the run, (and that was Pete's first goal) and just as importantly, this allowed Shaun Cody to move outside. The much anticipated matchup between Jamaal Brown and Shaun Cody did materialize. Let's just say Shaun won this battle. I will never forget watching Shaun put a move on Brown and then having a clear shot at Jason White. Well, now we all know how that one ended. Brown whiffed, Shaun got his guy and White hit the ground pretty fast. That was a play I will never forget. Meanwhile Mike Patterson and Manny Wright were keeping the middle of the line covered and the OU runners had little room to go anywhere. And while we are on the topic of the defense, the names of our corners, Eric Wright and Justin Wyatt came up in the pregame hype. Nobody seemed to think the Trojans corners could hold up against the OU group of wideouts headed by Mark Clayton. Well, as usual, the announcers were wrong again. I also think it would be terribly unfair not to mention how well Dallas Sartz played. If he ever had a better game, I can't remember when. It must be a great feeling to save one's best for the biggest game of em all. Great job Dallas.
Another internet poster and I have had a running discussion all year long as to what the key to this team's success would be. He felt it was the development of the young receiving corps. On the other hand, I felt this team would go only as far as the oline would allow and without great blocking, the wide receivers would not get their chance. Key to this Oline to my eye has been Drake. In the 38 seasons or so that I have followed USC, I can't ever remember seeing a guard who affects a game in a more positive manner than John Drake. When Drake plays, SC can run and pass the ball very well. In his absence, the running game was not nearly as fluid or as reliable, though his backup Jeff Byers did a great job and will be an Honors candidate sooner than later. However, at this time, Drake is the man. Prior to the game I had hoped he would get physical and mentally tough with the OU defenders and send a message. Much to my delight he did just that. Perhaps it was not visible on TV, but early on John pushed his guy back and got right into his face in a way I had yet to see prior to this game. Shortly thereafter, Drake went over to LenDale as if to say, run behind me and I'll open things up. Since LenDale popped for 118 yards, it obviously worked. Folks, it can't be coincidental that when John Drake plays, SC's offense is simply in another gear. And as for the receivers, here it comes. I got toasted for saying this before and will again, but I think this UNIT, now presents as many problems as any SC receiving unit that I can remember. No, we didn't have Keary and Mike. We did have Reggie, Dwayne, Steve Smith, Dominique, Alex, Jason, Gregg, Kirtman and Buchanan. These guys were driving the OU dbs and linebackers nuts. From the stands it was obvious that SC often had several guys so far open it was almost sad for OU--almost! The OU defenders were as mixed up as the ND defenders were during the 2003 game. I loved it just as much this time around. And of course, I had better not forget to mention the best quarterback in college football, and arguably a guy who is as fine a quarterback who has ever played for USC. Matt Leinart set an Orange Bowl record with 5 TD passes and he threw some of the best long balls I have ever seen. This guy did not win the Heisman Trophy by accident. For once Lee Corso got something right when he pronounced before the season even started that Matt Leinart was the BEST.
What about special teams? Well what about them? SC simply dominated. The vaunted OU punt return game never got going. Tom Malone placed two punts into the coffin corner, one of which was botched by a horrible OU play that resulted in a quick six by SC. Killeen continued to impress. Since going through his mid season slump, this guy has been money all the way. The kickoff coverage wasn't too bad either. As for penalties, SC was acceptable, for lack of a better term. And on the play when SC got to ? 2 calls for unsportsmanlike behavior, one almost go the feeling that the refs were trying to be helpful to the Sooners.
How about coaching itself? Is there anyone out there, whether it be a Sooner fan, a neutral observer, or a diehard Trojan fan that does not believe that Stoops and his staff got taken to the shed by Pete, Norm and the rest of the SC staff? No brag is intended here folks. This is a conclusion derived from watching the game. Stoops and the Sooners were just out of sorts the whole time. They had no answers for SC and their schemes. Whatever they tried, SC had a counter and a better game plan. The aspect of all this that I find most intriguing is that Pete and his staff accomplished all this at a time when there were some serious distracions going on. SC lost Coaches Orgeron and Slutak to Ole Miss. SC had to watch as Norm Chow faced yet more interviews and the prospect of becoming a head coach, most specifically at Stanford. Reggie and Matt had been gone to the Heisman Awards. Other players had to meet obligations related to other post season honors. I had stated that if Pete could get this team to perform at the highest level for this game and if the Trojans could come away with a victory for the National Championship, I would consider him as great a college coach as I have ever seen. I realize that he has only been at SC for 4 years, but during that stretch, SC had a top five finish and back to back National Championships, the latest being of the BCS variety. Whereas others have also accomplished a great deal. I can't recall anyone who has ever lead SC to back to back national titles for a total of two after having been the coach for a mere four years. That is something that had been unimaginable to my way of thinking.
Something else very special about this game was the huge Trojan presence and the terrific behavior of the fans and players alike. When mingling with the crowds at the Westin Diplomat Hotel, the players were great. I have never met a more polite and humble player than Thomas Williams. The fans were loud and supportive at the game itself. It was great getting to talk to several players parents such as Mr. McFoy and the Pattersons and Dr. Ting. Seeing former Trojan All-American Pat Howell and his son Nick was great. Getting to talk to Anthony Munoz was terrfic. Yet in the middle of all that, I found myself on the wrong end of Trojan Tradition for one of the first times that I can remember. Early on at the stadium, when the Trojan Marching Band was playing Tusk, I could not understand why anyone would even waste their time mentioning UCLA, even if they do suck. Well, a Trojan Fan behind me, named Mike Epstein and I shared opinions. Turns out, I owe him an apology. Screaming the old UCLA SUCKS is part of Tradition,and when playing for the championship, one should not forget that.
So what now? It sure appears that SC will be very talented next season. There will be many key losses, such as Shaun Cody, Mike Patterson, John Drake, Alex Holmes, Jason Leach, Groots, and maybe Lofa. Of course, there are a few other little issues such as the loss of Coach Orgeron and the possible, if not probable loss of Matt Leinart. And dare I say this, but with the firing of Terry Donahue and Dennis Erickson by the San Francisco 49ers, one can't help but wonder if Pete Carroll will leave, no matter what has been said up till now. No, as of this time, we just don't know. Therefore, I guess the best we can do is sit and wait and see how it all turns out. Right now it seems fair to just bask in the limelight. Things like back to back national titles don't come by every day. Congratulations to the USC Trojan Football Team and to as fine a College Football Staff as I can recall. What a ride this has been. Only time will tell what the future holds.