One Man's Opinion - Hawaii recap

The long wait is over. The college football season has begun and USC's first game of the 2005 season is now history. Going into the game, The Trojans were prohibitive 34.5 point favorites and after thrashing the University of Hawaii Warriors 63-17, it is now apparent why the experts rated the game as they did. However, despite the lopsided score, there were some surprises, some questions were answered and even more importantly, there were other questions that came to my mind.

It surprised me to see how few carries LenDale White got early on. After being the starter or costarter last year, it caught me off guard to see LenDale as the clear cut number 2 guy behind Reggie Bush even though he was listed as such. If anyone had any questions whatsoever as to how potent this offense is, even this early in the season, fear not. This Southern California offensive juggernaut is every bit as good as advertised and I just can't imagine ANY COLLEGE DEFENSE that is truly capable of shutting down this talented unit. I also realize that I now have to wonder what this defense will look like as the season progresses. Are there glaring weaknesses or is it the scheme that allows teams to gain yards, but not to score points? Are there some players who are currently second string who might yet become starters, based on actual game day play? Obviously the answers are not yet in, but it will be interesting to watch how the season unfolds.

I have to believe that most fans thought that the game with Hawaii would be a cakewalk. If one were to look only at the final score, I am quite sure that most folks believe that it was no contest from the getgo. However, I doubt anyone can remember any game in recent history during which the USC offense never even touched the ball until there were less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half. Yet that is exactly what happened. The Warriors completely dominated time of possession in the first quarter in a way that I can't recall seeing in all my years as a Trojan Diehard. Unfortunately for Hawaii, all they had to show for it was a 0 to 7 deficit, thanks to a fine interception returned for a touchdown by Darnell Bing. With the exception of that fine play by Bing, the Trojans did not even touch the ball till very late in the first quarter. Of course, when they did, there was no way Hawaii could stop the Trojans. Matt Leinart, the offensive line and the offense in general is simply too good for the Warriors. One actually got the feeling that USC could score every single time they had the ball, which is not all that far off from what actually took place. (SC punted only once and that was very late in the game.)

This game was the first of the Pete Carroll era during which the offensive coordinator was somebody other than Norm Chow. I suspect that few people, if any at all, will be able to find too much fault with the way the offense operated tonight. Yes, there were a couple of delay of game penalties and a few false starts, but for the most part, the offense was simply machine like. SC gained some 518 yards and the play selection consisted of 29 passes and 33 rushes with 341 passing yards ( Leinart was 18 of 24 for 332) and 177 on the ground. Stats like those don't usually provide much basis for criticism. Simply stated, the offense was outstanding. Although there was not a concerted effort to run the ball down Hawaii's throat, the passing game was unstoppable. If one watched the game closely, one certainly noticed that opposing defenses are going to have their work cut out for them. Not only is SC talented, they are being led by one of the most savvy and outstanding college quarterbacks that I have personally seen. I can't count how many times Matt obviously saw something on defense that caused him to audible, but I am quite certain that at least two of his calls ended up in touchdowns. Not only did Matt's audibles work, the receivers he hit were absolutely wide open. I have never seen a college quarterback take advantage of defenses the way Matt did tonight and he is going to be a real difficult quarterback to contain. If one thinks back to the days of SC's last Heisman quarterback, Carson Palmer, one can remember that it is not always that easy to hit wide open receivers on long passes. Yet Matt Leinart is almost invincible on those particular plays and he throws as nice a long ball as anyone.

USC's receivers did not disappoint, though one might imagine that the guys behind Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith were hoping to get a few more attempts thrown their way. Football is a team game and with results like those tonight, I suspect that nobody on offense will complain. Hopefully, as the season progresses, other talented wideouts and tight ends will also get their share of looks. As for the two guys who caught the majority of the balls tonight, they were both simply outstanding. Both Smith and Jarrett each caught 7 balls, and although Smith had the advantage in total yards, it was Dwayne Jarrett who ended up with three touchdowns, catching two from Matt Leinart and one from John David Booty. The SC passing game was simply dominant. As for the running game, let's just say it had its moments. Reggie had a very nice touchdown run and later in the game, when LenDale got several attempts, he began to show just how awesome he can be when allowed to get into a groove and when he gets the rock with the first team Oline in place. As everyone knew going into the season, this offense has so many incredible weapons that on any given night, there are several different guys who can and will be the stars. After seeing glimpses of Desmond Reed, one can only imagine what if? (you know, what if he were to actually get 15 to 20 carries a game?)

As for the defense, how did that unit play? Obviously, the defense lost much more from last year's National Champion than the offense lost. Many people felt that the offense would have to carry the defense early on until the Defense gels. Perhaps that will turn out to be true, but in the end, the Trojans yielded only 17 points. The Defense gave up 437 yards, but only one touchdown in prime time as well as one field goal. The Warrior's last touchdown was late in the game when only second and third string defenders were in the game. Why did SC give up so many yards, and will the unit improve? I don't know that anyone can say with certainty, but after watching the game carefully and after thinking about games from prior years, I can't help but think that many of the yards Hawaii gained were part of SC's game plan to make sure Hawaii did not get too many big plays and to make sure they had to execute over and over again to score. It seems to be in Pete Carroll's overall plan to keep things in front and to try to punish the receivers. One has to give credit to Hawaii because they did connect on many passes and they did not cough up the rock. On the other hand, one has to admit that there were far too many missed tackles and seemingly some missed assignments by the USC defense that certainly helped Hawaii's cause. I am sure that careful review of the tapes by the excellent USC staff will show who did what and how well they did it, but to the naked eye watching the game on television, it seemed like Scott Ware and Dallas Sartz certainly missed some tackles that the defense will simply have to make as the season progresses if this team is to succeed.

The 4 defensive downlinemen did not have what appeared to be an outstanding game and the only sacks that I can remember came when USC brought serious heat. The Hawaii quarterbacks had more than their fair share of trouble when SC used safety and linebacker blitzes and since they did not make SC pay dearly for bringing the house, it turned out to be a very good philosophy. At various times, Ramsey, Ellis, Draper, Moala, Miles and Tofi all got time at DT/NG whereas Frostee, LoJack Chris Barrett, Kyle Moore , Goodrum and Alex Morrow all saw some minutes at DE. I was hoping that the DE's would get more penetration than I was able to notice, but Hawaii has to be given all the credit in the world for their schemes and blocking. One has to hope that as the season progresses, so will the penetration by the down four. On the other hand, Hawaii was not able to run very well at all. They had only 60 yards rushing and some of them were on excellent scrambles and runs by the quarterback. The SC defense seemed to be especially stingy against the run when Oscar Lua was in the game. Unfortunately for Oscar, those four and five wide receiver sets do not usually allow him to stay in the game. The other linebackers made some plays but also appeared to miss some tackles and assignments during the course of the game. It will be very interesting to see how much things improve in the next two weeks while the team prepares for Arkansas.

In my opinion, there were some real areas of concern that surfaced in this lopsided victory and I have to believe that at least some will be rectified immediately. How unacceptable is it for one guy to get TWO PERSONAL FOULS in one game? For that matter, to my recollection there were at least five Personal Fouls and I would be willing to wager that the offenders will not likely make similar mistakes as the season goes on. In a close contest, these types of penalties could end up being the difference between winning and losing. Fortunately, the offensive line was not guilty of any holding penalties and after Winston Justice got a little of the rust out, there were relatively few other infractions. One has to wonder if SC will be effective kicking long field goals. In this game there was only one attempt, but it was not close. Whether or not that will improve remains to be seen. Another thought that crossed my mind is this. If by some chance Matt Leinart were to go down with an injury, how would this offense operate?? After watching Matt's incredible performance, it almost seems unfair to compare any backup to Matt. If called upon in a crucial situation, it will be very interesting to see how John David Booty performs. He did throw his first touchdown of his USC career, but it will be a daunting task for him or anyone else to have to replace Matt this season. Hopefully, that scenario will not unfold.

Not only did USC lose several talented players on defense from last year's squad, they also lost Coach Norm Chow, Coach Carl Smith , Coach Ed Orgeron and Coach Tim Davis. Most fortunately, USC did not have to replace the incomparable Pete Carroll and in the end, it sure seemed like the staff did a great job. Yes, as mentioned above, there were a few issues. However, for the most part, this team functioned as a well prepared unit. (Of course, the man with whom I watched the game might say what I write here and what I had to say for much of the first quarter are not the same--but everyone is allowed to be emotional ??? during the actual game). I guess some folks might disagree, but I could not tell that we had different Offensive Coordinators than in the past. The SC offense looked very familiar and once again, it was the passing that predominated in terms of total yardage. Personally, I think that so long as we have Matt Leinart, that is unlikely to change. For the most part, the team simply played incredibly well on offense and adequately on defense. The staff had the team well conditioned and ready. What more could a fan really ask for? Now, we have to wait two weeks to see what improvements will be made and to see how we will fair against an SEC opponent. Personally, I think the team will be better on defense and the offense will continue to rock. I guess only time will tell.


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