Move Those Chains - Hawaii review

I hope you've got your spot locked up; it's about to get very crowded aboard the USC bandwagon.

After a summer that saw the dominance, deficiencies and departures relating to the USC Trojans debated ad nauseum, the opening weekend of college football saw two certainties. One: the Trojans are the best team in college football. And two: nobody else is close.

This Trojan offense is absolutely everything it was made out to be. Matt Leinart's elbow surgery and his spring practice sit-out could prove to be the best thing to happen to this year's USC team. During the spring, Leinart would often take his post behind whichever signal caller was currently lining up under center and command the offense as if it were connected to a joystick. He would read Pete Carroll's defense, suggest audibles and call out assignments, turning himself into a true player/coach for the 2005 season. The effects of this exercise were evident this past Saturday as time and time again, Leinart would read the defense before the snap, offer a barely visible hand signal to his wide receivers, and then find them wide open for long gains. Hawaii's defensive backs were by no means All-Americans, but Leinart made them look like high schoolers.

As far as the rest of the offense goes, what else is there to say? Seven offensive touchdowns and over 500 yards of total offense is a pretty good coming out party for the Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin tandem. Before the game, I was interested to see the similarities and differences between this offense and the Norm Chow offense. I was even more interested in seeing if Sarkisian and Kiffin would alter their attack if it wasn't working, or if they would be stubborn, like Chow was, and stick with their attack until it worked. I never got a chance to find out, however, as I can remember just two plays that didn't work for positive yards. This offense played all-out for just over two quarters and still scored more points than any other team on college football's opening weekend.

I absolutely loved the way the offense operated. They demonstrated a perfect blend of run and pass and got all the necessary people involved in the attack. The amount of people that are finding fault with the offensive attack against Hawaii is laughable. "Why didn't LenDale White get the ball more in the second quarter?" "What about all the other wide receivers?" "Is Reggie Bush forcing Pete Carroll's hand?" How many points do these people want to score? Seventy? One hundred? Three hundred? The offense had one turnover due to a horrible non-call and one punt in the fourth quarter. Texas wasn't as efficient against Louisiana Lafayette. Cal wasn't as dominant against Sacramento State. And, well, we know about Oklahoma against TCU.

These two schools of thoughts have existed before. Take a look at the NBA, with the Sacramento Kings and the San Antonio Spurs. The Kings and their fans love to spread the ball around, have everyone take 15 shots and put up 120 points per game. The Spurs, on the other hand, feed their big man and take what is given to them. Guess which team won last year's title.

Getting the ball to every player in a cardinal and gold jersey isn't what this team is about. The Trojan offense is at its best when players simply perform when they're called upon. That should be the only question taken from this game. It shouldn't be, "why didn't certain players not see the ball?" but, "will those players keep their heads in the game and be ready when, not if, they are asked to step up and perform?" Pete Carroll seems to think so, and he's won more National Championships than all of us.

As for the defense, the same thing applies. The idea that the defense didn't perform well or still needs to improve is entirely off base. There seems to be an overwhelming majority of fans and analysts who have decided that giving up 437 yards to this Hawaii attack should put the coaching staff and all Trojan fans into panic mode. They've decided that this Trojan defense won't be able to withstand the rigors of their schedule, having to go against the likes of Arkansas' running attack, the Ducks' spread offense and Arizona State's dangerous devils. Well guess what; they won't have to.

In college football, you don't face the same opposition every Saturday; Pete Carroll and his defense spend each week preparing for the next opponent. The defense that Carroll put on the field Saturday was designed to prevent Hawaii from putting points on the board. The result? The Warriors scored 17 points (seven of which came in garbage time). I doubt any other team on Hawaii's schedule will be able to hold them under 20 points at Aloha Stadium. With the exception of one play, the defense performed exceptionally well on Saturday. The only play that worried me was the Warriors' first touchdown: the 27-yard wheel route to Bryan Maneafaiga. Dallas Sartz was beaten on the play and while it's understandable to have occasional mental lapses during the first game of the season, Sartz should be aware of that play, having seen Reggie Bush perform that same route dozens of times in practices and games. Sartz is a very smart player though, and I doubt we'll see that same mistake again this year.

The point of the defense is to keep the other team from scoring. You don't get points for limiting total yards; but you do get wins from limiting total points. The defense that prepared for and played well in the Hawaii game no longer exists. They succeeded beyond expectations and now, a new defense will start to take shape: a defense that is concerned with stopping the Arkansas running game. It's impossible to use a prior week's performance to determine future production. The athletes that line up on the defensive side of the ball for the Trojans are some of the best in the nation and will only get better as the year goes along.

A 46-point victory in the season's opening game? I'll take it, and everything that comes with it.


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