At the start of the season, and after the Hawaii game, there were some serious questions about the defensive line. There was talk that SC could not stop the run and that we no longer have anyone in the same league as Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson. Well, I have always felt that the Dline would be fine, especially with the stepped up play from the DE's this season as compared to last. I also really like LaJuan Ramsey and the ever improving Sedric Ellis. After watching this unit tonight, I am convinced that this dline is quickly becoming a real strength and I am not sure this unit has to take a back seat to last year's unit or to any other down four that I have seen anywhere this year at this level. These guys played lights out football tonight with special praise earned by Frostee Rucker. Although not as big and strong as BKU, he looked even quicker tonight and he was unblockable. He went by the Oregon right tackle so fast for a crucial sack on Clemens that even the announcers were amazed. The duo of Ramsey and Ellis just shut down the inside of the line and the Ducks simply could not run the ball. In fact the Ducks could muster only 66 nets yards rushing and only 264 yards for the game and those numbers are due in no small part to the wonderful play of the SC defensive line. Let's not forget that this is a big-time offensive unit that the Ducks have and they were playing at home. Sure they scored some points on some nice plays, but all told, the SC defense, short its starting OLB and a whole host of cornerbacks really put the clamps on.
Prior to today's game, Oregon did some serious business allowing its qb to run some option plays. However, USC simply took the option away. It's one thing for a team to emphasize the option, but when a team passes primarily as Oregon tends to do, the option loses much of its appeal when the defense knows it might be coming and when the defense has the better athletes. Such was the case at Autzen today. USC's linebackers, DE's, and db's were simply ready able to shut down the pitch and the option altogether. For all the hype Keith Rivers had gotten up to this point, he had not made a huge number of big plays to my eye. However, that came to an end in this game. Today, his speed and ability rose to the forefront and he was tough as nails. He played the option very well and he looked faster than most of the guys carrying the ball that he was going after. Similarly, in my opinion, Darnell Bing played what looked to be his best game, or something close to it as a Trojan. On one series, he personally broke up three consecutive passes and that defensive series helped the momentum of the game flow in SC's direction. Everyone finally got to see the kind of talent and drive that we all expected when he was given permission to wear the infamous and retired number 20. Scott Ware also seemed to be involved in more positive plays than he had been in recent games, the personal foul call he got notwithstanding.
John Walker was welcomed to the starting role with a quick lesson as to why cornerbacks have to have short, very short memories. He was victimized on a long pass to Demetrius Williams, but as best as one could tell on television, he seemed to play very well for much for much of the game. It was also apparent that Pete had every intention of using his young safeties to the max because on many plays, USC blitzed #4 Kevin Ellison and it was the star in the making, Josh Pinkard who served as the nickel back. Nobody could expect to completely shut down Oregon's high powered offense, but this improvised USC defensive unit came acceptably close. After bending early on and being faced with a bad luck change of possession when a punt hit William Buchanon's shoe, the unit got progressively tougher as the game wore on. It was as if the urgency of falling behind in a hostile environment lit some kind of fire under these guys because from late in the second quarter till the end of the game, this USC defense was fast, athletic and simply lethal. Pete Carroll designed a scheme to make the Ducks one dimensional and we all know what USC defenses under PC's tutelage have done to one dimensional offenses.
It will be very interesting to see how the players and the defense actually grades out when the films are reviewed. Hopefuls Pete will comment in detail at MMQB, but it is hard to believe that he won't be well pleased at many aspects of the defensive effort. Of course there is much room for improvement, but all told, to hold the Ducks to 13 points, (though they got shafted on their last TD which was negated by the chop block--replay clearly showed Oregon had scored prior to the infraction) is quite an achievement. I wonder how many teams will hold down this Duck unit the way the supposedly vulnerable Southern California defense did today.
I am one who has posted on numerous occasions that no team can stop this USC offense. I felt before the game, and I still feel that only USC can stop this unit. Tonight, on its first four possessions, the Trojans showed exactly how things can go wrong. The gave the ball up on a punt on a fluke play, but no excuse is acceptable. On their first possession, they methodically went through the Ducks Defense like a hot knife through butter only to score no points when a sure touchdown pass from Matt Leianrt went right through Dwayne Jarrett's hands to be picked off by an Oregon dback who was fortunate to be in the wrong defensive spot only to have a pic land right in his hands. I don't mind giving a kid credit, but this was a gift. All it showed me is that Jarrett is human and everyone will miss a ball now and then. For the next quarter and 1/3 or so, SC continued to have problems getting in sync. Matt seemed to overthrow guys who were open and he locked on to his receivers in a way we haven't seen for some time. We were getting penalties and seemingly were self destructing. I never got the feeling that Oregon was actually stopping USC--never. It seemed to be a matter of time. And as we now all know, it was just that. SC starting scoring on it last possessions of the first half and then never stopped. Nothing Oregon did slowed down the Trojans. The Trojans ended up with 595 yards and scored a season low 45 points.----how many other teams would like to have 45 points be their LOW SCORE?
I can't help but wonder how many fans questioned some of the play calling and how come Bush gets some of those inside carries as opposed to the more powerful and arguably superior inside runner, LenDale White. Well, let's just say that I have stopped trying to guess or figure. Just when it seems like Bush is stopped and he can't crack the line, he scoots, scrambles, gets outside and ends up with a 38 yards jaunt. And when down by the goal line, is there anyone else who can run about 90 yards to make an 11 yard touchdown run? I will leave it like this. Whatever the coaches call, it is working and it is just a fact that there is more than one way to get something done. The truth of the matter is that Both Reggie and LenDale are All World Backs and it is amazing that USC has both of them. On the night that Matt Leianart seemed to be a mere mortal, the offensive line was clicking and the SC backs were unstoppable--two rushers with over 100 yards against a quality Pac-10 opponent says it all.
As for the receivers, what more can be said. Yes, Dwayne Jarrett is human--he botched one. But he made some of the most amazing catches of his career yet and that balancing act to come down inbounds in the endzone for his touchdown was one for the ages. And Steve Smith is steady and truly smooth as silk. Just when one thinks he has been quiet, one notes that he had 6 receptions for 94 yards and that is not too shabby. Perhaps the unsung hero of sorts is once again one of my personal favorites, David Kirtman. On a third and twenty, he took a pass out in the flat from Matt and he played his version of superman once again and through no small effort he pulled out a momentum maintaining first down--what a play. It was also nice to see more of Dominique Byrd and Chris McFoy. Defensive Coordinators must have nightmares preparing for this seemingly endless mass of talent.
Special teams also played well. Kickoff coverage was improved, punts were made and covered well, and it sure looked like Wyatt got a piece of a Duck Field Goal attempt that sailed wide. One had to love Van Blarcom's effort to stop a runaway kick returned although the play was eventually called back due to a hold. Troy is still a bit erratic, but he makes enough long kicks to let us all know that sooner or later, and hopefully sooner, most kicks will simply not be returned. And how about Dinelo? He is not expected to make very long field goals, but within his range, he is money and he has made all the PAT's so far--not too shabby.
In this conference there is no time to sit back of one's laurels. The coaches outdid themselves preparing to stop this Duck offense. The rough spots were smoothed out at halftime and the Trojans played every bit the role of National Champs by overcoming a slow start and literally beatingthe tar out of the Ducks at their house. Now it's time to analyze film and prepare for another very tough opponent on the road--the Arizona State Sun Devils. Hopefully we will get healthier and the Trojans will be in for another stringent test next week. My guess is that USC will be eager, ready and up to the task.