Prior to this season, many of my friends told me that the toughest stretch of the season would be the back to back road games against Oregon and ASU. If SC could come out of Tempe with a 4 and 0 record, they might very well be on the way to their third straight national title. Whether or not that will come to fruition remains to be seen, but all one can ask a team to do is, "Win". And win is exactly what this never say die Trojan team did. In fact, this was the first time in their storied history that the Trojans stretched their winning streak to an amazing 26 games. At a time of the so called parity in college football, to win that many consecutive game is simply amazing.
As a fan, it is hard to imagine any game that evoked more gut wrenching emotions than this tussle with the Sun Devils. My buddy Terrytrojan32 and I could barely believe our eyes as we watched the Trojans bungle their way through a most trying first half. It seemed like Matt and the offense might actually be on their way to something fine until the instant replay reversed a catch by Reggie Bush. From that point till the very end of the first half, USC's offense was simply terrible. I hate to say that, but it appeared to be the truth. SC accumulated some 9 offensive penalties and they could sustain much of nothing. The passing game was totally out of synch and Matt Leinart looked like a mere mortal for the second consecutive week in the game's first half. He was off on his passes and the running game was not overly effective, though to my eyes, SC never really gave it a concerted effort. Over the last several weeks, I have personally posted that I believe this USC offense is simply unstoppable. If somebody were to take away the pass by playing a cover two or some variant, I honestly felt with this Oline and these tailbacks, the Trojans could and would run on anyone. I was on the verge of being convinced otherwise in the first half. To score only 3 points and to fail to capitalize on one opportunity after another right before my eyes was really surprising. However, I never gave up all hope and I continued to hope that SC would put up some big numbers in the second half and that is exactly what they did.
The defense really played a lights out ball game. They gave up 416 yards to a most potent ASU team at their house, and this is far below their season average of 591.8 ypg, coming in. Arizona State had averaged 395.8 yds through the air and 196 yds on the ground. Today, SC held them below their average on the ground and through the air. More importantly, they force excellent quarterback Sam Keller to throw 5 interceptions and that, as much as anything else, helped the Trojan come back and secure the win. What is most amazing to me about this defense is that they simply never quit and they play well even when they are missing starter after starter. In what has become the MO under Pete Carroll, when one guy goes down, another steps it way up. I would love to know how many SC fans ever thought that 5th year senior John Walker would come away from Tempe with not one, but two vital interceptions in this game. As USC has done so many times, they proved that it is a real tough task to beat the Trojans with a somewhat one dimensional attack. ASU could not run the ball effectively and the result was a big SC win. Similarly, how many folks really thought SC could shut down the Sun Devil running game without starting DT LaJuan Ramsey? This Dline was playing in extreme heat and the rotation was not quite as deep as it is when all are healthy. In the end, it simply did not matter. They came through, they sacked Keller at least five times and the dline led this defense to a superb effort. I really thought Nazel and Udeze was an amazing DE combination, but I now think the duo of Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson is right up there with them. These guys really bring it game after game.
What about the offense? Well, to my eye, something was off last week and again this week in the passing game. Sure, the statistics are better than most could ever dream about achieving (Matt was 23/39 for 258 yards without an interception), yet that unstoppable passing game still seems out of sorts. We rarely went over the middle, and the one timewhen we did, Jarrett coughed it up and I can't recall another similar throw. I am not sure what was really going on, but I will say this. Today, USC proved that it can play power football and run that ball with smash mouth ability as well as just about anyone. This team is so good on the offensive line that if some team is somehow able to slow down the passing game, they simply have nothing left to stop the run. If the long ball is not available, the passes to the tight end and fullbacks are unstoppable. When any team has the athletes like this team has, sooner than later, things will start to click and SC will score and score alot. Trojanterry32 and I watched in an almost bewildered trance in the second half after we held ASU on a great stop (great individual play by Oscar Lua and a bad call by ASU) and then Wyatt got a great pick after the Jarrett fumble. Prior to those offensive series, SC had established an unstoppable running game, yet for those two possessions, LenDale never saw the ball on even once. What was up with that!! I can't be sure, but my guess is that at some point, Coach Carroll may have stepped in because for the rest of the game, SC handed the ball to their two tailbacks supreme and ASU was helpless. I honestly believe that LenDale and Reggie could have each gained over 200 yards on the ground had they gotten the attempts. I can imagine that when some read this, one might feel that I am impossible to satisfy. Maybe that is true, but it is only one man's opinion. Still, when SC ran the ball, the offense clicked, ASU did not have the ball, and today, that is what worked. I don't have all the film to watch, but ASU must have had some special plan in effect to limit our vertical passing game. Kudos to them. Unfortunately for the Devils, that was all they could stop. Just ask LenDale and Reggie.
I applaud Mario Denalo for his consistent PAT's and field goal kicking when in his range. Troy Van Blarcom seems to be getting better with each game, though he is still somewhat inconsistent. However, the punt coverage and kickoff coverage teams left far to much to be desired in this game. ASU returned a punt for a touchdown and on several kickoffs, they seemed only inches away from another return for a touchdown. I am not sure if SC was short of players to man those special team units, if the guys were tired or exactly what the problem was, but things had better improve or it might very well cost SC a game before this season is over.
I think it is also very important to give Arizona State Sun Devils the credit they deserve. They came out with some kind of defensive scheme that seemed to keep SC off balance for an entire half. The Devils also have a most potent offense of their own, though their lack of a true power back is a problem that I think they will have to overcome if they are to become a championship caliber team. Considering just how tough ASU really is, one can't help but be amazed at just how terrific the Trojans are as well. It is not simple task to come back from an 18 point halftime deficit and to do it with authority. This Trojan squad is exceedingly well coached and they have a real mystique about them. In years gone by, some Trojan teams have had nicknames like the Cardiac Kids, and I am not yet sure what to call this team. I am tempted to call them, "never say die" though I wonder if this team actually personifies that old Yogiism, "it ain't over till it's over." I can't possibly be the only guy around who actually wondered out loud if this was the game that SC was going to finally lose. If I am, then shame on me. But I admit it. Up till midway through the 4th quarter, I really did have my doubts. Yet once again, SC came through. This team simply refused to lose. Once again SC suffered more potentially major injuries on defense. Superb frosh Kevin Ellison, he of the incredible interception, suffered what has preliminarily been called a knee strain and budding star NG Sedric Ellis suffered what looked like a pulled groin. I don't know how the Trojans will overcome these latest injuries, but if it is possible, I guess they will.
The next game is with Arizona. The coaches and players might have trouble recognizing the site of their next game--we all know it as the Los Angeles Coliseum, though the aforementioned might consider it their long lost home. Hopefully some of the injured Trojans will have some time to heal up and I am sure Pete and staff will not let the Trojans look ahead past the Wildcats. It is a long season and it is a one game at a time situation that must continue. I absolutely feel SC dodged a major bullet in Tempe and Pete will get the necessary messages across to the kids. It will be fun to watch SC play another game in Los Angeles for a pleasant change. They sure deserve some home cooking.