No Stoops for Trojan victory

Going undefeated twice and repeating as National Champions three years times is proving to be a long walk across thin ice for the USC Trojans. That's why playing a team like Mike Stoops' Arizona Wildcats, could prove more precarious than many think.

If USC is to survive this and every game in their future, there can be no stooping to the competition. Every team has to be treated as if it's bomb-laden if Pete Carroll hopes to get through this conflict and the season unscathed.

With my intuition on high-alert, I hit the streets: wandering the land of Troy. From practices, to luncheons to backyard barbeques, I broke bread with my brethren and after each meeting was left with an overall sense of…dare I say it, boredom - a general malaise about the Wildcats – as if this game was such a lock, it might almost be viewed as a bye week.

The media, from Arizona to Alaska, has done it too – they've all ignored the Cats and gone straight for Notre Dame Fats – er, Mr. Weiss to you and me. The Fighting Irish – they're the story of the day. Shoot, Mike Stoops boys are nothing but the wrapper that gets in the way of the best burger in town – nothing but a waste of good paper. So why write about them? Because looking past them is a mistake and to have a perfect season, mistakes cannot be made.

It's reminiscent of last season's meeting with Ucla: the Trojans knew all that was required was to survive the best punch from the gutty little Bruins and they could book their holiday to Miami.

That game, never in doubt to any knowledgeable football fan, became fan fodder for cheering the rebirth of the boys in blue. Bruins, and a few snookered sports writers around Los Angeles, were convinced that what they had just witnessed was the near knockout of a champion. When what it really was, was a poor man's 60 minute rope-a-dope. A dodge and duck that had to be tolerated to move on to bigger things…

Bigger things… In January that meant the mighty, yet quickly exposed, and never to recover, Oklahoma Sooners. Now, in early October, far before the season's finale, it appears to be the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. USC may not lose this weekend's game but there is no bigger opponent then the one they've got this week and the man in the mirror. Yep, for SC to avoid getting scratched up, and win what's going to feel like a pesky, but dangerous, Cat Fight they are going to have to get their minds into the game.

For the second time in as many weeks, USC was forced to overcome a first-half deficit to defeat a very good team on the road. This time, the Trojans faced a 21–3 deficit at the half against Arizona State. But as they have done so often over the past two years, the Trojans flipped the switch in the second half and rallied for yet another double-digit victory.

This week's foe, the Arizona Wildcats, does not possess the offensive firepower of their in-state neighbors. Perhaps this is the reason for the general lack of concern – if SC can beat an offense that produced an average of 48 points per game, why worry about one that hasn't cracked 30 in forever?

Think back Trojan fans, think back… It's 1981 and yes, you guessed it, USC is number one with a bullet. The opponent is none other than…the Arizona Wildcats. Back then the Trojans fielded guys like Marcus Allen and were coached by the legendary John Robinson. SC was at or near the top of the polls since 1979's great team. They didn't loose to teams like Arizona. Final score: UA 13 USC 10.

SC lost twice that week, once in the game and then years later when the powers that be hired Larry Smith to take over at Troy. After beating us, I guess folks assumed he had what it took to return SC to its rightful place with college football's elite… "Ah, what's that saying about assumption being the mother of all… someone help me here."

Those '81 Trojans had talent but these… the new and improved Trojans have Reggie Bush, LenDale White and a guy at quarterback named Matt Leinart, who won the Heisman Trophy last season. Why, they're "the best team ever…that's what people say…"

No contest, right? Don't believe it. Luckily, despite my knocking on every door and listening to every rumor, there's one Trojan who always seems to find the necessary motivation to get "in" to a game – USC head coach, Pete Carroll.

Despite the lack of firepower, a 1 win, 3 loss, opening to its season and Arizona's increasing problems trying to stop the run, Carroll appears as concerned as he should be about the Wildcats. "They have shown they can be real effective against everybody," Carroll said. "They just have had trouble keeping it throughout the whole game. At times they were really great against Purdue and looked solid against Utah."

"They had a good defense against Cal. Cal really had to scramble to get plays and touchdowns. One big run, one big pass, and it's a really close game."

Arizona's problems have usually come in the third quarter. Coincidentally, that is when USC seems to flip the switch and start their monster comebacks. It's a bad habit, USC needs to get out of quick. Hopefully that's one aspect of this week's game that has got the Trojans motivated.

Ironically, the Wildcats seem to play their best offensive ball in the second half as well. This season Arizona has been outscored 43-14 in the third quarter, but bounced back to outscore teams 21-7 in the fourth, so their offensive identity has yet to be clearly defined – sound familiar, Trojan fans?

Okay, okay – no offense matches up well with the Trojan offense. Not too many defenses either but don't mistake the Wildcats for mild cats…

"Mike's team's really play good defense, and they have schemes that create problems," Carroll said. "The kids are tough and play aggressively. We expect a really good challenge from their defense. On offense (Richard) Kovalcheck has shown he can make the big throws."

But USC has shown it can score whenever it needs to score, too, right? Pretty much, but in last week's journey to Hell and Back, the Trojans were forced, after starting quarterback was sent to the matt (all puns intended) with an upper-cut to the chin by a two-bit pugilist to go back to the ol' bread-and-butter…the ground game.

USC rolled up 373 rushing yards, led by the two-headed monster of LenDale White (197 yards, 10.4 per carry, two TDs) and Reggie Bush (158 yards, 9.3 per carry, two TDs). "They didn't try anything fancy in the second half," ASU coach Dirk Koetter said. "They just ran the two tailbacks at us." Dirk, you missed it entirely. USC ran the two BEST in the nation tailbacks at you, oh and behind the best offensive line, to boot.

Anyway…back to my point about everybody looking past the Cats. This comes from a writer who works for an Arizona paper!!!

"USC's slow starts could come back to haunt them down the road against Cal, Notre Dame or UCLA, but there should be no worries this Saturday. The talent gap between USC and Arizona is enormous, and the Trojans should be able to post a big number…"

Even THEY'RE doing it. Nobody's paying attention. My gosh, Mike Stoops to rally his troops came up with this quote about mindsets when playing the number one team in the nation…

"It will be a fun week," he said. Fun? Mike, are you kidding me? Do you think it was fun for the Christians the last time they visited the Coliseum!?! Granted, in the last two meetings between these two clubs USC has won of 49–9 in 2004 and 45–0 in 2003.

I guess Mike realizes that right now, every school on the Arizona schedule is a challenge. So if the Trojans are ranked No. 1 in the nation and rolling along toward a record third consecutive national championship, what's the big deal?

When he was defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and the Sooners were on top of the college football world, Stoops said, "We expected to get everyone's best shot."

So they did.

And no matter what all the armchair quarterbacks or guys like me who write these crazy pre-game articles say, USC will get Arizona's best shot Saturday. That said I guess I should listen to Mike when it comes to this game…

"The Trojans have an answer for everything. They are extremely well coached and they block people and they run hard. It is a simple game plan when you run and block and pass like they do. They make it look very fundamentally easy, but they also have tremendous players doing so as well. It just makes it very difficult when trying to scheme against them."

Did I mention that despite being shut out 28-0 by California last week, Arizona held the Bears to 15 points and 160 yards below its season average? Nevermind, someone get a beer and dog. I might as well enjoy the game for what it probably is – a weekend off getting ready for South Bend. Has anyone done a ten day weather check?

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