If there is anyone around who has a plausible explanation as to why USC seems so very much more potent in the second half than in the first, I would love to hear it. Yes, I realize that the team is very well conditioned and that this staff makes some great adjustments, but one would have to assume that other teams have some good coaches as well. The mistakes and miscues that take place in the first half are often minimized or eliminated totally by the second half. I would assume that some fans feel that USC will get burned sooner or later by not putting together two complete halves of superb football. Maybe they will. But right now, it seems that for whatever reason, and no matter who SC is playing, USC can "turn it on at will" and simply take over the game in the second half when it becomes necessary to do so, or when they simply decide, "it's time!" Personally, I don't know if this pattern will continue, but to be truthful, if it does and if SC keeps winning, it's ok with me. This pattern is still hard to fathom, but results are still what count the most. I have been following this team for many many years, and I have never seen anything quite like it. If nothing else, the way this edition of the University of Southern California Trojans play the game is entertaining and it sure keeps things interesting.
Once again the SC offensive line played a very good game. They opened huge holes and for the most part, the Oline gave Matt enough time to make some very nice throws. However, Arizona was not without its own defensive highlights. Number 49 for the Wildcats, Copeland Bryan, did something I thought I would never see. He beat Winston Justice on several occasions and he was the sole reason Winston got flagged for three holding calls. To be fair, Bryan also did a job on Kyle Williams, #78 when Kyle was in the game. This kid Bryan can really bring in. It's been a long time since I have seen one outside rusher reek such havoc on USC. The name Wilbur Marshall comes to mind in a game many years ago against the Gators in Florida. Other than Bryan, the Wildcats were helpless in stopping this SC rushing juggernaut. For the second consecutive week SC rushed for over 300 yards and to my eye, SC could have run for as much as the coaches would allow. Bryan is a terror on pass rushes, but he has no chance whatsoever when the SC big men start pounding him into submission. Speaking of that, has there been a team all year who has shown any ability to even slow down the SC running game? It sure seems that any team that plays a base defense against SC, or any team that drops back into a cover two scheme has two chances to handle LenDale and a healthy Reggie--few and none. I really respect a balanced attack, but once again, it sure seemed like SC was running the ball so well, that Arizona had no choice but to finally bring up its safeties and/or backers. And we all know what happens then. It means SC's receivers are being covered one on one and that means, Touchdown, SC!.
Matt Leinart finished the game with 26 out of 40 for 360 yards, 2 TD's and one interception. For any normal quarterback that might be the highlight of his career. However, Matt is not a mere "normal qb", or at least it seems expectations are not normal. During the television broadcast, Petros Papadakis made a statement that I find hard to dispute. He mentioned that this was the third consecutive game during which Matt seemed off his game in the first half. If that is true, how amazing is it that SC has still won each game going away? Once again, I am not sure why Matt seems to be a bit out of rhythm initially. I am equally intrigued to know just how he turns things around so well and comes out smoking in the second half.. It is just amazing!
On offense, the ball was spread around more than I remember seeing in recent games. Eleven different receivers caught passes and it was a pleasant surprise to see TE Fred Davis step up and make a couple of nice catches followed by some tough running after the catch. Dominique Byrd once again made a nice catch with some tough Yards After the Catch (YAC) and even LenDale made a nice catch followed by a good run. It does seem that this passing game is also unstoppable, but there is a caveat. Not all aspects of the passing game are always going to click. When the defense plays deep and sits back in a cover two, it will be very hard to throw the ball long. Howev er, the underneath stuff, the quick sideline passes to Jarrett, and the quick outlets to the backs are there just about every time Matt has protection. (and that is most of the time). When SC runs the ball and takes the routes that are obviously available, there is absolutely no stopping this team. The argument as to whether or not this is SC's best offense ever will likely be around for some time, or at least so long this team is undefeated. Judging by the 724 yards this team put on a pretty good defensive team in Arizona, I would say that this team can claim to be as good offensively as any I have ever seen. It's always easy to sit back as a fan and say," If this and that, and I know that". Right now the team is scoring more points and gaining more yards than the prior two national championship editions. Nonetheless, one can't help but wonder what will happen when the Trojans pour it on for an entire game and when we force our will on the opponents. No team with any hope of beating SC is likely to keep their safeties deep for too long. They have now seen that once SC starts to run LenDale and Reggie, there is no down 7 that can stop them without help.
As far as the defense goes, I think SC played a pretty fair game, but they did give up two long balls. Since Pete Carroll has been the head coach, giving up the long play has not been something we have seen very often. Each starting corner got victimized once and when playing one on one, it's hard to prevent when a good quarterback gets the time. For whatever reason, the defensive line did not put Kovalchek on his back many times today and he did manage to get off a couple of nice long throws. In fact, in the fourth quarter, it actually looked like he was leading the Cats to another touchdown, but his final pass was tipped and picked off by a very happy Ryan Ting. It looked like Arizona did a very good job against the SC blitz. On those plays, the Trojans corners were out on an island and for anyone who has played or coached the game, it is obvious that is one tough position to find oneself in. Overall, it is very hard to be critical of a defense that holds a team to two long plays and one other pretty good drive. The third score was courtesy of some pretty miserable kickoff coverage and hopefully that will be remedied sooner than later. I also hope that LaJuan Ramsey recovers quickly. His presence and senior leadership appear to be missed significantly. As a Trojan fan, I am hoping that by not playing a down against Arizona, his ankle will heal well enough to let him see the field against the Fight Irish.
What about the SC special teams? Punting was pretty good. Tom Malone punted twice for an average of 43.5 yards. In this particular game, it was the opposition that had the punter who was the more lethal weapon. SC's return game was neutral. No bad plays were made, nor were there any outstanding punt returns or kickoff returns. (Reggie did not look to be 100% after he tweaked his knee) USC did not attempt a field goal but Danelo was money on the PAT's. Now comes the bad news. USC's kickoff coverage was as bad as any I can remember seeing at USC. For whatever reason, this unit has not done a good job , or even an acceptable job. Not enough of the kickoffs were deep enough to prevent a good return. When Arizona did return the kick, they seemed like they were toying with SC. Others might have an explanation for this shortcoming in SC's game, but I do not. I simply hope that the coaches figure out the problem and fix it before next week's showdown with Notre Dame.
As we all know, several coaches from last year's team left and were replaced by others. All a coach can be expected to do is have his team well prepared and to win the games. As I stated previously, USC is 5 and 0, they have won 27 straight games and they are heading into a huge game against the Fighting Irish at South Bend, Indiana. I think the staff, lead by Pete Carroll , is doing a great job. The offense is different than it was under Norm Chow and it flows, or does not flow, quite the same way. The results, however, are even more impressive than they were when Norm was the offensive coordinator. As fans, we have been spoiled to the point that even after a statistical blowout, somebody such as yours truly has the nerve to ask a question here and there and to wonder about some things out loud, so to speak. In the end, I believe that we are all well aware that USC and its fans are riding one of the greatest waves in its glorious football history and there is so much to be thankful for that it is hard to believe. It never hurts to want the best, and I do believe that with Pete at the helm, the best is exactly what we are getting. I am very anxious to see how the team reacts this week and how we come out and play against the Irish. Reggie Bush's health is a vital concern and at this time, I am hoping he is not seriously hurt. I guess only time will tell on that one. I look forward to next week's epic battle and we will all get to see who wins the first battle between the Irish coached by Charlie Weis and the Trojans coached by Pete Carroll. It should be a blast.