O/NSO - Arizona review

With more relief than satisfaction, the top-ranked USC Trojans (5-0, 3-0 Pac-10) and their 27th consecutive winning streak finally turn their full attention to that "chirping, little parochial college in the Midwest" after having struggled with a determined band of Arizona Wildcats (1-4, 0-2) 42-21 before a subdued Coliseum crowd of 90,221.

The Obvious – With more relief than satisfaction, the top-ranked USC Trojans (5-0, 3-0 Pac-10) and their 27th consecutive winning streak finally turn their full attention to that "chirping, little parochial college in the Midwest" after having struggled with a determined band of Arizona Wildcats (1-4, 0-2) 42-21 before a subdued Coliseum crowd of 90,221.

The Not So Obvious – Depending on the deeper meaning, Trojan fans would be hard pressed to try and interpret the message that Pete Carroll's team sent back to South Bend and across the country. While Trojan superiority is still in place, the look of invincibility has faded after the third straight uneven game. There seems to be a growing consensus that this Trojan team has either hit the dog days of the schedule or they are what you see, a core group of superstars surrounded by a combination of youth, inexperience, and inconsistent physical and mental performances.

The Obvious - Coach Mike Stoops' Wildcats put up a valiant effort and showed promise for the future.

The Not So Obvious - But is it possible the emotional wear and tear of being No. 1 for so long is taking its toll on Carroll's club? Not according to the Trojans in pregame stretching, who were smiling and jovial as if they didn't have a care in the world as the public address system played some hip music. 1540 post-game radio host Dave Smith called Saturday's game a "sandwich" game between Arizona State and Notre Dame. Well, if it was a sandwich game, it could be debated that some Coliseum intruder must have stuffed it with some Limburger cheese.

The Obvious – The Trojans will need to "step it up" the rest of the way, especially with treacherous road games at Notre Dame and Cal, and the finale against UCLA, if they hope to achieve their national championship goal.

The Not So Obvious – Avoiding the quicksand of two turnovers, long kickoff returns, and a lesser talented Arizona Wildcat club, the Trojans, aided by a fortuitous, fourth quarter interception, provided the final piece to Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis' dream to have the Trojans come into South Bend unblemished. The stage is now set for one of the biggest northern Indiana buildups since 1995, when the Men of Troy came South Bend-calling at 6-0. Even Sunday's South Bend Tribune sports headline screamed " Will ND be No. 28 for the Trojans?"

The Obvious – The Trojans remained the AP number one team for a record 25th consecutive poll, receiving 58 first-place votes.

The Not So Obvious – The Fighting Irish, by virtue of their bye on Saturday, still moved up to the No. 9 slot, perhaps a gift from the national media to throw some combustible print into the Golden Dome firestorm. The Trojans did lose one first-place vote to Texas after the Longhorns whipped fading Oklahoma and the Trojans semi-lackluster performance against Arizona. The Longhorns of Mack Brown now have seven votes for the top spot in the AP.

The Obvious – With the nation seeing the Trojans seemingly turning it on and off at will, a 27-game winning streak, and the prospect of another Top 10 national clash with Notre Dame on NBC, these should be happy days for the Men of Troy.

The Not So Obvious – How can you not be happy with offensive drives of 96, 88, 83, 80, 80, and 96 yards? So maybe it was appropriate that The Fonz of Happy Days fame, Henry Winkler, was on the Trojans' sideline during the game.

The Obvious – The big concern on Saturday was what kind of performance would the Trojans unleash in the first half against the Wildcats.

The Not So Obvious – Perhaps by design, there seems to be no pattern to the Trojan offense and that's probably how the Trojans' brain thrust wants it. Hey, the Trojans did roll up over 700 yards in record offense, didn't they? However, some Trojan fans were starting to wonder if the Trojans weren't playing defense on themselves. On a first-and-goal at the Wildcat five, Reggie Bush, tender leg and all, was given the first carry that hardly brought a dent to the Wildcat front. In came LenDale White and he promptly took it in for the score. It could be argued that sometimes the obvious is better than the not so obvious. One "authoritative" fan yelled, " Just give it to LenDale and be done with it."

The Obvious – Even teams like Arizona are bringing their best shot to the Trojans and the longer they stay close, - football games being predicated on emotion as well as talent - there is a chance of victory if you can take the Trojans into the final stanza.

The Not So Obvious – Reflecting on the game, Tucson Citizen writer Corky Simpson wrote "But the Cats came up with big plays and forced turnovers that allowed them to stay reasonably close. USC has so many weapons it is doubtful at this point that any team can stay with the Trojans. Matt Leinart, LenDale White and Reggie Bush form a backfield that has possibly never been equaled in the history of college football. It's a team that is well coached, well disciplined and over-the-brim with talent. As hard as it played, Arizona would have beaten most of the teams in the Pac-10 Saturday."

The Obvious – After the game, Pete Carroll said, " The standards that we set for ourselves are so high that we feel a little frustrated that we didn't play better. That's OK. That's a good thing. That's the way it should be for us."

The Not So Obvious – Of course Carroll also said, "I don't care how we win as long as we win. To tell the truth, it doesn't matter to me." Or as the O/NSO always says, "Better to feel good than to look good."

The Obvious –Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart was 26-of-40 for 360 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

The Not So Obvious – Coming off a slight concussion, there were questions on how the All-American left-hander would perform. Lefty has created his own standards of performance and though Saturday's performance wasn't great, it was still was very good. Leinart seems to be throwing the ball high at times and this would appear to be a mechanical issue, which of course quarterback coach Steve Sarkisian will address through film sessions. Perhaps of more concern is forcing balls into double and sometimes triple coverage. This may be a combination of the increased vertical passing game and confidence in his new arm strength.

The Obvious –Trojan quarterbacks Matt Leinart and John David Booty combined for 387 yards through the air.

The Not So Obvious – The final score obscured the fact the Trojans went up against the best secondary in the Pac-10, which was allowing 157.5 yards per game. Certainly an ominous note for the Fighting Irish, whose secondary does not rank in the top 100 pass defenses in the country. We'll save that discussion for next week.

The Obvious – Much attention was focused on the emphasis of style that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin would employ on Saturday against the Wildcats.

The Not So Obvious - Arizona coach Mike Stoops said, "Defensively we gave up a lot of yards. They are tough to stop. They obviously are the most talented team we will play. They run and they throw. They have no weaknesses and they understand your weaknesses well and they make you do a lot of desperate things." A real ringing endorsement of the work of Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian, and input from Pete Carroll.

The Obvious – Aside from some holding calls, the Trojans' offensive line was again superb for the most part in opening up holes and protecting both Leinart and John David Booty.

The Not So Obvious – With the teaching of former NFL line coach Pat Ruel and the varied offensive attack of passing and running, these Trojan linemen are certainly being groomed to draw a Sunday paycheck, something that won't be forgotten by Trojan offensive line recruits like Florida' s Sam Young and Colorado' s Butch Lewis.

The Obvious – Arizona's 21- point outburst benefited greatly from hitting deep passes on Trojan coverage.

The Not So Obvious – Yep, it was the deep ball from quarterback Richard Kovalcheck against corners Justin Wyatt and John Walker that created much of the havoc from scrimmage. In the world of Pete Carroll defense, "don't get beat deep" is one of the main commandments. For Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, the Confident One had to be licking his chops at the thought of sending his talented receivers, 6-5 Jeff Samardzija and improved 6-5 Maurice Stovall, into the Trojans' secondary.

The Obvious – Some of the media and fans were questioning the use of use Trojan tight end Dominique Byrd.

The Not So Obvious – While the Byrdman had only one catch for 16 yards and one less reception than backup Fred Davis, Byrd's reception was a thing of beauty as Dom used his gifted ability to made yards after the catch with some nifty moves. It should be noted that the Trojans did attempt to find him on a number of occasions but had trouble connecting. Conversely, Arizona junior tight end Brad Wood stung the Trojans for four catches for 52 yards (13.0 ave.) and a four-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.

The Obvious – The Trojans now have won 23-straight home games in the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious – Any chance the Fighting Irish would like to switch next week's home game to Los Angeles. Didn't think so? Guess we'll have to wait till Nov. 25, 2006.

The Obvious – The weather in Los Angeles for yesterday's kickoff was 70 degrees.

The Not So Obvious – The weather on Saturday in South Bend was overcast and hovered at 50 degrees, and as the old British rock duo Chad and Jeremy sang " And that was yesterday and yesterday's gone." Latest South Bend forecast for next Saturday is sunny and a high of 69 degrees.

The Obvious – Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Fili Moala started again in place of injured senior LaJuan Ramsey.

The Not So Obvious – Before the game, Pete Carroll said, "We need more production out of the position ... but they're coming along," They better start coming quickly because there were no sacks on Saturday and very little harassment of Richard Kovalcheck, despite the return of sophomore defensive end Jeff Schweiger, who recorded two consecutive tackles upon his return from injury.

The Obvious – LenDale White scored a career-high four touchdowns and rushed for 179 yards.

The Not So Obvious – It hard to believe that anybody at this point is shocked when White gets a good number of touches. Under John McKay, LenDale would have been carrying the ball 25-to-30 times per game. You are only reminded of LenDale's lesser compared to Reggie when you her the comment " If that had been Reggie, he would have scored." Other than his rushing performance, one of the day's highlights for No. 21 was his reception for 14 yards, validating White's insistence that he can catch the ball out of the backfield.

The Obvious – Reggie Bush had 110 yards, was held scoreless for the first time this season, and suffered through a minor right knee sprain.

The Not So Obvious – Bush may have first hurt himself in warm-ups during the final 11-on-11 drills when he ran through the line and appeared to collide with a Trojan defender. He returned to the huddle and seemed to receive inquiries from Trojan coaches. Perhaps that wasn't the main injury, but you know No. 5 was hurting when Arizona safety Michael Johnson caught up to Bush at the end of his 65-yard run. Bush won't complain about injuries, but there is nobody on the planet earth that is going to catch this kid when he is that open. How hurt? We may find out in South Bend.

The Obvious – Trojan receiver Steve Smith had seven catches for 134 yards.

The Not So Obvious – With LenDale White scoring four touchdowns and Dwayne Jarrett catching two scores from beyond 20 yards, Steve Smith's performance may have been overshadowed a bit. However, the talented junior from Canoga Park was as instrumental in the victory as anybody.

The Obvious – The Trojans rolled up exactly 724 yards in total offense, a Pac-10 record.

The Not So Obvious – Prior to the game, the Trojans averaged 619. 5 in total offense. However, the only stats that count are the total points on the scoreboard and that said the Trojans only led by a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Obvious –Arizona offense had 245 yards in total offense against the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious – Prior the game, Arizona was averaging 333.8 yards per game. So those that worried that the Trojans were working below expectations can look at the stats. However, the only stats that count are the point totals on the scoreboard and those said the Trojans only led a touchdown in the final quarter.

The Obvious – The Trojans scored 42 points in their victory against the Wildcats.

The Not So Obvious – Prior to the game, the Trojans averaged 54 points per game. Despite scoring 12 points less than their average, the ONLY STATS THAT COUNT are the total points on the scoreboard and despite the uncomfortable Trojan performance through the first three quarters and early in the fourth quarter, the Trojan offense managed 42 points to Arizona's 21. Game over.

The Obvious – Wildcat sophomore quarterback Richard Kovalcheck completed 16 of 25 passes for 181 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.

The Not So Obvious – The San Diego product is the first quarterback to throw for three TDs against Troy since Washington's Cody Pickett on Oct. 19, 2002.

The Obvious – The Trojans were penalized six times for 60 yards, down from their per game average of 72.8.

The Not So Obvious – Tackle Winston Justice was caught with two holding calls and would have taken a third had Arizona not declined. One was to protect Matt Leinart from taking a shot. Much is expected of Winston and folks tend to forget he didn't play last year. We're certainly not making an excuse for No. 74, but it should be a reminder to Justice that there are players like Wildcat defensive end Copeland Byan, who want to get to the NFL and use Justice as a measuring stick with pro scouts in attendance. Bryan, who roughed up Cal quarterbacks for three sacks last weekend, certainly knows the drill since his cousins, Gary Brown and Donny Brady, played with the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens, respectively.

The Obvious – Leading 35-21 with 10 minutes remaining, Trojan linebacker Collin Ashton tipped Richard Kovalcheck's pass to Ryan Ting, who intercepted it and stopped the Wildcats' last and late scoring threat on USC's 6-yard line.

The Not So Obvious – Hooray for Ryan Ting! A extremely smart player and a good team guy to have on a team, Saturday's PI was sweet justice for Trojan fans that have found for some reason to question Ryan and brother Brandon on their value to the Trojan cause. Don't expect to see either in the NFL, but these kids are the foundation when unexpected disaster to the secondary comes into play. You know they aren't going to blow assignments. Another Trojan who graduated high school early to enroll at Troy for spring practice, Ryan, an American studies and ethnicity major, carries a team-best 3.90 GPA.

The Obvious – Arizona's Syndric Steptoe had five kickoff returns for 159 yards, including a 76-yarder.

The Not So Obvious – Steptoe should have had a long touchdown return but "tripped" over a Coliseum blade of grass all by his lonesome. There are a number of adjectives that could best describe the Trojans' current state of special teams kickoff return coverage and "horrendous" is one that comes to mind.

The Obvious – You certainly can't blame Arizona punter Danny Baugher for Saturday's Wildcat loss.

The Not So Obvious – Thanks to the kicking of the nation's leading punter, who averaged 46.0 yards per boot, the Trojans were backed up in their own territory which seemed forever. Baugher made Reggie Bush a mere mortal and took away one of the major Trojan weapons, who might have broken the game wide open.

The Obvious – Saturday's attendance of 90, 221 was very mild compared to the raucous opener with Arkansas.

The Not So Obvious – Maybe it was the opponent. Maybe it was the nice weather. Maybe it was the "oh hum," or maybe it was "just another game, another win attitude," but there was very little electricity in the Grand Old Lady. Even when the Trojans came out for warmups, there was little of the euphoria that accompanied their opening game enthusiasm. Even when the nation's number one team came out of the tunnel, the crowd volume turned to mute as the team finally huddled at the mouth of the famed entrance.

The Obvious – Perhaps the overall expectations have been overshadowed by the appreciation of a 27-game win streak, but the law of supply and demand was still in full function.

The Not So Obvious – The ultimate barometer of Trojan football is the private parking lot on 39th and Figueroa, which was charging $70 dollars a car for Arizona. In the words of former Trojan voice Tom Kelly, "Oh, mercy nurse." If the tariff for the Wildcats was $70, what will happen when the Trojans host a potentially undefeated Bruin club? Anybody want to bet $100 that the charge will be $100?

The Obvious – Trojan superstars Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush appear in life size cardboard cutouts at the Trojans' Fan Fest before the game.

The Not So Obvious – The popularity of the two All-Americans was certainly on display as fans lined up for photos with the cutouts. Depending on the favoritism, fans either took photos with Cardboard Matt or Cardboard Reggie, or as one Trojan fan did, took his picture between the cutouts with his arms around the shoulders of the stars.

The Obvious – In a change of pace, the Trojans starting offense and defense was not introduced by public address announcer Dennis Packer but by the players themselves.

The Not So Obvious – It was a nice touch to have the players on the big video board introducing themselves, even if their voices appeared to be two-seconds behind their moving lips. The O/NSO liked the new presentation, but having some of the players tell us their nicknames was a little bit too much Miami Hurricanes for our taste. Of course, there was a little brevity to offensive guard Fred Matui introducing himself, ending with the physical guard sticking out his tongue like a frog snatching some dinner. Who says the Trojans are tight as a drum over their heralded winning streak?

The Obvious – One of the Trojan Fan Fest sponsors is Sony, which features a television presentation of HDTV.

The Not So Obvious – A number of fans went into the Sony tent with an inside bleacher to watch the Texas/Oklahoma game. However, the game was not being broadcast in HDTV. When asked why, a Sony representative said, " The only thing that is on HDTV right now is a piano concert, so I was told to put on a football game." Not that anybody was complaining, but during an early Texas drive, ABC lost the feed and fans sat listening to Keith Jackson describe the action.

The Obvious – The cover of the game program was a classic punting action shot of Trojan senior Tom Malone launching a football.

The Not So Obvious – Malone has shown guts and courage in fighting back from his hip injury and yesterday had two punts that averaged 43.5 yards, just slightly below the nation's leading punter, Danny Baugher, who averaged 46.0 yards per kick.

The Obvious – There were a number of recruits in attendance, but the one that stood out was JC star defensive tackle Louis Holmes from Scottsdale CC (Ariz.).

The Not So Obvious – Holmes (6-6, 273) was as much a part of pregame warm-ups as as one could be and not be suited up. The big defensive tackle put his hand in the pregame defensive line huddle of coach Jethro Franklin for the traditional spirit break. Holmes spoke with Trojan defensive end Frostee Rucker and quarterback Matt Leinart as the two went through stretching.

The Obvious – Like a good offensive line, the LAPD, USC Campus Police, and the Coliseum Lost and Found rarely get the recognition they deserve for keeping a good, safe environment on Trojan game day.

The Not So Obvious – During the Trojan Walk, our wallet "somehow" decided to take a walk of its own and your humble correspondent was left ticket-less, money-less, and credit card-less. Thanks to the above mentioned agencies, our "roving wallet," minus the cash, was located at a ticket booth a distance away and security turned the chunk of leather into the Coliseum Lost and Found. A special thanks to some of our WeAreSC subscribers like our loveable MahatmaKanJeeves and old Mark Keppel grad Anthony, both of whom offered financial assistance so a destitute columnist could get a bite to eat before kickoff. Thanks, again, to all.

The Obvious – After the completion of every Trojan game, Art Bartner's Trojan Marching Band begins the chant in reference to the next opponent for Troy.

The Not So Obvious – It didn't take long for "Beat the Irish" to make its appearance and it was done with some added gusto. Perhaps there was some additional enthusiasm because the TMB will be making its bi-annual trip to Chicago and then on into South Bend for Saturday's big game. The band and the team won't be alone as an estimated 15,000 Trojan fans will be making the Notre Dame Weekender as well. As they say in Times Square on New Years Eve, "Move over McDougal, old Shamus needs a seat!"


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