On a very positive note, Matt Leinart once again looked like a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. He hit 20 of 26 passes for 201 yards. He also threw for 4 touchdowns without throwing an interception. It was absolutely great to see Matt regain his superb form. He did not make any really bad passes and he used good judgment and ate the ball or threw it away when necessary. It was also nice to see USC throw to the tight end and backs on occasions and to utilize the short passing game to achieve their goals. Nine different receivers caught balls and the offense finally looked to be in synch. And of course, how about that one handed highlight film catch by Dwayne Jarrett which was definitely one for the ages!!! That may seem like a strange observation considering how prolific the offensive achievements have been up to this point in the season, but that is still how it appeared to me. In recent weeks, despite the fact SC was winning, I could not help but feel that something was not quite right. Obviously that is an opinion that not everyone shared, but in discussing the situation with some of my SC football buddies, I learned that I am not the only one who had the sense that something was just off a bit. Today, even though SC's total net yards was only 391, the offense still functioned like a cohesive and productive unit. The offense got the ball in very favorable field positions on a few occasions and they scored very quickly. At one time, USC had amazingly scored 5 touchdowns on only 12 plays, at least according to ABC and Dan Fouts. But when SC had to drive the ball and use the clock, that is exactly what they did in the second half.
Another very positive aspect of the offense was that they dominated the time of possession in the second half of the game. At one point late in the first half, USC was far ahead on the scoreboard, but once again, they trailed in time of possession by a margin of almost 2 to 1. However in the second half, USC ran the ball more regularly and they came very close to evening out the time of possession. This helped rest their defensive unit and it kept the dangerous Stanback off the field. It was also nice to see John David Booty get some valuable minutes. Although Booty did throw one very costly pick, he looked calm and poised to me. I am not sure what really happened on his pick, but I have a feeling that he and freshman receiver Patrick Turner were not exactly on the same page. On the other hand, JD did hit 5 of 6 and he also threw for another touchdown. I definitely got the feeling that if Booty ever has to come in and run the team should Matt go down, he will be up to the challenge. The more prime time minutes he receives during the season, the more prepared he will be. I also noted that the aforementioned Turner seems more and more comfortable out there and if Patrick and Dwayne are ever in the game together, it will be a real nightmare for whatever defense they face.
At this point in the season, I feel it is accurate to state that this defense is very tough against the run, but it has some noticeable weaknesses in the pass defense. Tonight, the University of Washington virtually matched USC's passing production. Whereas SC gained 272 yards, the Huskies were also able to gain some 270 yards on their own. More importantly, Udub was able to convert on 57% of their 3rd down conversions, converting on 8 of 14 attempts. Based on what Pete Carroll said in his post game interview, the Trojans are aware of the problem, but the truth is, no simple solution appears to be at hand. The SC defense does not get the same kind of pressure on the quarterback with the 4 man rush that we are accustomed to seeing and the resulting 3rd down conversions are in no small way related to that fact. It must also be noted that USC is playing a whole group of previously untested cornerbacks and/or safeties who have recently switched to cornerback. To make matters worse, or at least potentially worse, John Walker went down with an ankle injury today and only time will tell how long he will be unable to play. When one combines that with the fact that we are relatively thin at Defensive Tackle and Nose Guard, it should not come as a huge surprise that this defense is a work in progress.
It was very noticeable in today's game that many players got serious minutes on the defensive side of the ball. Keith Rivers played very sparingly, in large part due to a hamstring injury that he suffered last week. He could probably have played more, but Pete has all the faith in the world in Collin Ashton and Collin did not disappoint as he led the Trojans in tackles in today's game. Likewise, it was nice to see Ryan Powdrell get some serious playing time in relief of Thomas Williams. I assume most know this, but according to the early season depth chart, that would mean that USC has been winning these games with their third and fourth string SAM linebackers seeing the bulk of the minutes. It was also very exciting to see some really nice plays by true freshmen Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kyle Moore. All three of these guys came to USC very highly rated and it seems that slowly, but surely, they are getting more minutes and their play is taking a step up. One of the best sticks of this game occurred when Rey M just nailed the Husky running back with a huge thump. Likewise, it was terrific to see Cushing block a punt in his very first game back since being injured in the Hawaii game. Kyle has been getting minutes at DE regularly, but today he seemed even more productive than he has in the recent past. Not to be outdone, true freshmen Kevin Thomas, known by some as Keto, Cary Harris, and even Will Harris also saw considerable action today, both as cornerbacks and on special teams. They will all experience growing pains, but one of the things that brought these guys to USC was a promise that Pete Carroll will play young guys if they are deserving and/or if there is a need. Folks, there is a huge need and these three youngsters are not redshirting and they will get their shot at prime time football, much sooner than later.
What can any fan say about the USC special teams? Well, I have a feeling that many would be less than complimentary. Once again there was at least one major breakdown on special teams, this time leading to a Husky field goal. The opening kickoff came back all the way to the USC 8 yard line and only a great defensive stand prevented Washington from taking a 7-0 lead. Udub had to settle for a field goal and that was the first and only time they lead in this game. I must say that Troy Van Blarcom is becoming a better kicker and more of his kickoffs are sailing deep into the endzone or all the way out. Whenever a team has shaky kickoff coverage as does USC, the best approach of all is to simply prevent any return. Mario Danelo has only missed two PAT's all year, and both have followed some kind of penalty which required the kick to come from further back than usual. Mario finally had another field goal attempt and he nailed it from 30 yards which is just about his range. Fortunately for USC, The Huskies were not able to return any punts for considerable distances. In fact, this time it was USC that turned the tables. Reggie Bush, displaying another of those famous Reggie moves, was able to cut this way and that way which allowed him to return a punt 84 yards for a touchdown. How sweet it was to have the tables turned for a change. Last week, it was the Trojans who gave up the TD on a punt return. As for penalties, USC showed much improvement, being penalized only 6 times for a net 30 yards.
Some people felt that the Notre Dame defensive line got the better of the USC offensive line in last week's thriller with the Irish. I certainly agree that the Oline was not at its best, but I also felt that the 5 to 7 step drops did not help, either. Today, the Oline seemed to be on a mission and for the most part, Matt Leinart and JD Booty got excellent protection. There was only one holding call, and as the game progressed, USC was able to grind out the yardage on the ground. Once USC committed to running the ball in the second half, the line began to pound the Huskies and the yards came more easily. LenDale took a while to get in a groove, but he did seem to get stronger as he got the ball more and more. Similarly, David Kirtman and Michael Coleman were able to gain some yardage in no small part due to some nice blocking by the Oline. To my eye, the unit was challenged and they responded.
Pete Carroll is generally considered one of the best, if not the very best coach in college football at this particular time. I am one who believes he has done a great job. I can't think of any individual coaching job that he has done that impressed me more than what he did today. I think getting the team focused and ready to play some serious ball today was a huge task. Say what you will, I think it would have been very easy for the Trojans to suffer a big-time letdown and I would not have been shocked had the Trojans barely been able to escape with a win. Instead, we saw a game in which the Trojans were never in trouble and for all intents and purposes, this game was over by early in the third quarter, if not sooner. Considering what a huge challenge it is to play so many games on the road, and to play the Irish and Huskies in back to back road games, the staff and players deserve all the credit in the world. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to be reminded of how awesome this staff, this streak and these accomplishments really are. I wonder if there is one single reader or fan out there who could have ever predicted these accomplishments with any accuracy at all. Congratulations to the Trojan Players and Coaches for an incredible job well done. Here's to hoping they can keep this unbelievable thing going.