That's More Like It

After a stretch of closer than expected games, some "struggles" on offense and an extremely emotional win in South Bend the Trojans concluded their seemingly endless road trip with a dominant victory over an outmanned Washington Huskies squad on Saturday by a score of 51-24 in front of 64,096 fans at Husky Stadium in Seattle.

For a team that cruised into the game with a record win streak and a spot atop the national rankings there sure seemed to be a lot of concern about the Trojans as they headed north to take on the Huskies. Would there be a letdown after the dramatic win over the Irish? Would Matt Leinart and the offense be able to get on track after performing at less than ideal standards in recent weeks? Would the depth on defense continue to get tested?

Well, all these questions and more were answered in resounding fashion as the Trojans put together the kind of game we've become accustomed to seeing during this stretch of dominance from Pete Carroll and company. It certainly helps when you are facing a struggling Husky team that simply does not have the roster depth we're used to seeing from the Dawgs while the lack of emotion within the stadium and from the Washington players indicated that the home folks expected this one to be over in a hurry.

There was a brief moment of celebration for the Huskies when Marlon Wood, son of former Trojan legend Richard Wood, returned the opening kickoff 92 yards to put their offense inside our ten yard line to start the game but a quick three and out by the USC defense was highlighted by a Lawrence Jackson sack on 3rd down to force a field goal.

The opening drive for the Trojans, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty. We went 85 yards in twelve plays, we mixed up the run and the pass and we spread the ball around to different receivers before Leinart finally hit Steve Smith in the end zone to put the Trojans up 7-3.

The Huskies were able to answer with a touchdown drive of their own although one could argue that receiver Craig Chambers got away with a push-off in the end zone against Justin Wyatt. Even with the Huskies ahead 10-7 at this point there was just a sense that things were going to be OK for the Trojans on this day.

The next kickoff came to Darnell Bing and he showed the running skill that made him a legendary Pop Warner tailback in his youth. Bing rambled 68 yards with his smooth, straight up style and it reminded many on this message board that Darnell could have been a special player with the ball in his hands if he hadn't been moved to safety as a Poly freshman when the Jackrabbits needed one of their offensive players (which included Hershel Dennis) to make the move to defense. The first play from scrimmage following the kickoff return was a touchdown pass from Leinart to Dwayne Jarrett to make the score 14-10 in favor of the Trojans.

Later in the game Leinart would throw two more touchdowns to Jarrett, one of which would put Leinart at the top of the Pac-10 career touchdown list ahead of Andrew Walter from Arizona State. Leinart looked like the Matt Leinart we're used to seeing as he was on target with his passes and playing with a sense of purpose. The final TD catch by Jarrett was a one-handed grab that belongs up there with the great one-handed catches we've seen in recent years by Williams and Byrd. Jarrett has arrived to a point with his performances that the Trojan coaches always knew he could reach but they simply didn't expect him to reach it this soon. Dwayne has become a true go-to guy.

Leinart and Jarrett weren't the only two putting together highlight plays as Reggie Bush scored on a short touchdown run and then basically put the game away with a dazzling 84 yard punt return that saw him break several tackles before heading for the sidelines and sprinting the length of the field for his first punt return touchdown of the year. It was the kind of play which was repeated on all the sports highlight shows and reminds everyone why he is a leading contender for the Heisman. It will be interesting to follow the campaign for that particularly trophy during the remainder of the year as Leinart's performance on Saturday proved that he will be very much in the mix as well. Could the Trojans be the first team to have players finish 1-2 in the Heisman balloting in over 60 years (Davis and Blanchard from Army were the last to accomplish the feat)? It's certainly possible.

Even though the Huskies put up 24 points and had some success on offense this was a day for the Trojan defense to show some opportunistic tendencies. An alert play by Justin Wyatt to recover a fumble after a backwards pass by Isaiah Stanback set up the first Bush touchdown run while Frostee Rucker added a fumble recovery of his own in the first half (it was the second year in a row that Frostee had a fumble recovery against Washington). We saw good overall play from the defensive line, particularly from the seniors Rucker and LaJuan Ramsey as the Trojans notched five sacks on the day (including a 4th down sack by Sed Ellis late in the game). Ramsey has been a critical player for the d-line as he makes the calls for the line, a job formerly held by Shaun Cody, and Ramsey's absence earlier in the year for a couple games helped slow the progress of the unit. It was good to see the line play so well and to have such an impact in the game.

Another unit which played well was the secondary. Bing and Scott Ware each had some big hits from the safety spots while the corners saw a lot of new faces that stepped up after John Walker went down with an ankle injury. Walker was the latest casualty at corner and his injury gave opportunity for playing time for Josh Pinkard and Kevin Thomas, both of whom stepped up and looked good. Pinkard, in particular, seemed to impress Trojan coach Pete Carroll and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Josh settle in at that spot for a while. It's impressive to think of how many spots Josh has played this year (both safety positions and both nickel package spots covering the slot and the tight end in addition to his recent corner duties) yet he has done it all while maintaining a solid level of performance. Pinkard at corner gives Carroll a big, athletic body to match up against opposing receivers.

Kevin Thomas was just one of the many younger players we got to see in this game and it was a nice look into the future. Thomas showed that he wasn't intimidated on the field with a couple nice tackles and we also saw some good pass coverage at the end of the game near the goal line from fellow freshman Cary Harris. Cary later commented that he goes up against the best receivers in the country every day in practice so he felt prepared for the situation in the game. Besides the two corners, we also saw a blocked punt by Brian Cushing, a run stuffing tackle from Rey Muauluga, a tackle on kickoff coverage from Will Harris, some hard running from Michael Coleman and a touchdown catch by Patrick Turner. Sorry to say for our opponents, the cupboard is anything but bare at the University of Southern California right now.

The Trojans now return home for a glorious stretch with four of the next five games at the Coliseum where the Grey Lady should be rocking next week for a Homecoming match-up with the Washington State Cougars. The victory over Washington was exactly the type of performance the Trojans needed to start this home stretch off on the right foot and they will be coming home as a confident team that is well aware of what is at stake for the remainder of the season.


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