Move Those Chains - Washington review

After three consecutive games that would blemish the record of a lesser team, the Trojans entered the "softer" portion of their schedule with the game against the Washington Huskies and it turned out to be everything a banged up and emotionally tested Trojan team could have hoped for

It was shades of the first two games of the 2005 season as Matt Leinart had his way with the Huskies' secondary, Reggie Bush was again electric, Dwayne Jarrett turned back into a touchdown machine and the defense capitalized on some big-play opportunities. The Trojan players have definitely taken on an "us against the world" mentality, which has kept them focused during every game and won't let them lost those "trap" games that claim so many superior teams throughout the season.

Dennis Miller's got nothing on me: As a Trojan fan, I've been extremely disheartened by fellow Trojan "supporters" for most of the season. I'm sure you've all heard USC referred to as "the University of Spoiled Children," and I've always taken exception to it. But maybe they have a point. Pete Carroll and what he's done with this football team have absolutely spoiled the Trojan fan base. Remember when a win was celebrated as just a win? Not anymore. Now it seems that any win over a below-average opponent is simply swept under the rug, a number added to the streak and fans ask, "Okay, what's next?" Similarly, any win against a good opponent is reason for Trojan fans to pick apart the team, claiming certain things aren't working and certain players aren't performing. One of the more disgusting displays of this newfound desire to simply stay at the top came after the game against Notre Dame. The thought, which seems quite prevalent, that that game will lose significance if the Trojans or Irish drop a few more games this year is utterly laughable. If that had been the first game of the season and the Trojans finished the year 1-11 while the Irish went 0-11, it would still go down as one of the best games of all time in the rivalry. To say it wouldn't is to completely miss the point of Trojan football. For me, it's about the players, the plays and the pageantry that make every USC game remarkable in its own way. It's sad that the number 29 is loved by more Trojan fans than the players who make it all possible. I, for one, would rather watch one amazing Reggie Bush punt return, one Trojan walk-on make a tackle and thrust his arms to the sky as he soaks in the same applause granted to all the past Trojan greats, or one Trojan team with one heart and one goal leave everything on the field, win or lose, than an entire undefeated season's worth of blowout or uninspired wins.

I'm sure that at some point someone was responsible for boxing out Muggsy Bogues: The coverage units in the Trojan kicking game have been lacking in recent games, to say the least, but it doesn't seem to be from lack of effort or planning. It's almost like they are too disciplined and aggressive, each one of them determined to take out a blocker and set up the tackle for a teammate. The problem is that nobody seems responsible for actually making the tackle. It also doesn't look like they are attacking in waves, so when the returner breaks through the first line, he just has the kicker to beat. With the athleticism on special teams, I'd almost rather have no strategy at all and just tell the unit to just tackle whoever gets the ball. And if that doesn't work, why not just line up the starting defense at the 35-yard line and treat the kick return like a running play?

Hello, my name is…: Josh Pinkard. With injuries across the board in the Trojan secondary, it's entirely possible that Josh Pinkard has been the MVP of the defense as of this point in the season. He has played about 12 different positions in addition to his role on special teams and has made big play after big play all year. It's great to see such an understated kid go out and make plays all over the field. Granted, the Huskies were never going to win the game on Saturday, but his hustle play on the opening kickoff, tracking down Marlon Wood and making the tackle at the eight-yard line, gave the Trojans a little something to build off of rather than coming out immediately down by seven.

I've played NCAA Football '06 too, but you don't see me taping a big white circle to the soles of my shoes: This season, the Trojan defense has spent so much time trying to pump up the crowd, it's a wonder they have any energy left to make the play. If you want to throw your hands up and jump up and down on kickoff coverage, like Desmond Reed or Thomas Williams in the past couple of years, or third down plays, like Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson would do, that's fine by me. But guys, I promise, if you make the plays on defense, the crowd will respond appropriately.

There's a reason it's only worth one point: There are over 16,000 undergraduate students at USC, and for several years, head coach Pete Carroll has been unable to find one of them who can consistently convert close-range kicks. I'm not asking Mario Danelo to put them through the uprights from 50 yards away, but extra points, even if they are pushed back five or 15 yards due to penalties, should be gimmees for someone like Danelo. On the other hand, he's hit three of four field goal attempts, with his only miss coming in the season's opening game and from outside 40 yards. So, I suppose any real complaints about the Trojan kicking game would be nitpicking at this point, but after the last few years of uncertainty over every field goal and extra point attempt, any blip on the screen sends shivers down the spines of Trojan fans.

If this were baseball, we'd be seeing nothing but suicide squeezes, hidden ball tricks and pitchouts on every play: Coaching against the Trojans the last four seasons, I'm convinced that Tyrone Willingham is one of the most mediocre coaches in college football. He goes into these games against the Trojans with the idea in the back of his mind that he just can't win the game straight up. It's like when a kid plays horse against his older brother. He knows that he can't win by just shooting free throws, so he tries backward shots, half court heaves and over the backboard lay-ups, in hopes that he can get a few cheap letters, but ultimately ends up missing all of them and getting slaughtered. Against the Trojans last year, Willingham's Irish were marching down the field and had the ball deep in Trojan territory. Willingham then chose to run two consecutive trick plays with his back-up quarterback and the momentum of the game changed for good. This Saturday, with the Huskies in facing a fourth down and the game approaching halftime, Willingham sent his team in to punt but decided to put third-string quarterback Corey Paus in as the upback to establish the possibility of a fake. This resulted in a delay of game, as even the Huskies couldn't figure out what Willingham was trying to do. Apparently Willingham also doesn't know that his third-string quarterback isn't one of the better blockers on the team, as the same formation one play later led to a blocked punt.

Trojan fans are getting ready for the steal: How is it possible that instant replay can work so well in every other game in both college and pro football and yet, when it comes to the Trojans, the referees are having about as much success as a new show on UPN. It's not just that they're inconsistent; it's that they seem to judge each play differently, guessing on some and going strictly by what they see in others. I just hope that a big game isn't decided by a call from the booth, because as of right now, the referees have three big, red X's.

About as weird as watching Skip Bayless and Woody Paige eloquently debate politics: It seems that there are a few games a year when LenDale White gets a little Reggie-it is and starts stutter-stepping at the line, looking to break big runs rather than hit the hole hard and get his normal positive yardage. There were enough normal LenDale runs against Washington to keep from waiving a red flag just yet, but if it continues, the offense could sputter a bit. It's especially tough to watch him do that because everything that he brings to the table is so valuable that he never needs to do anything extra. It's like when Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn came up with pitches like "The Terminator" and "The Eliminator" in Major League II. Don't worry about breaking a long one LenDale; just throw the heat.

Anything you can do…: Remember when Mike Williams' catch against Oregon State two years ago was one of the best catches in Trojan history? Would it even rank in the top 10 anymore? With Dominque Byrd's catches against Oregon State and Oklahoma, Steve Smith's catch against Oklahoma and now Dwayne Jarrett's touchdown grab against the Huskies, the Trojans have put on a one-handed catching clinic in the past few years.

One is the goal line, one is the ten-yard line: Sure, Reggie Bush's punt return was a thing of beauty and only Miami's Devin Hester can rival him when it comes to injecting excitement in the kick return game, but his tendency to slow down when he approaches the end zone is a little troubling. Everyone saw Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski give him a much-deserved shot in the back when he hot-dogged it into the end zone in South Bend, but that's nothing compared to what could be waiting for him in future games if he continues this practice. There's nobody I love watching play football more than number five, but his bravado, even when he can back it up, is becoming somewhat unnecessary.

He should try out for the White Sox: So much has been made of Reggie Bush's inability to run between the tackles and how he can only be used as a finesse back and as a receiver. I've always taken exception to that claim, but I've been hesitant to call him a complete back because of his suspect blocking ability as a freshman and sophomore. Well there is no question that Bush is now the proud owner of a complete game, as evidenced by his one-man block against Manase Hopoi, Washington's standout defensive tackle, on a third down play early in the third quarter.

Finish, finish, finish: Sure, the defense forced two turnovers against the Huskies, but my favorite defensive stand came on the final series of the game. Washington had just driven 70 yards from their own 20 and had the ball just outside the Trojans' 10. It would have been easy enough for the Trojans to pack it in, give up the points and go home with the win. But, four incomplete passes later, with great plays from true freshman Kevin Thomas and Cary Harris, the Huskies went four and out and the Trojans took over. It was a testament to how motivated these young guys are to not only get playing time, but also to move up the depth chart.

I guess they teach the two-step after the midterm: There was a lot of talk during the week about Matt Leinart approaching his co-offensive coordinators and asking for a return to normalcy. The call to go back to a three-step drop with quick hitting plays was a great call by Leinart, but it shows how important Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian are to this team. How many offensive coordinators out there would actually be able to check their egos like that and give in to what is best for the players. It's not like the Trojans weren't winning games with their offense, but in a true display of "what's best for the team" mentality, the Trojans' playcallers went back to what was tried and true. You could see the comfort that Matt Leinart was playing with all game, but whether or not that was because of the playcalling or the hospitable Huskies' defense remains to be seen.

I thought color wasn't supposed to matter: Someone is going to have to explain to me why there is all this outrage over Notre Dame being ranked 16th in the initial BCS poll. Isn't their best win against a completely average Michigan team that has had all of its conference wins come in the final seconds? Do the Irish really have a better claim to be higher in the polls than a team like Northwestern does? The Wildcats beat Wisconsin, who beat Michigan and is higher in the BCS rankings than Notre Dame. The Wildcats beat, no pummeled Michigan State, who beat Notre Dame in Notre Dame Stadium. So far, Notre Dame's best claim for the season is that they've lost close games to good teams. It's true that the Irish are much improved this year, but I thought the polls were supposed to reflect what actually happens on the field in terms of wins and losses. Maybe that's just me.


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