Taking Care of Business

Saturday was a business trip, nothing more. The USC Trojans went up to Berkeley amid a lot of talk about a game that was held two years ago but this USC team wasn't paying attention to any of that, they simply went out and took care of business by methodically dispatching another opponent.

It is one of the more impressive things about these USC teams that we have witnessed recently with how they are able to consistently block out distractions and focus, week after week, on the fundamental duties of preparing to play a football game. This week it was all the talk of a game played in late September of 2003, one in which Matt Leinart was making only his fourth career start and one which resulted in the Trojans suffering a rare stumble. It wasn't as if we had played badly in that game, it was a hard fought triple overtime thriller that has been made even more newsworthy by the fact that we haven't lost since then.

Well, now that this game is over and the scoreboard says the Trojans won 35-10 it's time to take a look at exactly how that happened.

When Pete Carroll and company got ready to game plan for the Golden Bears they had to like what they saw with the inconsistent play of quarterback Joseph Ayoob. Inconsistent quarterback play means a good opportunity for turnovers and the Trojans were able to force six on the day including four interceptions and two fumbles. The first pick came courtesy of a poorly thrown ball by Ayoob which floated into the arms of Darnell Bing, thank you very much. The Trojans promptly took advantage by marching down the field and punching it in with LenDale White for an early 7-0 lead. Late in the 2nd quarter there were two more picks as Rey Maualuga and Collin Ashton both got into the act, the Maualuga interception courtesy of a tipped ball while the Ashton one came at the end of the half as Cal was trying their version of a Hail Mary. At halftime the score was 21-3 and USC basically had the game in hand but that doesn't mean Coach Carroll wants his team to be any less aggressive when it comes to causing turnovers. Travis Tofi reached in and was able to pop the ball loose on a Justin Forsett carry which was recovered by Keith Rivers at the end of the third. Ayoob led a pretty good drive early in the fourth quarter which was halted by a Ryan Ting pick in the end zone, a nice treat for the defensive back who grew up in the Bay Area. The final turnover for the Trojans came courtesy of a strip by Jeff Schweiger and recovery by Kyle Moore.

It was nice to see so many linebackers get involved in the turnover parade but that's not the only reason Carroll had to be happy with the play from that group. The injury status of his linebackers was a fluctuating situation all week at practice and for much of this game we threw a very young unit out there with a true sophomore and two true freshmen. Could you tell any drop-off in production? If anything, the young freshmen showed exactly why they were some of the most highly touted recruits in the nation by coming out and making plays when the team needed them. Check the USC tackles chart for the game and you will see those young LB names at the top of the list. Maualuga stepped in for the injured Thomas Williams who left the game early with a dislocated patella and Williams had been filling in for the injured Oscar Lua. There was one TFL by Maualuga, early in the 4th right before the Ting pick, which showcased his speed and pursuit ability as Rey came flying out of nowhere to stop Ayoob and cause a big loss. The move of Williams from SLB to MLB meant that Brian Cushing got the start and there's no doubt that he has future star written all over him. Brian tackles well, he has tremendous instincts and he's tough. Not only did it seem as if he was headed for a redshirt season just a few weeks ago with a shoulder injury but three days ago we were concerned that a neck injury could cause him to miss the remainder of the year. Not to worry, though, things checked out OK and Cushing could be staying in the line-up for a while.

The 2nd half of this game belonged to the Law. Not the City of Berkeley Police Department, it belonged to LenDale White. John Drake once said that LenDale was the law for this team, the force that kept other teams honest. In the second half of this game he just took over and brought the offense to another dominant level while leaving no doubt as to who was in control of this game. Yes, he was able to do it with his trademark hard running style but he also delivered with one of the biggest pass receptions of the game on the opening drive of the 2nd half when he took a 3rd down pass and rambled 49 yards down to the Bear six yard line where he pounded it in a few plays later for the touchdown, one of three he had on the day. There's no doubt our offense is good even when LenDale doesn't get on track but there's something about the way we play when he is clicking that brings out the best in the whole team.

Today was also a day to celebrate several offensive milestones. Much was made heading into the season about how this offense had a chance to be one of the best in college football history and the season numbers are starting to warrant that kind of talk. In this game alone we saw Leinart go over the 3,000 yard mark, we saw LenDale go over 1,000 yards rushing and we also saw Dwayne Jarrett go over 1,000 yards receiving. Reggie Bush had gone over the 1,000 yard rushing mark earlier in the year which means the Trojans have a pair of 1,000 yard rushers for the first time in school history. When you are re-writing the rushing record books at a school dubbed Tailback U, you know you are doing something right. If wide receiver Steve Smith can go over the 1,000 yard receiving mark himself it will make the Trojans the first team in college football history to have a QB over 3,000, a pair of runners over 1,000 and a pair of receivers over 1,000.

Well, now that whatever demons existed in Memorial Stadium have been taken care of it's time to shift our attention to the Fresno State Bulldogs, the next opponent on the schedule. There will be a lot of talk this week about a game between USC and Fresno State many years ago in a now-defunct charade called the Freedom Bowl. Longtime USC fans will recall the feeling that came with the knowledge that we lost to Fresno State, it's a feeling that is hard to put into words, but the one silver lining of thanks we owe to the Bulldogs is their role in getting Larry Smith fired. For that, we are forever thankful. Just don't expect the Trojans to be too thankful come next Saturday because they aren't going to be thinking about the past. They will go to work on Monday, they will go to work on Tuesday, they will go to work the rest of the week with the workman like goal of beating Fresno State next week. There is nothing magical about the simplicity of the way we prepare, there is only magic in the results.


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