Move Those Chains

To limit a team like Cal to just three real points while playing two true freshman, a true sophomore and a former walk-on at linebacker won't make the same headlines as the record-setting offense, but it is no small feat.

Rant of the week: The Gameday crew was set up outside of Bryant Denny Stadium for the LSU – Alabama game Saturday night and after every mention of the Trojans, both fan bases began the age-old chant, "O-ver-rate-ed." First of all, is there a more overrated chant than the overrated chant? After the game against Notre Dame, the Irish fans serenaded the Trojans with that sentiment. Why exactly? Okay people, let's have it your way. Let's say the Trojans go into that game ranked number ten in the nation instead of number one and you take that same loss. Now, not only did you not go toe to toe with the best team in the nation, but you actually take a hit in the rankings rather than stay where you were. The same thing goes for fans who chant it after their team beats a higher ranked team. The only thing it does is take away from what your team did on the field. And to those Alabama fans chanting on Saturday: you're overrated.

Crystal ball time: I know there are two games left in the regular season, but since everyone else is looking ahead to a USC – Texas Rose Bowl, I figured I would as well. As a USC fan, the thing that makes me the most comfortable when it comes to that match-up is the ability of the head coaches. Pete Carroll and Mack Brown are like the two coaches in the 1980 Olympic hockey game between the USA and the Soviet Union. Pete Carroll will be playing the part of Herb Brooks, his finger on the pulse of his team at all times, making strategic moves left and right, putting his team in a position to win no matter what the opponent does. On the other sideline, Mack Brown will counter in the role of Viktor Tikhonov, the Soviet coach who wins only because he has the best players and does things like pull his best goalkeeper after the first period. There's a reason that Brown has never won a game that mattered. Can't you see Vince Young struggling to move the ball through the air in the first half, so Brown orders him to run the ball 50 times, play gunner on punt coverage and some cornerback in nickel situations, all the while looking like he's just been put in check by Deep Blue? Giving Pete Carroll four weeks to prepare for any team is like giving me the answer key to a quiz about the best popsicle flavors. Whereas giving Mack Brown four weeks to prepare for a team is like letting me have an extra day to memorize pi out to ten thousand digits. It's not going to make a difference.

Bad idea jeans: The Gameday trio also did a story on Jamie Christensen, the Alabama field goal kicker who tapes a one-dollar bill to the shin on his kicking leg and has the nickname, "Money." Besides the fact that I'm almost certain this guy gave himself that nickname, that has to be one of the worst ideas I've heard. I mean, you go to Alabama, a school still suffering the effects of an NCAA ban stemming from "illegal monetary inducements" from boosters and not only is your nickname "Money," but you're actually going to make it part of your game day ritual? Isn't that a little bit like Daunte Culpepper dubbing himself "Captain" and playing with water wings instead of shoulder pads?

Gill Grissom tells us that the evidence never lies: I've never seen an analyst root more openly against a team than Craig James does with USC. During the pre-game show, John Saunders showed a graphic illustrating the Trojans quest to be the first team ever with a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers and two 1,000-yard receivers and James just shrugged them off, saying he doesn't care and that Vince Young still has his Heisman vote. Now, I couldn't care less about Vince Young having his vote, but is he really not going to give those numbers a second glance? I realize that he's going to defend the Big-12 to the death and he's never going to respect the Pac-10, but it's one thing to be a contrarian, and an entirely different thing to just be a jerk. That kind of response to those kinds of statistics would be like telling someone that you've managed to genetically combine a lion and a shark and they respond by asking you what time it is.

Discuss amongst yourselves: More ridiculous, Joe Ayoob's first-half performance or the route from the field to the visitor's locker room at Memorial stadium?

I guess Pete Carroll put a block on all Berkeley area codes: The notion that Jeff Tedford can simply out coach Pete Carroll because Tedford "has Carroll's number" took a major hit on Saturday. Not only did Tedford lack the personnel to pull the upset, he didn't have the game plan. Under Carroll, one-dimensional teams simply do not beat the Trojans. Any team that has stayed close or beaten the Trojans over the past four years has kept them off balance with a balance of run and pass. On Saturday, Jeff Tedford's plan seemed to call for running the ball 90% of the time. Did he really expect that to work against a defense as talented and stubborn as the Trojans'? Tedford began the game with five straight runs, then put his quarterback in a position where he had to pick up a third and long. Granted, Ayoob was never going to throw for 300 yards and beat the Trojans with his arm, but he was never allowed to establish any sort of confidence with the Bears' game plan. Tedford basically told him, "Look. You're no good, so all I'm asking you to do is not lose the game single-handedly." And, with that kind of support, how could he not play the way he did? Last season against the Trojans, the first play of the game for Cal was a play-action pass to the fullback for a fifteen yard gain. That same play, which went for a huge gain again, wasn't seen on Saturday until the Bears' sixth possession and by that time, the Trojans led by 18 points.

Throw flags first, ask questions later: What does it take to become a Pac-10 referee? Is it just like a thing that people do for charity if they have a free Saturday? Is there a sign-up sheet? Age limit? Do you need to know all the rules of football? Or just some of them? I know it's just about impossible for a crew of officials to get every single call right in any game, but sometimes their decisions are just beyond terrible. On the Trojans' second kick off, Mike Brittingham was called for a personal foul on a late hit out of bounds. First of all, the referees singled out Darnell Bing for the foul, and I'm guessing that he wasn't even on the field at the time. Second of all, Brittingham was shoved into the guy, still managed to restrain himself from actually hitting him hard, and helped hold the Bear returner upright, lessening the hit further. And finally, how many times do you see a runner heading toward or along the sidelines take a few more steps up the field when the defender is forced to pull up for fear of drawing that late hit flag? Brittingham made a good football play while showing great sportsmanship and was flagged 15 yards for his actions.

Hello, our names are: Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga. The two true freshman played almost the entire game at linebacker against one of the most potent running games in the nation and not only kept Marshawn Lynch from going over 100 yards, they turned in two of the best defensive performances from any Trojan all season. Maualuga had the flashiest play of the day from the duo, with an interception and a nice little return down the sideline. He has so much speed for a man his size it borders on lunacy. Now if we could just find a helmet that actually fits him and stays on his head, we'd be in business. Brian Cushing illustrated exactly why he moved up the depth chart so quickly at that outside linebacker spot. The kid just knows how to play football. To limit a team like Cal to just three real points while playing two true freshman, a true sophomore and a former walk-on at linebacker won't make the same headlines as the record-setting offense, but it is no small feat.

I'm no art history major: But I'm pretty sure that's not what actually happened to the Venus de Milo.

I guess that was just an average block: Often overlooked with all the highlight-reel plays turned in by Reggie Bush is his newfound ability this season to provide some big blocks in pass protection. Toward the end of the second quarter, the Trojans called a fake end-around and Matt Leinart hit Dwayne Jarrett deep over the middle. The initial fake was to Reggie Bush up the middle, and after selling the run, Bush gave a blitzing Daymeion Hughes a shot that absolutely sent him flying. This is the same Daymeion Hughes who said that, to him, Reggie Bush was just an average player, so long as every player on defense was tackling him at the same time. Well done Daymeion.

The next generation's Bill Romanowski: Congratulations to Cal linebacker Zach Follett, who just moved to the top of the list, ahead of Arizona State linebacker Robert James, of my least favorite players and biggest sore losers. Not only did his over-the-top celebration of a fourth down sack make me want to scream, "Scoreboard," his helmet to skull headbut of LenDale White was the cheapest shot I've seen in the last few years of college football, rivaled only by Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter's choke hold on the Wisconsin quarterback after a tackle. I guess common sense and courtesy isn't a required undergrad class at Berkeley.

Always look on the bright side of life: Hey DeSean, at least this way you get to play four quarters every game.

And finally, can we get these numbers faxed to Craig James? I think what could be lost in the shuffle of a 25-point blowout is the fact that Cal's defense played extremely well against the Trojans. There were very few missed tackles, save for the mandatory few on Reggie Bush, and only once did they allow a Trojan receiver to beat them deep. They didn't let Bush do anything, Matt Leinart didn't throw a touchdown pass, no Trojan receiver went over 70 yards and the Trojans still put up 434 total yards, 35 points and converted eight of 14 third downs. Even without going over 50 points and 700 yards, this Trojan offense once again made a claim for the most potent offense of all time.

Shot of the day: Toward the end of the third quarter, ABC showed a shot of the Cal mascot, Oski, looking quite pleased with himself after a Marshawn Lynch first down run. On the following play, Justin Foresett was stripped of the ball and Keith Rivers recovered for the fourth turnover of the day. ABC switched back to Oski and he simply gave a two thumbs down signal. Cal was well on their way to a six turnover performance and I'm guessing Oski was wishing he had four hands, so he could give Cal's performance on Saturday four thumbs down.


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