This was like Inigo Montoya at the end of "The Princess Bride," finally catching up to the six-fingered man and drawing his sword, only to find Christopher Guest holding a bazooka. Except, for the Razorbacks, multiply that by about 76,000.
The Razorbacks had absolutely everything going for them early. Darren McFadden was cleared to play, Robert Johnson was sharp, the crowd was deafening and the defense was holding the Trojans to field goals, mostly. But in the second half, the Trojans, as their fans have grown accustomed to, rose to the occasion and put Arkansas away.
I will hand it to the Arkansas fans though. With the game out of hand and really nothing to root for, the majority of them were still there wooing, sooooieing and hollering as Mitch Mustain led the Hogs on their final touchdown drive.
If the situation were reversed and it was the Trojans at home being blown out like that, there would have been about 16 people still in the stadium. It's embarrassing, but it's true.
It Wins Championships: It's a safe bet to say that the Trojan defense that allowed somewhere around 10,000 rushing yards to Vince Young and company in last year's Rose Bowl won't be showing up anytime soon at USC. With the memory of the back of Vince Young's jersey still so fresh in the minds of Trojan supporters and players, any semblance of defense against Arkansas was going to be a welcome sight.
And that's exactly what Trojan fans got, as long as semblance means the same thing as name-taking domination. The classic line after the game ended was that Arkansas would have been in the game without the early turnovers. Isn't that the same thing as saying Arkansas would have been in the game if they weren't playing USC? Those three fumbles by Felix Jones weren't exactly, "Oops, I dropped the ball" fumbles. They were all a result of the Trojan defense smacking him around and jarring it loose.
We all heard about how this defense would be dominant. A lot of us even saw it in practice. But nothing really prepared me for exactly how good this unit is. At times last night, it looked like the feel-good montage from "Remember the Titans" when they're running people down from 30 yards away, sacking the quarterback on one-step drops and hitting guys so hard they fumble just so they don't have to get hit again. Even the soundtrack was just as good.
Name That Player: One of my favorite things about this team, just behind the swarming defense and the fact that they're led by a guy named Booty, is the amount of players who are going to contribute this year. Last year, we saw a ton of defensive players due to the injury situation, but this season, we're seeing guys from the second and third strings because they can flat-out play football. Saturday night, there were true freshmen all over the field and I don't think I could name one guy who saw playing time and didn't make some kind of positive impact.
This team is being run exactly the right way, and the running back situation is just a microcosm of that. Most college football teams need a dominant personality to step up and be a leader. For the Trojans the last two seasons, they've had three of the most overshadowing personalities that college football has ever seen. The last thing they need this year is for someone to try and step into that role. Chris McFoy said it best before the season began: This year was going to be more focused on the USC team instead of the USC superstars.
With a plethora of players making pivotal plays, my girlfriend lamented during the third quarter -- after Emmanuel Moody took the ball in for a nine-yard touchdown -- that there would be so many new names to learn this season. She was fine when it was Matt, Reggie and LenDale, Jarrett and Smith. And last year, who could blame someone for not learning any more than that quintet? But this season, it's those two receivers, plus Booty, Washington, Turner, Gable, Moody, Davis… you know what? I'm sure there's a roster available somewhere. Go ahead and start reading off the names.
Although, through one game, she never called anybody William Thomas, nor did she think the USC punter was Rashaad Goodrum. So at the end of week one, it's Shayna - 1, Mike Patrick and ESPN - 0.
Take a Number: After game one of the 2006 season, I'm sure that I share the same complaints and concerns as many of you. The Trojans got off to a slow start offensively. John David Booty was never able to establish a deep threat. There were more than a few offensive line penalties. Mario Danelo missed his final extra point attempt. And the defense allowed two rushing touchdowns, one to a freshman quarterback on his first collegiate drive.
Also, the defense forced just five turnovers, just three of the freshman running backs scored touchdowns, John David Booty threw nine incomplete passes and not a single offensive lineman scored a touchdown. All in all, it wasn't the best start to the season.
Look, if you're trying to find a fault with the Trojans after the Arkansas game, you're either a masochist or you need a hobby. Sure, they didn't play perfectly, but they played about 99.9 percent perfect considering the circumstances.
A quarterback getting his first start, a quality opponent in a hostile environment, the first game of the season and an entirely rebuilt backfield are all factors that could have gone toward derailing the Trojans, but the team held it together and not only survived, they thrived. I guarantee you can't find a single person, players and coaches included, who thinks they could have performed better.
Comeback Player of the Game: I couldn't hear enough times about how Desmond Reed just participating in the game was a "miracle." After what he's been through, he deserves to be mentioned every single time he steps on the field.
But Thomas Williams and Ryan Powdrell might deserve a nod every bit as much as Reed for their play against Arkansas when they both went down for several minutes during a kickoff return.
First of all, that kick coverage was one of the highlights for the Hogs. If I'm putting together a tape of this game from Arkansas' perspective, I show the long pass from Mustain, Johnson's touchdown run and that kick coverage. I mean, Dallas Washington body slamming Cary Harris was impressive, but to leave a trail like they did, with both Williams and Powdrell needing assistance off the field, it was like 11 runaway trains were participating on that coverage unit.
Of course, the reason Powdrell and Williams are mentioned here is because of their ability to bounce back and provide huge plays later in the game. Powdrell ended up leading the team in receiving yards and gave the Trojans their longest play of the game. If you ended up with Powdrell's name for both of those categories in the office pool, go ahead and grab your ticket out of the trash and cash it in.
Williams chipped in with an interception to help cool the Mitch Mustain fourth-quarter love-fest.
Not so Lonesome Kicker: Something has to be said of the kicking game. Mario Danelo was absolutely brilliant all night, with just that one stumble coming at the end of the game, which he more than made up for with a career-long 44-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter.
Greg Woidneck was solid as well, averaging over 35-yards per punt and looking confident while doing so.
But the star of the kickers was Troy Van Blarcom. With so much fuss being made over the arrival of JC transfer David Buehler, Van Blarcom quietly went about matching him kick for kick during practice. Van Blarcom's biggest hurdle has been tightening up during games and not letting loose like he does during practice. On Saturday, with Buehler watching from the sideline, Van Blarcom put everything he had behind each one of his kicks, allowing just one return in ten kickoffs.
Speaking of kickers, is there any way I could get an explanation for Razorback punter Jacob Skinner's pre-kick ritual? I mean, it obviously worked, as he had a 42-yard average, but was anyone else expecting him to just give the ball a roundhouse kick off the snap instead of the normal catch and punt?
And Finally: In just over five years as the head coach at the University of Southern California, Pete Carroll has now registered 55 wins. Nine of those have come against UCLA and Notre Dame, two have resulted in National Championships and 39 have been by 20 points or more. But I don't believe a single one of those previous 54 victories was as satisfying or, under the circumstances, as dominating as the 50-14 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday night.
There was a time when I didn't think anything could top the absolute whipping that the Trojans gave the Colorado Buffaloes early in the 2002 season (a game tape that, apparently, Montana State's head coach watched on a loop for the past four years). Then came the Orange Bowl in January of 2005, which saw the Trojans dominate the Oklahoma Sooners in every facet of the game and walk out of Miami with a National Championship. I thought those two games would stay at the top of the list of the most dominant/satisfying games in recent memory, but this game in Fayetteville moves to number one.
Pete Carroll has two overriding thoughts that go a long way in shaping his coaching style. The first one is, "It's all about the ball." The second is that he absolutely loves a challenge.
As the offense began jelling in 2002, most of the praise fell to offensive coordinator Norm Chow. When the 2004 season ended and the Trojans were picking the Sooners up off the Orange Bowl turf, Chow was being hailed as a genius, and probably rightly so. With his departure in 2005, the Trojans, analysts and commentators said, would find out what life without Chow was like. Carroll embraced the challenge and took his team to within one play of a third consecutive national title.
Opening the 2006 season, life began without Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White and a host of others who were an integral part of the Trojans success over the past few seasons. The same commentators asked how the Trojans would rise to meet this new challenge. Every time the question was posed this offseason, Carroll would perk up at the mention of the "C" word.
Replacing all that talent would be a challenge. This season would be a challenge. This game against Arkansas would be a challenge. Well, to all those out there looking to throw that word around this Trojan team, Pete Carroll has three words for you. "Bring it on."