So what really happened in the game tonight and was this a major achievement by USC or did they perhaps sleepwalk through at least part of this game?? Personally, I believe that it was a very good game and after experiencing the kind of success that we all have seen in recent years, it is time to get a more realistic grip on the situation. One should not forget that this is not a division 1AA Cal State Nowhere that USC has just humbled. This is a very good Nebraska team that has its own very proud and storied football history.
I have to credit the Southern California defensive unit for a most impressive outing. Nebraska could not run consistently against this Trojans defense and that is all that more impressive when one considers that the Trojan defense was missing starting cornerback Josh Pinkard and starting nose tackle Cedric Ellis. One can only surmise if the Trojans would have been even more smothering on the defensive side of the ball had both of them played. One should compliment starting free safety Taylor Mays for a game well played in his very first start as a true freshman. It was also nice to see Kevin Ellison out there banging heads and making some stops after he went down earlier in the week with a hyperextended knee. Right up till game time, it was not clear if he would be able to play and if so, how much? It should also be noted that Carey Harris was also starting his first game while playing cornerback in place of starter Kevin Thomas. To my eye, there did not appear to be any significant drop off from what we saw when Keto, as Kevin Thomas is often called, was the starter.
One question that came to my mind and was brought up by the broadcasters in the booth was what philosophy did Coach Bill Callahan really bring to this game? I mean, why did he seemingly go away from the vaunted West Coast Offense for much of the game and try to simply run the ball down the Trojans' throat? Did he think that without Sedric Ellis, USC's defensive line could be had? Did he want to try to control the ball at all costs and simply keep the ball away from USC? Did he really just want to keep the score respectable? I know those questions are difficult to answer with any certainty, but it was hard to believe that Zac Taylor threw only 16 passes. Coming into the game, one might have easily expected to see Nebraska put up 30 or more passes. Ironically, late in the third quarter, when the Huskers did open things up, Taylor and his receivers were very successful and those passes resulted in Nebraska's lone touchdown drive. Although the Trojan dline gave up some nice runs to Nebraska, for the most part they really bottled up the Cornhusker runners and the net rushing yardage for Nebraska was only 69 yards. Nebraska was never able to really sustain a solid drive by merely running the ball against this fast, talented and physical Trojans defensive unit.
While on the topic of the Trojan Defensive unit, one can't help but praise the job they did. They only sacked Taylor once, but Zac was usually being hurried and he must have felt like SC had more than 11 guys on their defense for much of the night. I must say that while watching Brian Cushing on television, it sure looked like made his best plays when he was allowed to simply rush from the outside, more like what one expects from an outside backer than from a defensive end. On the many plays when he lined up in a more traditional DE position, it seemed like he was simply an undersized kid who was being asked to play smashmouth with guys who looked almost 100 pounds bigger than he. For the most part, the linebackers were really moving and Rey seems to be growing into his position more and more each game. After not seeing Kaluka Maiva against Arkansas, it was great to see him all over the field against the Big Red Machine. It was very hard to tell just how good the defensive backs were playing since they were not challenged much of the time. Now whether or not they were not challenged because they were so effective is a question that each will have to answer for themselves. When watching the SC kids swarm to the ball and when watching them shut down the outside sweeps on most occasions, I came to the conclusion that none of the other teams I have seen this year, namely Florida State, Auburn, LSU or Miami have anything on my favorite Trojans when it comes to defensive athletic ability, speed or pursuit. Folks, this defensive unit is very tough and very aggressive. If anyone can put up numbers against this unit similar to those that Fresno State and Texas did last year, I will be very surprised--almost shocked, would be more like it.
How about the SC offense? Well, I think it is fair to say that it is a work in progress. Obviously, Arkansas was not an absolutely great test. Judging by the way the Razorbacks destroyed that powerhouse Vanderbilt team 21-19, I guess they weren't the best barometer in the world to use to gauge oneself. On the other hand, one should not forget that this offense is starting a host of new backs and 3 new Offensive Line Starters. Oh how easy it is to forget those little facts. And for sure, one should not forget to credit that big, strong, tough dline from Nebraska. Although they did not get to Booty that often when they rushed only four guys, I doubt USC will face a tougher down four this season, at least not till a bowl game. Those guys are as good as advertised.
The Running game was inconsistent, to say the least. However, the questionable season ending injury to the multitalented back, Ryan Powdrell is huge. First and foremost, I am sure we all wish him a speedy recovery and the best of everything. From a team standpoint, it sure seemed to me that the running game never got over his departure in the Nebraska game. Once he left, the offense just seemed somewhat out of sync. One can't help but wonder about the future of the fullback position. The pass to the fullback was a real threat two weeks ago, but tonight, it was non-existent. Mike Brittingham played major minutes, but he sure looks small to my eye to be very effective as a blocking back. One can only imagine that much work and decision making will take place in the next 48 hours with regards to the future of the fullback position for this season. Will Stanley Havili get the nod? Can any team really lose a duo like Brandon Hancock and Ryan Powdrell at one position in one season and still excel? I guess only time will tell on that one. By the middle of the fourth quarter, we were able to get a real look at what the tailback can do and at who will likely get many of the reps in the near future. CJ Gable did not start, but he did show some nice moves in his attempts. Chauncey displayed speed and power on his touchdown run that makes me think he is every bit the runner LenDale White was. And of course Emmanuel Moody has shown that he is the most explosive and perhaps the quickest of the group of tailbacks that we have seen to date.
And how about John David Booty? Well, how can one criticize a 25/36 performance with 3 touchdown tosses and no interceptions? Of course, he did have a bit of luck. On the first series of the second half, he was way off and two of his throws should have been picked. It never hurts to be lucky in addition to being good. Having said that, considering this is only his second start, he is doing very well indeed. He avoids the rush pretty well, and he steps up in the pocket like a seasoned veteran. So far he has not shown an incredible touch on his long ball, but with time, I feel confident that, too, will come. Perhaps the most encouraging part of his performance is the leadership that he seems to have developed. On SC's last touchdown drive, he could be seen "talking to his players" and taking control. And of course, that rifle arm of his is nothing to sneeze at. What a toss to Jarrett to maintain that last touchdown drive. And speaking of DJ, did he step up after being called out by Lane Kiffin or what? Say what you want about Kiffin's methods, the results this week were amazing. DJ had 11 catches for 136 yards. Does anyone think Nebraska cornerback Andre Jones got that message? All told, 6 different guys caught the ball and if nothing else, JD Booty is spreading around the wealth.
I also think special teams are worth metioning. This new punter, Greg Woidneck does as fine a job placing the ball deep into the opponents' territory as I can remember. VanBlarcom continues to be a huge weapon with his booming kicks deep into or out of the endzone. However, not all is fine and dandy. The Trojans were victimized by a very well executed fake punt and to my eye, Cary Harris does not seem all that comfortable in his role of kickoff return man. Hopefully, we will see some real improvement in the return game in weeks to come.
As for the coaching, it was top notched as usual. I personally love to watch animated college coaches and I never tire of seeing a fired up Pete Carroll supporting his players and cheering at appropriate times. As for Trojan Willie McGinnest once said, that rah rah stuff might not make it in the pros, but it is great for college and man, I sure agree with that. It was nice to see the heat coming on third and long. It seems like we gave up fewer long 3rd down conversions than we have at other times and this appeared to be as a direct result of increased pressure.
All told, this is really a huge win for USC. This is no slouch team that the Trojans put away tonight and it is just another step in the maturation process for a team that I must remind myself that is not only replacing a host of starters from last year, but a host of injured members of this year's team as well. We are all well aware of the distractions from the media surrounding the USC Football program, but despite all that, Pete has kept them focused as he has done so many times in the past. What a great, great head coach USC has. In fact, I can't think of a better one anywhere in America.