When discussing a game, I rarely divide the game into three or four distinct parts and take a segmental approach. However, in this particular case, that would seem to be a very reasonable thing to do. First, there was USC's offense. Things surely started out on a positive note. On the Trojans' very first possession, they marched the ball right down the field, only to have their momentum and ultimately their first drive stalled by a rather curious bit of play calling. After calling runs and short passes to surgically dissect the Cats, SC called a trick play that not only failed, it absolutely appeared to put USC in reverse. Arizona had the Trojans well scouted and when they saw Desmond Reed come in, their defensive backs knew better than to bite on the half back option. Fortunately for USC, Desmond had the presence of mind not to throw with all the receivers well covered. Unfortunately, SC could not get its act together for the rest of that drive. One could not help but wonder if SC might have been much better off continuing with what got it there, at least until Arizona showed that it could stop the Trojans.
John David Booty had a rather efficient, if not spectacular night. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 179 yards with one touchdown pass and with one interception thrown, his first of the season. Although the pass he threw for a pic was not a great throw, Booty was not helped at all by the fact that Dwayne Jarrett slipped on the play and was not where he should have been on the pattern. And speaking of Dwayne, he had an uncharacteristic number of drops and/or failed attempts to catch the ball. Perhaps his drops had something to do with a shoulder injury that caused DJ to head to the locker room in the fourth quarter and he never returned to the playing field. Now that it has been reported that he had an injured left shoulder, perhaps his touchdown grab was all that much more impressive. Personally I never saw his injury occur, so perhaps he was playing the whole night in significant pain.
As for the rest of the game, JDB really did manage to spread the ball around. All told, he hit ten different receivers for completions. With any luck at all, Booty's completion percentage would have been even higher because he narrowly missed Steve Smith on a long out pattern and there were a couple of other passes, such as the long post pattern featuring Fred Davis that were oh so close to being caught. I guess the somewhat disturbing part of the passing game was SC's inability to complete much of anything down the field. Most of the passes were either short outs, slants or dump offs to the backs. Considering that some of these types of passes are almost like running plays, perhaps calling them was a very safe alternative for a relatively young quarterback, especially one who has lost his top three fullbacks and who had to finish the game without the comfort of having his very best receiver on the field. However, it should be noted that in DJ's absence, other guys such as Steve Smith, Chris McFoy, Patrick Turner and even Dale Thompson helped fill the void. At this time, I am unaware of the seriousness of Dwayne's injury, though I did hear Pete say something like, "it was just a little shoulder". However, for perhaps the first time ever, I did see Pete wince when he mentioned Havili's injury. He was almost in disbelief that SC seems to have lost yet another fullback.
One of the very brightest aspects of this game was the continued emergence of two running backs, both true freshmen at that. First and foremost, Emmanuel Moody continued to show great skills and he gained 130 yards on 21 carries. That is impressive for any tailback, but for a true frosh to put up those numbers in his first Pac-10 conference game, on the road, to boot, is all that much sweeter. Folks, whether or not this kid is a Reggie Bush type of back or not is hardly the point. The actual point is simple. This kid has plenty of skills of his own, he has the power to go up the middle and he has the jukes, speed and ability to break off the long run, something that SC has been seeking in this early part of the season. Tonight Moody average 6.2 yards per carry, a number which was surpassed only by CJ Gable's 7 yard per carry average. I don't think it is unfair to say that so far , Moody and Gable are the top two true freshmen tailbacks at USC this season. As for the ever so vital role of fullback, it's anyone's guess. There was a ton of internet back and forth on that subject all of last week. Each reader can guess for himself who might get the nod from Pete Carroll to give fullback a shot. It would seem imperative that somebody be ready to play that position in addition to former walk on Mike Brittingham. I can't help but wonder if anyone will approach the head coach and running back coach McNair and actually ASK for a chance to play the position. If nothing else, it might mean some major minutes of Prime Time Playing Time. One can only imagine how important that might be to a player who is not otherwise in line to get any major minutes at this time.
The offensive line has now played three games and although Booty is not getting sacked very often, the offensive line has not seemed to be dominant, at least not yet. I do think efficient would be a more accurate term to describe the Oline up till now, but there definitely were some pretty nice running lanes at times. As the season progresses, I have the feeling that as a unit, this Oline will excel and the guys on the line will put together dominant games. It might be very nice indeed if that time is sooner than later.
How about that defensive effort by the aggressive and ultratalented USC defense? For the whole game, Arizona managed just 154 net yards and their net yards gained on the ground ended up being MINUS 16. Of course that includes 5 sacks for a minus 39 yards, but anyway one wants to twist this thing, SC's defense dominated. In fact, I think SC might have totally blanked the Wildcats if they had blitzed on EVERY 3rd down and long. I can't recall one instance in the entire game when Arizona converted a third and long on plays that USC blitzed. To my eye, every single time the Trojans brought at least 5 guys, with one of them usually being Rey Maualuga, the Cats failed to convert. On their lone scoring drive, USC backed off on a third and very long, bringing only 3 guys. Needless to say, Arizona managed to make a long first down on that particular play and it left me wondering a great big WHY? I mean why not make the offense show that it can handle the pressure before abandoning it on third down? I can imagine that some will say SC's defense did so well there is nothing to complain about. Yeah, maybe that is truthful to some extent, but not totally. It's always nice to shut them out and to my way of thinking, had SC brought 5 on that long third down play, Arizona would have never converted and as a result, the shutout might have stood.
It would be very fair to say that one nice drive by Arizona notwithstanding, the USC defense played a scary good game tonight. Even the announcers, including Tim Brandt who is never effusive in his praise of USC, had to admit that SC's linebackers are arguably the best in the country and that this is simply and ultra fast and talented unit. I believe that Rey Maualuga has definitely had a coming out party and the whole country will soon recognize him as a unique sort of talent if that is not already the case. The safeties, especially Kevin Ellison, hit like a ton of bricks,and the down 3 or down 4 are not showing any significant drop off since Sedric Ellis' injury. Cary Harris has shown some pretty good one on one coverage skills when necessary and TThomas made one of the plays of the game when he chased down Willie Tuitama and sacked him for a major loss. Similarly Brian Cushing showed excellent concentration when he sacked Willie, refusing to let the mobile quarterback scamper away from his grasp.
Special Team and turnovers were a mixed bag in this game. For one of the few times, USC did not win the turnover battle; the Cats and Trojans battled to a tie in that respect. Whereas I am sure Pete was thrilled to see Rey's great intercpetion and equally pleased when Sartz recovered the muffed punt, I can't help but feel he was not pleased at all to see Chauncey cough up the ball and to see John David Booty throw his first interception of the year. As for punt returns, SC has not lost the ball, but they have not been able to generate any great punt returns either. I havve to assume that at this point in time, Pete prefers to have Desmond and his usually very reliable hands back there than to have true freshman handling punts this early in what has to be his first season. Mario Danelo showed that he is human as he missed his first field goal of this season. However, on his second attempt, he nailed it and that made it a crucial, two score game once again. And Troy VanBlarcom has continued excellent kick offs, more often than not booming the ball deep into the endzone, and thus preventing any return whatsoever.
How about the coaching in this game? I have to admit that some of the play calling seemed a bit on the conservative side. However, on further review, it is essential to consider everything that has happened. First, USC started a true freshman at both tailback and fullback for the first time ever. John David Booty was still starting only his third game of his career and in game development and ability to deal with all eventualities takes time. Thus, when Pete did not even try to score late in the first half and later, when SC seemed unusally conservative in its playcalling, perhaps that is just what the situation realistically called for. For those old enough to remember following SC in its previous Glory Years, it was not unusual to win games something like 17-7 or some such thing. However, after experiencing Carson Palmer and the offense he led, and then to have watched the Matt Leinart , Reggie Bush, LenDale White offenses with guys like Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett sprinkled in for fun, it is easy to lose anything close to resembling a normal perspective. In the end, the goal of each and every game is simple---WINNING. If that is reality, then everything done in a somewhat conservative manner can be justified by one phrase indeed--SCOREBOARD BABY!
Ok, so now what? Will SC have Dwayne Jarrett next week? If not, who will step it way up? Will we get to see big contributions from a couple of frosh like Travon Patterson and Vidal Hazelton? Will Patrick Turner step up? Or will this finally be Chris McFoy's big day in the sun? As for Steve Smith, we already know what he can do and that is just about anything when it comes to football. On the other hand, can Pete once again find a way to work his magic and come up with some kind of solution at fullback? Will Pete and/or one of his assistants call one or two kids, currently playing differenct positions, and give ask them if they are up to taking this opportunity?? I really don't know how this will unfold; nobody really does. However, it wont' be boring trying to find out and trying to follow the Trojans through this season. I just know we are in for some currently unkown, surprises.