Sure, thanks to another terrific performance by the USC defense the game was never really in doubt but it sure was a lot closer than any of us wanted it to be. There are a lot of factors to be considered as to why the Trojan offense sputtered, the in-game losses of Dwayne Jarrett and Stanley Havili didn't help, nor did the erratic first half showing by John David Booty as he failed to find any kind of rhythm early in the game. To make matters worse, Mario Danelo missed one of his field goal attempts and when that happens you know strange things are in the air. Fortunately for the Trojans, Booty played better in the second half (completing 9 of his first 11 throws) and freshman tailback Emanuel Moody provided some much-needed big plays via the run to help put the game away.
The one constant all day was the dominating effort from the USC defense. From Rey Maualuga to Terrell Thomas to Chris Barrett, the entire unit was swarming to the ball and basically refusing to allow Arizona to mount any type of serious offensive threat. There are a few stats which stand out to help put this defensive performance into perspective (Arizona converted only 2 of 12 3rd down opportunities, had no trips into the red zone and they were sacked five times) but the big number to pay attention to is the negative sixteen yards rushing. That's right, the Wildcats carried the ball 19 times and ended up losing almost a yard per carry. That is some serious defense, especially considering USC was playing without their top run stopper on the d-line in Sedrick Ellis. It seemed like Maualuga was everywhere with Brian Cushing not far behind. This has a chance to be a very special group when all is said and done.
The way this defense is playing right now there is no reason to think that the Trojans won't be in every game the rest of the year. As we saw against Arizona, however, we will need to see the offense step up and become more consistent because this game was within a touchdown in the fourth quarter and, no matter how good your defense is, all it takes is one bad bounce and a game like that can change in an instant. That didn't happen on Saturday and the Trojans were able to do just enough to sneak quietly out of town with a 17 point victory and a 3-0 record intact.
LB's Set tone
From the very beginning they showed that they were going to control the game. Rey Maualuga got things started on the opening drive by the Wildcats with a punishing tackle. Keith Rivers followed that on the next series with a tackle and a sack. Cushing had a crushing hit on punt coverage and then a sack on the final play of the first quarter. The first fifteen minutes of the game left no doubt that the USC linebackers were going to be in charge, their ferocity highlighted by the way Maualuga took on lead blockers and shed them to make multiple plays throughout the day. The dominance continued into the second quarter. Oscar Lua came in as a reserve and quickly had a tackle for loss. Maualuga then picked off a deflected pass with an athletic move to get the ball before it hit the ground. On and on it went for the linebackers the rest of the day until finally Dallas Sartz picked up a muffed punt by Arizona to set up the final Trojan score of the game on a run by Moody. That score was important if only because it kept alive the USC record streak of scoring more than 20 points (now at 55 games).
Running out of Fullbacks
After losing Brandon Hancock and Ryan Powdrell to injuries, the Trojans turned to former walk-on Mike Brittingham and true freshman Stanley Havili for this game and as things progressed it seemed as if we would be in good hands. Havili, in particular, was making things happen. A nice catch for a first down at the end of the first half was followed in the third quarter by a clutch first down conversion where he ran through a tackle to pick up the necessary yardage. No sooner had Trojan fans begun to feel comfortable with the fullback spot again, Havili left the game limping and later we hear the news that a broken fibula will keep him out of action for 4-6 weeks. For now that means more opportunity for Brittingham and the coaches showed confidence in him by throwing a pass his way in the fourth quarter. We will likely experiment with different combinations in practice this week as the coaches try to find another dependable body at the spot.
Terrell Thomas led the team with six tackles, he also added a TFL and sack on a key third down play to force a punt. Fellow corner Cary Harris added five tackles of his own….Another member of the secondary, Kevin Ellison, had the biggest hit of the day with a solid shoulder hit to force an incompletion…..Steve Smith may not show up big in the stat sheet in this game but he was inches away from two of the more impressive catches you will see from a wide receiver. Both were ruled no good after lengthy reviews by the officials but both were THAT close to being good…..Jarrett showed strong hands on his touchdown catch of a hard thrown ball from Booty and he left shortly after that with a shoulder injury…..Chris McFoy almost broke clean on one play and on this day he was as effective as anybody with the ball in his hands. It's only a matter of time before Chris breaks one and ends up in the end zone….The interception by Booty and fumble by Chauncey Washington were the first two USC turnovers of the season…..Fred Davis led the team with five catches but it seemed as if it could've been more, they didn't do much to stop him all night. Fred had one huge collision where he lowered the boom on a would-be tackler……
In the Mood for Moody
Well, well, look what we have here. All during the off-season we knew the Trojans would need to find a tailback (or two) who would help replace the big play ability that was present at the position in recent years. Speculation centered around a veteran like Chauncey Washington and as the Arkansas game came and went it appeared as if C.J. Gable could end up being that guy. To tell the truth, we really don't know for sure but with 130 yards on 21 carries, and with some critical big play runs which this offense so desperately needed on Saturday, Emmanuel Moody has taken a big step toward claiming the spot as his own. Moody has been the flashiest of the freshmen "Baby Backs" since his arrival on campus but it is the way he has quickly adapted to running between the tackles and to holding on to the football which has earned him this opportunity. Late in the second quarter against Arizona we saw a glimpse with a nice third down conversion. On the opening drive of the third quarter he popped a 40 yarder which led to the Booty to Jarrett touchdown. On the first drive of the fourth quarter he cranked out two nice runs including another third down conversion inside the 25 yard line and the drive ended in a Danelo field goal to make it 13-3. After Dallas Sartz recovered a muffed fumble late in the game it was Moody who put the ball in the end zone for the final score of the game. What was so impressive for Emmanuel in this game was the way he provided a spark when his team needed it. One thing this offense has lacked so far is that explosive ability to strike at any time but Moody showed on Saturday that he knows how to provide some big plays when called upon.