Mr. Smith goes to Pullman

Senior wide receiver Steve Smith led the way for the Trojans on this night as he put the offense on his back with 11 catches for 186 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 28-22 victory over Washington State.

We knew coming into the game that somebody was going to have to step into the playmaker role left vacant by the injury to Dwayne Jarrett and Smith certainly seemed the logical choice. Smith has produced in big games before (see the 2005 Orange Bowl) and he has been the go-to guy in practices for John David Booty throughout fall practices. In this game, however, he did it all and he did it for the entire game, a contest which turned out to be much closer than anticipated.

Not only did Smith put up those big numbers without Jarrett, he also did it for much of the game without Chris McFoy, the popular veteran who left the game with a shoulder injury but not until after he had caught his first career touchdown as a Trojan. That score came after C.J. Gable had put the Trojans in great field position with a 55 yard kickoff return and then Booty hit Smith down the middle inside the 10. Booty then immediately found McFoy in the back of the end zone and the celebration began as McFoy clung to the football as he received a steady stream of well wishers along the sideline.

That touchdown gave USC a 7-3 lead and the USC defense looked pretty dominant early in the game. Brian Cushing had big plays on each of the first three WSU possessions. Oscar Lua made a couple plays and Chris Barrett blew up a Cougar ballcarrier on a third down play to force a field goal to make it 7-6 in favor of the Trojans.

On the next USC drive, Booty hit McFoy on a third down conversion but that was the play Chris got hurt on and he left the game. Another deep pass from Booty to Smith, a rope thrown by JDB, got the ball back inside the five again and a Chauncey Washington TD run gave USC a 14-6 advantage. The resilient Cougars came back before the half and after Jason Hill beat Terrell Thomas in the end zone the score at intermission showed the Trojans in front by a slim 14-12 margin.

The second half was more dramatic than USC fans are used to these days and they were highlighted on offense by a pair of long drives featuring, who else, Steve Smith leading the way.

The first drive started on our one yard line in the third quarter, we got a huge PI call in our favor and then Emmanuel Moody broke a 48 yarder (with a key block from Smith). The drive almost stalled until a clutch 4th down pass from Smith netted a first down, another Booty to Smith pass got another first down and then with the ball inside the 20 the Trojans went to an empty backfield and Smith beat the linebacker for a touchdown and a 21-12 lead.

The Cougar offense, unfortunately, refused to quit and they challenged our secondary as much as any team in recent memory. Alex Brink deserves credit for firing strikes all night, particularly to Hill and Michael Bumpus, but it definitely helped his cause that the Trojans were unable to provide pressure for much of the night. After Brink led them to a field goal to close the gap to 21-15, a potential game changing play took place when Allen Bradford fumbled the ensuing kickoff and we were fortunate the ball took a Cardinal and Gold bounce at the bottom of the pile. I will say this, I can't imagine there is a team in the country that goes harder after loose balls in practice than the Trojans so we were well prepared for this situation. Mike Brittingham came away with the ball at 12:45 left in the game and it was time for a nice, long drive which Booty promptly delivered.

Smith took a hard shot on a third down conversion, then he converted a fourth and two for another first down. Finally, on the 17th play of the drive, Smith caught yet another ball across the middle and his TD reception gave the Trojans a 28-15 lead.

WSU came back and scored a quick touchdown to make it 28-22 and it was nervous time on the Palouse. As it turns out, the Trojans were able to gain one first down (thanks to a terrific third down catch by Patrick Turner) and that was enough to run the clock down and give the Cougars minimal time for a potential game winning drive. Brink was still able to bring them close enough to make a throw at the end zone on the final play but Taylor Mays came away with the pick and victory belonged to the Trojans.

You have to give credit where credit is due to Washington State for a hard fought ball game after more than one television analyst predicted this game as being ripe for a Trojan upset. That didn't happen and for that you have to appreciate the many ways in which this USC team finds ways to win football games. Last week it was defense, this week it was a receiver, next week who knows what will happen? That's part of the fun of following the Trojan football team these days.


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