1. "If I had to pick one game in the next month where I saw the biggest threat, it would actually be the one we have this coming week – on the road at Washington State."
2. "If USC gets into a game where, late in the game, it needs its offense to drive down the field and score… will it deliver?"
As to line #1 above, I hate to say, "I told you so," because Saturday's game was a GAME. I have heard some friends say, "Wow, the Trojans struggled," and, "Washington State was moving up and down the field." But as much as it might have been fun to watch the Trojans go into Pullman and lay it on the Cougars and win by 30 points, this to me was a character game for USC. It had to happen. You don't win championships without having games like this. The good news is, USC survived, and they did so in a good way. Young players faced adversity and stepped up. Untested players showed poise, not panic. Bad calls and turnovers went against USC, and they overcame. Again, everyone knew a game like this was coming, it was just a matter of, ‘will they come out of it with a win?' They did. They go into October 4-0 after having 3 of the first 4 games on the road. I think Pete is a happy man, with a lot to work on, but still a happy man.
As to line # 2 above, this is what excited me most about the game, as the Trojans offense answered the call. They started with a 9-play, 99-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, and then immediately followed that up with a 17-play, 83-yard touchdown drive in the 4th quarter that to me may end up being the two most notable drives of the season, as I remember thinking that the Trojans offense – without a Dwayne Jarrett to lean on – really came together. I have no doubt that the men in that huddle will remember those drives at the end of the season, and could replay them for you verbatim 6-months from now, a year from now, 5-years from now. The offense was far from perfect, and the O-line is still a work in progress, but those were some defining drives.
And by the way, Thanks from all Trojan fans to Steve Smith. Tough. Gutty. Clutch. Enough said.
Any concerns coming out of WSU? Of course – there's plenty to work on. First on Pete Carroll's list will be trying to get some pressure on the quarterback. The dominating defenses of 2003 and 2004 were lead by a front 4 that could generate sacks, hurries and turnovers without blitzing… of course, 3 of those players are starting in the NFL right now. Right now, USC isn't getting pressure without bringing the blitz, and that creates opportunities for good offenses. WSU slid their protection to Lawrence Jackson most of the game, who seems to be our only real every-down pass rush threat, and with all teams doing this, he is still looking for his first sack. Brian Cushing looks like he could be a great pass rusher, but he's definitely not coming every down. I look for Pete and Nick Holt to make some adjustments to try to improve this – and Sedrick Ellis' return will help.
As for the 418 total yards and 26 first downs put up by the Cougars, I was actually having flashbacks to last year's Notre Dame game. The short passing game that puts long drives together… the deep throws to test the corners, many resulting in pass interference penalties… but as seems to be the character of the Trojans the last few years, they give up yards, but not big plays, and not a lot of points. The Cougars had to settle for field goals on three of their five scoring drives, while the Trojans only had four scores, but all were touchdowns. That said, the image of WSU's quarterback sitting back with time to throw and moving the football puts a little concern in your gut when you think of Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame – all offenses likely better than WSU – remaining on the calendar.
So let's just say that this all makes the remainder of the season more interesting, right? Some questions this week: (1) Will some of our injuries begin to heal-up and allow USC to get back to almost full strength? (2) Will the home crowd and a defense that took some punches at WSU come out to show their stuff against the Huskies and get all over Isaiah Stanback (who is faster than Vince Young – I'm not just saying that, he is a 100-meter sprinter in the off-season)? (3) Will the USC offense continue to grow and start to dominate teams and "inflict their will" on opponents?
A lot of fun things to watch this week. Onto week five!
Jeremy Hogue is a former Academic All-American offensive lineman at USC who started 28 games over the course of his career, including the 1996 Rose Bowl victory over Northwestern. Jeremy later graduated from Harvard Law School and is now CEO of Sovereign Healthcare. Beginning this month, he will also serve as the Trojan analyst for the Fox Sports West USC Live shows following Trojan games. His column will appear after each game on WeAreSC.