In the post game show with Lindsay Soto and Jeremy Hogue, Jeremy pointed out that if USC continues to allow teams to stay in the games till the end, sooner or later one of those teams is bound to make the big play and hand USC a loss. In all honesty, that viewpoint makes perfect sense and it may yet prove to be prophetic. However, nothing is a given and one need only look back a few seasons to that Ohio State Team that ended up beating Miami in the championship game. They shoulda lost some, they coulda lost some and they were certainly luck along the way. But in the end, in the results driven world in which we live, it is the end result that counted the most. In the end, Ohio State managed to win them all and what did they call the Buckeyes then? They called them Number One and deservedly so. They found a way to win. In no way am I stating that this USC squad will win the national title, nor am I stating that this Trojan team is as good as that Buckeye squad. What I am saying is this. So far, USC has done exactly what it has needed to do to stay in the Pac-10 and National Title race. They have won each and every game, whether it was with execution, luck, coaching or some combination of both. SC is exactly where they had hoped to be at this point in the season.
In analyzing this game, many points come to mind. First and foremost, congratulations to the Huskies. They are vastly improved over last year's team and Coach Willingham appears to have them on the right road. With a superb athlete like Isaiah Stanback running the show, they are one very dangerous team. He is a legitimate sprinter who has become a very competent and dangerous quarterback. As an SC Honk, it drives me right up a wall when SC's defense can't get to that guy and when all was said and done,the Trojans did not sack him one time. However, that is not just due poor play by SC's defensive line. This guy Stanback is the real deal and he is simply not easy to catch. Whereas he was never tackled behind the line of scrimmage, he was also not able to break off that long game breaking type of run which other running quarterbacks have managed to accomplish in years gone by----anyone remember a quarterback named Vince Young? No, I am not saying Stanback is that good, but he is even faster.
As for the USC defense, the end results do say a great deal .They were tough, but not impenetrable. The Trojans gave up 379 total yards, with 167 on the ground and 212 through the air. I think it is time to realize that the Pac-10 has several very competent offensive teams that will put up some serious yardage. They spread out the defense and they move the ball. However, one should not forget that the Huskies scored only 20 points and that was simply not enough for them to get the whole job done. Close is nice in horseshoes, but it does not get the job done on the gridiron. Having said that, I am sure many of us saw the same thing. USC had lots of trouble tackling and time and again the Washington running backs broke tackle after tackle and their statistics back that up. And of course, the Trojans were vulnerable to the quick change of possession. After giving up the ball to Washington when the Huskies pulled off a perfectly executed onside kick, USC gave up a 46 yard gainer on the ground when they were caught sleeping on the reverse. It was obvious that SC was not ready emotionally or physically for that call. That is something that will hopefully be discussed in this week's meetings. On a positive note, I did see the SC defensive backs make a couple of nice hits on closely contested passes and it shows me that when asked to play tightly they can do it reasonably well.
When facing these wide open attacks, it still seems that USC is content to keep things in front of them. The Trojans were once again victims of a number of 3rd down conversions, giving up a 50% success rate to the Washington offense. What is especially irksome is that on a number of occasions, the Trojans were victimized on 3rd and long. Being the huge fan of the blitz that I am, I would still love to see even more heat brought when it is 3rd and long, but to be fair, the blitz was beaten on a number of occasions by a talented and alet Stanback. Being as fast and strong as he is, Stanback changes things so that no one approach will work all the time. It was very interesting to not that in this game, the best rushing and pressure was often provided by Keith Rivers playing the elephant DE-OLB position. On many occasions it was he, not Brian Cushing who was the main guy who either forced Stanback to rush his pass or to have to run out of the play. The return of Sedric Ellis was a welcome sight, but even with Ellis, the SC defense was still in deep much of the evening. However, once again it would be wrong not to point out that although the defense did bend, it did not break. The reason I have to reiterate that point is that it is vital. I am sure the coaches will continue to push the players until the defense can become even more dominant. They will also push the players to take away the ball. Although both teams put the ball on the ground twice, neither was able to recover the other guys fumble. On the other hand, SC did not get any pics, while they did give up one interception.
Special teams provided some interesting plays in this game. USC's kickoff returns are now much improved with CJ Gable making a couple of nice runs. The punt return game did not yield any big runs, nor did SC's return guys provide anything of note on their end, either. Mario Danelo was once again money--hitting on 4 of 4 field goal attempts. They don't always look pretty, nor are they exciting plays. But in the end, his accurate kicking was the difference in the game. As for Troy VanBlarcom, he boomed kick after kick once again. Only two of his kicks were returnable and neither of the returns produced devastating results for SC. I have to say that the fake field, the one during which Danelo never kicked the ball at all, was a masterpiece and it caught Washington, the crowd, the announcers and just about everyone else by surprise. I am not sure how Steve Smith managed to remain so inconspicuous lined out so wide, but it was just awesome to watch Michael McDonald throw a touchdown pass to a wide open Steven Smith for one of only two Trojan Touchdowns. I have to say that was just a great play all the way around.
USC was not heavily penalized in this game, but oh boy did their penalties hurt like the dickens. SC was penalized 8 times for 70 yards, but it was the successful execution that these plays that was negated that really hurt. Chauncey Washington finally showed his amazing stuff on a 60 yard spectacular run, only to have it negated by a block in the back by Sam Baker. And John David Booty threw a beautiful pass to Steve Smith for a great touchdown play, only to have it called back due to a holding call by Kyle Williams. If ever there was a game that penalties really hurt the offensive effort this was it. I must say that the personal foul called against Taylor Mays for a late hit against Stanback was a tough call, and it did not look legitimate to my eye.
How about USC's offense? The effort was reasonable, but not as efficient as we have come to expect from USC teams over the past two seasons. Having to rely on 4 field goals is a disappointment and hopefully, the success in the red zone will improve as the season progresses. Booty was 23 of 40 for 243 yards. He threw one Touchdown Pass and he had one of his passes intercepted. To be fair, the pic was a well thrown ball that Patrick Turner simply could not handle but things like that are going to happen. Overall, Patrick had a real breakout type of game. In only his second game during which he got major touches and the first game where he was the Main Man, Turner did manage to catch 12 passes for 112 yards and some of those were not easy grabs. He did not fumble and he caught the ball in traffic. I am sure the coaches will remind Patrick to be aware of the first down marker, since running a pattern short of the needed yards won't get the job done. It was also nice to see Vidal Hazelton grab his first catch to my recollection. As to whether or not his role is about to increase, I can't say. But, with Jarrett still out and now with Smith injured, one might imagine that yet another true frosh at USC will get his chance to shine very early on in his career. As for the running game, it was preety good but would have been even better had Chauncey's breakout run not been called back. It should be noted, however, that late in the game, SC did rush the ball very well on its last series. In fact, one might wonder exactly what would have happened had SC tried to successfully run the ball into the endzone in it last possession in the red zone. Obviously, one will never know.
Even though this was not a classic performance in all respects by John David Booty, I do believe he played very well and he answered a crucial question that has shown up on message boards all over the internet. Time and again people have asked if JD Booty could drive the team down the field late in a game to win the game. To my way of thinking, he proved that he can do the job. He lead SC to their last field goal and I believe that was crucial. Without that long drive and score, Washington could have tied the game with a field goal and the ending may have been very different indeed. I am sure the coaches will point out to JD that without Jarrett and Smith, he will have to spread the ball out. Locking in on Turner will lead to many chances for the defense to make big plays and that is not what SC is looking to see. However, once again I think it is vital to point out that in only his 5th game as a starter, John David Booty had to go without his two main guys, without any of his former starting fullbacks and yet he still lead the team to a victory. He did nothing to lose the game and he did just enough to ensure victory. Kudos to this kid. He is one talented and calm customer.
For the second consecutive week, I thought that the SC staff more than met its match in terms of coaching. Washington had Booty well scouted and they took away all effectiveness of his bootleg and rolls to his right. It seems to me that will have to be changed up in the future because the word is out how to minimize its effectiveness. Washington obviously watched the WSU game closely and took some pages right from that game which helped keep the Trojans off balance. The onsides kick was brilliant and it caught SC with its pants down. Washington did manage to play USC in a very tough manner and most might agree that with less talent than the Trojans, the Huskies came oh so close to pulling of what would have been a huge upset. But as the saying goes, scoreboard baby, scoreboard. In the end, it was SC that came up as the victor and I will take that every single game. As to whether or not somebody will keep it close and actually beat SC in the near future, who knows? I can't say I don't care. I will say that even though SC might lose a game this season, they might not. I think that this young team is going to come of age and some of the young guys are growing up in a hurry. In the end, just maybe there is no substitution for the talent that SC has on its team.