A turning point?

There were just under eleven minutes to play in the fourth quarter of a game that wasn't supposed to be tied at that point. After jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead in the first half, the Trojans had struggled to get any kind of offense going against the ASU defense.

Thanks in part to a couple offensive miscues, the score was now 21-21 and this Trojan team needed a spark. The first play of the drive was a handoff to Chauncey Washington which went for six yards. The next play was another run by Chauncey, this time for 23 yards, and then we saw it. A moment which could prove to be a turning point for this Trojan season. After the run, USC center Ryan Kalil ran toward the USC sideline, waving his arms, pumping his fists, jumping up and down, he was fired up. Ryan quickly returned to the huddle but in that brief moment of emotion, as much of an outburst as we've ever seen from Kalil on the football field, his leadership showed through. It was as if he was telling his coaches, his teammates, the fans, whoever was listening "it's time to start running the ball". We all know what happened on the remainder of that drive, the Trojans kept the ball on the ground and drove right down the field. There were no secrets on that drive either, here comes Chauncey Washington and let's see if you can stop him.

Pete Carroll has made it clear many times that his offensive teams have found their best consistency once they discovered the ability to run hard with the football. Carroll will point to Sunny Byrd in 2001, Justin Fargas in 2002 and to the emergence of LenDale White as a freshman against ASU in 2003 as critical factors for each of those teams. While the 2006 Trojans have marched to a 6-0 record, and while the offense has put up respectable numbers, it's clear to most longtime observers that there has been something missing with the flow and rhythm of the offense. Could it be partially blamed on the inexperience of our players or the injuries we've suffered? Of course, nobody could withstand the losses we took (both to the NFL and to early season injuries, particularly at FB and WR) and not feel an impact. Even with all that taken into account it seemed as if the USC offense was just struggling to find their niche. Until the fourth quarter on Saturday night.

It has been difficult to wait for Chauncey to fully recover from his hamstring injury, the coaches have done a good job of playing him sparingly to this point and gradually increasing his workload, but he is healthy now and ready for a stretch run which should rely heavily on his shoulders. Chauncey gives us that power, that same pounding style we saw from Byrd, Fargas and White. His teammates know it. They know he is the key, the missing ingredient. They have also seen in practice in recent weeks that he is ready to carry the load. That's why, with the game on the line against the Sun Devils, they turned to him. It was Kalil who let everyone know it was time with his emotional display. We've long said that Kalil is the heartbeat of this team, he's the leader and they have taken on his personality, so it was fitting that he was the one to let loose with the uncharacteristic outburst to let everyone know it was time.

We did an interview in the off-season of 2003 with offensive linemen Norm Katnik, Lenny Vandermade and Eric Torres. We asked them about the moment they felt the momentum change in the 2002 season and they talked about the trust from the coaches to "run the rock" even in tough situations. Vandermade said "I think it was basically trust. You know, trust amongst us and trust amongst the coaches". Torres added "It meant a lot to the offensive linemen to hear the coaches say "hey, even if we're down we're still gonna run it." It definitely felt like trust and we believed in ourselves after that."

It will be interesting to see if this 2006 year follows a similar pattern. Will we begin to rely more on the run when things get tough? Our past years of success show a pattern of doing just that but the answer to that question for the remainder of this season will go a long way toward determining how far this team will go. If it happens, we will look back on the 4th quarter of the ASU game as the moment the offense came together.


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