When playing a weak opponent like Stanford, one must be careful not to make too many assumptions based on the winning performance. On the other hand, I don't feel it is unfair to compliment a team for a job well done. Some things showed up in tonight's victory that bodes very well for USC, especially if they can keep it up. The very first statistic that sticks out about this game is the turnover margin. After losing that turnover battle last week and after seeing the number of forced turnovers decrease markedly this season as compared to last, it was nice to see SC come out with a BIG PLUS 3 in the turnover department today. USC intercepted two passes, they recovered one forced fumble and USC also blocked a field goal and converted that into a touchdown. For those who would like to challenge Pete Carroll's premise that "it's all about the ball", they would have a very difficult argument based on results this season. The last time USC came out with a very large positive margin in the turnover battle was in the victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks ( who by the way have not lost to anyone other than the Trojans). In that game, SC picked off 3 balls and recovered 2 fumbles while not turning the ball over themselves. Not coincidentally USC also scored lots of points in that game; 50 to be exact. Therefore, despite the fact that it often sounds trite, one cannot argue with Pete's mantra. In reality, it really is all about that ball.
In the first half of tonight's game, the USC offense was clicking and it was very efficient. The Trojans scored on 4 possessions and Booty tossed three touchdown passes without throwing an interception. I realize that the competition was not the stiffest, but Booty and the offense were on their game in the first half. I liked the play calling and the execution. For the first time in a long while, SC actually scored easily from inside the 10 yardline and it will give future opponents more to think about when trying to defend this USC team. Booty was accurate and Jarrett looked focused, healthy and ready to play some ball. Receivers were running open and John David Booty, who ended up 12 of 21 for 203 yards, was seemingly in control and very focused. Unfortunately, that level of excellence did not completely carry over to the third quarter, but the play calling was a bit more conservative and SC had terrible field position to start one drive from its own one yard line. It also did not help SC's offensive effort in the third quarter when SC was driving for a first down conversion, only to see a very nice pass go right through Fred Davis' hands.
As for the running game, it was workman like if nothing else. None of the tailbacks was truly dominating, though I do feel that had Chauncy been asked to carry the rock over and over again, he would have done very well. As it was, he averaged 6.3 yards per carry and he did not fumble the ball. Likewise, Emmanuel Moody showed some nice moves, though he still had a tendency to try to make too many moves rather than attacking. However, he also held onto the ball and did not fumble. CJ Gable had a couple of carries and of note, Stafon Johnson got three carries and running behind a backup oline, he actually looked quite good carrying the rock.
In the fourth quarter, Mark Sanchez got his first extensive action of the season. That is not hard to understand considering this game was the first rather easy victory SC has had in seemingly forever. I almost forgot how to act when the game was essentially over long before the fourth quarter ever started. And to be perfectly honest, I really missed that feeling. But getting back to Sanchez, I think he showed us all a glimpse of his tremendous ability. He lead the Trojans on a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and he showed some real heart when he took the ball into the endzone by himself on a rather gutsy run. It was also very enjoyable to see how fast, athletic and tough Travon Patterson is. He is really a little guy so to speak and to look at him, one could not help but wonder how much that kid really weighs. Nonetheless, he showed no fear catching the ball in traffic and I personally look forward to the day that the coaches trust this kid enough to give him a shot at returning punts. To my eye, he just has the something special that can help break a play sooner than later.
The defensive effort tonight was superb, both in execution and even moreso, in design. For the first time in the immediate past, USC's defense came out and attacked, attacked, and then did it some more. They pounded the experienced Stanford offensive line all night and they were getting a great push from their down four. We saw much more use of the traditional 4-3 and we also got to see more creative blitzing. Terrell Thomas came in flying on a successful corner blitz and although I remember seeing that in past years, I can't recall seeing it all that often up to this point in this season. The defensive linemen were being substituted more liberally than usual and the results were encouraging. Despite the fact that Stanford's offense is simply awful right now, their offensive line is very experienced. Against this experienced Oline, USC was able to get arguably its best penetration of the entire season. Stanford was limited to a total of only 210 yards and the Cardinal quarterback, TC Ostrander was running for his life on what seemed to be almost every play. Sedric Ellis was very impressive and to my eye, there is a bright future behind Sedric because Averil Spicer picked up where Ellis left off and it did not look like USC missed a beat. Alex Parsons got to see the field for the first time in several weeks along the defensive line and both Kyle Moore and Jeff Schweiger got many minutes during prime time. Overall, not only was it impressive to keep Stanford from scoring, it was also nice to see the defense running around and showing the speed and quickness that the CBS announcer Gary Danielson likes to imply exists only in the SEC,Tallahassee and Miami. Does it surprise anyone that he is not correct?
The special teams tonight were not overly special, though Sedric Ellis did manage to penetrate on a field goal attempt which was subsequently picked up and returned for a touchdown However. for the second time this season, USC was caught napping on an onside kick to begin the second half. Pete routinely has his team defer till to the second half when SC wins the toss, but on two occasions this year, first against the Wasington Huskies and then again tonight against the Stanford Cardinal, USC has lost the ball to begin the second half. Fortunately, there were no major ramifications to this blunder, but it is not a huge stretch to figure that it could cost SC very dearly in games to come if it happens again. In addition to the onside kick, USC's once potent kickoff game has gone AWOL. Troy VanBalrcom did not kick one tonight that went deep enough to prevent a kick from being returned.
USC is now 7-1 and the Trojans are about to enter their toughest stretch of the season. Next week USC plays the multitalented Oregon Ducks and in successive weeks they take on California, Notre Dame and the Bruins. After reading "the internet boards" following the loss to Oregon State, one might have gotten the opinion that USC was all done. That was it. There was a feeling amongst many that SC's decline has started, there is no way SC can hold off Cal, and possibly not Oregon and if SC plays defense like they had been playing defense, guys like Longshore and Quinn will throw for half a mile against USC. Personally, I was a bit miffed that a number of folks were not even willing to give Pete and his staff and young team the benefit of the doubt. Sure, SC might not be able to win those games, but Pete has surely done enough over the past many years to earn the benefit of any doubt, at least in my humble opinion.
I am well aware that a victory against Stanford does not guarantee anything in the future. However, several points were made in tonight's game. First, Carroll still knows how to get his team ready to play ball after a rare defeat. The Trojans had a very serious week of work and they played a very intense and focused game tonight although they did not sustain their intensity throughout the game on offense. USC's offense has the potential to be very explosive and this kid Booty does not have to be Matt Leinart or Carson Palmer. He merely has to be John David Booty. He has his own rifle of an arm and when given a bit of time, he can sling it with the best of them. It sure seems like Lane Kiffin, or whoever it is that really runs this offense can, in fact, open things up when he so chooses. I really liked the diversity shown in the first half and the receivers and runners were both in somewhat of a groove. The offense is capable of putting up some major points and just as has been the case in the past, those points come much easier when the defense gets the offense the ball.
I don't know how this season will ultimately play out, but I do like SC's chances in every game as much as I like the opponents chances. USC plays its next three games at home and The Trojans have not lost there for some time. Fortunately I will actually be at the Coliseum next weekend and I can hardly wait. Nothing beats actually seeing the game in person. Win or lose, I will have an opinion, but it will take a while to get it out there due to travel considerations. Oregon is a good team, but just perhaps, this group of Trojans is on its way to becoming an even better team. As of this time Pete and his Trojans are still undefeated in the month of November. Will it stay that way? I guess only time will tell. And by the way, does anyone think Ohio State, Michigan or Florida is going to apologize for their close calls?