USC vs Oregon - Instant Analysis

On a day when three of their competitors for the national title got picked off, the USC Trojans didn't let their giddiness get the best of them. Instead, the joy of noting other teams' nosedives prevented Pete Carroll's team from following a similar course. The demise of Texas, Auburn and Cal is real; reports of the Trojans' demise have been greatly exaggerated.

This was a tough and tricky game for USC to negotiate on every level imaginable. The Men of Troy had to avoid looking ahead to California while also containing their glee about the Bears' upset loss to Arizona earlier in the day. Last year's national runner-up also needed to avoid getting caught up in the excitement of knowing that Auburn had lost earlier in the day, less than 48 hours after Louisville lost to Rutgers. And when the team that beat USC for last year's championship stumbled in Manhattan, Kan., the stakes only rose for the Trojan Empire of College Football. Pete Carroll had to have his team focused, and ready to contain Oregon's explosive quarterback, Dennis Dixon. A markedly inconsistent Trojan offense needed to display signs of a sustained awakening in this final, fateful stretch of USC's season. There were plenty of challenges in front of the West Coast's glamour program--so many, in fact, that SC fans had reason to worry about this late-night show in L.A.

As it turned out, however, the team of Traveler found the successful stride of the famous horse. True to their reputation, the Trojans rediscovered the November finishing kick they've been able to acquire in every regular season since 2002. Yes, Pete Carroll's Tinseltown teams have not lost a November game since Carroll's maiden voyage back in 2001. When the Trojans' big November push began against the dangerous Ducks on Saturday night, the Cardinal and Gold played like a team that is once again ready to contest the conference crown and contend for a spot in the BCS title game.

John David Booty and the rest of SC's offense played with more passion than they've managed to muster in the past, and that certainly had a big part in the Trojans' runaway rout. But if a winning tone and attitude were established in this game, coordinator Nick Holt's defense made the defining difference for USC.

In a game where both offenses figured to dominate, any big plays in the red zone or the final third of the field would figure heavily in the eventual outcome. Against that blackboard backdrop, the Trojans' defense--in a performance reminiscent of the sturdy and stout stands sustained in September showdowns--guarded the final third of the field as though the lives of its members hung in the balance. Twice in the game's first quarter, the Men of Troy got defensive when Oregon threatened to score. A fourth-down stop of Dixon at the SC 13, followed by a stonewall of the Ducks at the Trojan 37, prevented Mike Bellotti's boys from gaining momentum and turning the game into a track meet. By keeping Oregon off the board early, Nick Holt's defense deflated the visitors from Eugene while giving an extra jolt of confidence to Booty and the rest of the SC offense. Secure in the knowledge that he wouldn't have to run up a huge number, Booty played one of the more relaxed games of his up-and-down season. Booty played pitch-and-catch with his backs and receivers, and that early success in the passing game--which offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was smart to establish--led to production from the ground attack in the second half. SC's front line grew in confidence, wearing down Oregon's front seven and putting the Ducks' defense on a pendulum. The Trojans whipped Oregon on both sides of the ball, but before an offense found its groove, it was the home team's defense that set this rout in motion.

Looking ahead is never a good idea, and while some teams failed to keep their eye on the ball, the Trojans fully focused on the matter at hand against Oregon. As a reward for their collective and consistent concentration, the Men of Troy now proceed to a classic confrontation with Cal next Saturday. The winner claims the Pac-10 and--if the Trojans don't make it to Glendale--a Rose Bowl bid.

One big game down, one very big game to go for the Trojan Empire of College Football. If the November finishing kick found against the Ducks can be sustained against the Bears, Pete Carroll's team will have a Rosy scenario for the second straight year and the third time in the last four seasons.

Story courtesy collegefootballnews.com


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