Instant Analysis: USC vs Cal

If the USC Trojans face Ohio State in the BCS title game, observers will say that Dwayne Jarrett is a tough buckeye to crack. And if Pete Carroll's team gets edged out by Michigan or the SEC champion in the race for Glendale, people will say that USC's wide receiver Rose to the occasion Saturday night in L.A.

Forget the bowl destination for the glamour school of the West Coast. No matter where the Men of Troy will travel in January, you can call them Pac-10 champions for the fourth straight year, and BCS bowl representatives for a fifth consecutive season. Regardless of what the rest of the regular season may bring, USC has a terrific problem on its hands: if Glendale doesn't materialize, the Rose Bowl is a fall-back plan that's now guaranteed. Such a satisfying scenario exists in SoCal because of a gutsy, gritty win that was achieved due to a number of converging factors, but at the end of an emotional night in Tinseltown, Dwayne Jarrett proved to be the central character in this latest box office triumph for the Trojan Empire of College Football.

The Trojans defeated the Bears in a de facto Pac-10 title game for a list of reasons. This list would prominently include a swaggering defense, a clutch 49-yard field goal by an unlikely hero named David Buehler, and the coaching of Carroll--who undressed Jeff Tedford like nobody's business in the L.A. Coliseum. Those factors--while hugely significant--managed to be eclipsed, however, by a man's catch from a young man who saves his best for the biggest moments in the biggest games.

When you stop and think about it, Dwayne Jarrett was born to play football in the midst of the Hollywood atmosphere that engulfs the USC program. Against the Washington States and Arizonas of the world, the low-wattage programs in the college football cosmos, Jarrett doesn't shine. But oh, get him in a five-star throwdown dripping with drama and theater, and No. 8 turns into the number one playmaker on the planet.

You remember Dwayne Jarrett's magical moments in big games from the recent past, don't you? The 61-yard grab last year against Notre Dame electrified a nation and broke the hearts of the team that will seek sweet revenge next weekend, when the Fighting Irish come to the California coast with redemption on their minds. Two and a half months after that sensational showcase of skill in South Bend, Jarrett made another catch that remained indelibly etched in the public memory: a tough Texas-terrorizing touchdown that caused two Longhorn defenders to injure each other at the goal line. That awesomely impressive catch, with 6:42 left in the 2006 Rose bowl, gave USC a 38-26 lead and provided the Trojans with a considerable advantage as they tried to nail down a second straight BCS title and a third straight national crown (one of them being shared with LSU back in 2003). Had Vince Young not led Texas back from the brink and into the winner's circle with an electrifying last-minute comeback, Jarrett--the inconsistent receiver who rediscovered his game in a spotlight showdown--would have been lauded as the man who cemented another Trojan title. As it was, Jarrett--denied a title by Texas and its Young legend--still had the satisfaction of knowing he didn't come up small in a game so large.

All this sets the scene for Dwayne Jarrett's latest moment of Hollywood heroism and gridiron gallantry.

The Trojans and Bears were both slogging their way through a manifestly inelegant 9-9 tie that crawled into the fourth quarter. After converting a 3rd and 8 on the first play of the quarter, SC quarterback John David Booty brought his offense to the Cal 25. It is this point on the field where the post pattern to Dwayne Jarrett (in the middle of the field, not the edges) has been such a staple for the Trojans over the years... as was the case against Texas in the 54th minute of the Rose Bowl. Sure enough, Jarrett's number was called, and Booty threw a ball right on his Number 8 in the end zone. But Jarrett got his bell rung on a hellacious hit from a Golden Bear defender; the tall flanker was laid out by the force of the blow, which kept him on the Coliseum turf for a good number of minutes. Usually, those kinds of shots separate the ball from a flanker's arms. Since the hit occurred when Jarrett was in the air, a loose ball would have rendered a touchdown impossible, whereas a catch made on the ground--even if followed by a subsequent fumble--would have been a touchdown because of the dead ball brought about by the end zone. By all rights, the game should have remained tied at 9 when Dwayne Jarrett got knocked into next Tuesday on a Bear of a hit.

The hands of the big-play receiver, however, would not let go of the pigskin... nor the Pac-10 championship that accompanied a truly titanic touchdown for Troy.

The USC band played "Fight On!" when a woozy Jarrett finally walked off the field after his game-defining score, but those marching music makers should have played "Conquest" instead, because the man's catch made by an inconsistent receiver certainly represented a triumph over past demons and daunting circumstances. When Dwayne Jarrett manifested his manhood on a clutch catch mere mortals don't make, USC had surmounted three previous quarters of sluggish, uneven, off-balance offense. The Trojans--teetering at times--righted their ship and assumed a command position when their up-and-down pass catcher powerfully proved how precious a piece of pigskin--and a Pac-10 prize--can be.

There are many heroes for USC in the wake of a fourth straight conference crown, but after yet another big-game win, Dwayne Jarrett--a man who has so repeatedly faded into the shadows for long stretches of his collegiate career--is the brightest light of all for the Trojan Empire of College Football, which still reigns supreme after surmounting its latest, greatest obstacle to sustained Pac-10 supremacy.


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