To beat this talented 3rd rated Wolverine team in as convincing a manner as the Trojans did today is an amazing accomplishment. Coming into the game, it seemed like only the Trojan receivers were thought to be the dominant unit on the Trojan side of the game. I read over and over again how great the defense and offense were for Michigan. Would USC be able to mount a pass rush? Would the USC offensive line, a unit that was severely maligned after the loss to the UCLA Bruins, be able to bounce back and protect John David Booty against the fierce rush that they were going to face? Would LaMarr Woodley have the final laugh? After all, when he told Pete Carroll that he would be a Michigan Wolverine and not a Trojan, Pete wished him luck and told him SC would kick their ass in the Rose Bowl. Three years ago, that was just what happened, and today, it was déjà vu all over again. As a Trojan Fan, I just loved it.
When discussing this game, the first thing that comes to my mind is that the USC offense stepped up, way up and man o man was this a tough unit for the Michigan guys to handle. Yes, the Maze and Blue stopped the SC running game, but when the Trojans opened it up and put the game in the hands of John David Booty and his talented receivers, it was a mismatch. No way could Michigan stop this wide open, attacking passing attack. Finally, for perhaps the first time since the final quarter of the Oregon State game, the Trojans opened it up, winged the ball all over the field and they were unstoppable. Dwayne Jarrett was a man, Steve Smith was tough as nails and Chris McFoy showed that he is not slouch either. John David Booty had adequate time to throw, he rolled out, he took his time and he was simply money. For the first time in a while, JD did not make any noticeably bad throws. There was not one single pass that I thought should have been picked off.
The offensive line stepped way up. After being clobbered against the Bruins, this unit played a focused, superb game. Not one time was any lineman called for an early start nor was one guy called for holding. These guys played like they had something to prove and boy or boy, they did it. I was personally very worried about how this unit would handle the superb Michigan defense but they held their own and then some. Coach Ruel made adjustments and the kids played an inspired game. Although the running game was not dominant, the linemen provided Booty with the time he needed to get the job done and Woodley was more or less neutralized. Yes, late in the game he got a sack, but it was not really significant and it was the SC Oline that took it to him more than vice versa. It was simply a great job by the USC offensive line.
As for the rest of the USC offense, it was just clicking, especially in the second half. I am not sure why, and I am not sure who made the actual calls, but the end result was that somebody took the clamps off this offense and let them throw the ball all over the place. Booty was allowed to roll out, he took some 3 steps drops, the receivers got some slants thrown their way and the receivers were simply unstoppable. It seemed like in most cases, when there was a duel between the SC receivers and the Michigan defenders,it was the SC guys who won the battle.
Personally, I loved the way SC went with what worked. It was obvious that running was not going to get it done by itself, so Kiffin and Sarkesian were evidently given the green light to turn it over to the air attack and the plays were awesome. And why would I say that? Well, in his post game conference, Pete Carroll said that they called what he told him to call in the first half, but he turned it over to them in the second half. We saw some of everything. We saw screens, crossing patterns, post patterns, mid range throw and everything else I had wanted to see all season. We got to see the fullback on a short gain and the quarterback sneak was well utizilized. I also think that with the exception of the first series of the second half, there were no calls that many could or would question. For all the questions and criticisms that were leveled at the offense and the OC for most of the season, in today's Rose Bowl, I thought we saw as good an offensively called game as I have seen from USC over the past many years. Hats off to the offensive play callers. It was an awesome display of using what would and could obviously work. It was simply a blast to watch.
And what can anyone say about John David Booty's performance? He connected on 27 of 45 for 391 yards and four touchdowns. He threw for 4 touchdowns and did not throw an interception. For all the heat he has taken at various times during this season, he came up as money in this game and he looked the part of a potential All American for next season. All told, he stepped way up, no pun intended and he played lights out football.
And how about the great defense of the Trojans? What can you say about the front seven? I thought Ellis, Moala, LoJack and Brian Cushing played as well as any down linemen over the past 5 or 6 years. They were stout and that's that. Michigan could not run the ball and when they had to pass, that played into USC's hands. Yes, Michigan got some yards, but in the end it is the score that counts. The SC defense caused two big turnovers and they sacked Henne 6 times. At times Henne did not seem to have time to breath, let alone complete his passes. With a variety of blitz packages and with some great individual play from the down seven themselves, things were often very difficult for the Michigan quarterback. When he had time, he threw some nice balls, but when under pressure, he was forced into one pic and he put the ball on the field when Cushing hit him and LoJack then recovered the ball. It was simply a lights out defensive effort by the Trojans.
How about the special teams? The kickoff coverage and punt coverage was absolutely excellent. Michigan never came close to breaking a run on either type of kick. The field goals were right on the money and only Mario Danelo's two missed PAT's were black marks. The kickoffs by Buehler were just fine and it is really something when a team can lose a guy like Van Blarcom and still have a fine kick off game. Overall, I was very pleased with the special teams.
Coming into this game, I honestly felt this was a huge statement game. Had SC lost, several bad things might have resulted. First, although Pete Carroll is arguably the very best coach in college today, he would have had a respectable but not awesome coaching record in bowl games of 3 and 3. Instead, this statement win gives Pete a terrific 4 win and 2 loss record in bowl games and 4 wins and 1 loss in BCS games. Secondly, this loss reaffirms that the Trojans are a major power and on a given night, even with all the youth and after losing arguably more talent than any other team from the prior year's team, this team can already play and likely beat any other team in the country. Yes, on a given night they can be off and lose to an Oregon State or a UCLA, but those losses are still the exception and not the rule. This victory also sets a positive tone for next season. Instead of having to explain why SC lost 3 consecutive games in the Rose Bowl, the Trojans will likely start next season as a top two or top rated team. And as we all know, it never hurts to start out highly rated, especially when a team will likely be as talented as the Trojans will be next season.
This win is all that much more impressive considering the number of distractions the Trojans have faced. It obviously angers many when rumors about the Bush situation or Pete Carroll's future are brought up, but those rumors are out there nonetheless. I have personally been called out by several for posting opinions that are not necessarily positive and I have been accused of being an arm chair quarterback who lives in Tennessee who is in reality a guy who knows nothing. That sounds fair to me. Criticism is welcomed and perhaps in that case it is even accurate. Nonetheless, it is still fun to post information and opinions that I honestly feel are based on reasonable thought processes or/and on very reliable information.
I have to say that another question that came to my mind coming into this game was this. Would Pete Carroll make adjustments, especially on offense if he sees that his initial ideas are not working? He answered those questions in two ways today. First, the offensive scheme utilized in the second half and in parts of the first half said it all. And in the post game conference, Pete said it openly and publicly. He said that in the first half the guys, Kiffin and Sarkesian called what he told them to call. But he saw that the running game was not working so he told them to call a lights out attack in the second half and voila, it worked like a charm. That was all I had hoped for all season long.
Once again, congratulations to a great staff and a great team for a magnificent performance. One could surely understand if the Michigan Wolverines have seen enough of the University of Southern California for a long long time. As a Trojan Honk I simply love that.