Move Those Chains - Rose Bowl review

Heading into the 2007 Rose Bowl against the Michigan Wolverines, two things struck me as odd. First of all, the Trojans' bowl game wouldn't have an effect on the National Title. Yes, I realize that USC began playing football before 2003. But still, the Trojans have had a say in the past three national championships. It felt strange without them there this year.

One Game Baby Blues: Heading into the 2007 Rose Bowl against the Michigan Wolverines, two things struck me as odd.

First of all, the Trojans' bowl game wouldn't have an effect on the National Title. Yes, I realize that USC began playing football before 2003. But still, the Trojans have had a say in the past three national championships. It felt strange without them there this year.

The second thing was that not a single person talking about this game was giving the Trojans even the slightest chance of winning. Most people were debating the idea of a Michigan blowout possibly giving them an outside chance of a national championship.

I suppose you couldn't blame them. That loss to UCLA really changed the perception of this USC team for everyone around the nation. Even though the Trojans were involved in more than a few close games this season, nobody had seen them play that poorly in a very long time. It was tough to argue with people who thought, if the Trojan could play that poorly against the Bruins, couldn't they be even worse against the Wolverines?

Michigan headed into the Rose Bowl with what was supposed to be the best defensive front seven and one of the most potent rushing attacks in the nation. The Trojans had an easily dominated offensive line and a shaky quarterback. At least, that's what the pre-game and in-game television analysts thought.

The most obvious and hilarious example of this was during halftime, when all three commentators (John Saunders, Craig James and Doug Flutie) spoke about how Michigan needed to improve in certain areas or how Michigan wasn't playing as well as they could. They threw the Trojans a bone, saying that their defense was great in the first half. But beyond that, there was nothing about how the Trojans could win the game. It was like they were all waiting for someone else to bring up something about USC.

I'm pretty sure they were handed film of the UCLA game and decided it wouldn't be worth their time to look at any other game from this season.

Turns out, it would have been a good idea to review more than just that tape.

Hail To The Victory Sign: This wasn't just a win. This was total domination. It was the '85 Chicago Bears against the Bad News Bears. It was U2 performing on Star Search. Heck, it was Takeru Kobayashi at an anorexia clinic on Thanksgiving.

Sure, the 14-point win doesn't look glamorous when posted next to the 36-point drubbing of Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl. But this victory over Michigan was just as, if not more, important.

The Wolverines were being hailed as the second or third best team in the country going into the Rose Bowl. What's more, they (allegedly) were geared up for this game, ready to prove that they should have been invited to the BCS Title Game.

It was easy to say that Michigan didn't have a great pass defense heading into the game, or that they hadn't been truly tested by any team outside of Ohio State. But the fact is that you could do that for every team in the country. With no true dominant team this season, Michigan was just about as good as it got for 2006. And USC made them look like a WAC team (Boise State excluded).

For the Trojans, as much as the UCLA game may have been a fluke, there was a real sense that they had truly taken a step backwards after performing so well during that brutal three-game November stretch.

The Trojans did indeed take a step back. Right back into a familiar role as the #1 ranked team in the country heading into the 2007 season.

It's Not Bragging If You Can Back It Up: Normally I'm not a big fan of, "I told you so." Nobody is ever right 100% of the time, and they certainly don't dredge up the times they were wrong. So why is it always okay to just bring up the times they were right?

Now, with all of that said, I'm here to tell you, "I told you so."

This is some of what I wrote after the game against UCLA:

"Normally, I'm a big fan of offensive balance. But normally, the Trojans are capable of sustaining offensive balance. Why force something when it's not there?

The running game ended up hitting for fewer than two-yards per pop and it was beyond frustrating to see the coaches continue to call running plays. If the Trojans took ten carries away from C.J. Gable and put the ball in Booty's hand each time, USC wins that game. The Bruin secondary was no match for the Trojan receivers. And yet, only twice did the coaches call for Booty to try anything deep.

Beginning the third quarter, it finally looked like the Trojan coaches made some good decisions. It was obvious that the USC receivers could get deep on the Bruin defensive backs, provided the offensive line gave Booty enough time to throw. With a five or even seven-step drop and a clear receiver in mind, Booty would be able to pick apart the secondary. Forget about locking onto a receiver or checking down to other options, simply throwing the ball down the field on every play of the second half would have won that game.

The Trojan offense continued to force the running game until the final drive, where they threw the ball on 11 of 13 plays and finally had some offensive identity."

Heading into the season, the one sure thing about this Trojan team was that their wide receivers were the best in the country and could outplay every opposing secondary. Why not give them a chance to show it? Apparently, that's exactly the question that Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and Pete Carroll asked themselves at halftime.

John David Booty, the USC receivers and the rest of the Trojan offensive personnel went Texas Tech on the Wolverine defense during the second half of the Rose Bowl and, in doing so, completely blew away what was thought to be one of the nation's best defenses. I'm not exactly sure what that says about the Trojan passing game, but I think it's somewhere in the neighborhood of, "Wow."

It was so great to finally see the Trojans forget about everything else and just concentrate on what they do best. The running game wasn't there against Michigan, just as it hadn't been there all year for USC. Sure, they put together a nice final drive on the ground against Arizona State, and there were some nice runs against Oregon. But, for the most part, the offensive line and this stable of running backs just didn't have what it takes to present a potent ground game. But that turned out to be just fine. They were extremely efficient as pass protectors and (with the exception of the UCLA letdown) performed exceptionally well all season.

To end the season the way they did, offensively, was fun to watch. And, undoubtedly, the offensive line took a huge amount of pleasure in dominating the entire second half of that game. I really don't think enough can be said about the way they performed. If Kyle Williams wants a video montage of the 2007 Rose Bowl played on a 200-inch plasma flat screen prior to him entering any room for the rest of his life, I'll be the first one there to hit the play button (and I'm betting I'd have to fight off several other Trojan fans for the honor).

But he wasn't alone in his solid performance on Monday afternoon. Despite paving the way for just48 rushing yards on the day, the offensive line turned in what was probably its best performance of the season, considering the opponent.

A Numbers Game: As well as the offensive line played against Michigan, the game clearly belonged to the defense. It seemed like the Trojan defense completely dominated the Michigan offense on just about every single snap.

The Wolverines had to run the ball. They needed to run the ball. And until Monday, they were able to run the ball whenever they wanted.

Mike Hart ran for 47 yards on 17 carries. It was the first time he'd been held under 90 yards rushing in a game this season and his 2.8 yards per carry was more than a full yard fewer than his previous season low. This is the same guy who ran for 142 yards and three touchdowns against Ohio State. He received six fewer carries against the Trojans than he did against the Buckeyes and rushed for nearly 100 fewer yards.

Chad Henne was sacked 24 times this season. One quarter of those came via Trojan defenders. In fact, everyone at my Rose Bowl viewing party rushed for 40 yards more than Henne during the game.

These are numbers that I don't think can be repeated enough.

No Longer Doubting Thomas: Terrell Thomas was beaten on both Wolverine touchdowns. But it's not often that giving up 12 points can be seen as a good thing.

On the touchdown pass to Adrian Arrington, Thomas couldn't have been closer to knocking the ball away and making a fantastic one-on-one play against one of the best red-zone wide receivers in the country.

And on the second touchdown, Thomas showed surprising speed in nearly running down Steve Breaston from behind. Breaston is known strictly for his speed, but after a few more plays like that, Thomas could earn some recognition for that as well.

Bo Didn't Know Basketball: Mario Danelo may have missed two extra points during the game, but it's nothing to be worried about. He was just as confused as I was.

You see, how is a kicker supposed to prepare himself for kicking extra points when he sees his teammates wanting, so desperately, to go for two all the time?

Dwayne Jarrett scored his first touchdown of the game and immediately launched a two-point jumpshot. Terrell Thomas sacked Chad Henne and followed with a nice 12-footer. I'm surprised that the Trojans didn't break into lay-up drills following halftime.

As a result, Danelo simply couldn't figure out why he was being called out at all, what with everyone going for two all the time.

But seriously, what is the deal with football players celebrating with basketball jump shots? Is it because basketball players have been stealing the football players' thunder with all the full contact they're initiating? Have they simply run out of ways to celebrate? Are they just as excited as I am about having O.J. Mayo here next year?

It's not that I'm against personal celebrations, so long as they're one of a kind. If you want to mix sports celebrations, how about scoring a touchdown and then hitting a triple salchow, complete with one-foot landing? Maybe a fake hammer throw would work, or hitting the 100 circle in ski ball?

If the basketball jump shot is for some sentimental reason that I am completely oblivious to, then by all means, continue on with it. But if it's just because it's the new (now old) thing to do, then let's come up with something else. It's obviously not helping the place kickers.

Jawing Jarrett: I'm not sure if anyone truly knows what decision Dwayne Jarrett will make about jumping to the NFL, but if that was his last game as a Trojan, he certainly went out in style.

Jarrett was criticized this season for not playing like a true number one receiver. He was hurt for a portion of the year (obviously not his fault). But beyond that, he never consistently showed the ability, like other dominating college receivers, to go up above the defenders and snatch a ball away from them.

On Monday, however, he showed that a quarterback can simply loft the ball in his direction and he'll bring it down with ease. He showed that he has the speed to outrace a defense and the strength to fight through tackles. He showed that he has the heart to care about this team and this game and the competitiveness and fire inside him to let someone know when they've stepped out of line.

On several occasions, Jarrett let Michigan safety Willis Barringer know exactly what was going on during the game. On his 62-yard touchdown grab, Barringer was the victim of Jarrett's taunting point as well as a 15-yard personal foul call. Later, after skying for a jump ball, Jarrett landed on the ground and immediately handed the ball to Barringer, who sat, defeated, next to him.

Apparently Barringer and Jarrett had been going back and forth all game long and the only reason that we saw Jarrett getting the best of Barringer, verbally, was because we only saw Jarrett get the best of Barringer, physically.

Sure, Michigan fans have probably placed Jarrett somewhere near the official who signaled touchdown on the Charlie White fumble in the 1979 Rose Bowl in terms of affinity for him, but it was fun to see a guy backing up his words with his play.

Senior Sendoff: Sure, it's easy to get excited about next year. A huge majority of the starters, both offensive and defensive, return. The redshirt freshmen, most of them yet to be introduced to Trojan fans, will begin to make an impact. And another great recruiting class will make their way through Heritage Hall.

But it's not fair to the 2006 team to simply move on so quickly. The Trojans lose only a handful of guys on both sides of the ball, but they say goodbye to some big-time character guys and players who have truly helped shape this program into what it is today.

It's hard to overstate the importance of guys like Steve Smith and Chris McFoy, Ryan Kalil and Kyle Williams, or Dallas Sartz and Oscar Lua. Pete Carroll has done a tremendous job in recruiting players who will replace them physically. But over the past four or more years, these guys have been part of something special. They, and the rest of the departing players, should be appreciated for everything they've done for every single Trojan fan. It has been an absolute blessing to root for them every step of the way.

Erik McKinney is a columnist for WeAreSC.com. He can be reached at erik.mckinney@gmail.com


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