I thought USC dominated the line of scrimmage in the 4th quarter monday night and won a game that last season most likely would have slipped away. I was impressed with most of units in the Auburn game and saw a lot of potential, so here goes my first report card for 2002.
Even though Carson Palmer threw two picks he still took control in the huddle and managed the game well. That's the sign of a 5th year quarterback. Carson showed composure and leadership down the stretch and that's why he's one of USC's captains. He posted good numbers, throwing for over 300 yards and scoring the winning touchdown. I feel that Carson and Coach Chow are on the same page and that this performance will be a springboard for the rest of the season (especially with two tough road games on the way).
RUNNING BACKS A-
The ancient warriors led the way. 5th-year senior Sultan McCullough, who went through camp without contact, showed incredible durability and toughness, especially on the game winning drive. Sulty made the right cuts and proved to be a very disciplined back with five consecutive carries on that final drive. 6th-year senior Malaefou MacKenzie had a spectacular return to the field. After a series of setbacks, he showcased his abilities on a national stage, gaining 150 all-purpose yards (117 receiving, 33 rushing). Fo also made an awesome play by picking up a safety blitz with a crushing block that wowed the Coliseum. I'm happy for Fo because he's the most liked guy on the team and he adds an intangible dimension to the Trojans. Although McCullough and MacKenzie played together at times, FB's Sunny Byrd and Brandon Hancock both contributed in all four quarters. And this unit will get better, I'm looking forward to Justin Fargas and Chad Pierson returning from their injuries and playing against Colorado.
Despite some early season rust and dropped balls USC's receiving corps is more than just one weapon. Keary Colbert, Grant Mattos and 1st-year sensation Mike Williams all played well and provided depth at the wideout spot. Although Kareem Kelly showed flashes of some bad habits from seasons past (a 4th quarter fumble and poor judgement on punt returns) I think Kareem (6 catches, 1 touchdown) showed a more aggressive style of play that will propel him to a great senior season if he he keeps it up. The battle for tight end supremacy rages on between Alex Holmes and Greg Guenther, neither caught a ball. Guenther looked nervous in his first game of any consequence. He had one pass bounce off his face-mask or chin or neck. I was too far away to tell for sure. Holmes was okay blocking but did not make an impact catching the ball. He did deliver the best hit of the game, tackling his own teammate (MacKenzie) with a hard hit in the 1st quarter.
OFFENSIVE LINE A
These guys get a high grade despite the running game netting only 84 yards. This young group came through on the final 4th quarter posession, driving Auburn off the ball. It was an unbelievable debut at Right Guard for Derek Graf, Travis Watkins and true freshman Fred Matua. These guys did what they had to do to survive. The most amazing stat of the game for me was that SC allowed just one sack! That's a remarkable turnaround for anyone whose seen the Trojans play over the past several seasons. Left Guard Lenny Vandermade continues to be the leader and best player of this unit.
DEFENSIVE LINE A
The top performers of the game! Sophomore Mike Patterson had the best game of his career leading USC with 8 tackles, he was all over the field. Omar Nazel made a brilliant 2nd quarter interception that set up a touchdown and made six tackles. Shawn Cody, Kenechi Udeze and the rest of Ed Orgeron's boys played solid ball.
Losing Matt Grootegoed to a minor concussion in the 2nd half didn't help this blue collar crew. However the tough defensive line made its job easier. Melvin "Champ" Simmons looked good in his USC debut with 5 tackles and USC's only sack. I think Mike Pollard, who caused and recovered Auburn's 1st quarter fumble that led to the opening score, is a great defensive quarterback.
Much like the right guard spot, the defensive backfield "survived" the game and came out smelling pretty good. JC cornerback Ronald "The Flying" Nunn did well before he was sidelined by a hip-pointer. I felt true freshman Justin Wyatt got through his first contest without being embarrassed. All-America safety Troy Polamalu was a tackling machine with 7 stops and senior corner Darrell Rideaux was his scrappy self with 5 tackles. I don't see this unit truly being tested until the Pac-10 begins, but Colorado QB Craig Ochs (no relation to former USC iso fullback Brennan Ochs) will give these guys a run for their meal money.
KICKING GAME B
David Davis made all his kicks, but my only real complaint about him is the same as last season, he has the same first and last name. Punter Tom Malone's college debut was slightly above average. All you can really ask a true freshman to do in his first game is catch the ball and kick it. At least he didn't try a fake punt on his own.
COVERAGE TEAMS B
Pretty solid overall. Kennedy Pola is truly a gifted coach who has turned around USC's special teams. The return game is still a bit shaky with the Trojans still looking to solidify who will go deep to handle the kickoffs and punts.
Pete Carroll and Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow both get A's. Though there were some glitches and shades of the past, realistically this was the best kind of performance USC fans could have expected. Controlling the ball and clock in the 4th quarter with a national monday night football tv audience watching against a hardened SEC opponent was impressive. The Trojans were just lucky that the 12-men on the field penalty was in the 2nd quarter and not in the final few seconds of the game. (Sorry Skippy, better luck next time).
I felt freshmen WR Mike Williams, RB Brandon Hancock, CB Justin Wyatt, P Tom Malone, LB Dallas Sartz, OL Fred Matua, LB Oscar Lua and WR Greig Carlson (this walk-on freshman was on the field for several plays during the game winning drive) performed well and the team will be better off for it. The development of these players is a testament to Pete Carroll's coaching and recruiting ability.
My first game as the USC radio sideline reporter was a lesson in patience (and at times monotonous) my thanks to Pete Arbogast and Paul McDoanld for helping me not screw up the broadcast. All in all it was a great and hot night in the Coliseum. Now I'm looking forward to my stagecoach ride to Colorado. And remember Trojan fans, Boulder is just a city for hippies that couldn't make it all the way to Berkeley. Watch out and don't trip over a hemp necklace.
Fight on, Petros.
Petros Papadakis is a former USC tailback and the sideline reporter for Trojans football on KMPC-1540. He also hosts the Trojans pregame showand Tuesday night's USC Insider on KMPC-1540. On television, Petros is an analyst for Fox Sports Net's Southern California Sports Report and he's the sideline reporter for Fox Sports Net's "High School Game of the Week." When Petros is not doing television or radio he's waiting tables at his family's Greek restaurant, Papadakis Taverna, in San Pedro. Petros has no free time.