If I ever pick against SC at home again this year, I will make damn sure I dip myself in the same invisible paint one would find in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Apparently some people at the Coliseum on Saturday did not understand that despite who I think may win, there's no mistaking where my loyalties lie or who I'm actually rooting for. Amid the jeers, boos and screams of "you filthy traitor", not to mention the inebriated gentleman who threw a Coliseum-issue hot dog at me, we were witness to a dominating defensive performance featuring a defensive front which made a very highly rated quarterback quit before the game was over. Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected Coach Carroll's guys to pitch a shutout against a smoking hot Beaver team. What a great day to be a Trojan. Here are this weeks grades:
Carson Palmer did his job in a solid, workman-like manner despite two miscues (interception and fumbled snap) to throw two touchdown passes and lead the offense in an efficient manner. By getting these young offensive players in and out of the huddle and up and down the field without any obvious glitches, Carson has done a great service for Trojan fans used to the mass confusion of the past few years. With 231 passing yards Carson also passes Rodney Peete to become the total offense leader in USC history. Congratulations to Carson, great job, but the A grades this week get saved for the defense.
With the injuries to Chad Pierson we've been unable to get a set rythym at the fullback spot. Sunny Byrd, though healthy and a giver of great effort, is not a true fullback, while freshman Brandon Hancock is too young to understand the varying defenses he has seen this year. Brandon will improve from week to week and once that spot can develop some consistency it will bring bigger holes for Trojan tailbacks. Speaking of tailbacks, Justin Fargas, though tentative at times, is easing his way back into playing for the first time in two years. Patience for Justin will pay great dividends later in the season, I have no doubt if he remains healthy he will start breaking off some Sultan-line runs. As far as Sultan McCullough is concerned, he has playmaking ability that is unrivaled in the Pac-10. Nobody is as fast as him, nobody. He hit some very tight corners on some fast Oregon State linebackers and it's only a matter of time until be breaks another one. Sultan also showed some versatility with a good pass catching day. Malaefou MacKenzie caught a few balls but wasn't a big enough part of the offense. One of the big keys for Pete Carroll this year will be to use the strengths of all these backs to his advantage, it's a tough task for any coach.
A re-dedicated receiving corps made some improbable catches and attacked with relentless authority against possibly the best corner in the conference. Though I'm not sure those pass interference calls would have been called in Corvallis, the Trojan receivers were aggressive and played very well. Keary Colbert has become SC's go-to guy. He's quiet, he's well-liked and he truly is a special player. Keary made some unexplainable catches to bring stability to a relatively depleted SC receiving group. Mike Williams once again looks like the freak we saw in Boulder. The one thing he needed to do was bounce back with a great performance and everybody saw that he did by catching his first two touchdown passes in the midst of a wildly celebrating Coliseum crowd. It was a boost to this young phenom's confidence and I dont think we will ever see four drops from him again. Alex Holmes had perhaps his best receiving performance of his roller-coaster like career. As confidence goes with Mike Williams, so it goes with Alex Holmes. I need people to understand that these are incredible athletes but there are times when athletic ability takes a back seat to believing in yourself and having the coaches believe in you as well. I don't know if you understand what I had to do to recruit Alex Holmes but let me tell you it wasn't easy. That's a story for another day, however, because with all that I had to do they should throw him the ball 56 times a game.
After what was a very difficult day on Manhattan that harkened back to an unconfident Trojan offensive line of recent years, the OL on this day was able to work through a sprained knee by one of their most consistent performers in Jacob Rogers to have a pretty solid day at home. Lenny Vandermade and Norm Katnik played well and the ability to hold a quick OSU defense lands them a B-. Winston Justice played a good game for his age, I had a conversation with him in the locker room afterwards and he was in great spirits. I'm not sure who to blame for the lack of an isolation play in the Trojan game plan. Outside runs and slow developing zone blocking run plays cannot take advantage of the small size of the Oregon State linebackers. USC needed to throw a fullback at the middle linebacker and run downhill against the smaller defense, running side to side wasn't going to get the Trojans a big run and that's why you didn't see one. An isolation play is in the playbook but whether or not we will see it from week to week against conference defenses that are similar to the Beavers remains to be seen. I don't mean to get too technical for the laypeople (especially the guy who threw a hot dog at me) but that is something all Trojan fans should be looking for.
I think what happened to the Oregon State offense is that they had a field day beating up on the Eastern Kentucky's of the world and had a false sense of security as they came into the Coliseum. Maybe they saw me picking them to win on television. Either way, they ran into the country's best defensive line....yes, I said the country's best defensive line (you hot dog throwers should have no problem with that). These guys have lost their proverbial minds, there is no other explanation for the tempo which they set for the USC defense. Mike Patterson has emerged as a superstar with two sacks, two tackles for loss, a recovered fumble and constant harrassment of an OSU quarterback who lost his will to play that game. Though Shaun Cody did not record a sack, he boasts probably the best three technique (the slanted position on the DL) of any player in the country. His quickness, aggressiveness and motor are unparalleled. Guys like Omar Nazel, Bernard Riley and Kenechi Udeze (perhaps the strongest, frighteningly largest man on any d-line in the Pac-10) round out what should be a line that earns legendary USC status. What a group of champions.
Matt Grootegoed came off his best performance last week and he topped it at home in the Coliseum. Under the watchful eyes of Trojan fans, some of them doubters that a high school QB/RB/S could make it as a LB at the college level, Groots set the tone with some solid early play with a couple tackles for losses. He rarely says a word and some may think that means he has no personality but it's just hidden in an extremely hard head that he uses to punish everyone on the field. Mike Pollard continues to do a great job and with every tackle he makes I'm sure he thinks he's hitting Paul Hackett, who once asked him to transfer. He is the undisputed leader of this defense. Melvin Simmons, or "Champ" as he likes to be called (I would also like to be called "Champ" but it's not really catching on), got his second personal foul penalty in as many weeks. This worries me because he's an emotional player and we're going into his old stomping grounds of Pullman s