The USC Trojans had an underwhelming home opener against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC, the preseason consensus number one team in the nation, well, disappointed.
It wasn't a horrible game; the Trojans didn't play terrible. But somehow, though, it felt a little uninspired and disappointing. It wasn't a disappointment of Appalachian State proportions, but something just didn't click.
The game got off to a heartfelt start. After warm-ups and before returning to the locker rooms, there was a fitting tribute to Mario Danelo and the Danelo family. Danelo lost his life shortly after the Rose Bowl victory over Michigan earlier this year. Carroll noted in his post game conference that players came up with the ideas for the tribute.
Once returning to the locker rooms, the team roared back onto the field just prior to kickoff. The Trojans appeared fired up and ready to play some football. They didn't disappoint. Not at first.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
THE GOOD –
The Trojans came roaring out of the gates. On the first possession it looked like this game would be in the books by the end of the first quarter. And it was. The victory, however, just wasn't what was expected from the #1 team in the nation.
1st Drive – As anticipated, on USC's first drive the offensive line blew holes in the defense and Booty directed traffic for 80 yards without much of a challenge. On the first play, C. J. Gable took a handoff on the left side and rambled downfield for a gain of 33 yards. John David Booty then distributed the ball to Stafon Johnson, Gable and Stanley Havili before Johnson rattled off 13 yards off the right side for a touchdown.
Missing Man Formation Extra Point – in a fitting tribute to fallen teammate Danelo, the extra point team moved into formation less a kicker. The Trojans took a delay of game penalty, in tribute to Danelo. Early this year, the Trojan Team and the Trojan Family suffered a gut-wrenching loss when kicker Danelo was found dead off the cliffs of San Pedro. The Trojan Family reeled for weeks in pain and confusion over the tragic loss of a Trojan great. The smiling, effervescent and fun loving Danelo seemed to be everyone's brother.
2nd Drive – Another quick drive, another well orchestrated series by Booty. He continued to distribute the ball and the offensive line again blew up holes in the defense. This drive was highlighted with runs by Johnson, a 35 yard reception by Fred Davis and a short swing pass to Gable who twisted, turned and juked his way into the endzone. 14-0 Trojans.
3rd Drive – After pinning the Vandal offense on their own 9 yard line, the Trojans got the ball on the Vandal 47 yard line on a punt. Effortlessly, the Trojans converted this drive to make the score 21-0. This drive had Vidal Hazelton gain 20 yards on a sideline pass play, Ronald Johnson gained 9 on a reverse and a 13 yard burst by Stafon Johnson. The touchdown play was a 1 yard toss to Hazelton who skied for the ball and made an acrobatic one handed catch in the end zone. Shades of Mike Williams. All was well, the Trojans looked poise to make the national championship run expected of them. 21-0 Trojans.
THE BAD –
Throughout the first few series, the offense and defense seemed ready to take on the world. But then there was a slight hiccup. The Men of Troy seemed to fall asleep on both sides of the ball. The energy level just seemed to fall off a notch or two.
Cushing Goes Down – In what Pete Carroll later explained as an ankle sprain, Brian Cushing hopped off the field. On a defensive play, while Cushing was engaged with a lineman, tight end Eddie Williams rolled over Cushing from the back side. Cushing hobbled off the field and did not return to play.
Speed Kills, Defense Exposed? – Much has been written and much said about the ferocious Trojan Defense. Somehow, the defense appeared less impressive than expected. The defense was caught off guard or over pursuing on several plays during the game. Yes, the first team defense gave up yards but only 3 points.
Josh Pinkard did not suit up, Cushing went down early in the game and the Trojan defense gave up yards to a spread out offense and runs up the middle. Everson Griffen got a surprise start at defensive end, but for all his speed, he missed a couple plays by running right pass the offense.
THE NOT SO BAD –
The Trojans received the ball to start the second half. After a lackluster 2nd quarter they kicked it back to high gear. Booty and company started on the 30 yard line to start the 3rd quarter. Again Booty distributed the ball to several players, the highlight being a 20 yard gain by freshman phenom Joe McKnight who reversed field ala Reggie Bush. The touchdown play was a toss to Stanley Havili in the endzone for his first career touchdown.
On the next and last successful drive by USC, Booty led the team on a short drive. Although the featured back on this drive and a previous unsuccessful drive was sophomore Allen Bradford, it was Stafon Johnson who was brought back in to complete the job that scored the Trojan's final touchdown.
THE UGLY –
It is difficult to live up to the expectations of being the number one team in the nation coming into the season. All of the receivers are new. The tailbacks have yet to define themselves. Even though Gable and Johnson proved their abilities in this game, Chauncey Washington should return for the Nebraska game. Hershel Dennis will make a move to compete for playing time when he returns to action.
The game moved at a snails pace for much of the 2nd quarter and all of the fourth.
The defense has shown it will give up yards. The defensive line has yet to challenge the quarterback.
The offensive line has suffered some injuries and has a true freshman at center.
There are many questions on this ball club that may not be answered for a few weeks. It's a long way to January and the BCS Bowl Games.
The Trojans need to improve weekly to remain in competition for the national title.