It warms me at night to know that after years of struggling with the limitations that come with a revolving door of coaches and saviors, Pete Carroll's Trojans are seemingly learning how to make other teams and hotshot coaches face the degrading concept of being mediocre.
The USC Trojans conveyed a truly interesting concept on Saturday afternoon in their match-up with Ricky Neuheisel's Washington Huskies. One thing that was reasonably evident was the idea that if a team is going to confront the Trojans with an 8 or even 9 man front in an effort to force Carson Palmer to beat them then Carson can do so very easily. Also, Trojan fans were re-convinced that their battered but courageous defense could make most any team one-dimensional by destroying their hopes of running the football and disrupting even the Pac-10's most prolific passing team. My favorite concept was the one introduced to Rick Neuheisel by this years Trojan squad, that was the concept that despite his being a flashy, guitar playing, incredulous, twinkle-in-the-eye "players coach", Washington is completely and hopelessly mediocre. As a consolation prize for their newfound mediocrity, the Washington Huskies will be treated to an all-expenses paid trip to the Sun Bowl in scenic El Paso, TX. Rick's mellow guitar playing may not go over as big in the El Paso Airport Marriott but there are plenty of accomodating spots for the Husky players and coaches in West Texas such as; The Foxy strip club where you can bring your own malt liquor, The Hinks High School practice facility where the distinction between lockers and urinals is somehow clouded, The Sun Bowl field which claims countless ACL's year in and year out and, of course, the wonders of Juarez, Mexico where Rick and his Huskies can see first hand what a city that is controlled by the illegal drug trade looks like. Will the Huskies have to leave their beloved Starbucks and throwback grunge rock clubs for the Sun Bowl this holiday season? Who knows, but it warms me at night to know that after years of struggling with the limitations that come with a revolving door of coaches and saviors, Pete Carroll's Trojans are seemingly learning how to make other teams and hotshot coaches face the degrading concept of being mediocre. Here are this week's grades:
Opening so inauspiciously with an interception, Carson rebounded to have arguably his finest performance as a Trojan. Carson threw every pass he had in his arsenal, especially a wonderfully-touched deep ball as he racked up 348 yards on 21 completions. A few dropped passes hardly put a blemish on Carson's afternoon. If a team confronts you with mugged-up safeties to stifle your run game, the quarterback must be poised and accurate and is responsible for loosening the secondary up. He is basically responsible for winning the game. Carson did this flawlessly while looking like the Pac-10's finest passer and exposing the Pac-10's weakest secondary.
Sultan McCullough is not the ideal tailback to be running into an 8 or 9 man front. Only managing 44 yards on 22 carries, Sultan stopped his feet too many times and did not run through enough arm tackles. His big play ability was controlled by Washington's defensive front and he just did not seem to be "feeling it" on Saturday. He must bounce back and get the fire back in his legs for the Oregon game. I liked the way Justin Fargas attacked the line of scrimmage when he had the opportunity. Justin pushed the pile well and was rewarded with a fourth quarter touchdown that iced the contest for the Trojans. Let's hope for USC that he can gain confidence here in the dog days of the Pac-10 season. The Trojans lack of health and experience at the fullback spot has hurt them through the first half of the season. It is imperative that Chad Pierson get healthy and return to action before the Oregon game. Malaefou has been playing fullback and because of his unparalleled athletic ability he has been doing a solid job. MacKenzie also delivered the catch of the game on 3rd and short that halted a possible UW fourth quarter charge. However, Malaefou is not a true fullback and the Trojans need him for other duties. Chad Pierson being back in the line-up would give the Trojans a huge lift as they strive for a Pac-10 title.
Two dropped touchdown passes put a small damper on what was otherwise the finest performance turned in by an SC receiving corps since I can remember. Keary Colbert and Mike Williams went buck wild all over a terrible Washington secondary. Mike Williams is still a little loose catching the ball but at the same time showed the entire country that Reggie Williams is not the only big skilled receiver in the Pac-10. Colbert had the best game of his career but was still infinitely angry with himself for the dropped TD pass well into the post game tailgate party outside the Coliseum. I was also told by the USC training staff, headed up by the tireless Russ Romano, that Kareem Kelly played through a very painful ankle sprain. He was rewarded with one ball that kept his consecutive game catch streak alive and well. This trio has emerged as a great receiving unit that is every bit as good as the one the Trojans will face in Eugene. They must be hitting on all cylinders for victory next week.
The offensive line gave up a little too much penetration in the run game to be considered a total and complete success on Saturday. Penetration kills any run game, especially the Trojans complicated zone blocking scheme. All things being considered, however, this line played without Jacob Rogers while his replacement Eric Torres and the rest of his OL mates played four quarters of football without giving up a sack, an excellent statistic. Better protection by the OL allowed Carson to distribute the ball cleanly and unscathed with the run game being taken away by the Washington scheme. Congratulations to Tim Davis, these boys are starting to look like a very refined crew of pass protectors.
Kenechi Udeze, otherwise known as "BKU" for Big Kenechi Udeze, is the Trojan man-child out of Norwalk who revved up his game considerably in the absence of Shaun Cody. Seeing a man that size storming into the backfield waving his arms and screaming had to scare the living hell out of Cody Pickett. Kenechi's the biggest man I've ever seen, he can barely get into the radio interview room after games. Omar Nazel, battling tendinitis in his knee and a bruised sternum, played through a lot of discomfort and turned in what is now becoming his usual solid performance. Bernard Riley seems to be showing signs of returning to his underclassman form. This is now Bernards time to shine and resurrect his status as one of the Pac-10's most dominant defensive linemen. A testament to the Trojan defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is that even without his most bonafide star, his defensive line still plays with a motor and purpose. He is to be commended as one of the best defensive position coaches the Trojan program has ever had.
The linebackers looked solid as always. Matt Grootegoed is the surest tackler on the team and had a great game. Matt also had an interception but it looks like he lost a bit of the speed he used to show as a Mater Dei Monarch star running back. He made the play though so God Bless him. When Matt drops the weight that he had to gain in order to play at Sam backer he will be back to his high school tailback form. Melvin Simmons allowed a few different Husky backs, namely Braxton Cleman, to catch some passes in front of him but it didn't hurt the Trojan defense very much. Melvin is an active player that I enjoy watching, sometimes he gets a little used up in the passing game but he runs the field well and plays with a big motor. Mike Pollard looked dependable as always in the middle. He played tackle to tackle very well to help destroy and make irrelevant Rick Neuheisel's run game. There can be nothing more satisfying for a defensive coach than to go into a week with the opposing team talking about needing to run the ball to beat you and then completely making the run a non-factor. Negative yardage rushing for the Huskies is the game-winning statistic.
You have to give the secondary this grade because Reggie Williams is the best receiver in the Pac-10 (sorry Mike). His hand speed, ability to get off the line and burst three yards down the field should show all football fans that they will not be seeing him play college ball for another season. Though Marcell Allmond displayed confidence and athletic ability in his first start at corner, Reggie Williams did to him what he pretty much does to everybody…he dominated. Troy Polamalu's return to the Trojan defense was not a complete success because of a small re-aggravation of his ankle injury. If you take that away, Troy had one of the most courageous performances for a man with an injury that I've seen this year. Looking like probably our best running back, Troy intercepted a ball and returned it on one leg for an amazingly exciting runback. He is the best athlete on the team by far and is the heart of the team. I have faith and all Trojan fans should have faith that an ankle injury will not slow this great warrior. I like Darrell Rideaux's tackling a whole lot. He's been a very dependable player for the USC Trojan secondary this year and the secondary would be nothing without him. He's been the Trojan soldier all year and has played like a guy who is 6-5. The Trojan secondary, though sometimes outperformed by an NFL-caliber receiver in Reggie Williams, remained undaunted against the Pac-10's highest ranked passing duo. They did what they had to do to collect the victory and should be ready (if anybody can be) for Keenan Howry and Samie Parker.
Special teams (A-)
Kennedy Pola was very happy after the game with his kickers. Even though Ryan Kileen got hit, which I don't believe was something he ever expected in his football career, he still kicked the ball firm on the day. Tom Malone started booming punts like he did all spring for the Trojans. The coverage teams relaxed a little bit but it didn't hurt the Trojans in any way. After some fine tuning early in the season, with some very painful things to watch, looked shored up and ready for the big one next week against Oregon.
I know these guys are tired. These are the dog days of the season for players, coaches and even broadcasters. Despite fatigue these coaches are delivering a more focused, better prepared Trojan product week in and week out. Keeping young guys heads straight and veterans happy, Coach Carroll has built a deep and dedicated football team. By showing a physical run game against Cal followed up by a many weaponed pass game against Washington, Mike Belotti and his staff have a lot to prepare for when facing the Trojans. Give offensive coordinator Norm Chow credit for sticking with the run long enough to keep the Washington safeties up on Saturday. Chow used the pass to take what he was being given by the Washington defense instead of trying to create opportunities for big plays and that is the mark of a very smart offensive coordinator.
Even though Washington surged in the fourth quarter the Trojans were able to keep their intensity up with a long drive, not an easy thing to do after you lose momentum in what was once a physically handled ballgame.
It's back to Oregon for these Trojan players. Personally, I'll be very happy to get out of town because the demand for tickets, appearances and generally infomercial-like attitude from me in the greater Los Angeles area is beginning to wear me out (even though I'm loving every minute of it). I long for the quiet, melancholy solitude of the Northwest. Mike Belotti's mullet and cop-like mustache harken us all to witness the USC program take back the title of the Pac-10's most vaunted program. It's time, isn't it, for the Trojans to go up to Eugene and slap them back down to earth. There is no tougher place to win because Belotti's guys play mistake-free football most of the time, especially in a loud and rocky stadium filled with Pfish and Grateful Dead fans. Have a good week, Fight On.
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.