It wasn't the dominating effort that Trojan fans have seen in recent weeks but the 34-13 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday was more than enough to prove that this team is capable of winning in a number of different ways.
Carson Palmer has provided the fireworks lately and he had his usual solid game with 20 completions in 32 attempts for 214 yards and three total touchdowns, two passing and one rushing. For this Homecoming in front of 73,923 at the Coliseum, however, it was a steady dose of power football leading the way with Justin Fargas running hard on offense and a physical USC defense taking control and shutting down a high powered ASU offense. Fargas ended the night with 125 yards on 26 carries including a touchdown while the defense swarmed the Sun Devil backfield with six tackles for loss, by six different players, and four sacks.
Bringing the intensity
Justin Fargas and Marcell Allmond each sat out last season, unable to play for the Trojans but for very different reasons. Both took advantages of fresh start opportunities last spring to prove what they could do with Fargas dominating a pair of scrimmages and Allmond showing potential in a position switch to corner. It was easy to get excited about the possibilities of what could happen if Fargas could stay healthy and if Allmond could make the adjustment to his new spot. Justin brought an intensity to the Trojan running game that hadn't been seen in years with his attacking style while Marcell had the size and athletic ability to match-up with the bigger wide receivers that are now common on Pac-10 rosters. Unfortunately, both players suffered injuries during fall camp and when the season began they were once again on the sidelines and forced to watch as this Trojan team struggled to establish an identity. Slowly but surely the pieces of the team came together and it can be argued that each of these players has provided a missing ingredient once they began to see significant playing time. The corner position opposite Darrell Rideaux was a concern after season ending injuries to Arbet and Nunn, in losses to Kansas State and Washington State we saw William Buchanan picked on at key times. Allmond was inserted midway through the Cal game after a strong start by Kyle Boller and he has proceeded to shore up this weakness and turn it into a strength by shutting down opposing receivers. Marcell played solid coverage against the Sun Devils and made an impressive physical play on a key fourth down rush attempt by ASU late in the game. The USC offense has been highlighted on this recent run by the play of Carson Palmer and the passing game but Fargas brings a toughness that beats on a defense and wears them down as the game goes along. It's no coincidence that the offensive line play has improved as well with Fargas hitting the holes quickly and with aggression. Sultan McCullough has many skills he can bring to the table, as evidenced by his dazzling run on Saturday, but Justin adds another element to the game plan as we saw against ASU when be battered them throughout the game. Both Allmond and Fargas should be commended for what their contributions to this team have meant this year both on the field and in helping to raise the intensity of play.
Alex Holmes continues to make his impact felt in the passing game with six catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. Alex combines such soft hands with his amazing size and it has become almost comical to watch the type of gang tackle effort it takes for the defense to bring him down.
It was a typically efficient day for Carson Palmer, one that seemed unspectacular compared to past weeks but the timing was barely off on a couple deep throws to a hampered Mike Wiliams which could have really boosted his numbers. The stats, of course, mean little to Carson compared to getting the win but it's hard to ignore the reality of what stats mean to those who vote for a certain trophy that is certainly within his reach.
Melvin Simmons made his impact felt in this game with a key 4th quarter interception that basically signaled the end to any ASU hopes of a comeback. Melvin also added a sack and his usual solid tackling.
Key to Game – Defense
Arizona State came into the game with the 8th ranked passing offense in the nation but you would never know it after seeing Andrew Walter complete less than 50% of his passes and throw more picks than touchdowns. Not bad for a Trojan defensive unit that was supposed to be vulnerable in the secondary. It was pure Pete Carroll on this day as the USC defense attacked Walter from all angles and utterly confused him with a wide variety of schemes and adjustments that left him under constant pressure. Walter was also forced to operate without a run game as Carroll once again showed the ability to completely shut down one facet of an opposing offense. What makes this Carroll defense so special is that he designs it to fit the talents of his players rather than trying to fit guys into pre-designed roles. This isn't an easy thing to do, if it was then coaches all over the country would be doing the same thing. Carroll utilizes his pieces in a defensive chess match that has left Walter and many other opposing quarterbacks scratching their heads and wondering where the next Trojan attack is coming from. The Sun Devils went to a no-huddle offense in the second half to try and slow down the USC adjustments because Carroll was doing such a good job keeping them off guard. ASU coach Dirk Koetter admitted his team wasn't prepared to do that but felt it was their best option. What a tribute to the Trojan defense and a pure example of how to take another team out of their game plan.
Notes from the sidelines
DeShaun Hill made a wonderfully athletic play on his diving interception in the end zone…..The amazing punt by Tom Malone was the kind of kick that can turn the momentum of the ballgame. This one got returned when the coverage team got thrown off by the sheer distance of the boot but one of these days Malone is going to save a game for the Trojans with a kick like that…..Mike Williams had one very nice touchdown catch and also showed off his arm with a completed pass to Keary Colbert. Mike was obviously slowed by his ankle injury but we have come to expect big things and will need him against the Bruins. He also sang out a welcome to new Trojan Darnell Bing in the locker room that got a cheer from the other players…..Bing learned on Friday that he has qualified for admission to USC and can enroll for the spring. The smile on Darnell's face along the USC sideline told the story as he received a steady stream of well-wishers offering congratulations. Darnell will compete immediately for the free safety spot and may also see time as a reserve tailback…..Matt Grootegoed caused a fumble and had a sack, another typically solid day for Groots as he is always around the ball…...Eric Torres filled in admirably for Lenny Vandermade and the offensive line did a tremendous job particularly by allowing only ½ sack to NCAA sack leader Terrell Suggs…..Fargas not only ran the ball well but his fourth quarter catch and run was one of the key plays of the game….Justin Wyatt got plenty of action and was beat once for a touchdown but other than that he played aggressively at the corner spot and ended up making his share of plays. Justin also got the opportunity to return a punt and judging by the results he will probably get more chances in the next two weeks…..Keary Colbert was steady as always and also added a nice grab of a hard thrown ball that was behind him on a slant route…..Can't wait to see more of Hershel Dennis…..RECRUITING CORNER…..Inglewood HS defensive end Lawrence Jackson, considered one of the top defensive players in the country, confirmed that he has given a verbal commitment to the Trojans. Jackson committed to the USC coaches weeks ago but says he is going public now so that he can help to recruit other players to the Trojans…..USC also received a verbal commit after the game from Corona HS OL/DL Matt Spanos (6-5, 270). Spanos is being recruited with the possibility of playing on either side of the ball. He likes the Trojan coaching staff and the tradition of USC, "just to play on the same field and in the same uniform as people like Marcus Allen, Junior Seau, and Chris Claiborne, I think it's an honor"…..RB Lendale White, the all-time leading rusher in Colorado history, paid an official visit to USC this weekend and was said to be enjoying his visit. White will primarily consider USC and Texas…..Among the other recruits at the game were Ryan Kalil, Travis Draper, Drean Rucker, Robert Lewis, Manuel Wright, Matt Reese, Derrick Williams, Sergio Aguayo and Marlin Simmons…..
These next two weeks are why you come to play football at the University of Southern California. What an exciting time. The Trojans are playing solid football right now and the methodical steamrolling of the Sun Devils seemed to indicate that their emotions are poised to explode in the coming weeks. The UCLA and Notre Dame games are everything to those who wear Cardinal and Gold and the feeling this year is indescribable as we head into these games while playing at such a nice level. There are two sides to this team; on one hand they are a Top 10 team on a roll with a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate on offense and an All-American on defense, a team that is as hot as any in the country, and yet on the other hand they are playing with an almost child-like excitement as the joy has returned to a program that hasn't done a lot of smiling in recent years. The honors, accolades and bowl debates swirling about mean little to this group because they are happy to simply go out each week and have fun playing football. To those players who have seen the down side of USC football the feeling right now must be one of pure happiness and what a debt of gratitude Trojan fans owe for those who have worked hard to restore this program. To walk out on the Rose Bowl field next week with the chance to shut up a bunch of whiny Bruin fans and then follow that up with a final game at the Coliseum against highly ranked Notre Dame with a national television audience sure to be watching in high numbers, it just doesn't get any better than that and these players deserve the chance to take part in games with so much emotion involved. If you want to judge how far Trojan football has come under Pete Carroll just imagine what the electricity is going to be like when the Trojans and Irish take the field and contrast that with the feeling of dread that was present in the Coliseum just two short years ago in the second half of a dreary loss against Washington State that signified a low point in USC history. Times have certainly changed for the Men of Troy and this team is prepared and ready to rise to the challenge of showing the rest of country that USC is here to reclaim our rightful spot among the elite of college football. Of course, the way you prove yourself in these parts is by showing up big in the games against the Bruins and the Irish and those opportunities lie directly ahead. It should be a wild ride with UCLA stepping up first to the plate in a battle at the Rose Bowl. Who will rise up and be the next Trojan hero to help deliver a victory against the Bruins? Who will be the next David Bell or John Fox? These are questions waiting to be answered but after the dominating performance of the USC defense in a 27-0 shutout performance last November there is one other glaring question that remains for this game...will the Bruins be able to score this year?