Something is different

Author Frank McCourt has already penned two books, Angela's Ashes, and 'Tis. If old Frankie ever wants to document Southern Cal's recent trials and tribulations upon the gridiron, the book could be entitled 'Twas: The Current State of USC Football.

I don't mean to sound neither snotty nor ungracious in the wake of a nail-biting Husky victory. However, for anyone who remembers the days of Charles White, Marcus Allen, Anthony Munoz and Paul McDonald, it is hard to imagine USC at 1-4.

It is hard to imagine that USC attempted to surprise Washington last weekend by running so often. In their first drive, tailback Sultan McCullough ran 10 times in a 15-play drive that stalled deep in Husky territory. That isn't exactly USC Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow's reputation.

Speaking of Chow, does anyone else find it hard to imagine that a long-time offensive coordinator from BYU was imported earlier this year to oversee the Trojans' offense?

I know, I'm probably stuck in the past a bit but when it comes to USC, they'll always be, well, USC. Let's just call it healthy respect.

All the talk and pre-game warnings about USC's team speed were very true. They have tremendous athletes. Watching Darrell Rideaux and Kareem Kelly, both guys that run 10.2 100 meters, was both fun and just a little bit scary.

The competitive nature of USC was impressive on Saturday but for all of the talent, strength, and ability they possess, the self-belief needed to persevere with a "W" just wasn't there.

True, compared to last year, you could see by the way the Trojans played against Washington that they are a more fundamentally sound football team under Coach Pete Carroll. Unfortunately certain remnants of the Paul Hackett era still linger. The bruised confidence has yet to fully clear up. There isn't much doubt that Carroll will see better seasons than this, they are clearly a better football team under this coaching staff.

In Trojan QB Carson Palmer I see the Huard brothers. Players who were high school Gods, athletes of great promise, and very impressive young men. However on the football field their collegiate experiences evolved into a mound of frustrations and whispers of unfulfilled potential.

I have wondered a few times how Brock would've fared with current UW Quarterbacks Coach Steve Axman tutoring him, and how Rick Neuheisel's optimistic presence would've affected the tall lefty.

With Carson Palmer, the true test of the abilities of Pete Carroll and Norm Chow will show itself by the middle of next season. As with Brock and Damon (two true Huskies), I hope Palmer ultimately tastes some success because he's an impressive competitor.

KUDOS TO HURST!

While John Anderson received much deserved glory and player-of-the-game honors, absolutely NONE of this would have been possible without Willie Hurst. The offensive line deserves credit for good blocking and the coaches should get praise for a well-devised offensive game plan that played to their strengths. The defense deserves accolades for their second-half performance, and Taylor Barton deserves credit for stepping in and stepping up in a big way.

But without Willie Hurst hitting the holes like a freight train, without his Ricky Watters-like fire and enthusiasm, it is very possible that Washington doesn't come back and beat USC. His performance was every bit as impressive and memorable as his gravity-defying touchdown run last year against Arizona.

Hurst showed why he is the starting tailback and why he is a captain. He may not be as fast as some but his ability to slide, cut, and set up blocks cannot be underestimated or coached. Willie has been playing tailback since he was seven years old and his instincts are such that they make a very young offensive line look great because they know that they don't have to block perfectly, but just to influence their guys enough to where Willie can see the flow and make the right decision.

Rich Alexis will learn this skill and Hurst will help him learn that. Those two make an incredible one-two combination, and Hurst proved on Saturday just how valuable a senior tailback with great vision and patience could be. He makes Rich Alexis an even better back because of that.

One more thing about Hurst - he's a living example of not quitting when things aren't going your way - that things really can work out if you just keep working hard. Two springs ago Hurst was a struggling slot receiver mired in frustration and perhaps a little bit of self-doubt. He worked through it, made the switch back and gained some of the most crucial yards of the season in 2000. He was huge on Saturday once again.

I have to admit that I never envisioned him being this good. Even when he ran for 161 yards against Oregon in 1999, I thought that many other running backs would have had many more yards, given the blocking that was provided him that night.

What I didn't factor in was that he has the heart of a lion and a powerful burst when he hits the line of scrimmage. He was a true leader on Saturday and my MVP for the game.

AND NOW THE BRUINS...

So now our roving pack of rabid Dawgs are heading to Pasadena. The Bruins (naturally) will have enjoyed a bye week so they will be well rested.

Does it get any better than this? A clash between two top-10 teams, the California sunshine, regional television, Toledo vs. Neuheisel, Foster and Smith vs. Hurst and Alexis, battle of the unbeatens...

This is getting delicious, isn't it?
Derek Johnson can be reached at Djohnson@dawgman.com

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