During the Pete Carroll era, two things seem to happen the most consistently with the USC Trojans, and Saturday’s huge win against Ohio State was no exception. First, USC went into a non-conference opponent’s house, faced a hostile crowd, and pulled out a big victory. Second, Carroll and the Trojans appear to scoff at every 4th down and short yardage situation – as if the Men of Troy have already moved the chains. Credit to USC’s mammoth offensive line as well as Carroll’s confidence in his playmakers, but do we really have any doubt that Southern Cal will succeed on these 4th-and-short conversions or these out-of conference road games?
In hindsight, Trojan loyalists will admit that they were sweating nervously for most of the 18-15 victory, but that by the game’s conclusion, the result was as expected. The Buckeyes, angry after getting humiliated 35-3 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last September, controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for most of the evening, and their skilled quarterback Terrelle Pryor was giving the Trojan defense fits with both his elusiveness as well as some very nice touch on his many of his passes.
Pryor played well for a great deal of what was probably the most important game for Ohio State since they lost the BCS title game to LSU in January of 2008. However, his performance fell short in the second half, as the OSU offense (3) barely outscored their defense (2). As the Buckeyes’ football program has taken a hit in credibility in recent years with their inability to win the ‘big game’, Saturday’s contest did little to silence their critics.
This rematch was dominated by defense and field position. On USC’s final drive of the game, the Trojans showed a great deal of heart after a sack of QB Matt Barkley and a subsequent penalty put USC in a compromising 2nd down and 19 at their own 5 yard-line with 6:07 left. RB Joe McKnight then put the Trojan offense on his back, running for 10 yards on second down. On 3rd and 9 from USC’s 15 yard-line, he caught a 22-yard pass to extend the drive. Although we’re still only two games into the season, these two critical gains by McKnight may end up defining the 2009 Trojans if they can stay undefeated the rest of the season.
Similarly to last week’s 56-3 handling of San Jose State, USC started slowly on the offensive front. If not for Terrelle Pryor’s first quarter interception by Chris Galippo, the tone of this game could have been altered drastically. First, Pryor’s early pick quieted the 100,000+ Buckeye fans in attendance, and gave the Trojans the confidence they would need to play in an intimidating environment like the Horseshoe in Columbus. Second, the Trojans, beginning their first drive only three yards from paydirt after a 50-yard return from Galippo, got an easy TD in a game where points came at a premium.
Junior Damian Williams, who transferred from Arkansas two years ago, led Trojan wideouts with 5 catches for 51 yards, and has stepped up to become the Trojans’ top receiving threat and downfield playmaker early in the 2009 season. Matt Barkley, while 2-0 as a starter, is still gaining a grasp for the speed at the collegiate level. While he looked poised for stretches of the contest, the Trojan coaching staff has yet to turn the true freshman’s arm loose and open up the aerial attack.
When Southern Cal heads up to Seattle next week to face an improved Washington Huskies squad that gave LSU a worthwhile opponent in their season opener, we may see the coaching staff hold off on challenging Barkley with more downfield passes, as the freshman suffered a bruised shoulder in the third quarter after throwing an incomplete pass on Saturday. His status is currently day-to-day, but he is expected to play at Seattle. In any case, the Trojans must not look past Washington, as USC’s road trips up north in recent years to face lesser conference opponents like Stanford and Oregon State have proved to be the downfall to their BCS Championship hopes.
(Sam Kline also writes for Fantasy Sports, check him out at http://www.fantasyhintbook.blogspot.com)