Sept. 18, 2009
-- It was a respectable weekend for the Pac-10. UCLA pulled an upset win over Tennessee on the road. Washington ended the nation’s longest losing streak at 15 games with a 42-23 win over Idaho. Cal rolled E. Washington 59-7, University of Arizona 34-17 over Northern Arizona and Oregon State edged UNLV 23-21. On the flip side, Stanford gave up a 14 point lead to lose to Wake Forest 24-17 and Washington State lost to Hawaii 38-20. The Irish lost a tough one to Michigan which does not help us in the big picture. It is a very big opportunity for the conference coming up this weekend for non conference games- Go PAC-10: Cal at Minnesota, Utah at Oregon, Arizona at Iowa, Kansas State at UCLA, Louisiana Monroe at Arizona State, and SMU at Washington State. Of course, the Trojans will be traveling up to Seattle to face a much improved Washington team that has a renewed sense of belief.
So, there we were in The Ohio State stadium last Saturday night; the Horseshoe! USC came in riding a 6 game winning streak against the Buckeyes, including a 35-3 thrashing last year at the Coliseum. This was the biggest clash of the early 2009 college football season with the 3rd ranked Trojans facing the 8th ranked Bucks. Matt Barkley came in to this game saying that he would not be affected by the crowd noise and a hostile environment. An environment that ESPN analyst, Kirk Herbstreet, called the loudest, most hostile environment that he had ever witnessed at the Horseshoe! There were people covering their ears during segments of the game and you could not hear the guy next to you in the stands. You can only imagine the decibel level on the field. USC started the fateful drive on its own 14 only to take a sack and had a procedure penalty backing them up to their own 5. Barkley stood in there and delivered strikes to McKnight and to Anthony McCoy and he executed a QB sneak on 4th down as if it was nothing and moved the chains and continued the march to victory with the clock ticking down. He also converted the 2 point conversion to McKnight that put the Trojans up by 3. The sounds of silence afterward were so very sweet. The extreme frenzy was reduced to complete dejection on what could have been for the hometown faithful. Although one game does not a season or a career make, it proved his poise, faith, and confidence in the clutch. This was not one free throw or one hit to win the game. It was a 14-play drive with time running out being a leader, managing the clock, recognizing the defense and delivering… with the Buckeye faithful and entire Mid West region against you. It was a great start for the Trojans out of the gate. After deferring the toss, Chris Galippo intercepted the 2nd pass that Terelle Pryor threw and lumbered his way 51 yards to set up the first touchdown that the Trojans scored. Coach Carroll set the tone for the game by going for it on 4th and goal and Stafon Johnson plowed over for the score. The game was extremely hard fought and a lot of credit has to be given to the Buckeyes. The game is won and lost in the trenches and Ohio State played the Trojans pretty evenly for the first 3 1/2 quarters. The Buckeyes defense made it challenging for the Trojans to move the ball consistently against them and their defensive line played well for most of the game. The O- line for the Trojans started to pound the Buckeyes on the last drive and showed them what it means to be a Trojan! With the game plan that was called on offense, there was not a glaring differential in speed like last year and the offense never really opened it up and stretched the defense. I believe that the Trojans need to continue to get their skill players the ball in space. We know that Ronald Johnson, the deep threat, will be out for another 4 weeks or so. The Trojans do need to find another option that can help stretch the defense with one of the speed guys- likely Butler or Patterson. I do believe that Ausberry can become the weapon they need him to be. He is built a lot like Mike Williams was and they need to get him some catches and confidence so he can become the force he should be. The running game was tough to establish consistently with Ohio-State often playing 8 in the box. USC going into this game knew that they would be bringing pressure and force Barkley to beat them. Joe McKnight continues to impress with his improved strength and toughness. He also stepped up in the clutch in the 4th quarter on the final drive with a huge 3rd down catch and some tenacious runs and he finished with 105 total yards, 60 tough yards rushing and 45 receiving. With the game as tight as it was, there were very limited opportunities for other backs to carry the ball in this game. It is becoming clearer that the primary tandem will be McKnight starting and Stafon Johnson carrying the ball in the red zone/goal line area. Bradford and CJ will continue to have opportunities but will vary game by game. Stanley Havili does need to be involved in the offense and creates mismatches that the Trojans need to exploit. The defense was huge and they played an integral part in the hard fought victory. The 2nd series on defense was forgettable with huge hitting safety Taylor Mays misreading a play and being out of position following a swing route by the running back. This was very uncharacteristic and Pryor and the Buckeyes capitalized, setting up their only touchdown that the defense gave up all game. Overall, the defense played the run extremely effectively by securing gaps and stringing them out, especially Pryor, primarily keeping him lateral or east-west as we say. The Trojans held them to 88 net yards rushing on less than 3 yards per carry. This productivity will work against strong opponents. The speed on defense was apparent and helped in neutralizing Pryor. The Trojans were playing a lot of the 2nd half on their heels and were constantly on the losing side of the field position battle. USC converted 6-16 on 3rd downs but made up for it on 3-3 on 4th down conversions in this game (other than the punt that got away). It was a great job by the interior line, especially O ‘Dowd on the three 4th down sneaks drive blocking the Buckeyes. The team will need to continue to improve on the 3rd down conversion ratio statistic as the season progresses. After turnover margin, this is the key statistic. The Trojans were forced to punt 5 times in the game, four of them on 3 and outs, and one safety on a high snap deep in their own end zone. I cannot remember the last time we had that happen during Coach Carroll’s era. The field position given to Ohio State was on the 50 yd line or better 4 times in the 2nd half and they could only muster 3 points – that is solid defense! Everson Griffin is starting to come into his own and looks hungrier on every play and Jurrel Casey continues to impress on both the run and his bull rush. Galippo had the huge pick and also had 5 tackles and our outside speed backers, Michael Morgan with 7 tackles and Malcolm Smith continue to step up and are running down the ball. Mays came back and with a twisted knee that came from his own guy inadvertently, he led the team in tackles with 8 and steady Josh Pinkard had 5 as well.
This depth will likely come into play going up to Washington this Saturday. Credit also needs to be given to Barkley for playing the 4th quarter and leading the touchdown drive with a sprained shoulder (the same injury that is sidelining Sam Bradford for 3-6 weeks). The Trojans have bull’s-eyes on their back every week and you have a fired up team, a proud program, and fan base that would love nothing more than to upset the Trojans. They will play their game, the way that they were born to do, what they were trained to do – the way that Trojans do…Fight On!