By Gary Montgomery, BVN Staff –
LA Coliseum – It was a pretty safe bet that USC would use the hapless Wildcats as ointment to soothe their self-induced wounds from last week’s painful trip to the desert. Last Saturday USC turned a 10 point fourth quarter lead into a 43-22 loss. Back in the safe confines of the coliseum and facing a 1-3 team with a defense that has given up 140 points so far this season… fireworks were inevitable.
When asked why the two games were so different, USC receiver Robert Woods said, “We had a lot of turnovers last week; our offense was shaky. Today we showed we are a great offense, we just need to be consistent. Also, we had a great running game today with Curtis McNeal and the air game was there.”
Woods was right about USC’s air game. The two offenses combined for a total of 893 passing yards and 1,136 yards of total offense. USC’s Matt Barkley threw for 468- yards passing the previous single game mark of 448 yards set by Carson Palmer against Oregon in 2002.
Possibly a good omen for Barkley since Palmer went on to win the Heisman Trophy making him the best player in college football that season.
“It’s definitely and honor and it feels great. But at the same time, it didn’t feel like I was breaking a record because it was such a tight game going back and forth.
It’s a tribute to coach Kiffin’s play calling and Marquise and Robert and the guys coming up with great catches, and the line played huge for us today. I grew up looking up to Carson Palmer and hoping one day I’d be in this position.
It’s definitely a dream,” said Barkley.
Barkley was talking about Marquise Lee and Robert Woods his two dynamic receivers. Woods caught 14 passes for 255- yards and needed only five more to eclipse the single game receiving record of 260 -Yards held by R Jay Soward in 1996. Lee had 8 caches for 144-yards and one touchdown.
To no one’s surprise, Saturday’s game continued the same general pattern as USC’s games have since Kiffin’s arrival. The team starts fast, slows down after half-time and holds on at the end….if they can.
USC jumped out to its usual quick start when Woods took a short Barkley pass for an 82-yard touchdown on the second play of their first possession.
The Trojans ran out to a 17-0 lead before Arizona finally scored on a 4-yard pass from Nick Foles to Taimi Tutogi to make the score 17-6. Both teams would score again before half-time to give USC a 27 -12 lead at the intermission after Arizona’s Alex Zendajas missed both extra points.
The Trojans’ second half started much like the first and for a while it seemed that they would break away from the pattern. After a 28-yard toss to whom else but Robert Woods, USC stretched its lead to a seeming insurmountable 34-12. But, before the 64,707 USC fans in attendance could relax, Arizona’s Nick Foles started to get it going. Foles found former Corona Roosevelt star Austin Hill for a 1-yard touch. Foles also found Hill on the ensuing 2-point conversion and before you knew it USC had only a 7 point lead. The game ended with T.J. MacDonald corralling the Wildcat’s attempt at and on-side kick.
“The game was a little bit as we expected for us, because of Arizona’s great quarterback and receivers. We wanted to make sure that these guys didn’t come out and make big plays on us. We tried to scheme against them. We wanted to make sure their great receiver didn’t get big plays on us like they have in the past. Credit our defense a bit. In the first half it worked, we got two interceptions against Foles who hadn’t thrown a pick all year,” said Lane Kiffin in response to the apparent lack of defense. As they say, the Devil is in the details. Listen carefully and year will hear Kiffin’s long term strategy unfold.
USC’s secondary is extremely young, inexperienced and currently fighting through some key injuries. The offensive unit is by far the more potent weapon now although it has struggled with consistency at times. By opening up the offense and applying pressure to the opponent and getting early leads, the defense can remain conservative particularly in the secondary.
After opening up a 15 point lead on Saturday, USC’s defense shifted into an extremely conservative defensive coverage scheme throughout the second half allowing Arizona to move the ball but minimizing the quick strikes.
A Simple but effective strategy as long as the offense can respond when the opponent scores. New additions to the defensive unit like former Fontana Kaiser Star Anthony Brown paid immediate dividends.
Brown had 10 tackles in his first star. “Coach Kiffins told me on Tuesday that I was only an injury away from starting and to get ready I would probably start on Saturday,” said Brown.
The Trojans have a bye week before heading up to Berkeley and squaring off against Cal. With the half way point of the season approaching and a 4-1 record the Trojans’ strategy by all measures is working.
If USC can merely duplicate those results in the second half of the schedule it will yield a pretty successfully season record.
G. Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org