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Closer Look

Leinart has USC offense humming against Washington

Posted: Saturday October 22, 2005 11:31PM; Updated: Sunday October 23, 2005 3:05AM
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By Arash Markazi, SI.com

What We Learned

Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart directed a quick-strike USC offense that scored touchdowns on its first four possessions.
AP

USC: For the first time in more than a month, there were no first-half meltdowns, no second-half deficits and no fourth-quarter comebacks. Against Washington, one of the worst teams in the Pac-10, USC finally found its groove and once again looked like the No. 1 team in the nation.

The offense, which had been maligned for taking the first half off in recent weeks, scored touchdowns on its first four possessions.

Quarterback Matt Leinart, who was criticized in the local papers this week for being off his game, came back with his best performance in a month. He connected on 20 of 26 passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns (two more than he had the previous three weeks) in three quarters of play. Roommate Dwayne Jarrett caught three of the TD passes.

Despite having their way with the Huskies, the Trojans once again showed that they are vulnerable in the secondary and on special teams, two areas that coach Pete Carroll has been trying to shore up since the season began. "We're still pasting it together," Carroll said. "But that's OK. It keeps the coaches up late at night."

Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback completed 14 of 18 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown and ran for another TD. USC also gave up a 92-yard return on the opening kickoff to Marlon Wood, who broke his ankle on the play.

The Trojans also showed little confidence in kicker Mario Danelo, who has missed two extra points the past two weeks. In the second half, USC went for it five times on fourth down while within field-goal range. Although the Trojans converted three times, one of the plays resulted in Washington safety Dashon Goldson's 76-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Washington: With no one expecting the Huskies to put up much of a fight, not even their fans -- most of whom spent the first quarter still tailgating on Lake Washington -- the players wearing purple and gold actually gave USC a better game than the score would indicate.

The Huskies led 10-7 in the first quarter before showing why they have been one of the worst teams in the nation lately. The offense turned the ball over twice and the special teams had a punt blocked. That stretch of ineptitude helped the Trojans scored four touchdowns on nine plays, including Reggie Bush's scintillating 84-yard punt return for a TD.

Players Who Impressed Me

After admitting that he hasn't been playing up to expectations in recent weeks, Leinart came back in a big way against Washington. "I just felt back on track," said Leinart, who rested in the fourth quarter. "We just went back to the stuff we've been doing for the last couple of years."

Despite having a Heisman-worthy performance, Leinart's stellar numbers will probably be overshadowed by Bush's punt return. Bush ran through, around and between the entire Huskies coverage team for a highlight play that will get replayed countless times.

"I think [I was] overdue for a punt return," said Bush, who also ran eight times for 51 yards and a touchdown. "I wanted to really focus on getting back to putting that fear back in people's hearts of kicking the ball deep to us."

Jarrett also impressed with seven receptions for 95 yards and three scores. His last touchdown was a one-handed catch in the left-hand corner of the end zone that reminded many of Mike Williams. "I was trying to catch it with two but I had no choice," said Jarrett, who has 25 touchdowns in 20 games as a Trojan. "I had to catch it with one so I did."

Locker Room Confidential

Being on the No. 1 team in the nation and living in Los Angeles certainly has its perks. Some Trojans, including Leinart, Jarrett, linebacker Keith Rivers and backup quarterback Mike McDonald, attended a party thrown by Victoria's Secret at Hollywood club Mood on Wednesday night.

Most of the players were recognized as soon as they walked past the velvet ropes. Leinart chatted with Paris Hilton and Jarrett talked with Mike Tyson about last week's game against Notre Dame and his big fourth-down catch.

"He wanted to know about the catch," Jarrett said. "So we just talked about that and the game a little bit. That was pretty cool, talking to Mike about football."

The Big Picture

The Trojans can now breathe a sigh of relief; they don't have to leave California again during the regular season. After being on the road four of the past five weeks and five of the past seven, the Trojans finish with three of their next four games at home. Their lone road game is at Cal on Nov. 12. After surviving their fair share of close calls, the Trojans feel as if they are finally beginning to play like the dominant team most expected them to be coming into the season. "You can feel it. We're finally getting into that groove," Jarrett said. "I think the best is yet to come."

The Huskies are beginning to show flashes of improvement but continue to make mistakes that doom them against more talented teams. After nearly defeating UCLA two weeks ago in Pasadena and moving the ball effectively most of the game against USC, the Huskies feel that it's only a matter of time before things get turned around. "I'm still very excited about this football team," coach Tyrone Willingham said. Unfortunately for the Huskies, with two of their next three games on the road, their best chance at another win might be against Washington State in the Apple Cup on Nov. 19.

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