USC upset not so shocking
They lost to lowly Stanford, then stunk it up in State College. To those who wrote off Oregon State after its 0-2 start this season, I would echo June Cleaver's timeless admonition to Ward: "I think you're being a little rough on the Beaver."
USC will be accused of taking Oregon State lightly. Those accusations will be false. The Trojans will tell you that they prepare for each opponent with the same focus and intensity. It doesn't matter who we're playing, they can be counted on to repeat. We prepare the same way.
I'm sure, in their minds, they do. It is the Davids in these situations -- Oregon State and UCLA two years ago; Stanford last season; the Beavers again last night -- who are transformed, who play over their heads, as if possessed, against Goliath 'SC. The guys in the orange jerseys in Reser Stadium were simply not the same overmatched Beavers who got drilled 45-14 at Penn State on Sept. 6.
Familiarity bred confidence on the part of the home team -- confidence that they could play with the No. 1 team in the nation. Plenty of these guys celebrated on this same field when the Beavers knocked off the No. 3 Trojans, 33-31, in 2006.
On the eve of that game, wideout Sammie Stroughter produced a plastic grocery bag of rocks, which he distributed to the team. Whereas David took five smooth stones from a nearby stream, according to The Book of Samuel, Stroughter got his from the team chaplain. The idea was to remind the Beavers that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.
Thursday's hero was a 5-foot-7, 181-pound freshman playing in his fourth college game. A year after strutting his stuff for Lamar (Texas) Consolidated High, Jacquizz Rodgers gashed the Trojans for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Most mystifying about The Quizz's buck-eighty-six was that most of those yards came up the gut. The Beavers ran on passing downs, they ran against fronts loaded to stop the run. Gumming up the middle with extra blockers -- one of whom was frequently his older brother James, a receiver who scored the Beavers' other two TDs -- Oregon State left it to Jacquizz to find the creases, the seams, the daylight. In doing so, then woofing with gusto at the Trojan vets on his way back to the huddle, he quickly burrowed under their skin.
Yet, in his postgame interview with ESPN's Erin Andrews, the freshman was both gracious and funny. He gave it up to his O-line, then noted that "USC's an aggressive defense. We were hitting some cutback lanes." How had he so often eluded Mili Foala and Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing and the rest of 'SC's future NFLers? "I'm hiding behind the linemen. I'm a small dude, they couldn't find me."
The Trojans couldn't seem to get off blocks. With starting cornerback Shareece Wright out with a fractured vertabra, backup corner Kevin Thomas muffed an interception in the end zone, deflecting the ball to James Rodgers to give the Beavers a 21-0 halftime lead.
To no one's surprise, 'SC came storming back -- just as they had in this quaint little bowl in '06. The similarities did not stop there. Starring as Chauncy Washington in this sequel, Joe McKnight put the ball on the ground twice. Reprising the role of John David Booty was Mark Sanchez, who appeared to be:
1) A little gimpy. Did he ding his bad knee?
2) Rattled at critical moments. Even before his the game-sealing interception -- returned to the two-yard-line by safety Greg Laybourn -- he was often off-target.
3) Left to find for himself by an offensive line that consistently struggled to protect him.
4) Left hanging out to dry by his receivers, who seemed utterly flummoxed by the Beavers matchup zone defense.
Sanchez will now quietly take his leave from any and all Heisman Watch. He hasn't encountered this kind of adversity this season. It will be interesting to see how he deals with it.
We learned last season that early-season losses need not smother the BCS title game ambitions of powerhouses. But the Trojans should pay dearly for this faceplant, which, in a strange way, was perversely predictable. A couple times a year we are treated to the sight of Pete Carroll, wide-eyed and mystified on the sideline, wondering what happened to all those Parade All-Americas he coached in practice all week.
Always in conference. Always against some unranked underdog for whom familiarity breeds ... confidence.