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BEAT YOU WITH HIS ARM
This can be accomplished--in theory--by blitzing relentlessly, forcing Leinart to unload quickly, before he has time to read the coverage. Arizona State did a splendid job of this in charging to a 21-3 halftime lead over the Trojans on Oct. 1. The Sun Devils mixed soft zone coverage with zone blitzes and man-to-man. Sometimes the blitz came, other times the linebackers and defensive backs crowding the line dropped into coverage. "We did both, out of so many different fronts," recalls Arizona State linebacker Dale Robinson, "that it was tough for them to figure out when we were coming." Though he was sacked just twice, Leinart was repeatedly drilled. In the process the Sun Devils came close to achieving the unspoken goal of all USC opponents:
?KNOCK LEINART OUT OF THE GAME
Or at least knock him out, which is what Arizona State linebacker Robert James tried to do in the first quarter. Two plays after dropping number 11, James hit him late, driving the crown of his helmet under Leinart's chin and pile-driving him to the ground. James was flagged for a personal foul--in the NFL he would've been fined five figures for the hit--but that was a worthwhile trade-off for the Sun Devils. They lost 15 yards of field position; Leinart lost about 25 points off his football I.Q. Though he returned to the game two plays later, Leinart admitted afterward that he was not "all there" and was later found to have a mild concussion. Between the cobwebs in his head and the dizzying array of looks Arizona State threw at him, the quarterback had a tough day at the office, failing to throw a touchdown pass for only the second time in 30 games. Unable to get anything going, USC was down 18 points at halftime. The streak, it appeared, was about to end.
But the biggest upset in Sun Devils history turned into the Trojans' biggest comeback in 31 years because ASU could not:
?ADJUST TO USC'S ADJUSTMENTS
"Everybody talks about their great players," says Jerry Glanville, the black-clad former NFL head coach now serving as defensive coordinator at Hawaii, which lost to the Trojans 63-17 on Sept. 3. "The fact is, they'd be pretty good if they didn't have great players." Such is Glanville's regard for USC coach Pete Carroll and his staff, renowned for their spot-on halftime adjustments. When you're down 18 points in the second half, conventional wisdom dictates that you air the ball out. Carroll and his play-callers--offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian--did precisely the opposite against Arizona State, putting the game, and the streak, in the hands of Bush, LenDale White and the offensive line.
With Thunder (White) and Lightning ( Bush) gashing ASU for huge gains--the two tailbacks combined for 264 rushing yards in the second half--the Sun Devils brought up a safety in run support, leaving their defensive backs in man coverage. Kiffin and Sarkisian countered with play-action passes to fullback David Kirtman, who had three receptions for 57 yards during a second half in which USC outscored the home team 35-7. Final score: 38-28. "Name off all their weapons," Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter said afterward, "and nobody out there would be saying, 'You've got to stop the fullback.'"
Carroll and five of his assistants have a combined 52 seasons coaching or playing in the NFL, where halftime, it bears noting, is roughly 10 minutes shorter than in the college game. In winning 38 of their last 39 games, Carroll & Co. have made excellent use of those extra minutes.
The Trojans have trailed at halftime five times in the last two seasons and won three other games in which they led by a touchdown or less at intermission. Of those eight games, all but one were against conference rivals. The team that ends the streak (box, page 45) might just: