USC quarterback Matt Leinart lacked his usual accuracy in the early stages of the Trojans' 45-13 victory over Oregon last Saturday, a problem his coach, Pete Carroll, attributed not to the craftsman but to his tools. "The footballs felt really dry, and Matt was having trouble holding on to them," Carroll said after the game. "It was really bothering him, but somehow he eventually got a little better grip." The same could be said of the rest of the Trojans, who bobbled and blundered their way through most of the first half but wound up with as firm a grasp on the No. 1 ranking as ever.
After falling behind 13-0 thanks to a surfeit of penalties, bad throws, dropped passes and turnovers, USC scored six touchdowns and a field goal in a span of seven possessions to humble the No. 24 Ducks and silence the raucous fans at Autzen Stadium. "It was probably good for us to have a game like this," said junior tailback Reggie Bush, who ignited the Trojans' comeback with a pair of second-half touchdowns, "where we have to deal with a quality team on the road taking its best shot against us."
Similar circumstances await the Trojans this Saturday, when they will face a potentially tougher road challenge at No. 14 Arizona State. The Sun Devils' Sam Keller is probably the top quarterback in the Pac-10 behind Leinart, and Oregon confirmed what most USC watchers already suspected: that the best way to attack the Trojans is through the air.
The defensive secondary is one of the few areas in which USC is not absurdly deep and talented. Starting cornerback Terrell Thomas was sidelined two weeks ago--probably for the season--after suffering a knee injury against Arkansas, and another defensive back, freshman Kevin Thomas, is out with mononucleosis, leaving the Trojans with only three cornerbacks on scholarship. One of them is senior John Walker, who made his first career start against Oregon and was victimized on the Ducks' only touchdown, a 36-yard catch by Demetrius Williams. Though the Trojans limited Oregon to 197 passing yards, that was due more to their pass rush than to the play of their defensive backfield.
"I know the coaches are going to make sure that we address whatever holes we showed," Bush said after the game. "But let's face it, Arizona State's going to see some things in this game film that they're going to like."
The Sun Devils will also see a great deal that they won't enjoy, including the elusive Bush, whose niftiest move was a dip-inside, zip-outside wiggle for 38 yards that set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Leinart to Dwayne Jarrett, giving the Trojans their first lead, 17-13, in the third quarter. From then on USC looked like the team that scored 19 touchdowns on 25 drives while opening the season with two easy wins. "We need games like this," Carroll said. "We need games where nothing is going right, the other team has momentum, and we have to find ourselves. These are the challenge games that toughen you for what's to come." -- Phil Taylor