- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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"We told our guys, 'They're gonna get plays on you,'" says Gregory, whose defense held the Trojans to a season-low 23 points in a 23--17 defeat on Oct. 9. "'Just stay within yourself, don't go in the tank, and don't give up the big explosion play.'"
Which raises the question: How do you stop Bush? "Grab hold and wait till the cavalry comes," Gregory suggests. "The scary thing about him is that they line him up at tailback or at any receiver position." Leinart is always looking for a mismatch. "If you've got a linebacker covering [ Bush]," Washington State coach Bill Doba noted earlier this season, "you might as well start singing the [ USC] fight song."
Talented though the Trojans' young offensive line is, it is not impregnable. In a fog-shrouded game on Nov. 6, Oregon State defensive end Bill Swancutt sacked Leinart two times. UCLA got to Leinart three times and limited him, remarkably, to a single successful third-down conversion in 13 attempts. The Bruins, whose successive byes coming into this game gave them three weeks to prepare for the Trojans, tried to confuse Leinart with a variety of looks. They also played plenty of two-deep zone, conceding underneath throws but taking away the deep ball. (In the process they may have deprived Leinart of the Heisman. His chief rivals-- Jason White, Bush and Adrian Peterson--all had better games.)
The most anticipated matchup-- UCLA's potent rushing attack versus the Trojans' stout defensive line--proved to be no contest. The Bruins rushed for 17 net yards. At halftime their leading ground gainer was Wesley Walker, a linebacker who'd rumbled for 11 yards on a fake punt.
"That's the best [defensive] front in America," said UCLA quarterback Drew Olson, who nonetheless eluded Cody, Patterson & Co. often enough to do some damage through the air. With long completions to wideouts Tab Perry and Junior Taylor, Olson engineered two second-half touchdowns that kept the game close.
"That secondary wasn't the greatest," said Taylor. "If you can hold off the front four, you can break those guys down. One corner is a freshman, the other, a junior. The safeties have a little more experience, but they're more bangers than cover guys. Whoever they play they're gonna have good film to see what to do against this defense."
If you're holding this magazine on Friday, six days after Taylor uttered those words, it's a safe bet that Jason White has already watched a dozen hours of USC video. And the Orange Bowl is still more than three weeks away.
Unlike Auburn, the Trojans didn't need style points to get where they wanted to go. They just needed to win. Having done so, they pinballed the length of the field, celebrating with the cardinal-and-gold-clad fans in the north end zone of the Rose Bowl, then the south, then the north again. Bush appropriated the ladder used by the conductor and led the Trojans band in a rendition of Conquest. Oranges flew from the stands, and no one seemed to mind.
Having celebrated and danced and showered and changed, Carroll made his way through a near-empty locker room. Stepping outside he embarked on one of his free-form, Dennis Hopper--in--Apocalypse Now stream-of-consciousness riffs: "This is what I feel: What's happening--it ain't too good to be true. People are having fun, they're doing it from their heart, for the right reasons. We're not breaking any rules, and, shoot, man, we're doing it in Southern California." Repeating his mantra once more, for effect--it ain't too good to be true--he walked up the rampart and into the night.