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GETTING UP TO SPEED
THE USC TROJANS MAY WELL BE THE No. 1 team in the country by the end of the season. As of the first game, however, they're very much a work in progress.
Those who had expected the co-national champions to pick up right where they left off last New Year's Day--i.e., steamroller all comers--overlooked a lot of potential trouble spots, and wouldn't you know it, those issues reared their ugly heads for most of USC's hard-fought 24-13 victory over Virginia Tech on Aug. 28. In fact, the only things preventing a Trojans disaster were, in no particular order, Reggie Bush, Reggie Bush, a particularly favorable pass-interference call and Reggie Bush.
You can't just substitute two promising but untested receivers for two of the best in school history and expect your Heisman-finalist quarterback to light up the scoreboard. And losing four starters from your offensive line does make it harder to run the ball and protect the quarterback. Even the nation's top-ranked rushing defense of a year ago wasn't immune to opening-day jitters, surrendering more yards to one player-- Hokies quarterback Bryan Randall--in the first quarter (87) than it had allowed per game last season (60.2).
But finally, after fighting tooth and nail with the Hokies for 54 minutes, the Trojans fulfilled everyone's preseason vision of them in an electrifying, two-play sequence. Clinging to a 14-13 lead, having barely eked out a first down on a third-and-one the previous play and fortunate not to be down more after a peculiar offensive pass-interference call wiped out a potentially lethal Tech drive, Matt Leinart dropped back on the play-action and connected with one of his wide receivers, hitting a streaking Steve Smith for 46 yards. On the next play it was Leinart to Bush for the 29-yard touchdown that put USC up 21-13. From there the defense bottled up the Hokies, the offense tacked on a field goal and finally, for the 10th game in a row, it was Start the bus.
Did the Trojans look like the No. 1 team in the country? Hardly. But that doesn't mean they won't be.
"It's the first game," said Leinart, who took about three quarters to get on the same page with his new receivers. "No one's going to be perfect."