EARLY-SEASON Armageddon, another comprehensive butt-kicking by the USC Trojans.
If these guys could avoid nodding off against the Stanfords and the Oregon
States of the world, they'd be dangerous. ¶ Another night on center stage,
another VW Beetle--sized egg laid by the Ohio State Bridesmaids—beg your
pardon, Buckeyes—a deep, talented, senior-laden squad that, for whatever
reason, goes all to pieces when the lights shine brightest. ¶ Don't count out
the Buckeyes, warned Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez, after throwing four
touchdown passes in his fifth college start, a 35--3 cakewalk that validated
USC's No. 1 ranking and salvaged an otherwise grim Saturday for the Pac-10
(page 38). "They're tough. They're going to probably win out and be back in
the Rose Bowl."
And that would be
just peachy, really, for that broad segment of the American public unfamiliar
with the lyrics to Carmen Ohio. Because it would mean the Buckeyes had not been
invited back to the BCS championship, from which they drained all the suspense
before halftime in each of the last two seasons (losing 41--14 to Florida and
then 38--24 to LSU). Even before Ohio State's ill-timed implosion in the L.A.
Coliseum, a broad consensus had formed: It's someone else's turn to get waxed
by the SEC champion.
Sanchez is a
6'3", 225-pound redshirt junior who has a stronger arm, better scrambling
ability and larger personality than his predecessor, John David Booty. Against
the Buckeyes' defense, which returned nine starters from the nation's top unit
in 2007, he was cool and in command, completing 17 of 28 passes for 172 yards.
Sanchez forced one throw—cornerback Chimdi Chekwa made an acrobatic end-zone
interception—and "left some yards out on the field," he lamented, on
While he went out
of his way to praise Booty, Trojans coach Pete Carroll, in his office after the
game, could not help effusing, "It's like, we're alive again on
defense, meanwhile, led by senior linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing,
is as full of piss and vinegar as ever. With his customary flair for the
dramatic, Maualuga stepped in front of a Todd Boeckman pass in the second
quarter, then turned on what he later called "my 4.2 speed" and
tightroped 48 yards down the sideline for USC's third touchdown.
"Four-two?" said defensive end--linebacker Clay Matthews, who chipped
in six tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. "Maybe five-two." As for
Cushing—Batman to Maualuga's Superman, according to Trojans linebackers coach
Ken Norton Jr.—he had a game-high-tying 10 tackles and applied the heat on
Boeckman that led to Maualuga's pick.
Hulks—an unproven offensive line with four new starters, including a trio of
sophomores—gave another strong indication that they're going to be, if not
Incredible, at least very good in '08. Following the lead of the sole returnee,
senior left guard Jeff Byers, they opened the lanes that allowed electrifying
sophomore Joe McKnight to rush for 105 yards on just 12 carries before he
retired to the bench in the second half with a migraine.
Before the Aug.
30 season opener against Virginia, line coach Pat Ruel was not sure that his
charges were ready, so he quizzed them on precisely how to block various
defensive alignments. He did this in meetings using flashcards, despite
Carroll's warning that Ruel "be careful of making those guys overthink. We
want them to play fast."
Soothed by their
performance in the 52--7 rout of the Cavaliers, Ruel put the flashcards away.
On the morning of the Ohio State game, however, he did subject his linemen to a
drill in which chairs were aligned in a defensive formation and each player had
to tell him which chair he would block. When the drill got a bit old, freshman
guard Khaled Holmes piped up, "Remember, Coach Carroll doesn't want us to
think too much!"
reminding Holmes that unsolicited input from freshmen is seldom, if ever,
welcome, Ruel nonetheless cut the exercise short. "All right," he told
his guys, "I'm going to trust that you know what you're doing." Spend
some time around this team, and that word keeps coming up: trust.
emanated from the second floor of L.A.'s downtown Marriott last Saturday.
Guests in the lobby lounge were startled by the sight—and sound—of 60 or so USC
players one floor above them. Before going into a meeting in one of the
ballrooms, they let out a kind of primal moan—Oooooohhhhh—followed by three
sharp grunts: Oof! Oof! Oof!