It was not until
they got behind closed doors that the Trojans went truly off the hook. In a
giant huddle around running backs coach Todd McNair, they danced and bounced,
making the floor and the walls shake. Water and sports drinks filled the air.
Chants broke out—"SC! Power!" and "War time! Let's take it
outside!"—and shirts came off. A bare-chested Maualuga was hopping and
spinning, his frizzy mane trailing him. Matthews and fellow linebacker Kaluka
Maiava practiced mixed martial arts on each other.
Three years ago,
on an official visit to USC, a wideout from Glenville (Ohio), Ray Small,
witnessed this madness and was turned off. "How are they successful?"
he asked himself. "They're not even serious about the game." He
compared that to the calm, orderly pregame scene that awaited him at Ohio
State, where he would later commit.
Small could not
have known that the purpose of this controlled anarchy—a ritual instituted by
Carroll not long after his arrival in late 2000—is to reinforce trust and to
eliminate doubt. "The preparation is done," Carroll explains. "We
want them to trust that everything's O.K., that we got everything right.
There's no need to be uptight or afraid of making mistakes. Now it's time to go
out, have a little fun, play a little Trojanball."
As Carroll told
the team before the meeting broke up, "You've done everything we've asked
of you to this point. And we trust you. Don't hold anything back. You don't
have to be cautious. Play the game like you know you can. Count on it. Trust
Roughly six hours
later, on their first possession of the second quarter against Ohio State, the
Trojans put their trust in freshman tight end Blake Ayles, whose one-yard
touchdown reception gave his team a 14--3 lead. One suspects that Carroll
sometimes orchestrates such heroics for freshmen—his way of signaling to
five-star recruits: You can play here right away!
THAT WAS the
single positive development for Ohio State on Saturday: Terrelle Pryor proved
he can play right away. As Carroll said of the 6'6", 235-pound freshman
quarterback, "The big stage was not too big for him." The Trojans
expressed surprise not only at the number of snaps the 18-year-old Pryor took
(25) but also at how much of the Buckeyes' playbook he had already
With star running
back Beanie Wells sidelined by the most discussed foot injury since Achilles
took an arrow to the heel, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel had little choice but
to get his highly touted freshman into the mix. Whereas former Buckeyes coach
Paul Brown pioneered the use of messenger guards in the 1940s, Tressel went
with messenger quarterbacks on Saturday. Pryor took five of the 16 snaps during
Ohio State's second possession, a 69-yard drive that ended with a field goal.
That change of pace—pocket passer Boeckman to dual threat Pryor—wrong-footed
the Trojans for much of the first half.
At one point in
the second quarter, Pryor dashed for 13, 11 and 12 yards. All told, he ran for
40 yards, connected on seven of nine passes for 52 more and took far better
care of the ball than did the fifth-year senior Boeckman, who threw two picks,
fumbled once and was sacked four times. While probably losing its shot at a
third straight BCS title game appearance, Ohio State did gain a quarterback
THERE WILL be no
such debate at USC so long as Sanchez stays healthy—which brings us to the
morning of Aug. 8, when Trojan Nation held its collective breath. Before the
team had even begun stretching, Sanchez took a misstep and collapsed to the
turf, writhing. "I looked down," he recalls, "and my kneecap's on
the wrong side of my leg."
Trainers slid the
dislocated left patella back into place on the field. MRIs and X-rays were
negative. Early the next morning Sanchez's father, Nick, got a call. "In my
experience," says Nick, a captain in the Orange County (Calif.) Fire
Authority, "when the phone rings at six in the morning, it's very good
news, or very bad news."