I didn’t have any noteworthy thoughts about the state of the program after the Idaho game, which showed us nothing about the team. After the following two-week wait to finally see the team in real action, I was definitely tense when Saturday arrived. Obviously, I liked what I saw on Saturday night.
Things I love about the USC Trojans right now:
- Offensive play-calling – Steve Sarkisian is showing willingness and an ability to effectively adjust his play-calling mid-game. In the 2007 Rose Bowl, USC abandoned their balanced attack in favor of passing nearly exclusively in the second half (26 of 28 plays at one point; the two runs were quarterback sneaks for first downs) to blow open the game. On Saturday against Nebraska, the Trojans turned to the running game after two stalled drives weighted toward passing and Nebraska took a 10-7 lead. They finished with 313 yards rushing vs. 144 yards passing. Best of all, the feel of the Nebraska game was reminiscent of Norm Chow-called games in 2002-2004. Many opponents during those years were allowed to hang around well into the second quarter, perhaps drawing fans of those teams into a false sense of hope. However, once Chow ran through his script, deciphered the opponent’s defensive scheme, and made his adjustments, the offense became virtually unstoppable. This game felt like that.
- Rushing defense – The defensive script for the Trojans is the same as always: stuff the run and keep everything in front of the secondary. Once the opponent’s attack becomes one-dimensional, the offense as a whole usually suffers. That’s exactly what happened in Lincoln on Saturday night. Yes, Nebraska moved the ball with lots of short passes underneath for 1 ½ quarters, but the USC defense made them earn every yard. More importantly, Sam Keller started the second half with interceptions on Nebraska’s first two drives and was mostly ineffective until the Trojans started playing their reserves.
- New guys stepping up – This is also nothing new, but the depth of talent on this team and the readiness of back-ups to excel in critical roles when needed still amazes me. Freshman David Ausberry has emerged as the Trojans’ most reliable WR. Stanley Havili is back from his medical redshirt year performing exactly as everyone hoped. Sophomore Stafon Johnson, who had all of three carries in 2006, was the offensive player of the game at Nebraska (144 yards on 11 carries). Clay Matthews did a fine job filling in for Brian Cushing. Freshman Kristofer O’Dowd’s performance at center in place of Matt Spanos has been exceptional.
The nervous anticipation I was feeling last week has turned into eager excitement for the rest of the season to unfold.