The USC vs Washington game was said to be a statement game for the USC program. What were the 2-3 statements that stood out to you after seeing the Trojan victory.
The biggest thing for me is that the Trojans were ready both mentally and physically for that game. The coaches had the players well prepared with the schemes and in-game adjustments, and the players stood up to whatever physical challenges were there and they didn’t back down one bit.
One of the keys to the physical effort is the way the entire team has taken on a different persona with Sam Darnold at the helm. There is an old adage that a team takes on the personality of their quarterback, and there’s no question that #14 plays the game with an element of toughness. Former USC coach John Robinson once said Sam should win the Butkus Award, not the Heisman, because he plays the game like a linebacker. I don’t think the Huskies expected the Trojans to bring it like that.
I also liked the way the team responded when faced with adversity in the second half after the two fluke slips by Adoree’ and Rogers. What had been a comfortable 17-6 game was now 17-13 and the Huskies were poised for another score. Instead, the defense held, the special teams blocked a kick, and then the offense drove the length of the field to put the game away with another touchdown. It was just a tremendous series of plays on the road when things could have easily turned.
Aside from proving in Seattle the Trojans could handle the scoreboard, pregame pressure, raucous environment of Husky Stadium, and keeping their poise when the Huskies challenged throughout the game, it was a major testimonial that not only has the team grown since the beginning of the season, but so has the head coach and his staff. Up to this point – yet taking into account that the upcoming results of rival games with UCLA and Notre Dame are still to be determined – the Trojans coaching staff, too, has shown growth both in strategy and in-game adjustments. For an in-game example, look no further than clock management and the more conservative use of timeouts against UW. The Washington game showed improved judicial use of timeouts and clock management during both halves.
Given that the Trojans victory over Washington was on national television and shown in prime time, the recruiting impact could have a long term effect. Perhaps it was a coincidence or not, but the day after the Trojans upset win over the Huskies, San Clemente High’s blue-chip quarterback Jack Sears announced he had decommitted from Duke to the Trojans and will enroll at Troy in January. It was a major signal along the recruiting front that the Helton era is gaining positive credibility and perhaps a wave of large recruiting momentum may be at hand. Seal victories at UCLA and home against Notre Dame and the Trojans recruiting train should be rolling down the track. Recruits are seeing that the Helton era is showing long term stability and staying power.
1) This USC team can be resilient during a ball game – After Washington snatched the game’s momentum by scoring on a 70 yard pass play to WR John Ross, and then intercepting Sam Darnold on the following Trojan possession . . . SC took the momentum back with a strong defensive stand, blocking a field goal attempt, and then executing a methodical 13-play touchdown drive of their own to re-establish control of the game at the beginning of the 4th quarter. That was big time football on the road, in a hostile environment, against a good team.
2) The trenches are ground zero for Trojan success – Both the Trojan offensive and defensive lines controlled the line of scrimmage at key points in the football game. The defensive line, in particular, was spectacular shutting down a potent UW running game, while putting extreme pressure on the QB. The offensive line only gave up one sack, and pounded out a 100+ yards rushing game for offensive playcalling that never abandoned the run game.
3) The Trojans can FINISH – All season, the question remained whether this SC squad could put an opponent away either on offense or defense when it counted. They couldn’t do it on the road at Utah about two months ago. But the growth and maturity of this team was on display against Washington, as the Trojan defense crushed the Huskies last two offensive possessions with an interception and 2-point safety.
First and foremost, the biggest statement that the Trojans made was quite simple – that they are legitimately one of the best teams in the nation at this point in time. Much had been made of the fact that many of the teams that they took down over the course of the last month-and-a-half weren’t the most formidable of opponents. By defeating an undefeated Washington team ranked No. 4 in the nation, however, the Trojans proved to everyone that they are a much different squad today than the one that came out to start the season.
Second, I thought that Clancy Pendergast’s defensive group proved that they have come a long way, particularly in terms of the production up front. I’ve been extremely impressed with the way that the front four has been able to provide pressure and wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks as of late, while also serving as the catalyst of a defense that has shut down two prolific rushing attacks in as many weeks.
And last, if it wasn’t clear already, I think Sam Darnold showed that he is, without a doubt, one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and a player who will be in the Heisman discussion heading into next season. To dismantle a very talented Huskies defense the way that he did, and to look so calm and smooth doing it, was impressive to say the least.