First-game jitters? Trojans shrug them off for big win
By Ben Malcolmson Daily Trojan
Los Angeles, CA (U-WIRE) -- A slew of new coaches, a horde of new starters, an onslaught of questions and this is the result?
A 63-17 walloping of Hawaii on Saturday at Aloha Stadium for the most part discounted the notion that USC had a lot of early season kinks to work out. The Trojans played like they were in midseason form - their championship form - in the season-opening rout.
One of the biggest examples was on offense. An offensive unit that had been sitting on the bench for eight months didn't come off the sidelines until there was 1:24 left in the first quarter. But it didn't stall like it could have. In fact, it flew, going 66 yards in eight plays.
The USC offense scored on eight of its first 10 possessions, quelling all uneasiness and providing another illustration that this team was ready from the onset - "the guys were so excited to go, they were almost overaggressive," offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said.
"It's not like we're going to get out of tune," offensive lineman Fred Matua said.
Granted, the Trojans did have a few areas of concern in their first game. New placekicker Mario Danelo missed a 42-yard field goal, and the defense allowed 437 yards. But as USC coach Pete Carroll said, "this isn't the game to make the evaluations."
"This is a really hard group to go against," Carroll said of the unique Hawaii offense. "It was really a challenge."
All in all, this season-opening win had its differences from the last two. In 2003 at Auburn, the USC offense mostly struggled, gaining only 315 yards in a 23-0 win. Kicker Ryan Killeen (making three field goals) and the defense (holding Auburn to 164 yards) were the stories of the game.
In 2004 against Virginia Tech, the Trojans needed a clutch touchdown by Reggie Bush and a late field goal by Killeen to inch away from the Hokies for a 24-13 win. Both the offense and defense faced big challenges as USC snuck out of Landover, Md., with the season-opening victory.
"You look back; we have not been a great starter offensively," Kiffin said. "We don't have great numbers in our first game."
Saturday, though, was almost entirely different from the last two openers. The first-string defense allowed only 10 points, the offense clicked on nearly every level and the Trojans started the season with the championship swagger their opponents and fans have come to expect in the last 23 games.
"We're well ahead of where we were last year at this time," tailback Reggie Bush said.
Case in point: Hawaii scored with 8:49 left in the third quarter, closing the margin to 28-10 and putting that seed of belief in its fans and players that the Warriors could play with - and possibly beat - the two-time defending national champions.
The crowd was into it, the Hawaii bench was jumping around and silly Vili the Warrior was pounding his bosom. Could this tropical paradise turn into a nightmare for USC?
On USC's first play on the next drive, LenDale White was stuffed on a run up the middle for a one-yard loss. Most of the 48,803 fans in attendance shook the stadium with a crescendo of cheers.
But on the following play, the Trojans proved why they have won two titles in the last 20 months.
After USC was set at the line of scrimmage, Leinart pulled up from center and audibled. Receiver Steve Smith, who had four receptions for 154 yards in the third quarter alone, adjusted his footing before the snap and then flew past the secondary after a nifty fake to the inside. Leinart lofted a perfectly thrown ball to Smith, who glided in for the 67-yard touchdown.
The margin was now a lot higher (35-10), the Hawaii morale was now a lot lower (they scored only a meaningless late touchdown the rest of the game) and the Trojans were just the same as the past two seasons.
But what's perhaps the biggest example of USC's midseason form?
Backup John David Booty was put in at quarterback during the waning moments of the third quarter. Yes, the third quarter.
As much as things have changed, they might have simply stayed the same.
(C) 2004 Daily Trojan via U-WIRE