Trojans Win Big -- Sort Of
LOS ANGELES -- A reporter asked quarterback John David Booty what it felt like to win by four touchdowns when USC was expected to win by six. That pretty much sums up the night as top-ranked USC pulled off a dominant but not quite satisfying 38-10 victory over Idaho on Saturday night.
USC outrushed the Vandals 214-98, didn't allow a touchdown until reserves were playing late in the fourth quarter and never let Idaho become a real threat in the game. But for a team that's touted as possibly Pete Carroll's best ever, it felt like something was missing.
"I think we came out and did the best we could," linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "Expect us to be better and ready for Nebraska. On Monday we're going to check the film and see what we can do better."
He wasn't the only one with those sentiments. Coach Pete Carroll called the victory workmanlike. Sophomore standout Stafon Johnson knew a long day of film prep was coming. The much-hyped Trojans have a lot to work on.
The first thing to fix is the turnover battle. The most glaring stat of the game is that Idaho forced three turnovers while USC forced just one. And the one Idaho turnover was a gift when quarterback Nathan Enderle just dropped the ball on a pass attempt.
"I'm really disappointed that we turned the ball over three times," Carroll said. "It was not a successful night in that regard."
The Trojans struggled at times to stop the run as well, allowing Deonte' Jackson 99 yards on 22 carries and Jayson Bird 36 yards on five carries. A pair of big plays in the backfield were the only things that kept the Idaho rushing average below 4.5 yards. Again, these numbers aren't huge on paper, but USC is supposed to have the best defense in Pete Carroll's tenure and Idaho is expected to be the last place team in the WAC.
Despite the question marks, there were a number of bright spots for USC. Johnson was the brightest star of the night, logging 64 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. That's a pretty good night for a kid suiting up in a USC uniform for the first time -- especially one competing for playing time in arguably the deepest backfield a college football team's ever had.
"I didn't really know anything," Johnson said when asked if he knew he'd be a feature back tonight. "Our linemen did a great job tonight. It's a great feeling."
C.J. Gable also got significant playing time, logging 68 yards on eight carries for USC. Joe McKnight, Desmond Reed and Allen Bradford got some carries too, but most came in garbage time in the second half. Senior Chancey Washington missed the game with a shoulder injury that may keep him out for the Nebraska game as well.
Booty had a good night behind center without putting up huge numbers. He finished completing 21-of-32 passes for 206 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also spent the night taking snaps from freshman center Kristopher O'Dowd, who stepped in for injured starter Matt Spanos.
Spanos and Washington weren't the only key Trojans sitting out with injuries, which makes it hard to really evaluate where the Trojans stand heading into Nebraska in two weeks. Linebacker Brian Cushing sprained his ankle early in the game and his status is unknown. Carroll says he hopes to have him back for Nebraska. Top receiver Patrick Turner was a game-time cut due to a stinger he suffered in practice this week.
The best thing USC has going for it right now is the bye week next week. The injured Trojans will have time to heal and Carroll can work on the problems that plagued USC tonight. One thing is for sure -- they can't play the way they played tonight and expect to beat a Nebraska team that thumped Nevada 52-10 today. Expect the Huskers to provide a much better litmus test of how good USC really is. After the 45-0 beating that No. 2 LSU put on fellow SEC school Mississippi State, some voters might reconsider who's number one.
Idaho, meanwhile, returns to the comfy confines of the Kibbie Dome for a much more reasonable game against Cal-Poly.
Player of the Game
Stafon Johnson: How good would it feel to beat out stiff competition, suit up for the nation's premiere football program and score two touchdowns in front of 90,000 fans the first time you carried the ball at home? You'd have to ask Johnson.
Play of the game
Shareece Wright's tackle of Stanley Franks for a 13-yard loss in the first quarter: It was almost bigger when Franks, on a reverse, dumped the ball off to USC linebacker Maualuga, who ran it in for a touchdown. But the officials ruled that Franks was down by contact. It didn't seem to bother Wright, who crushed Jackson in the backfield on the next play for a four-yard loss.
To this point, Idaho had successfully run on the Trojans, but Wright's play changed the tone of the game.