USC survived another Saturday away from home. It was quite a night for Steve Smith, who seemed like finally the #1 receiver on the team! He is one of the most underrated receivers USC has had, if not the country, and it was the perfect time for him to prove that he is legit.
Forget the final stats, his catches up the middle knowing a crunching hit is coming up, some of them for 3rd downs and 4th downs to keep drives alive, were fantastic.
I think the reason it was so close was because of the lack of penetration on 1st down runs. Last year, the first down runs (either by Reggie or by Lendale) gave USC 5 yards or so, if not more. That made 2nd downs short and 3rd downs rare. Last night, and pretty much all season so far, the breaks on 1st downs have been missing. The running backs have been rotated quite frequently, and they have not yet gotten the rhythm.
Chauncey Washington seems to have enough to replace the power running of Lendale White. He does have the capability to muscle through the middle. But unlike Lendale, Chauncey has fumbled the ball a few times, and that could get costly.
Even if there is no Reggie-like breakthroughs, USC does need a running game which can consistently break runs of 4-6 yards on 1st or 2nd downs. What that does, is open up the passing game and the play action game. Then, the long passes can burn the opposition. Once the long passes make up significant ground, and points are put on the board fast, the opposition is forced to be one dimensional. Then, they start making mistakes and then USC’s defense contributes some points.
The way they are playing today, with the run game essentially useless (except the one or two long runs, which tend to skew post-game stats), USC is in fact becoming one dimensional as opposed to forcing the opposition to be that way.
With Oregon and Cal destroying their Pac-10 opposition in the last couple of weeks, USC has its work cut out for going to the Rose Bowl. I don’t think USC the way it is playing today, has a chance of competing in the National Championship, even if the make it there. But Pete Carroll’s goal has always been winning the Pac-10 and that is not going to be possible if Oregon and Cal play like they are today, and USC does not improve.