Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ugly Sanchez: USC 28, ASU 0

No, I wasn't going to title this post what you're probably thinking would be funnier, but after sitting a row in front of an ASU fan who thought he was the first to refer to the USC quarterback as "dirty" roughly six times per minute, I've had enough of that.

The Trojans escaped with a win - and they won by 28. But looking at how the USC offense played, escaped is the right word. Sanchez threw three interceptions (one of them was the receiver's fault, but the other two were under-thrown) and fumbled once, giving ASU opportunities to get on the board. Sanchez was not stepping into his throws all day. In the game's opening drive, you may remember Sanchez hitting Ronald Johnson for a 34-yard completion to help set up the first Trojan touchdown. Sanchez had room to step up and make the throw, but instead he fired the ball of his back foot, and the under-thrown pass caused Johnson to stop his route to make the catch. Had Sanchez put the ball ahead of hi target, it would have been six points then and there.

So what's the big deal? USC (4-1) still took a 7-0 lead after the drive, right? Sure, but think of it this way. Late in the game, Arizona State backup quarterback Danny Sullivan threw a deep ball to a wide open receiver for a sure touchdown to put ASU on the board. Only problem: the throw was lobbed too high and not far enough ahead of the receiver. USC DB Taylor Mays closed on the receiver and broke up the play for an incompletion, a great defensive play that would not have been possible had Sullivan thrown a better ball. It's a play that could have broken up the shut out. If Sanchez is under-throwing these passes, if going to give opposing defensive better chances to make plays against the Trojans. The two INTs that were his fault were under-thrown. I don't recall seeing too many incompletion over-thrown. Hopefully for the Men of Troy, his knee isn't the reason, and he'll be able to correct this problem as USC moves forward.

Enough nit-picking. Onto the good of a 28-0 victory...

+ Yes, it was against ASU (2-4), who hasn't looked good very often this season (their two wins came against Northern Illinois and Stanford). At the same time, USC's defense not only blanked ASU's offense, but the Trojans blocked *two* field goals. Two. What the heck is happening to your offensive line on the field goal unit when you give up two blocked field goals? Well, apparently USC's front men are making a case to be named "Wild Bunch III." Granted, that's still a ways away.

+ Joe McKnight posted a career high 143 yards in his sophomore season. Looking back to Reggie Bush's career at USC, it wasn't until his sophomore season that he really flourished. McKnight has struggled at times this season (7 carries, 10 yds at Oregon State), but his explosiveness gives the SC offense something to keep linebackers on their heels. With so many different rushing options, it really just depends who is "the guy" on a given day. CJ Gable, Staffon Johnson and McKnight need to work together the way Reggie Bush and LenDale White did - that seemed to work out for USC.

+ Back to the defense. Kevin Thomas's 46 yard INT return for a touchdown was sweet. It not only put USC up a comfortable 21-0, but it provided a big defensive play that the Trojan defense hasn't really had a lot of this season. SC almost had another INT returned for six points on the game's final play when T.J. Bryant intercepted Sullivan. How greedy are USC football fans? They were upset he didn't get the score to give USC a 35-0 win. Aw shucks.

+ Okay, so I was a little disappointed Bryant didn't score. Maybe next time.

+ Kudos to Coach Carroll for going for the kill early against ASU. On 4th and 4 from the ASU 9, the Trojans lined up for a field goal. Holder Garrett Green took the snap and ran left, faked a pitch to the kicker, and tried to hit the hole. While the Sun Devils defense stopped the play one yard shy of the first down, fans at the Coliseum applauded Carroll's fake field goal attempt. They don't call him "Big Balls Pete" for nothing.

+ Rudy Carpenter getting knocked out of the game was a big loss for the Sun Devils. They weren't going to be USC with or without him, but Carpenter has played solid during his time at Arizona State. By the way, the best sign I saw the stands:

So broken a Carpenter can't fix it!

+ Really? Two blocked field goals? Damn.

+  Next up for USC, two road games against Washington State and Arizona.  Two games they can win by bigger margins than they did against ASU.  Neither game will provide the type of trap-game potential that Oregon State brought.  USC must use these games to correct the problems in the passing game.  Perhaps Sanchez just needs time to recover from his knee getting banged up in the Oregon game.  If the Trojans want to get back into the title hunt (and thanks to the shake ups in the Top 10 this week, they have a chance), their offense must be crisper than we saw this week.

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