Just How Good Are the USC Trojans?


How good are the Trojans? Well, let me answer that with another question. Just how good or how bad are the Virginia Cavaliers?

As for both questions, we won’t really know for another two weeks when the Trojans take on the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Coliseum and Virginia visits the University of Connecticut. Next week, the Trojans have a bye, and Virginia plays Richmond a Division I-AA team.

Assuming that the Cavaliers, like most ACC teams this year, are pretty poor, then we know little more about the Trojans than we did before Saturday.

What do we know?

Mark Sanchez has no problem moving around. His dislocated knee seems to be completely healed.

We also know that Sanchez, like Pete Carroll sensed, has a great command of the offense and excellent decision-making skills when given the time. He also has a stronger arm than former quarterback John David Booty.

The USC receiving corps is much improved over last year. Arkansas transfer Damian Williams is a definite threat. Offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, says that Williams reminds him of USC All-American Steve Smith. Speedster Ronald Johnson is an effective long ball threat now that he has a quartereback that can really heave it.

Although the defense lost All-Americans, Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson and linebacker Rivers to the NFL, the question marks have been erased by the likes of Everson Griffen, Averell Spicer, and Christian Tupou along with freshmen Jurrell Casey, Armond Armstead, Wes Horton and Malik Jackson

The only question here is which one of the talented freshmen does Pete Carroll think he should redshirt. That is one question that will be answered this week as Carroll takes a closer look at his recruits.

Running back is a known commodity. As I stated in my running backs preview at the start of Fall Camp, C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight would start and alternate with Stafon Johnson while Allan Bradford would assume the role of the big back.

The final question which remains to be answered is the offensive line. They looked like an effecient, well-coached and well-coordinated unit. As offensive line coach Pat Ruel likes to say, they gave Mark Sanchez enough time to cook steaks back there.

But just how good was the Virginia defense? Even in certain third-and-long passing situation, they only rushed three linemen.

Overall, Pete Carroll was please with his team’s performance. How could he be anything else?

“We were hitting on all cylinders,” Carroll said. “Not that there’s not “plenty of stuff to fix.”

Okay. What, for instances?

Well, there were Mark Sanchez’ three tipped passes at the line with little or no pressure and one toss into tripple coverage.

Also, Mark Sanchez had enough time in the backfield that he could write this article. But how will he react against a hard defensive rush? Will he make the correct reads?

He practices against one of the best defenses in the nation, so this might not be a problem for him. In fact, Carroll named him the starting quarterback last spring because of his command of the offense and his decision-making.

Joe McKnight’s fumble of a punt deep in Trojan territory. McKnight claimed a Virginia player clipped his elbow. Still, Carroll would like McKnight to be more conservative on punt returns.

The Trojans always concentrate on taking the ball away and winning the turnover battle, which they did on Saturday, 4-2. But they could have had more take-aways. Cornerback Kevin Ellison dropped two interceptions, and the Trojans could have recovered another fumble or two.

One problem that Carroll’s Trojans didn’t have on Saturday was focus.

Carroll said he took special pride in the fact that his players were able to ignore the big game coming up in two weeks (Ohio State) and remain focused on Virginia.

Safey Taylor Mays said, “The hype (around the Ohio State game) made us focus twice as hard on Virginia.”

First games can be misleading. In 2003, USC shutout Auburn down in Georgia, but a few weeks later lost a close game to Cal. In 2006, John David Booty started his career with a big win down in Arkansas, but later that year, the Trojans lost to Oregon State and UCLA.

So, what did the Virginia game tell us about how great Mark Sanchez and the Trojans will be this season?

“I don’t think we played great,” Carroll commented, looking back at Saturday’s game. “The guys did what they had to do. We don’t ever try to play great. That makes you try too hard. We’ve never wanted to put pressure on our guys like that.”