Commentary

Bradford shines in USC's messy win

Updated: October 25, 2009, 11:37 AM ET
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

LOS ANGELES -- Pete Carroll was his usual upbeat self. His USC Trojans had scored 42 points. His tailback Allen Bradford had finally staged his breakout game, displaying the bruising style Carroll's offense had been longing for since LenDale White jumped to the NFL. His locker room was jam-packed with blue-chip recruits who were celebrating a 42-36 USC win over an Oregon State team that had beaten USC in two of their past three meetings.

But then Carroll was asked why the Trojans had so much trouble coping with Oregon State's tight ends, and his expression changed. His knees practically buckled.

[+] EnlargeAllen Bradford
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesAllen Bradford stepped up against Oregon State.

Joe Halahuni, the Beavers' sophomore tight end, scorched USC for 127 yards on nine catches, which were his exact totals in Oregon State's six previous games this season. The play on which the Beavers did the most damage -- Y-Delay -- was effective because it used the Trojans' aggressiveness against them. Halahuni would begin the play looking like a blocker, but then he'd fade downfield, often unchecked.

"It was a problem all night," Carroll said. "It was a nightmare. We just didn't execute. It's really fixable. I'm shocked that it happened."

Carroll, though, was quick to praise the Beavers, who again got great performances from the Rodgers brothers, Jacquizz (113 rushing yards) and James (194 all-purpose yards), as well as their vastly underrated quarterback, Sean Canfield (30-of-43 for 329 yards and three touchdown passes).

"I really think they're such a good team," Carroll said. "[Oregon State coach] Mike [Riley] did a great job of adjusting. He was different in the first half than he was in the second half."

The Beavers did a decent job converting on third downs in the first half, going 4-of-11 against a USC defense that had allowed opponents to hit on only 30 percent of their third downs. In the second half, they went 3-for-4 on third downs.

"Every week our coaches work their tails off," Canfield said. "They work all night to prepare us well. We've been able to do good things against USC. Give credit to Coach Riley and his staff. They've always been able to get it going against USC."

After going five games without surrendering a touchdown pass, USC has given up five in its past two games while allowing 63 points and recording no interceptions. With a huge matchup against Oregon next week, the Trojans' defense knows it must play better. The Ducks have scored more than 40 points in three of their past four games and have one of the nation's top tight ends in Ed Dickson.

"It's just not acceptable for us as a defense," said USC safety Taylor Mays, who led the Trojans with 10 tackles Saturday. "We didn't make plays out there. We've got to fix that stuff, and it has to be urgent."

Mays, who described Oregon State as "the best offense" USC has faced this season, said next week's game at Autzen Stadium "is why you play college football. The whole atmosphere is going to be crazy."

On the bright side for the Trojans, they got a big game not only from Bradford, who gained 147 yards on 15 carries, but also from their deep threat, Ronald Johnson, who caught six passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. With his performance, Johnson proved he is fully recovered from the broken collarbone that caused him to miss the first half of the season.

For Bradford, who at times has flashed big-time potential, Saturday night was a special game. USC's deep backfield isn't quite as deep after Stafon Johnson's horrific weight-room injury and Marc Tyler's broken foot. Against Oregon State, starter Joe McKnight cut up his left hand on a Beavers helmet. (McKnight said he was in a lot of pain but expects to be OK after getting treatment Sunday.) Bradford took advantage of the opportunity, running around and through OSU's defense.

Bradford admitted after the game that he had considered transferring from USC, but his teammates encouraged him to stick it out because his time would come.

"I'm really excited for him," Carroll said. "He had such a dominating performance. He ran so tough. We've been waiting for this."

And now the Ducks are waiting for the Trojans.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. You can read his daily updates on his college football blog, or check out his latest book, "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting."

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