Only one team can stop USC, and it's USC
After breezing through its first two games, USC discovered the one team that can slow it down -- the Trojans.
EUGENE, Ore. -- The door to the visiting coaches' locker room burst open and USC's Pete Carroll strode through singing "The Heart of Rock & Roll," the old hit by Huey Lewis and the News. He -- Carroll, not Lewis -- flopped down in a chair, back against the wall, and switched to "Deep in the Heart of Texas."
As a singer, Carroll is one of the best football coaches in the country.
But you couldn't blame him. No. 1 USC had survived a month's worth of mistakes in the first half and come back from a 13-0 deficit to beat Oregon 45-13 in the Pacific-10 Conference opener for both teams.
Carroll looked up at his offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, whose offense scored touchdowns on its first five possessions of the second half, and said, "Kiff, that was awesome."
Kiffin deflected the praise. "You guys were the leaders today," he said, meaning the defense that Carroll runs. "With three scholarship corners?"
Never has a box score told so little of the story of a game. The final numbers correspond to a USC rout. Reggie Bush rushed for 122 yards and one score, caught a 19-yard touchdown pass and finished with 267 all-purpose yards. LenDale White added 111 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Matt Leinart threw for 315 yards and three scores.
Same old USC, right?
Not even close. According to the helmets, this was the same team that won its first two games by a combined score of 133-34. But after two games in which USC almost literally did no wrong, the Trojans opened against the Ducks (3-1) as if they could do little right. Nine penalties, a few dropped balls, two crazy turnovers, and all in 24 minutes.
USC, the team of the ages, had run into a team that could humble it -- the team in the mirror.
"Everything happened. Everything that could go wrong happened," Carroll said. "It can't be that bad. It can't keep going. It has to stop sometime."
On defense, meanwhile, injuries reduced the Trojans' secondary to the aforementioned three scholarship corners, four if you count senior William Buchanon, who moved over this week from wide receiver. One of the three, fifth-year senior John Walker, didn't make the first start of his career until Saturday night. Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens showed why on the Ducks' third possession, when Demetrius Williams toasted Walker on the way to a 36-yard touchdown catch.
Barely six minutes into the game, Oregon led 10-0. Early in the second quarter, Oregon kicker Paul Martinez nailed a 48-yarder to increase the lead to 13-0. It became obvious that when USC goes to South Bend in three weeks, the Trojans' buses no longer need to drive straight to the College Football Hall of Fame. The record crowd of 59,129 at Autzen Stadium kept the noise at a roar.
"This is a great stadium," White said. "They were loud. We were more worried about the fans. After awhile, we got used to the crowd noise, and it became easy."
Here's how easy:
The Trojans closed within 13-10 on their last two possessions of the second quarter, but they still looked like a striped shirt with plaid slacks. In the first half, the Trojans' longest play went 19 yards, a dump pass to Bush over the middle that he took in for the Trojans' first touchdown.
Kiffin, trying to reset the offensive rhythm, wanted to open with a couple of runs, then have Leinart move around more than he did in the first half. On the second play, Bush came around left tackle on a zone read. Oregon rover Patrick Chung moved up to close the hole. Bush opened up his hips as if he would move to the outside. Chung bit, Bush snapped those hips closed and cut to his right. Chung barely laid his left hand on Bush. The junior broke into the open field and went 38 yards to the Oregon 34.
"I didn't have the energy to outrun them," Bush said. "In the first half I had contusions on both thighs, and it was really hard for me to make those moves."
Three plays later, three completions later, USC scored on an 11-yard pass from Leinart to Dwayne Jarrett and went ahead 17-13.
The next time Oregon made a first down, USC led 24-13.
The next time Oregon crossed midfield, early in the fourth quarter, USC led 31-13.
Oregon made one last stab at getting back into the game, but Cameron Colvin's 6-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal came off the board because of a crackback block by tailback Terrell Jackson.
The defense, Walker included, pitched a shutout in the second half. Leinart, 12-of-25 in the first half, went 11-of-14 in the second half. He led the Trojans to five TDs in his five second-half drives.
"We're going to have tough games," Leinart said. "We're not going to just breeze through the games. The whole thing didn't go our way. We still put up 45 points and a lot of yards ."
His coach didn't want to hear it.
"It [the first half] wasn't the show we wanted to put on," Kiffin said. "The second half was more what we wanted to do, but that's not good enough. Regardless of 45 points, we didn't execute in the first half."
Carroll wanted to savor the victory. He dismissed talk of the 25th consecutive victory, another step down the road toward a third consecutive national championship. He entertained thoughts only of this season.
"A beautiful win," Carroll said. "It was so important for us." He hopped up and began shedding his clothes for a shower. "All the battles, all the struggles. You need this kind of lesson every year. They are always important. This was a particularly good game for the young guys. We need all this stuff. It would have to happen so that you have the experience. You can take on the next set of challenges."
He wandered into the shower, again singing "Deep in the Heart of Texas."
"He sings after wins," Kiffin said.
That just goes to show there's a dark side to everything.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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