Commentary

Sanchez, defense sparkle in dominant Trojans performance

Originally Published: September 13, 2008
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Chris "Beanie" Wells wouldn't have mattered. The same goes for Warren Wells, Dawn Wells, Orson Welles or the Mineral Wells (Texas) High Rams. No. 5 Ohio State could have put them all in white jerseys and gray pants, and it wouldn't have mattered Saturday evening.

No. 1 USC struck with a consistency atypical for mid-September on both sides of the ball. Led by quarterback Mark Sanchez's four touchdown passes, and by a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Rey Maualuga, the Trojans defeated the Buckeyes 35-3.

Ohio State suffered its worst loss since 1994 and scored its fewest points in head coach Jim Tressel's eight seasons. USC's 32-point margin matched what it did to Illinois in the Rose Bowl in January. The only thing you could say about this so-called showdown is that it could have been worse. USC made two other trips into the red zone against Ohio State and didn't score.

"This was a really good indication of [us] doing what we're capable of doing," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "There were some great plays, but I don't know that there were that many great plays. We played good football all night long. We were able to stop them. We were able to move it. We ran it, threw it, protected. We had a fantastic night on special teams."

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Kirby Lee/US PresswireMark Sanchez burned the Buckeyes with four TD passes.

It's a shame Carroll didn't give a shout-out to the popcorn vendors. Let's face it, Oscar acceptance speeches have been shorter than that. But every bit of what he said is true.

So, too, is this: For the third time in its past 17 games, Ohio State played in a game that riveted the nation and stunk up the joint. The previous two performances, with the past two BCS championships at stake, resulted in one-sided losses to Florida and LSU.

All the Buckeyes played for before 93,607 in newly expanded Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was pride and style points.

They won none of the latter. And the former -- well, what they have may be bruised.

"When you turn it over and have penalties and stop drives and just not take control in any way, shape or form," Tressel said, "a good team like that is going to make it hard for you to climb back into it."

Ohio State committed three turnovers, and a holding penalty on guard Ben Person called back a 21-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter from Todd Boeckman to Brian Robiskie. That's too bad, because Boeckman could have used the highlight. It's not just that USC sacked him four times and intercepted him twice.

Had Wells, Ohio State's junior tailback, been able to play, he may have diverted the attention of the USC defense. But Wells, held out of the game because of an injury to his right big toe, wore no pads beneath his jersey, and red sweats in place of his uniform pants.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillJim Tressel and the Buckeyes are still looking for a spark on offense.

Ohio State desperately needs an offensive spark. USC limited Ohio State to 207 total yards, only 30 after halftime. That spark may revive when Wells recuperates. It may come from freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who alternated with Boeckman and made the USC defense respect his running ability. Pryor, with a playbook no thicker than a Dr. Seuss book, competed 7 of 9 passes for 52 yards and rushed 11 times for another 40.

But the sad truth is that Ohio State had no gain longer than 16 yards against the Trojans and only two "big plays" (20 yards or more) last week against Ohio. In the second half against USC, Ohio State never got past its own 43.

"We were in the right spots all night and we made plays," said USC defensive end Kyle Moore, who had eight tackles, including a sack, and recovered a fumble. "… We worked real hard. We had two weeks to prepare for them. We [saw] everything [in practice] that they ran tonight. … A major part of their running game was sitting on the sidelines tonight. He can make plays. But tonight he didn't."

The Trojans don't play again until they open the Pacific-10 Conference season at Oregon State a week from Thursday. Forgive Ohio State if it looks at its schedule and does a double take. The Buckeyes will play the Trojans again. At least those Trojans are from Troy.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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