September 14, 2008

Trojans sniff out Buckeye plan

On just its second possession, the Ohio State offense showed it had the ability to beat top-ranked USC.

The plan was diverse and successful. Todd Boeckman would throw the ball short. They'd establish a power running game with Dan Herron. Terrelle Pryor would come into the game, scramble and create chaos with his feet.

The offense ran 17 plays, and gained 69 yards before scoring the game's first points on a 29-yard field goal. It took almost nine minutes off the clock.

"They had us going a little bit," USC head coach Pete Carroll said.

For those nine minutes, the Trojans weren't the best. The other 51 minutes, though, and things looked a lot different.

Four touchdown passes from Mark Sanchez and 105 yards on the ground from Joe McKnight supported another dominating defensive effort, with USC running away from No. 5 Ohio State 35-3 in front of a capacity crowd of 93,607 at The Coliseum.

The Buckeyes' second drive showed USC what their offense was capable of. After those 8 minutes and 45 seconds, the Trojan defense spent the rest of the game showing Ohio State how merciless and calculating it could be.

The 17-play drive gave the Trojan staff a chance to see Ohio State's offensive aim, and Carroll said his team reacted.

"We were catching up a little bit on the way they were substituting their personnel. We just had to get our calls in order," he said. "It takes awhile to see what they're doing. After awhile, they show you what they're doing.

"We adjusted, and then, we took care of business."

After allowing the mammoth drive, the USC defense did more than settle in - the group dominated. After the first quarter, Ohio State ran 44 offensive plays and gained just 128 total yards.

As it did in the opener, the USC defense made its opposition pay for its mistakes. Clay Matthews Jr. hit Boeckman from his backside and forced a fumble. Kevin Ellison intercepted a pass, but Rey Maualuga made the biggest play of all.

Maualuga stepped in front of a Boeckman pass during the second quarter and took the ball down the USC sideline for a 48-yard return for a touchdown, putting the Trojans (2-0) up 21-3.

"That was like my life dream right there," Maualuga said. "I was sitting in the locker room telling myself 'I could do this. I could pick a fumble up and take it to the house or grab an interception.'"

The play, in Ohio State head coach Jim Tressell's eyes was a backbreaker.

"When you throw a pick-six the other way," he said, "it makes it hard."

The perfectly orchestrated Trojan offensive game plan also worked against Ohio State (2-1).

Through two-weeks of preparation, the USC offense studied and dissected the Buckeyes' pressure packages. Saturday, it played out perfectly.

"We practice so well that we knew this was the outcome we could have - unless we didn't know what we were talking about," Carroll said. "When we prepare like that, it positions us to have a big night."

USC's first touchdown served as a perfect example.

Leading up to the game, the Trojans worked Stanley Havili on a lot of deep routes after noticing one particular blitz would leave the back coming out of the backfield covered by a lineman.

With under a minute to play in the first quarter, the Trojans called the same play Sanchez said they'd run a bunch of times in practice.

Havili ran a wheel route out wide, roasting the coverage and catching a 35-yard touchdown pass down the USC sideline.

"I guess they forgot I was out there," Havili said.

In reality, it was the Trojans calling "paper" when they knew Ohio State was playing "rock."

"We hit it exactly right," Carroll said. "They had that defense on, and we had the play we'd practice called."

After the pass to Havili, Sanchez added a pair of touchdown throws to Damian Williams and a one-yard touchdown to tight end Blake Ayles.

Sanchez completed 17-of-28 passes for 172 yards and one interception to go with his four scoring throws.

"That first big play against one of their pressures really did it for us," Sanchez said. "We knew what to expect from there. After that, it was pretty smooth."

As the sun set over The Coliseum, Ohio State's day got worse and worse, mercifully ending with the final horn. Between then and the lone successful Buckeye drive, the Trojans showed a national audience just how good they were for three dominant quarters.

The end result had Fili Moala contemplating the team's potential at its current growth rate.

"If it stays like this," he said, "we're dangerous."

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