November 9, 2008

Mays' big hits send strong message

After USC's 17-3 win over Cal on Saturday, Trojan cornerback Kevin Thomas felt thankful.

He felt good he was able to contribute in the win; he felt good that the Trojans now control their own destiny in terms of a share of the Pac-10 Conference championship.

But mostly, he felt good he wasn't a receiver trying to make a catch while Taylor Mays lurked and loaded up yet another devastating hit.

"I've never been hit by that man," Thomas said, oozing with relief. "He's a big dude. I'm not going to try and start to get hit by him now."

The Cal Bears didn't have a choice, and Mays made them pay.

On a crucial third-quarter drive with Cal trailing by seven and starting in USC territory, Mays broke up two passes. He didn't bat either down; he violently separated the receiver from the ball.

"He was all over the place tonight. What a great game he played," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "He was huge. He knocked a bunch of balls out and really played like a great free safety. He helped guys when they were in a little bit of trouble.

"When you throw the ball the downfield, he'll knock you out. He's been doing it. This was just a more spectacular (day)."

First, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley tried to find Syd'Quan Thompson down the center of the field. With the ball hanging in the air, Mays began to close.

Thompson is 5-foot-9 and 187 pounds. Mays is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds.

The numbers say it all. This wouldn't end well for Thompson.

"That's a lot of body hitting you running that fast," Carroll said.

Mays clobbered Thompson as soon as he got his hands on the pass, sending the ball flying in the air.

On the next play following a Trojan penalty, Riley tried to find 210-pound receiver Nyan Boateng down the sideline.

Mays delivered another knockout shot.

"He definitely put him out. All I could see was the ball flying in the air," Thomas said. "I'm sure he felt all of that hit."

Mays would finish the game with five tackles and four pass break-ups. He also had an interception negated due to a penalty.

"He really showed up tonight. We knew they were a really good running team, but they hit some deep passes too," USC linebacker Brian Cushing said. "Taylor was back there, moving sideline to sideline. His speed and aggressiveness really showed tonight. He made a lot of game-changing plays."

Thomas also used the term "game-changer" to describe what Mays has been doing on the field, particularly against Cal.

"For him to make plays like that, it saves the whole defense," Thomas said. "All he's doing is giving us more faith in him when he plays like this. I think it's great"

After dropping Boateng, Mays moved directly in front of the Cal section of the Coliseum, and with muscles flexed and adrenaline flowing, he celebrated his destruction.

Boateng took the moment to recover on one knee, staring at the turf and trying to gather what was left of him.

"We really pride ourselves on playing physical," Mays said. "We wanted to show what we are and make them feel it and understand what this defense is about.

"It's what Ronnie Lott did before when he was here. It was what Troy Polamalu used to do when he was here. I was just trying to follow what the safeties before me did."

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