Trojans adjust to climate, put chill on Cougars
PULLMAN _ USC’s Reggie Bush enjoyed everything about his first trip to the Palouse, even the pre-game hailstorm.
“That’s my first time playing in weather this cold,” said Bush, a sophomore from San Diego who displayed his quickness when he wasn’t in the game by securing premium position in front of the portable heaters. “It doesn’t get that cold (at home). It was a good experience, but I don’t want to come back.
“Actually, it kind of excited us because it’s special for us. We never get a chance to play in weather like this. We just had fun with it.”
USC had a grand time early, taking advantage of two Washington State gaffes in the kicking game to jump in front 14-0 before its defense played a down. From there, the Trojans rolled out an assembly line of offensive weapons and a stifling defense to cruise to a 42-12 victory Saturday at Martin Stadium.
Bush actually didn’t reach his per-game averages, in part because he didn’t play too much in the second half
The versatile Bush, a Heisman Trophy candidate along with junior quarterback Matt Leinart, finished with 42 yards rushing, 23 yards receiving and 78 yards on three punt returns, including an electrifying 57-yarder for a touchdown in which he cut back near midfield to open up an unimpeded path to the end zone. It was Bush’s first punt return for a touchdown this season. He’s averaging nearly 29 yards per kick return.
“I felt like it was a matter of time for us,” Bush said. “The blocking was great and it always comes down to me beating the last person.”
Bush finished with 143 all-purpose yards, 32 less than his usual production. One of his most impressive plays was a 30-yard dash in the second quarter that was wiped out by penalty. He used a cutback to make one Cougar miss and then used his speed to run out of the grasp of another defender.
“He was everything everyone was talking about,” WSU linebacker Scott Davis said. “He hurt us a couple times.”
Added defensive tackle Steve Cook: “It was hard to wrap him up, especially when it was wet out there. I missed him a couple times when I should have had him.”
Plan A, B, C… .
Bush was just one cog in USC’s diverse offense.
Leinart, coming off what he described as a subpar effort against Washington, was 23 of 28 for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He softened up WSU with a number of underneath, high-percentage completions, which created room for deeper routes.
On USC’s 94-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, Leinart tossed completions for 5, 7, 8 and 10 yards. He then found Dwayne Jarrett wide open over the middle for a 42-yard touchdown.
“We know they’re an aggressive defense and they blitz a lot,” Leinart said. “We had to take advantage of the one-on-ones on the outside and use our tight ends and get the ball to Reggie out of the backfield. When you’re running it so well, it opens up the play-action. It all goes hand in hand.”
Leinart was pulled midway through the third quarter, but was summoned back by coach Pete Carroll when backup quarterback Matt Cassel fumbled two snaps and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
“We were struggling so much. We couldn’t get the center exchange,” Carroll said. “I don’t know if (Cassel) was too cold after sitting all that time in the wet. We weren’t going to throw it. (Third-stringer) Brandon Hance couldn’t play because he got hit with a flying football in our walk-through and had nine stitches in his forehead.”
Sophomore running back LenDale White, who missed drills this week with ankle and thigh injuries, showed no ill effects as he rambled for 77 yards and two touchdowns.
“Matt was just on. He really hit on all the stuff we wanted,” Carroll said. “Reggie was just lights out again with his breakouts, and it was just a classic case of LenDale hammering it and getting the tough yards and Reggie doing his thing on the edge.”
Don’t forget the D
Somewhat overshadowed by USC’s offensive firepower was another dominating performance by the Trojans’ defense.
USC, which blanked Washington last week, had WSU shut out until a turnover late in the third quarter led to an Alex Brink-to-Michael Bumpus touchdown connection. The Cougars finished with 11 first downs, minus-9 yards rushing and 156 total yards, the first time WSU has been less than 200 yards since playing Colorado in 1996.
“I was definitely shooting for that (shutout), but they came out and hurt us with some stuff in the second half,” said defensive tackle Shaun Cody, who had one sack, forced a fumble and broke up two passes.
USC sacked Brink five times. The Trojans finished with 12 tackles for loss. USC hasn’t allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown this season.
“We had two plays where we didn’t play well at the end there, and other than that, it was a great night for the defense,” said Carroll, who was more upset with how USC gave up two touchdowns than losing a shutout. “I didn’t like the way it happened. It’s how we play. We messed up and good for them. They took advantage of it.”