No. 3 USC States Its Case|
Nov 1, 2003
By JOSH DUBOW
LOS ANGELES - Matt Leinart, LenDale White and the rest of the Southern California Trojans showed there's no doubt who is the best team in the West. Now they hope to have a chance to show they're tops in the nation as well.
Leinart threw three touchdown passes, White ran for 149 yards on 12 carries and No. 3 Southern Cal smothered sixth-ranked Washington State 43-16 Saturday.
"It was a great night," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "All kinds of guys made special plays. It was really a fun night of football."
In what was billed as one of the biggest Pac-10 games in years, USC (8-1, 4-1) used its big-play ability to break open a close game in the second half.
The Trojans, fourth in the BCS standings, must hope the dominant win impressed the poll voters and computers that help determine the top two teams in the country to play for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl.
They got a big boost when No. 2 Miami lost 31-7 to Virginia Tech, leaving Oklahoma as the only major undefeated team.
"We don't want to focus on that," Leinart said. "We just have to keep winning and let those other things fall into place."
Leinart threw for 191 yards, Mike Williams caught a TD pass and threw a spectacular pass of his own and Hershel Dennis scored on a 24-yard run as USC scored at least 40 points for a school-record fourth straight game.
The Trojans won their 13th straight home game and moved into a tie for first in the conference with the Cougars (7-2, 4-1) and UCLA.
"We're playing the best football we've ever played," defensive lineman Omar Nazel said. "Our offense is amazing to watch. Compared to last year we might be better."
USC is off to its best start since opening 10-0 in 1988. The only blemish came Sept. 27 in a 34-31 triple-overtime loss at California.
The Trojans had too many offensive options for the Pac-10's top defense to handle. Keary Colbert had nine catches for 80 yards and a touchdown and freshman Steve Smith started off the second half with a 55-yard touchdown catch that made it 22-10.
"We haven't played a team that has that type of speed," Cougars coach Bill Doba said.
Williams also had the most memorable play of the game. He took a lateral from Leinart in the left flat and tried to pass but nobody was open. Williams then scrambled across the field, sidestepped a defender and hit a wide-open Gregg Guenther for a 23-yard gain.
Leinart then hit Williams on a 13-yard slant to make it 29-10.
Matt Kegel and the Cougars didn't go away easily, mounting a 17-play drive with a pair of fourth-down conversions - including a 13-yard run on a fake punt by Erik Coleman - to score on Jermaine Green's 1-yard plunge.
Leinart then threw a 13-yard TD pass to Colbert on the next drive and White put the game away with his running. He had runs of 49 and 66 yards in the second half and also scored from 3 yards out.
Carroll said this year's team is even better than the one Carson Palmer led to a 11-2 record and Orange Bowl win last season.
"We're a much more balanced team," he said. "Our guys up front can really come off the football and create space for the running game."
After Smith's score, Kegel drove Washington State down to the 18 on the next drive before fumbling a snap that Jason Leach recovered at the 19.
The Cougars finished with minus 25 yards rushing - although they would have had 39 except for two botched punt snaps in the first half.
"Their front four was mixing it up every time," center Mike Shelford said. "Once we got used to one look, they would come up with another. They had a lot of mixes and twists."
Kegel was sacked five times and was under constant pressure. He left the game briefly after spraining his right knee in the second quarter.
Washington State also committed 15 penalties for 115 yards.
"We shot ourselves in the foot with the penalties early," Doba said. "I don't know what else to say. They're pretty good."
Ryan Killeen's 30-yard field goal opened the scoring for USC on a drive aided by three offsides penalties.
Kegel, who finished 28-for-47 for 291 yards, threw a 5-yard pass to Devard Darling on the first play of the second quarter to make it 7-3.
USC answered with its best drive of the half, going 82 yards in nine plays to regain the lead on Dennis' run.
USC extended the lead when Washington State backup long snapper Riley Fitt-Chappell botched two snaps. Starter Troy Bienemann did not make the trip because of a bad back and the injury proved costly.
The first, coming from the 28, went over Kyle Basler's head into the end zone. Basler knocked it out for a safety.
On Washington State's next possession, Fitt-Chappell had another bad snap from the 46 and Reggie Bush recovered at the 10 to set up Killeen's second field goal.
Drew Dunning's 49-yard field goal cut it to 15-10 at the half.