Better six games late in Pacific 10 Conference play than never.
That could be the mantra of USC's once-ballyhooed defensive line, which failed to dominate conference foes until manhandling Oregon State on Saturday night at the Coliseum.
The linemen tallied six of the Trojans' season-high nine sacks and generally made life miserable for Beavers quarterback Sean Canfield during USC's 24-3 victory. The nine sacks equaled the team's total in five previous conference games.
"Ten sacks, that's all I can say," said freshman end Everson Griffen, who could be forgiven for overstating his team's sack total after registering 3 1/2 himself.
Griffen, 6 feet 3 and 265 pounds, was the standout on a line whose starters include two seniors and two juniors. He loomed especially large during one series in the second quarter, when he had two sacks in three plays. That was one more sack than he had in his career before Saturday.
"He's fast," senior end Lawrence Jackson said of Griffen, who also forced a fumble in the third quarter. "I told him he better call his mom and dad and thank them for making him fast."
Griffen, who attributed his success to "just running off the ball like coach tells me," wasn't the only playmaker along the defensive line. Jackson had 1 1/2 sacks and senior nose tackle Sedrick Ellis had one, with each player also breaking up a pass.
Jackson credited the defensive backs for the sack attack, noting that the secondary played more man-to-man coverage than in weeks past.
"They put us in great position to make plays," Jackson said. "All we needed was an extra split-second."
Oregon State's defense had been the class of the Pac-10 in terms of sacks, racking up a conference-best 33. USC lingered in a five-way tie for third with 20; take away a seven-sack performance against Notre Dame and the Trojans were averaging less than two a game.
But Griffen said he could sense something special percolating in the days before playing Oregon State.
"It was the first time all year we had a good week of practice with everybody moving to the ball," he said.
The Trojans got off to a fast start defensively when junior strong safety Kevin Ellison sacked Canfield to end the Beavers' second drive and Jackson sacked Canfield to end their third possession.
Griffen then had his two-sack series in the second quarter to help stymie an Oregon State attack that was already hampered by the absence of leading rusher Yvenson Bernard.
With Canfield constantly being harassed and backup tailback Clinton Polk managing 45 yards in 12 carries, the Beavers could muster only 176 total yards. It was the kind of struggle the Trojans' celebrated defensive front expected to regularly inflict on opponents this season.
"Tonight we had the opportunity to show we are those types of players if we go execute," Jackson said.
That a freshman led the charge among a veteran unit didn't bother the upperclassmen.
"He's made a lot of progress," Jackson said. "Tonight was his night."
Consider it one Griffen won't soon forget.
"I just showed everybody what I could do and USC could do," he said. "We dominated."