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Bill Plaschke

Carroll's best? It's this team here

September 14, 2008|Bill Plaschke

Who is going to beat them?

A game that was supposed to supply this year's USC football team with its first definitive answer instead ended with a roaring, resounding question.

Who is going to beat them?

You tell me, after watching the Trojans dismantle the country's fifth-ranked team by 32 points Saturday night, exactly who is going to be better than them?

"If we practice and prepare as we have done, I don't think anybody," said beaming Trojan Kyle Moore, standing firm on the unscarred Coliseum field, saucer-eyed Ohio State players trudging around him.

This supposed game of the century ended up being a referendum on the last eight years.

You can stop debating the identity of the best team of the Coach Pete Carroll era, because, in four months, everyone will agree.

This will be it.

This was more than a 35-3 victory against an experienced group that has appeared in the last two national championship games.

This was more than a second victory in a season in which the Trojans have outscored their two major-college opponents by a combined 87-10.

This was linebacker Rey Maualuga scoring on an interception return by outrunning a wide receiver.

This was quarterback Mark Sanchez getting his Favre on by throwing four touchdown passes from his heels, his toes and his wits.

This was a debutante ball for the future undefeated national champions.

"This was USC football," said linebacker Brian Cushing, smiling under the "Feel Me" sign etched into his eye black.

Oh, the Buckeyes felt them, all right.

With flags flapping and players leaping, they initially ran on to the field as famed Ohio State.

But they left it three hours later as another state entirely. A state of confusion. A state of disrepair. Washington State?

The Buckeyes' reputed "best defense in football" -- Pete Carroll's words, not mine -- felt the Trojans score after lunging catches, playground picks and Joe McKnight's cleats on their face masks.

The Buckeyes' smart and experienced offense felt a Trojans defense that chased them from here to the Alamo Bowl with relentless pressure, constant thumps and two allowed yards in the third quarter.

Two yards.

"Yeah," said Cushing, nodding with a complete lack of surprise.

Some Columbus folks will say it could have been different if the Buckeyes had had the services of injured star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells.

Fine, if Wells played, they would have lost by only three touchdowns.

Other Columbus folks will be quick to blame the loss on three turnovers and 10 penalties, including a holding call that negated a first-half touchdown.

"It was a play here, a play there, a penalty there," said cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. "We never stopped playing hard."

Oh yeah? That's not what USC folks saw.

"Most of the game, their offensive linemen were talking to each other, then near the end, they just stopped," said Moore. "It was like they just wanted to get the game over. They were done."

To be fair, the Buckeyes had a couple of early moments of competitiveness that were cut short with penalties and mistakes, particularly when guard Ben Person tackled Trojan Averell Spicer on a touchdown pass.

But from the middle of the second quarter, the Trojans outgained the Buckeyes, 208-69.

"They got slower, and we just got more charged up," said Moore.

Isn't that what always happens with great Carroll teams?

Who is going to beat them?

Their remaining games are all against either a seemingly weak Pacific 10 Conference team or Notre Dame. Anything resembling a potentially tough battle -- Oregon, California -- is at home.

"Over the years, when we prepare this well, when we have our guys, we're hard to beat, no matter who we play," Carroll said. "That's the standard we live in."

And, under his watch, this standard has never been higher.

They don't have two Heisman Trophy winners like the 2004 team, but they might have a dozen NFL starters.

They don't have the experience of the 2002 team -- which Carroll loved dearly -- but they have more speed and depth.

The 2003 team won the Associated Press national championship, but lost a game, returning us to the question revolving around the current team.

Who is going to beat them?

Of course, there are always cracks that could lead to holes, with one appearing before the game.

On Friday, Times reporters David Wharton and Gary Klein reported that cornerback Shareece Wright had been charged with felony resisting a police officer at a party last weekend.

Many college sports teams immediately suspend athletes who are charged with felonies. Yet Wright was allowed to start and play, with Carroll saying, "We understand what happened."

Yeah, so do I, and it doesn't pass the smell test.

Afterward, Carroll said the issue would be addressed again this week. Here's hoping he handles it with the same good sense his team is showing on the field.

Who's going to beat them?

Only themselves.


Bill Plaschke can be reached at To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to

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