I remember USC throttling opponents, stepping on their throats relentlessly. The offense was unstoppable. The defense was stifling.
Last weekend I thought I was dreaming, really. It was almost like yesteryear.
The USC offense stormed out of the gates on offense against Notre Dame, moving the ball almost seamlessly, having its way against its opponent and scoring almost at will. The defense held the Fighting Irish to two straight three-and-outs — gasp — shutting down a running game ranked 17th in the country and one of the top wide receivers in the nation in Michael Floyd.
Yes, the type of USC football we are all accustomed to is back.
The first two offensive drives were picture perfect: Senior tailback Marc Tyler bruising Notre Dame defenders and junior tailback Curtis McNeal providing the perfect complement of speed and shiftiness out of the backfield á la “Smash and Dash,” LenDale White and Reggie Bush.
And that running game set up the passing game.
On the Trojans’ second drive of the game, junior quarterback Matt Barkley hit freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee, then sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods and freshman tight end Xavier Grimble in succession. Sounds familiar, right? It brought back images of Matt Leinart connecting with guys like Dwyane Jarrett, Steve Smith and Mike Williams.
The running game clicked and opened up the passing game. The offense ran like a well-oiled machine and the Trojans couldn’t be stopped en route to a two-touchdown win.
Two drives, two scores, an early 14-0 lead. USC silenced the crowd. It took the energy out of Notre Dame Stadium. At that point in the contest, the Trojans were primed to hang almost 60 points on the Irish and force a shutout.
Shocking? Yes. Unbelievable? Not quite.
Many of us, myself included, probably envisioned a team like this. With a squad loaded with five- and four-star recruits, there shouldn’t be any reason why this team can’t perform as it has been.
In its last two games against California and Notre Dame, USC has won by a combined score of 61-26.
Through seven games, the offense has finally found its mojo.
We know Barkley and Woods are great. But Lee is turning heads, too. The other Serra High standout? Converted tailback George Farmer is making contributions to a running game that has finally found itself: Tyler and McNeal are keeping defenses honest and they’re providing the perfect balance for an offense thought to be one-dimensional earlier in the year.
Now the defense is starting to play like the unit USC coach Lane Kiffin envisioned when he first took over the reins of the football program. In their last two games, the Trojans have won the turnover battle by a margin of 8-1. They limited a Notre Dame rushing attack just 41 yards on the ground. They’re in the right spots at the right times and coming up with loose balls at opportune times. And they’ve done it on the road, not once but twice.
More importantly, they’re confident. USC has that swagger, that confidence, almost that aura about them now. This team knows it can win. A big rivalry win against Notre Dame can do a lot. A modest winning streak during a sanctioned season can do wonders.
For all the criticism the defense has had to endure, for all the finger-pointing the coaching staff has had to take and for all the unanswered questions fans kept asking and wondering, that time is no more.
The fans sense it, the students sense it. Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for Saturday’s contest against No. 4 Stanford. Sure, the matchup might warrant it, but the Trojans are rolling. They are playing exceptionally well. They deserve the attention.
ESPN College GameDay is drinking the Kool Aid, too. For the second straight year, it will be setting up shop outside the peristyle entrance to the Coliseum. For the first time in what almost seems like an eternity, USC football is once again the talk of the town. The Trojans are right back in the national discussion as it has always been and always should be.
Enjoy the ride. USC football has returned to South Central.
“In the Zone” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Trevor at firstname.lastname@example.org.