Trojan force

Gerry Ahern

LINCOLN, Neb. – Too bad the rabid, revved-up Nebraska fans who packed Memorial Stadium with bodies and sound Saturday night couldn't have been on the field.

Maybe one of them would have tackled a Trojan.

The 14th-ranked Cornhuskers' inability to knock down anyone wearing a USC uniform proved damning in a 49-31 loss to the nation's No. 1 team on this chilly September night.

"It seemed like we got gutted up the middle," Nebraska linebacker Bo Ruud said. "We didn't stop the run. … It's beyond disappointing."

All those who wondered if LSU had surpassed the Trojans as college football's premier team should take notice. Pete Carroll's latest group is not only good enough to dominate, but good enough to overcome mistakes, injuries and penalties, even in one of the most daunting environments in college football.

More Plains truth: If you give USC's talented, seemingly endless stable of running backs a second chance (or third or fourth) they will make you pay. SC backs reached the end zone five times.

The Trojans piled up 205 yards rushing in the first half alone, finishing with 313. Stafon Johnson led the way with 144 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown. The sophomore, who said he is a role player, played the star.

"When you go to a school like USC, you always want to show what you can do," Johnson said. "I was showing the coaches I was ready."

When Johnson and his backfield buddies got tired, quarterback John David Booty (19 of 30 passing, 144 yards, two TDs) pitched in.

USC's offense amassed 457 total yards. Meanwhile, its defense limited the Huskers to 31 yards on the ground. Marlon Lucky managed just 33 yards on 17 rushes.

"I don't think there was any question we could run the ball any time we wanted," Carroll said. "… We felt really good about what we were doing. We didn't have to throw the football at all.

"I thought when we needed to get our surge, to really get control in the second half, the defense rose up, took over and the game was done. "

As much as the result bolstered the notion that USC remains the force, it buoyed the idea that Bill Callahan and the Huskers can't get it done against a top-10 foe.

"This is the third game of the season," an exasperated Callahan said. "We plan on playing 14 (games). It's very early on, so anything can happen."

What hasn't happened for Nebraska under Callahan – a win against the top 10 (0-6).

The Nebraska faithful gave their lungs a workout as USC began its first possession on its own 4. But fullback Stanley Havili promptly ran through the arms of several Huskers en route to a 50-yard gain. The noise didn't seem to bother him at all.

On the second play, C.J. Gable broke several more tackles en route to a 40-yard gain setting up USC with first-and-goal at the 6.

Two plays later Booty hit Havili with a 5-yard TD pass. You had the feeling this party was over.

It wasn't, at least not immediately.

The Huskers sustained a 10-play drive to tie the game with 1:03 remaining in the first. They should thank USC's Dan Deckas, who was flagged for barking signals on a Nebraska field goal try that preserved the march. Two plays later, Glenn Cody plowed over from the 1, tying the game at 7. The party was back on.

Nebraska actually went ahead 10-7 with 9:04 left in the half, Alex Henery capping a 10-play, 56-yard drive with a 37-yard field goal. Again the Huskers benefited from a Trojans penalty, a personal foul on Terrell Thomas, that kept the drive alive.

Then, as great teams do, USC methodically turned this game from a close encounter to a light-year licking. Don't be fooled by a couple garbage-time scores by the Huskers.

USC's Vincent Joseph fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but the Trojans transformed that into a positive. Malcolm Smith recovered the bobble and ran 31 yards to the Nebraska 45. Just five plays hence, USC took the lead for good on a Havili 2-yard run.

USC showed another dimension in setting up its next two scoring drives. The defense intercepted Sam Keller (36 of 54 passing, 389 yards, two TDs) on consecutive possessions, the first by Thomas, the second by Kyle Moore. Keller faced relentless pressure from the Trojans' front and was sacked twice.

A 25-point bulge was built to 32 before the third quarter was over.

It will be interesting to see what those pollsters who vaulted LSU over USC last week do now. The Tigers toyed with Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, prevailing 44-0.

But USC's win with such authority here, even in mid-September, should mean something.

In fact, it should mean a lot.