For Reggie Bush, the Trojans 2004 National Championship campaign opened a little differently than the 2003 run to the title. Bush did find himself in similar settings; thousands of miles from home in a hostile environment and unfamiliar climate showcased on national television to an audience that does not normally see the West Coast powerhouse Trojans.
However, he found his role to be quite different in this season’s opener. Bush left Washington D.C. a hero as he lead the Trojans with 5 catches for 127 yards and 3 touchdowns in the 24-13 win over Virginia Tech. Just like Bush will never forget this performance, he will never forget last season’s opener either; he had nine yards on five carries. That was followed by six carries for 19 yards against BYU. That is pretty limited action considering what the coaching staff allowed Bush to do later in the season.
The same goes for last season’s leading rusher, Lendale White, who didn’t play against BYU, and had only six yards on five carries against Auburn. In August, White and Bush were coveted high school recruits itching to get their shot on a loaded national title contender. By October, they were household names among football fanatics nationwide.
Expect nothing different from much of this year’s recruiting class. Many are quick to question why Coach Carroll limited the playing time of national high school standouts that include Fred Davis, Keith Rivers and Jeff Byers. The Trojans clearly needed Davis’ speed at tight end. Rivers’ quickness would have aided the linebacking corps in containing Bryan Randall. The offensive line could have certainly used Jeff Byers’ strength up front to open some holes. Jeff Schweiger may have come up with three sacks if he had played in the first half against the Hokies. But Carroll knows better than that.
Carroll has no problem throwing 18-year old studs into the mix throughout the season and letting young stars shine brightly. He does have a problem, however, doing so in the season’s opening game. Throughout the coach’s four year tenure, he’s showed a repeated reluctance to give true freshmen significant playing time in the opener, and he must be praised for that patience. A lot of coaches would just pull the trigger and see what the young guy can do. Not Coach Carroll. Most of these players have been refining their physical skills for the past five or ten years. Carroll gives them one game to refine their mental skills.
In 2002, Winston Justice didn’t see the field in the season opener at home, also against Auburn. Justice would start the next twelve games and become a Freshman All-American. These young players are used to playing in front of 2,000 fans, not 92,000. It is essential for a young player to, “participate,” in a game in that environment, even if the player doesn’t see the field.
The coaching staff has a great opportunity to begin to integrate this bevy of young talent into the system because of the soft September schedule. By the Stanford game later this month, Jeff Byers may be the anchor of this offensive line. Keith Rivers could be the starting weakside linebacker for the Berkeley game in October. Fred Davis could be the starting tight end, or split end for that matter, in the Orange Bowl.
Right now, they are 18-year olds fighting for a spot on this highly-talented and highly-competitive number one team. By this time in November, Byers, Rivers and Schweiger will be household names. After all, who outside of southern California had heard the names Reggie Bush and Lendale White this time last year?
Danny Page is a junior who also serves as the color commentator for USC football on KSCR 1560 AM.