All coaches will say that there are never any moral victories in sports, but on Saturday night when the USC Trojans defeated the Cougars, 27-6, it was not only a moral victory, it was a mental victory and even, at times when the Cougar defense was stopping USC on fourth and goal situations, a physical victory. The Cougars have improved since last year and the memories of the horrid 2008 loss to USC can move one giant step further away from the current team.
The first quarter began ominously as offensive lineman Steven Ayers false started on the first play of the game. Ayers would later have to leave the game with an ankle injury. The Cougars went three-and-out on their first offensive series, with starting quarterback Marshall Lobbestael getting sacked on the third play from scrimmage. After the ensuing punt, it took USC only three plays to score their first touchdown.
Thanks to the eagle-eyed referees, who whistled the Trojans for 13 penalties - mostly in the first half - the Cougars were able to halt USC's second drive. But USC scored on their third possession and then surprised the Cougars with an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. USC recovered and scored a touchdown on the next play for a 20-0 lead and the rout was on.
After the Wazzu defense forced USC receiver Damian Williams to fumble, true freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel came in the game with 8:35 remaining in the half - and never left. With Tuel behind center, the revitalized Cougars drove down the field but Nico Grasu missed a 35-yard field goal just before the half ended.
The third quarter was a scoreless affair but was highlighted by a Cougar defensive stand that stopped the Trojans on fourth and goal from the two-yard line. Senior running back Dwight Tardy, however, fumbled on the final play of the third quarter and within a minute of the opening of the fourth quarter, USC had scored their fourth touchdown of the game.
It was to be their final touchdown because, later in the quarter, the Cougar defense, once again, rose to the occasion and stopped the Trojans on fourth and goal at the two-yard line. Tuel used that momentum to drive Wazzu down the field but after driving nearly the length of the field, Tuel tossed his first interception of his career. Only a few plays later, Trojan reserve quarterback Aaron Corp fumbled and the ball was recovered by defensive lineman Toby Turpin. Granted another rchance, Tuel hit receiver Gino Simone on four consecutive first down passes, then hit Daniel Blackledge to move the Cougars to the two-yard line where Tardy ran it in for Wazzu's first touchdown against USC in two years.
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