If you postulate that this USC offense is the best in college football history, then you must say the same thing about its offensive line. That is what the Trojans' coaches seemed to be saying in the first quarter Saturday, when they saddled up Reggie Bush to a sled of five oxen, with cheetah feet.
USC's first seven plays were runs, four for Bush, three for LenDale White. Those seven simple plays took the Trojans from their own 12-yard line to the UCLA 36. They weren't stopped until they allowed Matt Leinart to throw incompletions on the blustery Coliseum floor, and they settled for only a field goal after 16 plays. But what they really did was inflict bruises on UCLA that, in time, spread to the heart.
After the first quarter the Trojans had 118 ground yards. At halftime they had 307, and Bush had 228, and USC led, 31-6. It would get tougher and uglier for the Bruins, as the totality of this disaster began to register. The Trojans beat a 9-1 team by a score of 66-19, the most points they've scored in this series since they won the first meeting, in 1929, by 76-0.
Back then they played this game in September. Maybe they should revisit that.
Indeed, how many more years is this series scheduled? USC has a seven-game streak now, four of them by embarrassing dimensions. Maybe it will change when Leinart and, presumably, Bush and White leave next year. Maybe not. Taitusi Lutui, the left guard, is the only starting lineman who runs out of eligibility.
"I'm not going to talk about what they're going to be like in the pros," said Pat Ruel, the offensive line coach, "because all I'm interested in doing is developing them in college. I will say I've never been around a group where all five starters and maybe a couple of backups will be playing at the next level. Some will start, but all will play. It's a really remarkable group."
In the end the Trojans gained 679 yards and ran for 430 (the school and Pac-10 record is 739, set against UCLA in that '29 game). Much of it was done by Bush after the blockers had done their work. He took his hits stoically and kept running. That is one of the two differences about him now. The other is that he very rarely fumbles. That is why he'll be hoisting the little straight-armed fellow in New York on Saturday as Leinart, last year's Heisman winner, watches and smiles.
But when White barged 19 yards into the end zone to make it 17-0, the hole was so big it should have had a carpool lane. Bush and White would be all-stars anywhere, sure, but Ralph Kramden could gain 1,000 yards at USC.
"The coaches put the responsibility on us early in the week," said Ryan Kalil, the center from Servite. "We didn't move the ball as well as we should in this game last year, and this year we took our work a lot more seriously.
"Then it got windy and it was tough for Matt to throw. And by then we had emphasized the run so much it was tough to get back to the pass. It was hard for him to get a rhythm. But Matt did a great job getting us into some things with audibles, and out of some others.
"As far as Reggie goes, you don't see him make the moves, but you hear the oohs and ahhs. Then, after the play, you watch the scoreboard and you see what the oohs and ahhs were all about."
Bush's best run came when the Trojans actually needed one. They were third-and-10 on their own 3-yard line, leading, 10-0. A turnover or a Maurice Drew punt return would have given UCLA a reason to dream.
Instead, right tackle Winston Justice pulled and removed a linebacker, and Lutui and left tackle Sam Baker walled off the pursuit. The receivers blocked, too, and Bush zoomed 65 yards in front of the USC bench, and White scored five plays later.
This is modern football, remember, played in air space. USC had 21 rushing first downs and gained 8.4 yards per carry.
"UCLA had three weeks to get ready," Kalil said. "You can't change your whole base defense, but you can put in some new looks. They were shifting a lot right before the snap. But when you've played together like we have, you develop that communication. We eventually figured it out. And we were already moving the ball anyway."
"I don't know if we wore them down," Baker said, "but I think we discouraged them."
Everybody but Kalil is over 300 pounds. That's true nearly everywhere in college football. But the Trojans don't just push and grunt and pass-protect. Lutui tips the Toledos at 365 but regularly leads the play.
"He's the best dancer, too," Kalil said.
The Trojans run the same way the Denver Broncos run, because the linemen can stick and move and zone-block.
"Tim had these guys when they were young and put them together," said Ruel, who has been on five NFL staffs. "All I've tried to do is get them to improve individually, get them to do things quicker. Our game is speed and quickness. We're not a cumbersome offense that relies on power."
"This was a week when our guys got a lot of honors. There's a danger in forgetting that you're only as good as your last play. We made sure our guys realized that."
The Bruins realize it, too. Their 40-point-a-game offense did not score a touchdown on USC's first-team defense. They gave up touchdown drives of 74 or more yards six times. It's this way every week, and especially when the games are played for roses and glass footballs: as soon as you're convinced that you realize how good the Trojans are, they get better.
In other NCAA action: No. 13 Georgia 34, No. 3 LSU 14; No. 12 West Virginia 28, South Florida 13; No. 16 Louisville 30, Connecticut 20; Florida St. 27, No. 5 Virginia Tech 22.