Trojan Defense Goes Wild

Times Staff Writer

For a flicker of an instant, the guys who play along USC's defensive line attempted to be diplomatic.

They hesitated, smiled, tried to pretend they had not heard the not-so-complimentary things said about them.

It was just last week that Washington State defensive end Isaac Brown told the Seattle Times: "If you want to hold them up to the gold standard, go ahead.... But I think they get a lot of hype because they're USC."

Those words were too sharp for the Trojan front four to disregard.

"That kind of offended us," defensive end Omar Nazel said. "We were trying to show class."

"But it festered inside," defensive tackle Shaun Cody said.

"Yeah," Nazel said. "It did."

Saturday evening at the Coliseum, against Brown and the rest of the Cougars, they exacted revenge.

In a game full of highlights -- enough to fuel No. 3 USC's 43-16 victory over No. 6 Washington State -- Nazel, Cody et al. found a way to stand out.

They sacked Cougar quarterback Matt Kegel five times for minus-35 yards. They forced a fumble and broke up a pass. They helped limit Washington State to minus-25 yards rushing, although two errant snaps by the Cougars in punt formation contributed to that.

"They mix everything up," Cougar center Mike Shelford said. "Once you get used to one thing, they come with something else. It keeps pressure on you the whole time."

The front four -- for the record, it's Nazel, Cody, Mike Patterson and Kenechi Udeze -- entered the season branded as the "Wild Bunch II," a lofty comparison to the 1969 line of Al Cowlings, Tody Smith, Willard Scott, Charlie Weaver and Jimmy Gunn.

That advance billing took a header when California ran all over the Trojans in a 34-31 triple-overtime upset earlier this season.

"It made them hungry," defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said. "It made them ready to go out and play every week."

One more thing, Cody said. The coaches gave them more freedom. As long as they did the dirty work against the run, they were more likely to hear the "Go" call from the sideline.

"That means we're going," Orgeron said. "Go get the quarterback."

Which was precisely what they wanted to hear Saturday.

They were playing against the best passing offense in the Pacific 10 Conference. The opposing defense was ahead of them in the sack category, if only by one.

Cody set the tone on Washington State's first possession, tackling running back Jonathan Smith for a two-yard loss. A few minutes later, Udeze nailed Kegel for the first of his three sacks.

There was also some trickery. In the third quarter, Patterson appeared to jump early on a play where Kegel fumbled the snap, and safety Jason Leach recovered.

"I don't know if I spooked them or what," Patterson said. "I'm not going to complain."

The turnover came at a point when the game was still close. The Trojans scored four plays later, widening the lead to 29-10, and never looked back.

For a finishing touch, the line pressured Kegel into an ill-advised throw in the fourth quarter that safety Darnell Bing intercepted at the goal line.

The Wild Bunch II had proved its point, dumping a bucket of Gatorade on Orgeron's head in the waning moments. In a week when words got under their skin, they let actions speak louder.

"It's not just about talking," Nazel said. "It's about putting on the pads and playing."

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