USC: Quarterback's decision-making again questioned, but he says experience is the key.
When–Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV–Fox Sports Net 2
The USC quarterback says he makes a habit of staying away from newspapers during the season. He has missed both the praise and the criticism for his performance in a last-second loss to Oregon last weekend.
Praise for throwing touchdown passes of 75 and 93 yards, the longest of his career. Criticism for throwing three interceptions.
Praise for setting a school record with 419 yards in total offense and guiding his team to a fourth-quarter lead. Criticism for a last-minute decision to throw the ball away rather than take a knee and force Oregon to use its last timeout. The Ducks then drove for a game-winning field goal.
"I can't let it affect me," he says of the second-guessing. "I can't read into it too much."
No one has ever questioned his arm strength or ability to move around the pocket. But the redshirt junior knows that the Oregon game raised a familiar concern.
"Decision-making," he says.
It's an issue that gets raised with a guy who has looked spectacular throwing for 28 touchdowns, but has 31 interceptions. A guy who has scrambled for crucial first downs but, in separate instances, has broken a collarbone and lost a critical fumble by taking on defenders when he might have slid safely to the ground. Even his current injury might have been avoided, he concedes, if he had run out of bounds a half-yard earlier.
Coach Pete Carroll has been emphatic in his support of Palmer. After the Oregon game, he said he has never doubted his quarterback for a moment.
On Tuesday, he argued that the position requires patience, a learning curve that can stretch across five or six years.
"He's a guy who is still growing and developing," Carroll said. "We're in that process."
In many ways, the Oregon game represented a breakthrough for a USC team still learning the spread attack that offensive coordinator Norm Chow instituted last spring. Palmer had gone 2½ games without a touchdown when, in the third quarter, he flipped a short pass to Sultan McCullough and the tailback ran 75 yards for a score.
"Unbelievable call by coach Chow," he says. "He knew they were blitzing. He could sense it."
While Palmer was reluctant to take credit for that touchdown, he began the fourth quarter with the 93-yarder to a wide open Kareem Kelly.
A nicely thrown 45-yard pass to Kelly set up the go-ahead field goal a few minutes later. Palmer believes they were only a taste of things to come.
"We can get so much better," he says. "We put in new things every week and there are going to be other wrinkles. It's a matter of time."
As for the interceptions, he called them dumb decisions. And the late incompletion enabling Oregon to save a timeout, has he given as much thought to that play as have the media?
"Definitely not," he says
Better to assess mistakes, learn from them and move on, he believes. Palmer prefers to view these things over the long run, looking forward to a time when he believes his football knowledge and, yes, decision-making will match his considerable skills. His coaches concur.
"We just keep working at it," Chow said. "It has been an issue. A lot of people have talked about it ... [but] he's a young man who deserves a little more credit than he's getting."
Palmer was reminded of the improvement that former UCLA quarterback Cade McNown showed midway through his college career, a change so sudden and distinct it was compared to flicking on a light bulb. Does Palmer feel such a moment coming?
"I hope," he says. "I hope the light bulb is about to go on."
Trojan injures a knee in his first day back from attending his father's funeral.
September 26, 2001
By TODD HARMONSON
The Orange County Register
LOS ANGELES Malaefou MacKenzie simply wanted an escape from the pain, but he only found more when he returned to the football field Tuesday.
The frequently injured USC tailback, who missed the past two weeks after the death of his father Vernon, reinjured his right knee and said he heard a pop when he tried to make a cut during practice.
"I wanted it bad, but it just hurt," the Capistrano Valley High graduate said. "When it popped, it was just like, 'Not again.'"
Although USC coach Pete Carroll said he couldn't give a timeline for MacKenzie's return, Trojans offensive coordinator Norm Chow said things looked bad.
"He's having a tough time," said Chow, who said that during training camp he realized MacKenzie was the one player USC's offense couldn't afford to lose.
MacKenzie's tough time started when he injured his posterior cruciate ligament during training camp and missed the first two games of the season. Then his father, who was a high chief in Western Samoa, succumbed to prostate cancer.
"It was really hard because he had planned to come here right before he died," said an emotional MacKenzie, who traveled to Western Samoa for his father's funeral. "He was going to come watch me play against Oregon."
USC free safety Antuan Simmons tried to practice on his injured left ankle but sat out after it hurt too much. Simmons, who said he got hurt making a tackle against Oregon, said he likely will take it easy in practice so he can be ready for Saturday's game. DeShaun Hill worked in Simmons' spot Tuesday.
Trojans quarterback Carson Palmer (Santa Margarita High) suffered a deep bruise in his left thigh when he was hit against Oregon, and he said the injury was extremely painful Sunday but has improved since. Palmer practiced without a problem Tuesday.
Linebacker Matt Grootegoed (Mater Dei High) remained sidelined with an injured right shoulder, and Chris Prosser continued to work in his spot.
Offensive lineman Joe McGuire (Servite High) said his injured left knee is improving and he hopes to beat the team doctor's assessment that he will return in a month. He had arthroscopic surgery Sept. 18 to remove cartilage and smooth a rough bone.
Additional security measures for Saturday's game against Stanford at the Coliseum have been imposed in the interest of public safety as a result of the Sept. 11 tragedies in New York and Washington.
No large bags, backpacks, coolers or other large items will be allowed in the stadium. Smaller bags will be allowed but are subject to search. Fans are encouraged to arrive early; parking lots will open five hours before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff, and stadium gates will open 1 1/2 hours before game time.
The three will be arraigned in Citrus Superior Court in West Covina on Nov. 13.
Sultan Abdul-Malik, 23, a former Trojans linebacker (1997-2000), was arrested in West Covina on Friday and released Monday, police said.
Police Tuesday searched the West Covina house where Abdul-Malik was arrested, seeking more evidence, West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez said.
Statements made by two women arrested for allegedly cashing counterfeit checks led to Abdul-Malik's arrest, Lopez said.
Carroll interviewed in 1989 for Stanford's coaching position, which eventually went to then-San Francisco 49ers assistant Dennis Green. Carroll was the defensive-backs coach with the Minnesota Vikings.
Among the people with whom Carroll interviewed was National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, who worked at Stanford.
Ironically, the 49ers and Vikings had a playoff game in San Francisco the weekend the committee made its decision.
"The night before the game, they whisked me away for a second meeting," Carroll said. "The next day we played the 49ers. They scored three touchdowns in the first quarter."
"I knew I probably wasn't going to get the job."
Carroll also has close ties to Stanford athletic director Ted Leland. The pair played together at Pacific.
MacKenzie hurt again: Tailback Malaefou MacKenzie returned to practice Tuesday but felt a "pop" in his right knee and left the field. MacKenzie said the trainers think he reinjured the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee, which kept him out of USC's first two games.
He was scheduled to be examined Tuesday night or Wednesday.
"I felt a pop. I'm not sure what it is," MacKenzie said. "When it popped, I was like, 'Not again.' I'm not sure how long I'll be out. It's not as bad as it was when I did it before."
MacKenzie had just returned from Samoa, where he spent one week attending his father's funeral.
Simmons rests: Free safety Antuan Simmons did some light jogging but did not practice, to rest his sprained left ankle.
"I think he'll make it back," Carroll said.
If not, DeShaun Hill will start.
Quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a deep thigh bruise against Oregon, but he said he felt much better than earlier in the week and would not be affected by it.
Graf comeback: Offensive lineman Derek Graf of Agoura, who broke his tibia in August, said he hopes to travel with the team to the Notre Dame game on Oct. 20 and be fully recovered by November.
No surgery was needed for the injury and Graf started walking without assistance Tuesday.
In the box: After spending two games on the sidelines, offensive coordinator Norm Chow called plays from the press box against Oregon."Given a choice, I prefer the press box," Chow said.
Carroll added: "We felt it was important to help our players get started this season by having him on the field. He just wanted to make sure the players were comfortable before he made the change."
Extra security: USC has added security measures for its game Saturday at the Coliseum. No large bags, backpacks, coolers or other large items will be allowed. Smaller bags (purses, camera cases, diaper bags) will be allowed but searched.
Fans are encouraged to arrive early to allow for extra time to enter the Coliseum. Gates will open 90 minutes before kickoff.
Additional security personnel will be at the game, and all vehicles inside the Coliseum gates will be searched.
Washington kickoff: USC's game at Washington on Oct. 6 will start at 12:30 p.m. and be televised on Fox Sports Net.
|Tyrone Willingham is in his seventh season as coach of the Stanford Cardinal.|
USC vs. STANFORD
Saturday at the Coliseum, 3:30 p.m., FSN 2
Streaks: Stanford is trying to jump to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1986, when it opened with four victories. The Cardinal has won the past two games in this series.
Coach: Tyrone Willingham is in his seventh season. Only two other coaches in school history have enjoyed a longer tenure. Glenn "Pop" Warner and John Ralson both coached at Stanford for nine seasons.
Offense: Stanford runs a multiple offense. Fifth-year senior quarterback Randy Fasani has thrown eight touchdown passes in two games. He has completed 32 of 55 passes for 527 yards, has not had a pass picked off and ranks fourth in the nation in passing efficiency at 186.7. Running backs Kerry Carter and Brian Allen give the Cardinal a tough, balanced attack. Stanford is averaging 191.5 yards per game rushing.
Defense: The Cardinal has 11 senior starters on defense. The 4-3 scheme is designed play to the strengths of free safety Tank Williams and linebacker Coy Wire. Williams has the speed of a cornerback and the size of a linebacker. In two games, he has 14 tackles, four pass deflections and one interception. Wire is the first Stanford player in modern times to lead the team in rushing and tackles. He began his career as a running back and led the Cardinal in rushing in 1998. He moved to linebacker last season and led the team in total tackles. Wire has 19 tackles this season, tops on the team.
How they beat you: Stanford is an experienced team that seems to be doing a lot of important things right. The Cardinal ranks sixth nationally in scoring offense at 44.50 points per game and fifth in turnover margin at 2.0. Fasani is making some big plays. Stanford has scored on eight of nine trips inside the red zone.
How to beat them: The Trojans must do what they couldn't manage in losses to Kansas State and Oregon -- make the play in crunch time. Carson Palmer's fumble ended USC's late bid to avoid a 10-6 loss to K-State. Last week, Joey Harrington directed Oregon's game-winning scoring drive in the final minute after the Trojans were unable to get a first down to chew time off the clock.
Local angle: Running back Brian Allen, of Ontario Damien High School, plays a key role in the Cardinal offense. He had a career high 134 yards rushing in last week's victory over Arizona State. He ran for 121 yards against USC in 1999.
Nor are they enduring flashbacks of last season and the five-game losing streak that led to the team's first last-place finish in Pacific-10 Conference play.
"All we can do now is fight on," USC defensive back Troy Polamalu said, sounding as if he were reciting a line from one of the athletic department's promotional brochures.
It remains to be seen how much fight is in the Trojans (1-2) on the heels of consecutive disappointing losses to top 15 teams.
Can they really take delight in hanging tough with Kansas State this month before falling, 10-6, when Carson Palmer fumbled in the final minutes?
How can they draw encouragement from Saturday's come-from-ahead, last-second loss at Oregon?
"Am I disappointed? Yes," senior cornerback Kris Richard said.
"Am I going to hold my head down? No, not by any means."
That type of reaction and resolve was commonplace Tuesday as the Trojans prepared for Saturday's Pacific-10 Conference game against Stanford (2-0) at the Coliseum.
Polamalu and Richard said they do not believe another loss could send the Trojans into a season-long funk. Such confidence appears to be the residue of camaraderie first-year coach Pete Carroll has tried to instill since taking over this program.
The Trojans say they believe they can rebound from this slow start because they believe in one another, a feeling that didn't exist last season.
"My freshman and sophomore year, when we would go behind, you would think, 'This stinks,' " Polamalu said. "This year, you don't worry about it."
Richard agreed, saying the players have a deeper level of trust than they had a year ago.
"This year, if I get hurt, I know we have guys who can come in and get the job done," he said. "Last year -- I'm ashamed to admit it -- I didn't feel like that."
That in part helps to explain why the Trojans feel so good about themselves now.
Instead of talking about two disappointing losses, they focus on having played two national powers to the wire.
USC came within a minute -- or a first down -- of ending Oregon's home winning streak. The Ducks pulled out a 24-22 victory, their 23rd straight win at home, when quarterback Joey Harrington engineered a scoring drive in the final minute, after USC's offense went three-and-out in the previous possession.
When questioned about the crucial third-down play in the final minutes at Oregon, Carroll did a great job of playing defense,
On third-and-6 with about just over a minute remaining, Palmer scrambled to his left and threw the ball out of bounds to avoid being sacked for a loss. Palmer's decision stopped the clock, enabling the Ducks to save their final timeout.
"What happened on that play was with the rush they presented Carson Palmer, it made him roll way back," Carroll said. "Even though he knew we wanted to run the ball and make the clock run, he felt that he was so far back that taking a loss there would put us in a big hole for the punt. He felt the right decision was to throw away the ball.
"But that was not the deciding play in the game by any means. We had plenty of chances right after that to stop them, and we didn't."
Harrington, as he has done often in his career, rallied the Ducks. In 40 seconds, he completed 5 of 6 passes for 61 yards, setting the stage for Jared Siegel's game-winning 32-yard field goal with 12 seconds to go.