After opening the 2001 season with 3 straight wins, first-year Arizona head coach John Mackovic watched his Wildcats drop their past 4 games (all were Pac-10 contests, its worst Pac-10 start ever; in fact, UA has dropped its last 9 league outings), including 31-28 at Washington last Saturday on a TD in the final 13 seconds.
The USC Trojans have played every one of their games close. However, they have suffered meltdowns in every matchup that has either put them too far behind to catch up, or opened the door near the end for comeback victories by their opponents. As hard as it has been to watch players' failed execution, time after time, it is important to realize that the Trojans are not fielding anything close to what they originally considered a starting lineup. The list of players who were expected to contribute either as starters or key backups that are either injured or no longer on the team is so long, it's almost easier to list those who are still active. This simply isn't the squad Pete Carroll and Company expected to fight through a rookie coaches season with. Because of that, every game appeared difficult, so then to compound each matchup with our own critical errors and getting a win suddenly seems impossible.
"We're going to have to play very well to get a win." This was Pete Carroll's take on the upcoming game against the Wildcats. And that pretty much summarizes the entire SC season - play well, get a win, make a mistake and kiss it good-bye. The USC Trojans just aren't good enough right now to win unless mistake free football is played.
Arizona's offensive attack is led by sophomore HB Clarence Farmer (121 tcb, 687 yds, 5.7 avg, 5 TD in 2001), the Pac-10's No. 2 rusher (98.1), junior WR Bobby Wade (30 rec, 13.1 avg, 4 TD in 2001, plus 13 PR, 8.8 avg and 3 KOR, 22.3 avg), who is the school's No. 8 career receiver (105 catches) and was a 2000 All-Pac-10 first team return specialist, senior WR Malosi Leonard (27 rec, 14.3 avg, 1 TD in 2001), and junior QB Jason Johnson (96-of-169, 56.8%, 1,236 yds, 11 TD, 7 int in 2001). When Johnson was knocked out early in the Washington contest with a concussion, redshirt freshman QB John Rattay (15-of-32, 46.9%, 208 yds, 1 TD, 1 int in 2001) replaced him and went 9-of-18 for 115 yards.
That's on offense. However the Trojans have proven that even an injured SC defense can play good enough to contain the Wildcats. The question becomes can SC's offense play well enough to keep our defense off the field so that by the fourth quarter the defense isn't so warn out that it can't stop those critical final drives? Time of possession has been an arrow in the Trojans' side this entire year. USC is averaging 15 fewer plays on offense in every game for 2001. That means the Trojan defense has had to be on the field too long in each of this season's games. This translates into player exhaustion, fourth quarter breakdowns and finally to losses versus wins.
On defense, look for junior ILB Lance Briggs (69 tac, 10 for losses, 1 FR in 2001), another 2000 All-Pac-10 first teamer who currently is tied for the Pac-10 lead in tackles (9.9), plus soph CB Michael Jolivette (41 tac, 3 int, 9 dfl, 1 FR in 2001) and junior FS Jarvie Worcester (40 tac, 2 int, 1 FR in 2001). However Arizona has been susceptible to the pass. It will be that ingredient that offers the Trojans their best chance at success. Historically, they've been a great defensive team, although they've struggled a little on that side of the ball this season.
And because of inconsistent play for SC's wide receivers, look to the tight ends to see a lot of action. Matching up Dickerson and Holmes against the Wildcats outside linebackers can work tremendously in the Trojans' favor. It will also be imperative to work the running backs into the aerial assault in one of our last attempts to "spread the field."
It has become glaringly obvious that Pete Carroll is going through his apprenticeship in the world of college football. The hiring of Norm Chow was believed to diminish those growing pains, but because of injuries to player personnel, that has not been the case. Lessons are being learned, tradition is being rediscovered and a program is being built. It takes time, but the rebuilding process is being refined by Pete Carroll and staff and will be executed by the young men who wear the Cardinal and Gold. This season will continue to mark itself as one of our toughest campaigns, but in the end the USC Trojans will be the better for it.