It was supposed to be a Christmas Day showcase of how far the Trojan program had come but instead it turned into a grim reminder of just how far we have to go as the Utah Utes put a lump of coal in the USC stockings on their way to a 10-6 victory in front of 22,385 fans at the Las Vegas Bowl. The Trojans received the usual outstanding performance from Troy Polamalu, the All American who led the team with 20 tackles but he was one of the few bright spots on the day for a team that expected so much more from this bowl opportunity.
They played our game
It is one thing to lose a football game but it is another to lose while being blatantly reminded of what is missing in your program. One of the first things Pete Carroll did as head coach of the Trojans was bring in Norm Chow and his vaunted short passing game, a move that officially solidified the change in emphasis from the running game of old. Trojan fans have been patient as the offense struggled through much of the season with the knowledge that Chow has consistently produced for almost three decades in college football so it is likely that his offense will eventually click at a high level but, until it does, there will be some who long for power running from the Men of Troy. We've seen too many days of embarrassing futility in recent years due to our inability to run the football and that is a concept which strikes at the very core of Trojan pride. We've heard many reasons why this area of our game has suffered (lack of talent on the offensive line, too many injuries, the need for a back who can break tackles, etc) and those are all valid concerns but at some point there needs to be the realization that when 11 football players from USC take on 11 football players from Utah there is no way on this planet that they should be able to run the football better than we do. It isn't liked they pulled a sneak attack either, we knew they were going to run the ball and we were powerless to stop it. They came after our passer and dared us to run yet we couldn't do it. My how things have changed.
Notes from the Sidelines
Troy Polamalu was simply sensational with 20 tackles on the day, including three for loss. He was all over the field and has an amazing nose for the ball in a system that is designed to put him in position to succeed. Troy was recently named an All American and his performance certainly validated that honor….The Utes converted 10 of 17 third down opportunities while the Trojans were 2 of 12…...Utah outgained USC in rushing yardage 222 to 1....The Trojans missed the presence of Mike Pollard in the middle of the linebacking corps as the Utes had so much success against Aaron Graham that the coaches used Lee Webb for the majority of the 4th quarter….Things went so bad for the Trojans that even Mr Dependable David Davis missed a FG and an extra point which turned out to be the difference in the game…..Chris Howard has his share of shortcomings but he also runs hard and makes people miss and it would've been nice to see him more in this game because he has shown the ability to give the offense a lift with a big run…..The opening scoring drive for the Utes was helped by two offsides calls against our defensive line…..The Trojans went 3 and out on the first 4 series of the game with the initial 1st down coming in the 2nd quarter on a beautiful one handed grab by Keary Colbert along the sideline…..John Cousins had a nice interception and DeShaun Hill stripped a ballcarrier with a recovery by Kris Richard. Hill will need to improve on his pass coverage next season after being burned for yet another key 3rd and long completion on a post pattern right in front of him…...
Key to Game: Offensive Lines
The story for this game was the ability of Utah to run the football on offense while at the same time stopping the Trojans from running the football on defense. The notion that they were able to succeed in both efforts is scary and points to the fact that their offensive line was able to get the job done while ours was not. Utah had two running backs hovering around the 100 yard mark, the Trojans top runner barely averaged 3 yards per carry. The Utes managed such a successful effort despite the fact that one of their best players on each side of the line had been suspended for the game but in the end it just didn't matter. Their offensive line only allowed one sack and was able to control the ball for over 38 minutes in impressive fashion, even when the Trojans were able to slow them down and force 3rd and long situations it was laughable how many times they were able to convert. Pete Carroll is a coach who loves to blitz from every angle but the Utes didn't blink and when we blitzed they just handed the ball on a draw and watched the running back convert time after time. On the other hand, the Trojan offensive line was caught off guard against the blitzing tactics of the Utah defense which had seldom used the blitz in previous games. USC was able to adjust with some success later in the day but the first half saw Carson Palmer scrambling for his life the majority of the time because there was absolutely no threat of a running game with 8 of the first 11 Trojan runs going for negative yardage. It's a sad day when a team called the Utes wins a battle of the trenches against the Trojans yet that is exactly what happened. The Trojans will head into the off season now with a list of priorities in mind but if this game proved anything it is the fact that the focus needs to be placed on the offensive line to get the players necessary to run the football when needed because football is a very difficult game to play if you can't run the ball.
There was so much at stake in this game, so much to gain in terms of momentum for the program that it is staggering to see the team come out flat and uninspired. The struggles of the Trojan team have been well documented but, finally, at long last came a bit of real opportunity with a strong close to the season and a chance to capitalize on all that excitement with an impressive showing in a bowl game. There had been many in the media who wondered about the expectations of Trojan players and fans who were so excited about going to the "lowly" Las Vegas Bowl but they were missing the point that for this team it almost didn't matter which bowl we went to or which opponent we played. This was an opportunity for us to take care of our own business and prove that we were continuing to make progress on the road back to being where we want to be. There was no looking down the noses at the game or the opponent because there was genuine excitement about showing the national television audience how far we had come but, in reality, the team that showed up on Christmas Day is more like the team that played the majority of the season and not like the one who took the field on Nov. 17th against the Bruins. There is nothing that can take away from the joy of that day and if the bowl game had been played the week after that then the Trojans likely come away with a victory but the team that had all the momentum in the world at that point was unable to sustain it for the five week layoff between games and the result was a humbling defeat. The coaches who were planning to ride the wave of good feelings after the bowl game into a successful close to the recruiting process must now alter their plans and convince those same recruits that we are still heading in the right direction. It's likely that many recruits were sitting at home with friends and family on Christmas, anxious to be shown the light by a Trojan football team that executed with precision and performed at a high level yet were shown a team that continues to search for the right combination. We all know that progress was made this year but this game was a chance to prove that this is a team ready to make that next step to return to the college football mountaintop and, no matter how many times the coaches claim the game shouldn't be viewed as a setback, it is painful to be reminded that the process is not as far along as we had hoped.
WeAreSC DinnerThe 4th annual WeAreSC "Football Recruiting" dinner will be held Saturday, January 12th at JT Schmidts in Anaheim. See highlight video of USC recruits as well as commentary from Garry Paskwietz and John Jackson. For reservations and information please call 949/222-1048.