In actuality, I am not as concerned about my predictions being right or wrong. I am much more concerned about the play of the Trojans.
I was pleased after the Washington State win because I thought it was a gritty road win, a growth game for the offense and a wake-up call for the defense. I don't feel the same way about this last win. Sure there are positives: (1) The Trojans won, (2) the O-line played well, (3) some young guys like Patrick Turner stepped up and looked good. Even more, there are some excuses (and I hate excuses) – particularly the injuries that plague the Trojans at almost every position, and the fact that Washington is a vastly improved team and Isaiah Stanback is an unbelievable athlete. But regardless of all those comes a reality that the Trojans aren't playing to the character and identity that has come to be synonymous with Pete Carroll's Trojan teams.
Let me clarify what I mean:
On offense, the Trojans have been well-known for their passing game and the big plays it produces, but the truth of the numbers over the past 3 years is that their running game has been the undeniable dominant force that opens up everything else they do, and was what Pete Carroll demanded that Norm Chow use more in September of 2002 (and it's all gone pretty well since then). So far this season, the running game has been a work-in-progress, and when it is working (i.e., against Washington where SC averaged almost 5 yards per carry), the offensive coaches seem to not ride it. Even with the depletion of the receiving corps and a game where Booty was clearly missing some reads, USC passed 41 times versus 32 rushes on Saturday. I like our offensive coaches, but I don't think Saturday was their best game, and was not the character of what we NEED our team to be this season. We need that running game balance and physical dominance by the offensive line, especially this year.
On defense, I am not as worried that USC gives up some pass plays and allows some teams to get some yards – again, that is what they do… keep it in front of them, don't give up the big play. What DOES worry me is that, while the identity of Pete Carroll teams is to allow that, and make people put long drives together, it also counts on the fact that at some point during those drives, USC is going to make some big plays of its own… some big, negative plays, as Pete Carroll calls them. That part of the equation isn't happening. We aren't getting sacks. We aren't getting turnovers.
Here's the good news – Pete Carroll knows all of this, and the schedule seems to be divinely oriented towards giving the Trojans a month's worth of games (and a bye week) that will hopefully allow them to get back to that character and identity that they MUST have if the Trojans are going to get through November undefeated.
Some questions this week: (1) How long do we really think it will be until the Trojans are healthy again? (2) Will the USC defense, facing a much less mobile quarterback this week in Rudy Carpenter and an ASU team that was slaughtered by the Oregon Ducks two weeks ago, return to their dominant ways and get back to causing "negative plays" – i.e., turnovers, sacks, hits on the quarterback, etc. (3) Can the offense, despite the injuries, play physical, fast and sharp and turn red zone trips into touchdowns? (4) And maybe most importantly – and this is something we may not hear about other than on WeAreSC.com – how will the Trojans practice this week, and will they (with Pete Carroll's insistence) understand the need to get back to its "Trojan identity" (I would really like to be at team meetings and practices this week).
A lot of fun things to watch this week. Onto week six!
Jeremy Hogue is a former Academic All-American offensive lineman at USC who started 28 games over the course of his career, including the 1996 Rose Bowl victory over Northwestern. Jeremy later graduated from Harvard Law School and is now CEO of Sovereign Healthcare. Beginning this month, he will also serve as the Trojan analyst for the Fox Sports West USC Live shows following Trojan games. His column will appear after each game on WeAreSC.