Over the past several weeks there have been those who have been less than pleased with the USC offense, and in particular with Lane Kiffin's play calling. For the most part, I have not personally been very critical. However, tonight, the play calling, especially for much of the second half until the very last drive, seemed to be pathetic at best. Am I the only fan who wondered if Paul Hackett and his mindset had returned to USC? Seriously, exactly how many side line-fade type of routes were run tonight and how many were completed? That's what I thought. Yet time and again, that certainly appeared to be the play that was called. Does anyone understand why? The guy with whom I watched the game was as surprised as I to see that on that final drive, the one dominated by Chauncey Washington, the last two passes that were attempted were thrown to Jody Aderwale. Sorry, but throwing that pass at that time, was strange enough the first time, but the second try was just unbelievable, at least to our way of thinking.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the game tonight was that it seemed like it was Arizona State who made the adjustments at half time and they came out with an undermanned offensive line of their own (they were missing both starting offensive tackles) and they just took command of the game till the very end. Over the past several years most SC fans have grown accustomed to it being USC that made the better adjustments and then just knocked the living daylights out of their opponents. However, that is not the current pattern, and I think most would admit that USC was most fortunate to come out of this home game with a victory. And believe me, I am not ungrateful. I will take an ugly win over a well played loss every single time. Nonetheless, giving up a 21 point lead and letting a relatively weak Arizona State team take the Trojans to the wire at the Coliseum is something we have not seen all that often and hopefully, we won't see it too often in the future.
How about the offense in general? What seems to be the problem? Obviously, I am not certain, but there are a few signs that have become apparent. First, it sure looks to me that SC does not stick with things that are working or, more importantly, go away from stuff that does not even come close to succeeding. For example, the pass to Bradford out of the backfield worked like a charm, but we never saw it again. Only on the very last offensive drive, when it was apparent that JDB was having a bad night, did SC finally decide to run the ball and stick with it.
It is often the quarterback who gets lots of attention after a game, and this will be no exception. I think it is fair to say that this was John David Booty's worst game as a starter. It should not come as a huge surprise since many first year starters suffer in one game or another. He was off on all his long balls and he was inaccurate on several of his shorter throws. He showed a lack of touch and made throws that certainly appeared too hot to handle. JDB also acounted for two turnovers. He fumbled one ball and threw a pic that the ASU db took back for a touchdown. Of course, it is hard to know whether he threw a bad ball, whether Jarrett ran a bad route or both occurred. It was certainly obvious that Jarrett and Booty were not on the same page.
It is very bothersome that USC could not get into a rhythm on offense and then stay there. The Trojans had their moments, but they also were ineffective for a significant portion of the game. Perhaps it was due to the fact that SC went up by 21 points so quickly that they simply lost their momentum. Perhaps it was due to the play calling. Then again, just maybe Arizona State deserves much of the credit and they simply took it to the Trojans. In all likelihood, all of the above contributed to a rather mundane offense showing. All told SC was only 3 for 12 on third down conversions and they netted only 306 yards of offense. On the other hand, at least USC was balanced. They gained 147 yards passing and 159 yards on the ground. It should also be noted that the offensive line allowed only one sack and they appeared to handle pressure pretty well. The running backs did have some nice lanes and holes to run through and in the end, the Oline did handle the ASU dline well enough to help SC gain all their yardage on their last drive on the ground.
Prior to this game, it was mentioned by just about everyone that USC has had significant trouble getting to the opposing quarterbacks. Last week against Washington, USC did not record a single sack. Well, in this game, the Trojans did manage to sack ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter twice. They also managed to rush him hard and just miss him on several other occasions. Considering that ASU gained only 246 net yards, and considering that 7 of ASU's 21 points were the result of an interception returned for a touchdown, one would have to say that SC's defense actually did a pretty good job. Objectively that appears to be the reality of the situation. However, watching the game, and watching the way SC defenders struggled to bring down the ASU runners on many occasions, it sure seemed like SC's defense was in very deep at times. Arizona State did convert on 6 of 13 third down attempts and it was their well executed screen pass on 3rd and 21 late in the first half that kept ASU in this game and almost turned the entire thing around.
Time and again Pete has preached that it is all about the ball. Well, once again, USC did not fare well in the battle of the turnovers. SC got lucky on a muffed punt but the Trojans did lose the battle of turnovers and that has to concern Coach Carroll. The Trojans could have had one pick, but the Dback simply could not control the ball. I suspect that everyone knows SC is trying to get the ball, but things don't always work out as desired. The fact that SC could lose the battle of turnovers and still win is another of those positive of sorts, but it is not the type of thing that is likely to get a smile from Pete.
What else can one say about this game, and about the season in general up to this point? Well, for one, Troy VanBlarcom continues to kick very well. More often than not, he booms the ball, thus preventing any type of return whatsoever. Without looking overly impressive, the Trojans have managed to get through the first six games with a perfect 6-0 record. Frankly, I think SC is lucky to be undefeated, but in the end, they are still undefeated.. It is great to have a go to tailback once again and if Chauncey Washington stays healthy, I think it is obvious that the power running game will have returned to USC. The injured receivers are going to heal up and that will be a huge positive. In a few weeks, we might even get to the point where two very talented guys are available to play fullback, or whatever that position is being called these days. Allen Bradford looks like he can have a huge positive impact and his contemporary, Stanley Havili, will possibly be back in action by mid November when the schedule gets really tough.
Watching this game was quite an experience and it did help put things into perspective. For me personally, it was even more eye opening than last year's loss to the Texas Longhorns. Any time USC's defense can limit a team like Arizona State to 14 points and 246 yards and still fans such as yours truly are unhappy at the end of the game, something is wrong. In this case, it is the author of this little opinion that has also fallen into the spoiled brat category. Yes, SC did bite on the screen on several occasions. Yes, the Trojans did miss some tackles and they did have trouble bringing down some of the Sun Devils running backs. But the truth is that ASU also has some very good ballplayers and they deserve lots of the credit. It is unrealistic to expect inexperienced kids to play as well as seasoned veterans, no matter how highly touted some of these kids are. I did type that, and I do believe that, BUT, USC has been so good for so long now, that it is simply easy to become illogical. Yes, injuries are part of the game, BUT, to think it will not hurt and hurt alot to lose 4 fullbacks and three of its main receivers is simply foolish. To think that there will not be any major adjustments going from Chow and Carroll as the coordinators to Kiffin and Holt is a pipedream. Yes, there will be changes. Whether or not they will be good or bad is something each person will have to judge for himself.
Next week, USC has a bye. It could not come at a better time. The players appear to be a bit worn down and it will give the injured guys like Jarrett, Smith, Havili, McFoy and several others some rest and time to heal their bodies. JD Booty will have some much needed practice time to help work out some of the kinks and perhaps he and the receivers can get their timing down and Booty can work on his touch. USC plays its next game on the road against an Oregon State team that defeated the Washington Huskies today. As for the rankings, it would not surprise me to see SC drop below Michigan in the rankings and maybe some will also vote West Virginia ahead of USC. Based upon the way SC has played of late, that would not seem to be unreasonable. However, now that no SEC team is undefeated, it is safe to say this. If USC improves and if they run the table, (and that is one very big IF at this point), USC will be in position to return to the BSC Championship game. So far SC is still undefeated and even though some of the recent wins have not been impressive, they have still been wins. I will take that every day of the week.