So what is my opinion of these Trojans? It is equally as confusing. I think there are big positives to this team, and that – if they play (and the coaches call) an entire game to their potential – they can beat any team in the country. But I think there are big issues, and their play over the last few weeks would have lead them to getting beat by many teams in the country if our schedule had lined up differently.
Here's what I know:
1. The Trojan defense looked good on Saturday. Other than one touchdown-producing drive right before half-time, the defense stuffed ASU all game. The other two scores came off of Trojan turnovers, a short field, and some penalties to help. It would have been nice to get more pressure on the QB, and to force some turnovers, and they definitely got burned on a few plays, but the Trojan defense showed up on Saturday and, for the most part, shut down ASU.
2. The Trojan offense looked GREAT on Saturday… oh, and then they looked like a bad high school team… oh, and then they looked GREAT again for one last drive. The first two quarters were solid. Great start. Good balance. Strong runs. Drives ending in touchdowns. Then the second-half arrived. Turnovers. Penalties. Mental errors. It was like the first day of spring practice. Thankfully, with 11:27 on the clock in the fourth quarter and the game tied, someone on the Trojans sideline decided to put the passing game to bed and play a manly game called, "we're running it every down, see if you can stop it." And it worked.
I could go on and talk about my concerns with the offense and the lack of execution, or how the defense needs to make more big plays of its own. I could talk about how if we don't improve over the next several weeks, we won't make it through November unbeaten. All of those thoughts remain front and center in my head when I think about the 2006 Trojans as of mid-October, but if you want to hear them in detail, go back and read last week's column – it's all there.
For the sake of focusing on the positive, and because I think it needs saying, let me say what makes this team different than any other team who might be hot and cold on a given Saturday: Pete Carroll. While he isn't flawless, Pete Carroll is the best coach in the country, and the reason I say this is because, when times get tough, he puts the game squarely on his talented team, challenges them to rise up to the moment, takes his coaches out of the way, and let's the young men step up to win the battle. On Saturday night, when USC fans everywhere were disgusted by the errors in the passing game, and watching our complex offensive scheme get in the way of creating first downs, Pete Carroll was disgusted, too. So when the Trojan offense came back on the field with 11:27 in the fourth quarter, I turned to the people sitting next to me and said, "Get ready to see the running game," and sure enough, the next 11 plays were runs – almost all up the middle. And after one pass and one defensive penalty, two more runs were called, the second being a touchdown. 14 plays, 74 yards. It was beautiful, and for a team that needs some definition, may be a truly defining moment, as I hope they will now officially stop trying to live up to Leinart and Bush, and simply become their own team, with their own identity, focused on physical, tough football on both sides of the ball.
So now we are on to the bye week, and then two road games before the tough November stretch. These next three weeks will make or break this season as much as the three that follow, as USC needs some serious fine tuning, and their ability to do so now will mean victory or defeat when Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame come to the Coliseum next month.
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. 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.