Coming out of this loss, are there any bright spots? Yes, I have to say there are. Despite the fact that John David Booty fumbled the ball and had a pic, he was tremendous in his effort to rally this team from a 33-10 deficit. He ended up hitting 24 of 39 passes for 405 yards and he passed for 3 touchdowns along the way. In the end, USC lost the game, but they may have found something of an offensive identity. For the first time all year, USC moved the ball almost at will for parts of the second half and as an SC fan, I have to hope this was a turning point. I am not talking about a silver lining. I am simply saying that this young team may have learned a valuable lesson in an adverse situation. Anytime a team scores 31 points and gains 492 yards, all is not lost, at least in terms of building for the future.
What about the turnovers? Did Oregon State simply beat the snot out of USC or did USC self destruct? Sorry, but I only saw one tremendous hit that caused SC to put the ball on the turf. One just has to know that this will really tick off Coach Carroll because he preaches over and over again that it is all about the ball. Yet, for the first time in a very long time, USC has now given up the ball more times than it has taken it away over the course of this season. My personal opinion on the pic that Booty threw is that it was not a great pass by JD Booty, but it was certainly not a great play by Dwayne Jarrett, either. The muffed snap was an unforced miscue and on one occasion Chauncey simply put the ball on the ground, seemingly untouched. And if anyone wonders whether or not Pete is affected by such a move, then just look who was in the backfield on USC's last possession. If anyone can make sense of having Desmond Reed in the backfield on that last offensive series, please let me know. This is not a criticism of Desmond, but simply a statement of fact. He is no longer a breakaway threat, and he is rather small to be a huge blocker. However, Pete must have confidence that he won't put the ball on the ground. I could not believe that we did not see either Gable or Bradford or even Chauncey, despite his fumbilitis. After all, he was given the ball on the successful two point conversion.
During the first 6 games, USC's defense was criticized time and again for not sacking the quarterback. Well, in this game, USC sacked Matt Moore 6 times, but in the end, the Trojans still lost the game and they gave up more points than they have at any other time this season. Obviously I am not saying that it is not important to sack the quarterback, I am simply saying that sacks by themselves are not an end in itself. One has to complement OSU's quarterback, Matt Moore. The former UCLA Bruin was very good in his winning performance. He hit 21 of 32 for 262 yards and he did not throw a single interception. Moore made a couple of nifty pitches, especially the one early in the game to sustain a drive while he was literally going down on a tackle.
It is asking a great deal from any defense to overcome 4 turnovers. It seemed like the defense was put in terrible situations on a number of occasions and time and again they held the Beavers to field goals. Had the defense not been as stout as it was, SC could have lost by a much bigger margin. Obviously, in the end, a loss is a loss, but once again, USC showed that it is too good of a team to get totally blown out by just about anyone. It should also be noted that in the fourth quarter when USC had to shut out the Beavers, they did it. As an SC honk, I would have loved to see the Trojans simply prevent OSU from even getting a first down, but in reality, much credit has to go to the Beavers. Even when they did not score, they did make enough plays to prevent SC from getting one extra possession to perhaps score even one more time.
As for USC's offense, lots of things come to my mind. If one asks if it is reasonable to criticize a unit that scores 31 points and gains almost 500 yards, the answer is yes. My biggest concern is with the play calling in the red zone. On USC's first drive, they moved the ball right down the field to have a first and goal. On the very next play, USC threw the ball and it ended up with a pic. With a pretty good oline and a pretty good power back in Chauncey (despite the fact that he later ended up fumbling the ball), and with a guy who runs the pitch as well as anyone in recent USC history, namely CJ Gable, just why don't we even try to pound the ball into the endzone?? This is not the first time we have had this scenario, though it was the first time this year that the pic really hurt SC and prevented an almost certain score from inside the 10 yard line. I also have to wonder why it took so long to use the middle of the field. Despite the fact that DJ and Steve Smith both made a couple of great grabs, those sideline, semifade patterns just remain low percentage plays. Unfortunately, from the perspective one gets on television, it is often hard to see who is really open on a pattern. It sure looked that on several plays, JD Booty was throwing to guys what were double or triple covered! So does that mean there were no other guys even in the pattern, and if there were others, were those guys open?
How about those special teams? Obviously, the punt coverage and the punts themselves were not good, not good at all. For the first time in a while, even Troy Van Blarcom was not on his game. He did kick one too deep to be returned, but for the most part, the kickoffs were returnable and OSU did a very nice job bringing the ball out, whereasa the SC coverage teams did not do well at all on kickoffs and we all know that Oregon State had what may be considered the game winning score on their punt return. Games are often won and lost in the battle of the special teams and today, USC came out on the short end of that deal.
After watching the game and noting a few trends, the following also came to my mind. Is USC's defense more effective with a big guy like Kyle Moore at DE or with Brian Cushing in there? Without being overly critical, to my eye, USC looked stronger on plays that had them in the more traditional 4-3 than the hybrid lineup as some like to call the 3-4. I also think that even though OSU completed some nice passes, I had to like the coverage of the USC corners when they were one on one. I thought Cary Harris played his guy great even though Stroughter made an insane catch. I also thought that it was very interesting to see that Rey sat out a good portion of the game. To my eye, it sure looked like OSU had him very well scouted and they called plays that seemed to take advantage of his very aggressive, attacking style. In fact, I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't be great to see Rey Mauluga line up as the wide defensive end on obvious passing downs and let him beat the offensive tackle one on one and get the quarterback.
Since this is USC's first regular season loss in a very long time, it is hard to know what the fans will post and say. If my hunch is correct, the naysayers will be out in force and it will be interesting to see just how negative things get. On the other hand, to expect any team to win every single game every single year is something that is a goal but it is unlikely to be reality most of the time. SC has had its share of close calls already and it is not surprising that one time things would simply not go USC's way. The question that comes to my mind is whether or not there will be positives that come out of this game? Will this season end up being more similar to the 2003 season or to Pete's first year in terms of final record??
If I were to guess, when asked what really happend in this game, the SC staff, Coach Carroll in particular, will point to the four turnovers and state that was the game in a nutshell. The truth is that it is very hard to argue with that. However, one might also wonder if it is time to open up the offense for the entire game similar to the way SC turned it one from midway in the third quarter and let this team really put up some major points. Today, USC was moving the ball and scoring without the benefits of those turnovers that are simply not coming this season. USC has incredible offensive talent; it will be great if we get to see it utilized. The defense brought more heat than usual and the results showed that. Although SC did lose the game, the six sacks and several hurries were impressive. Only an effort like Moore's today was able to overcome the increased pressure by the SC defense.
Well, next week USC travels to Stanford and it should be a game that SC can win handily. However, Stanford has a way of giving SC fits on occasions even when SC is far more talented. It will be interesting to see if Chauncey is the guy or if he will see the bench as a result of putting the ball on the ground. If you don't think that is possible, just think back to some other guys who sat down after fumbling it. Will John David Booty build on his late game efforts and become the superstar quarterback that I am hoping to see? Some will say that he did not get enough done today, but I think he lead the team to 2 fourth quarter touchdowns under duress. I was personally impressed, the last batted down pass not withstanding. In my opinion, both of his negative plays were at least as much on another guy as on him. I know others might disagree, but on that interception, it sure did not look like Jarrett made a great play and on the fumble, one has to wonder as well.
Unless I am missing something major, SC still has a chance to go to a BCS game. If USC wins its conference games, and that is a big IF, that would put them in at least a tie for the championship. Since winning out would give Oregon two losses and Cal at least one loss with a loss to SC in head to head, SC would be in business, right? However, to be truthful, right now I am anxious to see how USC responds to this loss. Will the team improve and come out with a vengence, or will the team fold? Personally, I can't see a Pete Carroll coached USC squad folding. I guess only time will tell.