As a result, I found myself watching the game at my local Hooters, located just down the street from me. Now, I understand that if you're reading this, you're probably a man and you definitely enjoy sports, so it's a safe bet that you've frequented this establishment on several occasions. I, however, was enjoying my first experience at Hooters. Let me tell you something. Hooters is what all other businesses should strive to be. From Chevrolet dealers to Charles Schwab to the Hello Kitty factory, everyone needs be more like Hooters. And the girls, which I'm sure you've heard something about, might not even be in the top five reasons why.
Okay, so I'm not sure if it's Hooters as a whole that these companies need to emulate, but I am sure that it's the combination of Buffalo wings and hundreds of TVs that would make them even more successful. On top of that, the fact that the Buffalo wings can be made boneless right in front of you simply puts it over the top.
I'll put the constantly blaring soundtrack at reason number four, allowing me to completely shut out the television commentators.
And at number five, I'll say the girls. Hey, I said they might not be in the top five. As it turns out… they are.
"Careful, He Bite": When the final two-point conversion toss fell incomplete, all I could think about was how badly I felt for so many people:
My grandma, who was at the game and undoubtedly received a fair share of abuse from Oregon State fans.
My aunt, who has a hard enough time dealing with close wins. I had no idea how she'd react to a regular season loss like this.
Shayna, who, at this point, might root for the Trojans with more passion and energy than I do.
And of course, myself. The employees at the fine establishment I was frequenting did their best to console me as much as they could. But when I looked again, it seemed they were consoling just about everyone, so I didn't put much stock in that.
After a while though, I began thinking a little bit more outside of my immediate circle and realized that there was one person who would be taking this loss harder than anyone.
Palmer plays on a team with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, two of the loudest, most over the top, trash-talkers in the National Football League. And, as it turns out, two former Oregon State Beavers who were on the 2000 squad that beat Palmer's Trojans. Now, Johnson and Houshmandzadeh normally save their squawking for opposing quarterbacks, but if they didn't let Palmer have it over the past 24 hours, so help me, I'll never frequent another Hooters as long as I live.
Not So Special Teams: Over the past several seasons, it wouldn't be wrong to call the Trojans' special teams coverage units a disaster. There have been screams about coaching deficiencies, but in the end, it all comes down to the players.
The coaches can show players how to get off a block or which lane to attack initially, but there is no way they can account for every variable of a punt or kick during a game.
Against Oregon State, the Trojans gave up several kickoff returns and the huge punt return. None of which should ever happen with the amount of athletes USC has on special teams.
The problems all come down to angles. When the Trojans give up big kickoff returns, it's almost always because they fly down the field in a long line, allowing the returner to get through the entire line with just one move.
There's a reason that defenses line up with three distinct levels. Nobody puts 11 men on the line because if the runner gets by one man, he gets by them all. Well that's what happens to the Trojans' kick coverage unit. The two outside guys on each side stay so far outside that half of them aren't even involved in every kick and most of the time, they'll just run themselves past the play.
On the punt that was returned for a touchdown, it didn't look like a single Trojan had any desire to tackle the returner. Oscar Lua sprinted down the middle of the field and just watched Stroughter run right by him. Nobody took an angle. Nobody redirected his route to the endzone. The Trojans know how to tackle a punt returner. They've done it before. It just comes down to staying focused and making a play. On Saturday, the special teams coverage units could do neither.
Student Body - Perfect Throw Between Two Defenders On The Receiver's Outside Shoulder - Left: I've never really been one to criticize coaching. My prevailing thought has always been that it's up to the players to get it done on the field. But on Saturday, two things stuck out to me that really go toward complaints about the coaches.
The first is that during the course of every game, there seem to be a handful of plays that take our defense completely by surprise. Now, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, especially considering that is the main goal of the opposing offense. But the problem comes into play when it appears that our defensive players are the only people fooled by them. I'm sitting in the stadium or at home calling out what the play will be. The people around me all say, "I knew they were going to do that." Even my grandma calls me later on and asks why we couldn't stop that play when she knew what was coming.
In particular, I'm talking about quarterback rollouts when they're close to the endzone, and draws and screens on third and longs. The defense definitely reacts to these situations as the game wears on, but for the first few times they appear every game, we have no chance at stopping them. Watching the front seven spring after the quarterback on the first third and long of the game and having the ball be flipped over their head on a screen play is getting to be like watching the tennis-ball fakeout with a dog. After a while, they start figuring out that you're just putting the ball behind your back, but for that first fake, they fall for it every single day.
The second point, and I'm sure this has been discussed ad nauseam, is the final two-point conversion play. I keep going over and over it in my head and at no point do I come up with the conclusion that it was a good call.
In football, from the professional level all the way down to the early stages of Pop Warner, if you can't simply line up and run the ball for three yards, with the game hanging in the balance, you don't deserve to win. The Trojans couldn't do it against Texas in the National Championship game last season, and they didn't even try it in this game against Oregon State.
The problem with the play they ran is that there is only one chance for it to work. First of all, Booty has only one option, eliminating 99% of the field and nine offensive players. Secondly, even if the throw is perfect, the receiver still has to make a tough catch with tight coverage. Third, with an incomplete pass ending the game, I had no reason to stay at Hooters all by myself, forcing me to leave well before I could have otherwise.
My play in that situation? A toss sweep to Chauncey Washington.
1. The Trojans have been running that play well all season.
2. It involves every single player on the Trojans' offense.
3. The amount of variables involved in it. Washington could have kept going outside, cut up inside or simply bowled someone over.
4. From three yards away with forward momentum, even if he's hit close to the line of scrimmage, he has the strength to stretch the ball into the endzone.
The play that was called left the Trojans with absolutely no options. Although, that's the only offensive play that I'll criticize from the entire game. Everything else has to fall on the shoulders of the players.
Biletni-cough Award: At times this season, Dwayne Jarrett's lack of intensity has been startling. When he wants it, Jarrett has the ability to be the best wide receiver in the nation. He made some catches against Oregon State that were beyond belief. He has the size and strength to outmuscle any cornerback in the country. Where I get confused is when he simply chooses not to do so.
Some people will complain that Jarrett's only opportunities to catch passes came on fades toward the sideline, where he had limited space to work. But that's obviously forgetting the two touchdowns that he didn't pull in because he didn't want them enough.
The first resulted in an interception and while Booty could have put the ball a little bit more in front of Jarrett, that's a throw that every single wide receiver in the nation would take: a 50/50 ball that the receiver just has to yank away from the defensive back for a touchdown. In fact, this one was probably better than 50/50 for Jarrett.
On Saturday, Brady Quinn was bailed out on two separate occasions where jump balls went for touchdowns. Granted, those throws were against defensive backs from the Naval Academy, but the point is there.
If every quarterback had to make perfect throws to result in completions, what would be the point of having talented wide receivers?
It comes down to concentration and effort, and right now, Jarrett seems to be turning them off and on.
Growing Up Booty: There is no question that this was the game where we saw John David Booty really grow into a first-rate quarterback. It may have ended on a sour note, but those final few drives were absolute magic. Every throw (or, at least the ones that got past the defensive line) was right on target and thrown to the correct receiver.
Early in the game, Booty showed exactly where he was in his maturation process. He was making beautiful throws, but not the correct reads. Several times, he threw into double and triple coverage, yet it was the Trojan receiver who would get his hands on it first. The throw to Steve Smith on a corner route (into triple coverage) and in the back of the endzone to Jarrett (into double coverage) were two of the best thrown balls you'll see from a quarterback. The only problem, of course, was that they weren't the correct reads, because of the coverage.
As the game wore on and Booty got more comfortable in heaving the ball downfield, he started loosening up and really showing what he can do when he's not pressuring himself to constantly make plays. I wouldn't be surprised at all to find that Booty was feeling somewhat upbeat after the game. The training wheels were taken off and Booty found out that he's a pretty darn good bicyclist.
Forget Apple, Make Mine Football Flavored: The most pressing issue facing this team right now (even more than the four turnovers on offense) is the lack of turnovers created by the defense.
Over the past three seasons, whenever a Trojan defender tackled someone from behind, I always expected the ball to be punched out. It just seemed natural. I'd watch other games and complain that teams never tried that or were as successful as the Trojans.
This season, it just isn't happening and I've stopped looking for it. We still hear it from coaches all the time. Secure and strip. Secure and punch. However you choose to do it, you secure the tackle and get the ball loose.
Against Oregon State, Anthony Wheat-Brown forced the only Beaver fumble of the game. Of course, the biggest problem with that is Wheat-Brown attends Oregon State.
It was also another game without an interception and if I'm this frustrated about that, the defensive backs must be going crazy.
I'm starting to think it's called Zone coverage because all it does is put the quarterback in a zone. It seems as if the Trojan cornerbacks are never allowed to display their cover skills or show their attacking tendencies by breaking on the ball or putting themselves between the quarterback and wide receiver.
I understand Pete Carroll's penchant for keeping everything and everyone in front while not allowing any deep balls. But again, if you're just asking your cornerbacks to tackle a guy after a 15-yard completion, why have talented cornerbacks?
"If They've Never Lost Before And They've Never Tied Before, Isn't That Winning ‘Em All?": It's so funny to me that people have been so shocked by this loss. First of all, this whole notion that it's been forever since the Trojans lost is just plain ridiculous. Sure, they still had the Pac-10 streak and the road game streak and the whatever streak, but didn't those all lose a lot of luster with the Rose Bowl loss? For me, it's the consecutive games streak or nothing. That's not to take anything away from what those teams did on the field, but if you're not counting overall consecutive games, don't count anything.
Also, that last loss was sustained by one of the greatest teams in the history of college football. Sure, the defense was injury riddled, but the offense put up the second most yards in NCAA history. And now this season, everyone around the country has been making a huge deal about how this year's team couldn't hold a candle to last year's team, yet they're still surprised that the Trojans lost a game? Sure, it would have been easier to accept if the loss came to Cal, Oregon or Notre Dame, but you don't just walk into a team whose colors are black and orange three days before Halloween and expect to come out with a victory. Okay, so the four turnovers had more to do with the loss than the opposition's uniforms, but whatever.
When the clock hit triple zeroes in the fourth quarter, I really expected to be bummed. I figured the season would be ruined, or, at the least, my weekend would be shot. The only thing that surprised me about Saturday's outcome though, was how easily I accepted it. With a 33-10 loss, I don't know if I would have been so understanding. Instead, they fought back from a 23-point deficit and lost the game on the final play of regulation. If anything, this 2006 squad just took a huge leap up the list of my favorite Trojan teams of all time.
There have been very few times that I've been prouder of a team than when the Trojans began marching back from that huge deficit. They showed such a mental toughness; you could tell that every Oregon State player and fan knew their only saving grace would be the clock.
As a fan, those three final scores and the energy and emotion with which they were attained made me a Trojan fan all over again. Anyone who is devastated by this loss, calling for coaching changes, or ready to hop back over to the UCLA bandwagon need not watch the rest of the Trojans' season.
At least now everyone understands the fact that we're not watching the same Trojan machine roll over every single opponent. I can only hope that you start enjoying the roller coaster ride that comes with the uncertain outcome of a football game as much as I am. I know for a lot of you, it's been a while. So, for anyone who can appreciate the fact there is an entirely new group of young men out there looking to give absolutely everything they have in terms of energy, effort and emotion, in order to represent the University of Southern California to the best of their ability, you're all welcome to watch the next game with me. I know a place that serves great Buffalo wings.
Erik McKinney is a columnist for wearesc.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.