It's what Pete Carroll has to do, and while members of the media and many Trojan fans won't understand it and will want to hear his frustration with his team's often lethargic play, and his commentary about what is really wrong with this team and how he plans to correct it, there is one thing to remember – he is not speaking to the media or to Trojan fans, he is speaking to his team. This is a team that hasn't seen a loss outside of a national championship game in over 3 years, and Pete Carroll needs them to respond. How they respond will do more than just define these players for this year, as it will also determine the program's ability to stay at the peak of college football where they have been residing.
As for the specifics of the game, if you focused just on stats, the conversation could be pretty short. Without the turnovers, I think USC wins the game comfortably, so to me, the game is almost as simple as that. USC outgained OSU by over 140 yards, and averaged well over 7 yards per play – but turnovers were 4-0. There's no doubt that Mike Riley and the Beavers came in without any intimidation, had a great game plan and executed well, but in the end, it was all about the turnovers. What else is there to discuss? I could talk about the play calling, but the turnovers kept the USC offense from getting into a rhythm where they could call the game that they wanted. I could talk about the goods and bads of the defense (goods = QB pressures and sacks and holding OSU to field goals after turnovers; bads = inability to force turnovers and giving up a few key plays at key times). I could talk about some intangibles that went against the Trojans: from the OSU punt return for a touchdown, to the undeniably wrong decision to go for a touchdown on 4th and 10 with just under 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, when a field goal would have made that last two-point conversion try irrelevant.
But I think what's much more important is what happens now within the Trojan locker room, and has to do with the chemistry of this team, the leadership that is needed, and the attitude of these players, some of whom have National Championship rings for being on teams where they were spectators on game days, and now it's time to create their part of the Trojan story.
In that regard, Saturday was both concerning and encouraging at the same time. I was on the sidelines in Corvallis walking amongst the team, and time after time in the second and third quarter, the Trojans would be walking off the field after a turnover or after an OSU score, and it was surreal how lacking in energy and emotion the sideline was. There was clearly doubt and uncertainty and some wide eyes of young kids looking around for someone to make the play that would change the game. Then came some big plays in the passing game (what a game by Steve Smith), and some defensive stops, and all of a sudden, a switch was flipped and the Trojans were alive. The Trojans went on to play about as well in the fourth quarter as they have at any point of the season. But it was too little too late, and there's no real explanation as to why this team has struggled to bring that urgent, dominant, ‘we're-so-much-better-than-you-it's-ridiculous' attitude to a game for a consistent four quarters. Execution is one thing, but that attitude can't come and go during a game. It needs to be there from the time they get off the bus before the game to the time they get back on when it's over.
So what will we see next for the Trojans? After the game, I heard some people saying that this Oregon State game would be a wake-up call, but I think I remember hearing that same statement (if not saying it myself) after a close game with Washington State… and then after a close game with Washington… and then after a close game with Arizona State. Maybe this time people will be right. This week could be fairly telling – as I think USC needs a statement game against Stanford where they absolutely crush an opponent and get their swagger back before coming home for the stretch run.
So will Pete Carroll get through to his team? Will his focus on the next opponent help these players rebound and respond the way they need to? Time will tell. If they do (and there's no doubt that they can beat every team remaining on their schedule), they will find themselves right back amongst the top 2-3 teams in the country. If they don't… well, just like Pete Carroll, I don't want to talk about that.