Move Those Chains - Oregon review

There were complaints that the Trojans threw the ball too much on first down. There were also complaints that the Trojans didn't stick with the running game when their number one tailback was averaging nearly eight yards per carry. Want to know why Chauncey Washington was so effective? It was solely because the passing game kept the Ducks' secondary away from the line of scrimmage.

First And Foremost: Heading into Saturday's game, two things were crucially important.

If Jonathan Stewart was allowed to pick up chunks of yards on the ground, the Oregon offense would have enough balance to put up points against the Trojans. Stewart gained just 42 yards on 14 carries and was basically a non-factor in the running game.

Secondly, John David Booty would have to quickly learn how to read Oregon's unusual defense. With Rover Patrick Chung lining up all over the field, Booty allowed him to be unaccounted for just once, which resulted in an 11-yard sack. Other than that, Chung was relegated to chasing down running backs and tackling wide receivers down field. Overall, Booty did a fantastic job of reading the Duck defense all night.

Taking Offense: When the USC Trojan football team takes the field each Saturday, they have a very strict warm-up schedule. There's stretching, throwing, running and some faux scrimmaging. The special teams players are out on the field early, the team captains take the field before the majority of the team. Eminem blasts as the Trojans take the field. I try to talk my relatives into actually watching the entire game without their hands over their eyes. It's all very scripted.

And after Saturday night's game, it appears that a lot of Trojan fans have fallen into a nice schedule of their own.

Now, I don't really keep to this agenda, so you'll have to correct me if I'm getting it wrong, but it seems to go something like this: Show up to the game, watch the Trojans win, complain about offensive play calling.

I may or may not have that last step in the right order. Some people do it after the win and some people do it before the win. It even seems like a lot of people have the ability to do it before, during and after a win.

Let me try to explain this to those of you who can't even stop complaining after the offense scores 35 points in a 25-point win.

If you're complaining, chances are you're not named Lane Kiffin. Now, if you're not named Lane Kiffin, chances are you're not the Trojans' offensive coordinator. And when we drag this out further, if you don't have a job as the Trojans' offensive coordinator, chances are that the actual Trojans' offensive coordinator is a better play caller than you are. So, in the logical world that I live in, that makes you an inferior offensive mind than Lane Kiffin.

To recount, these are the two most recent complaints that I've heard about Kiffin's play calling.

1. We need to run the ball more.
2. We need to attack deep through the air more.

I'll try to avoid talking about the utter lunacy of those two complaints existing simultaneously. I mean, what exactly are the Trojans doing offensively? Running the ball deep?

There were complaints from Saturday's game that the Trojans threw the ball too much on first down. There were also complaints that the Trojans didn't stick with the running game when their number one tailback was averaging nearly eight yards per carry. Want to know why Chauncey Washington was so effective? It was solely because the passing game kept the Ducks' secondary away from the line of scrimmage.

The strength of this Trojan team is the passing game. I guarantee that if you enrolled Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, Patrick Turner and this offensive line at the Naval Academy, Head Coach Paul Johnson would scrap the triple option in a second and stay up studying film of Hawaii's throw-throw-throw offense until his eyes bled.

The passing game has developed to the point where the Trojans can go to the air in any situation from any place on the field. There's no point in continuing to try pounding the ball between the tackles because that's not what this Trojan team does. I mean, it's almost like they lost their top three fullbacks and have been playing with tailbacks who are either hobbled or freshmen. And in some cases, both.

Now, that's not to say that the Trojans can't get yards on the ground when they need to. But it is to say that the Trojans don't need to go to the ground in order to get yards.

The offense has the ability to move the ball through the air against any team in the country. Oregon was leading the conference and ranked sixth in the nation in pass defense and John David Booty found his receivers when he needed to. If the opening toss to Dwayne Jarrett was thrown slightly more toward the line of scrimmage, Steve Smith and Jarrett would have caught seven passes each and Booty would have been well over 200 yards passing for the game.

That ability to find his two receivers downfield and on the sidelines kept Oregon defenders off the line of scrimmage and from camping out in the middle of the field, which led to Washington's long runs.

The incessant complaining about Kiffin and the Trojan offense is downright ridiculous.

When Topher Grace left "That 70's Show" and Josh Meyers was brought in to fill his spot, plenty of people were turned off. They either got on board with Meyers or they found something else to watch. I guarantee nobody was tuning into the show every week for the next several years openly lamenting the fact that Grace was no longer there.

I just can't understand why anyone would choose to watch something over and over, knowing beforehand that they would whine and moan about a huge aspect of it.

Executive Decision: Sure, Lane Kiffin calls the plays, but it's up to the players to run them. Much has been made out of two specific calls on Saturday night. Again, the biggest complaint was that Kiffin went away from what was working (I suppose it's a victory just to get some people to admit that something was working on offense) and tried to infuse a trick play.

I suppose that I can complain about that too. I mean, it was one thing for Kiffin to call the play, but it was completely ridiculous when he came sprinting out of the coaches' booth, stole the ball from Jarrett and launched that pass into double coverage. I don't know why more wasn't made of that. Oh wait. It's because it didn't happen.

Look, trick plays promise some of the most exciting results in football. Over the past three years, Mike Williams threw a touchdown to Matt Leinart to clinch the 2003 National Championship, Reggie Bush threw a touchdown pass to Dwayne Jarrett in 2004, and Dwayne Jarrett just missed Steve Smith during the 2006 Rose Bowl.

Saturday, Kansas State beat Texas thanks to two consecutive trick plays.

All of this is to say that there is definitely a place for trick plays in the Trojans' offensive arsenal. Dwayne Jarrett was given a run/pass option on that play and picked the wrong door. Had he run, he probably picks up some serious yardage and the play call goes into the positive category for all Trojan fans.

The same thing can be said for the deep pass to Thomas Williams. I guarantee that the last part of the terminology of that play call isn't, "and nobody else has to do anything because the pass is definitely going to Thomas Williams."

I seriously hope that those plays are called again, because the next time Jarrett has the ball in his hands with the option to run or throw, he's going to make the right decision.

Speaking Of Right Decisions: On two separate occasions, the Trojans faced goal-to-go situations from inside the five-yard line during the second quarter.

Both times, Dwayne Jarrett was lined up wide left and facing single coverage. Both times, just before the snap, Oregon walked a safety out toward Jarrett to provide double coverage. And both times, Booty audibled to a power run play away from Jarrett's side of the field. The result? Two touchdowns.

It looked to me like the initial play call both times was a pass to Jarrett. But Booty, reading the play correctly, made the switch to the run and was rewarded with touchdowns.

Those are the kinds of decisions that this team needs to continue making. Lane Kiffin sends the plays to the field, but he can't predict the last-second defensive audibles and adjustments. That's up to the players on the field. On Saturday night, the Trojans hit at 50% on those four aforementioned plays. They'll need to be better through the rest of the year, but they already know that.

Hotjobs, Monster, Careerbuilder… Screaming From The 81st Row: Throughout the game, there was a guy a few rows behind me making known his disagreement with offensive plays.

The highlight of my night, however, came during the fourth quarter.

Oregon had just scored their lone touchdown to cut the lead to 18 with just under 14 minutes left in the game.

The Trojans began the ensuing drive with consecutive Chauncey Washington runs for 26 total yards.

On the next play, Booty threw incomplete to Dwayne Jarrett and the screaming began from behind me.

"Why are we throwing the ball? Just run it!?"

The ball was snapped for the second down play and as Booty dropped back to pass, there it was again, "Why are we passing?!"

After Booty completed the pass to Steve Smith for a 30-yard gain and a personal foul put the ball at the Oregon 12-yard line, the Trojans lined up for their next play.

I was hoping that the ground-game Gestapo behind me would pipe down after the long pass play, but as Booty dropped back, there it was again. More sarcastic this time, but still as loud as could be. "Oh great, we're throwing again!!"

The result of the play, of course, was a 12-yard touchdown strike to Dwayne Jarrett.

Afterwards, Pete Carroll sprinted across the field and up the stands to offer this offensive genius a job.

The lesson is, as I started earlier, if you're not the actual offensive coordinator, there's a reason for it.

If At First You Don't Succeed…: The referees Saturday night were the worst I've ever seen. Just about every single ball spot was off for the entire game, but that pales in comparison to what took place in the fourth quarter.

What happened during the double replay on Saturday night went far beyond just an Oregon touchdown.

Because of that sequence of events, every single instant replay is now fallible.

Instant replay is supposed to be perfect. That's why they defer to instant replay.

I'm so tired of hearing announcers say, "The system works," when the referees get a call right.

Officials have made a habit of coming up with ridiculous replay interpretations that make no sense to the rest of us. But beyond that, there are so many occasions when the referee in the booth is making the exact same judgment call that the referee on the field just made.

How can a replay booth spend that much time looking at a play without actually looking at the play? If a USC defender tipped the pass and Jonathan Stewart came down with the ball inbounds, that's fine. It's a touchdown. I'll live with that.

But why wasn't that seen on the first review? They can't possibly say that they had to make a quick call because they were pressed for time. I say we go back to just dealing with human error instead of human error + video + more human error. If it's good enough for Pete Carroll, it's good enough for me.

Putting A Webbed-Foot In Your Mouth: The Oregon Ducks were the proud owners of several embarrassing moments of their own on Saturday.

After kicking a field goal to put their first three points on the board, an Oregon cheerleader sprinted across the Trojan endzone with a giant "O" flag and waved it in front of the student section.

Really? Your team has been shut out for just over 37 minutes and cut the lead to 11 with a chip-shot field goal and you're taunting the student section? I would hate to see the celebration had the Ducks eventually tied the game or taken the lead.

I'm fine with the players coming out of the tunnel before the game and waving for Trojan fans to boo louder because it pumps them up. It's anyone's game at that point and they believe they can use the extra motivation. But you certainly didn't see them doing that on their way into the locker room after digging a 14-point hole.

The other obnoxious Oregon moment came from head coach Mike Bellotti. In fact, he was the author of several obnoxious moments during his quest to vault to the top of the list of least respected Pac-10 coaches.

Challenging a replay was ridiculous enough in and of itself, but using his timeouts at the end of the game was nonsense. At that point, all you're doing is risking injury to multiple players for absolutely no reward. I don't want to go all Tony LaRussa here, but when you're on either end of a blowout, you take whatever plays the clock will allow. You don't try to create more.

Of course, coming from a guy who claimed that his team, "just ran out of time," after an 11-point loss to the Trojans in 2002 (a game in which his team actually trailed by 25 until garbage time), it wasn't all that surprising. Maybe Bellotti was looking to cut the final score to 35-24.

Wait For It… Wait For It…: I thought it was funny last week, when people were claiming that Mark Sanchez should be starting because of the spark he provides the offense when he entered the game.

What they, of course, failed to note was the fact that everyone playing alongside Sanchez helped with that spark because, as second and third string members, they absolutely love getting that chance to see playing time.

After Saturday, I'm hoping that everyone is cooling on the "Sanchez the starter" talk.

While Sanchez will be, at the least, the best quarterback in the Pac-10 in another year and a half, but he's not there yet. His interception in the fourth quarter proves it. He had Vidal Hazelton wide open, but tried to force it, off balance, to Travon Patterson and wound up getting intercepted.

I understand the idea behind Sanchez forcing that ball. He doesn't get a lot of playing time, so he's trying to make big plays. I'm all for that. But all it does is go to show that he's still growing into the quarterback position at the collegiate level.

Whatever Chris Speilman Told Reece Davis: As long as the offense is scoring 20 points per game, I'm not going to complain about that side of the ball.

As for the defensive side of things, tackling is becoming a serious issue.

There were far too many missed tackles on Saturday and if that continues, the rest of the teams on the Trojans' schedule have the ability to turn those missed tackles into long touchdowns.

Kevin Ellison and Oscar Lua had several solid hits that stood out. But for the most part, Oregon ball carriers were able to gain too many yards after contact.

If you're not a member of the Trojan defense, there's really nothing you can do about this problem. It's going to come down to whether or not those 11 guys can step up on each and every play.

Banding Together: With the Trojans in the midst of a brutal four-game stretch, it's time for their fans to start fully supporting them.

It's beyond me as to how people can buy tickets to a USC football game, complain about how the team is playing or what calls are being made at what time, and then leave early because the game has been decided before the final whistle.

On the other hand, the band was absolutely fantastic on Saturday night. They're the only reason that the "Trojan Nation" sundeck is even tolerable. They really do stand out when they're by themselves and they can make enough noise to get the rest of the stadium going. Plus, the "Hurry up and lose" chant was solid and they sounded sharp all night. Hopefully everyone will take a cue from them over the next two weeks.

The biggest game of the Pac-10 season will occur this Saturday when the California Golden Bears come to town. It would be nice to see every Trojan fan behind their team (and coaches) for an entire 60 minutes.

After the Trojans come away with a victory, I promise you can go back to complaining about why they could have lost.

Erik McKinney is a columnist for WeAreSC. He can be reached at Top Stories