It is often said that anything can happen in a rival game and I believe that was proven without a doubt today. UCLA, a team with far less impressive credentials coming into this game, was the better team on the field at the Rose Bowl. They were ready to play and they were ready to stop the mighty Trojans. From a fan's standpoint, this game was a total disaster. Nothing positive, absolutely nothing came out of this experience. UCLA's defense deserves all the credit in the world. However, the Bruins got a ton and a half of help from the Trojans in this game. First, the USC offense did not execute well at all. I have to say that this game saw some of the most controversial play calling I have seen in years. I would never question going for a first down on fourth and short. However, I will never understand some of the choice of plays that somebody called. I say somebody, because I really don't know if Lane Kiffin called the plays or whether it came from Coach Carroll. Either way, running the ball on fourth and short right into the stacked line twice made no sense to me at all. This is not a criticism from an armchair quarterback. This is simply calling it the way I saw it. In the recent past, SC showed some real spunk when the Trojans shunned the run and threw the ball to a wide open Steve Smith on fourth and short. When a team's top offensive weapons on a night are Jarrett, Smith and Fred Davis, I simply cannot understand leaving them out of so many crucial calls.
To be fair, the USC defense played a very good game and holding the Bruins to a mere 13 points should have been enough to secure a victory. However, this was not a routine game for the USC offense and points ended up being very difficult to come by for this USC squad. Although USC out gained the Bruins by almost 100 yards, 327 to 235, the Trojans were never in synch for any major time in this game. On possession after possession, just when it looked like USC might be onto something on the offensive side of the ball, they self destructed. It is not picking on somebody to state facts. Well the facts are that on 3 separate occasions, USC was penalized because Kyle Williams moved early. Combining that with an illegal procedure and personal foul against Chilo Rachal and the Trojans did almost as good a job stopping themselves as the UCLA defense did. It is important, however, to admit the truth. USC and their offensive unit did a terrible overall job of handling UCLA's pressure. Williams had fits with Bruce Davis and to a lesser extent, so did Sam Baker. One simply has to give the Bruins credit. They must have seen something on film, because they seemed to be in position time after time and without a doubt, Pete Carroll's old assistant coach, DeWayne Walker, got the better of Carroll's current offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin and it was not even close. While the UCLA defense came with some innovative plays and while they performed admirably, the USC offense looked disheveled and totally out of synch.
One can't help but wonder if just perhaps, USC finally ran out of gas. No excuses are being offered here. I am simply wondering if playing Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame and UCLA on consecutive weeks was more than the kids and staff could overcome. Fans and college football in general has been spoiled by the recent success that USC has enjoyed. Winning 55 of 59 games is something that I never imagined I would see in my lifetime and who knows if any of us will ever see such a run again. To be truthful, this is a young team and they actually have one more game to close out this season. How USC will play in the Rose Bowl is a subject for another day, but I do believe that whoever SC plays, that team is very likely to bring pressure and lots of it until USC shows it is ready to handle the various schemes.
Special team play was not much of a factor one way or the other. SC punted the ball well and no field goals were attempted. The Bruins did manage to have one pretty good punt return, but it did not provide that big spark to turn the ballgame around. Van Blarcom seemed to have found his leg and UCLA never really threatened on any major special teams plays. The Bruins kicker Justin Medlock was two for two on routine looking field goals, but he should be credited for making both of his tries. In the end, those points were the difference in this game.
What about John David Booty's performance in this game? Well, his statistics were not all that bad. He hit 23 of 39 for 272 yards but he threw no touchdowns and in crunch time, he threw what might have been the worst pick of the season. While trying to lead SC to the winning score, once again JD Booty had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage and this time, the guy who tipped the ball also made the interception. In many ways that play summarized the entire night for the Trojans. It just was not meant to be for USC. To be fair to Booty, he was under tremendous pressure all day long. I just wish he were either a bit more mobile, because there were some seems through which a guy could run. To see what a quarterback can do against a pressure offense, one merely had to look at Booty's Bruin counterpart. Although Cowen did not throw the ball incredibly well, he did run the ball very well and he single-handedly handed it to the Trojans when the Bruins mounted their first and only touchdown scoring drive of the game. Once again, an Achilles heel for a Pete Carroll coached team was a mobile quarterback. One has to hand it to Karl Dorrell. He made the right choice going with Cowan over the more highly acclaimed Ben Olson. One simply can't overestimate the value of a kid who can move to get away from pressure. In fact, running quarterbacks have wreaked havoc on the USC Football Trojans in their last two appearances in the Rose Bowl. Let's just hope a guy from LSU does not have the chance to make it three in a row.
Any time a defense can hold a team to 13 points and 235 total yards, that unit has done its job. It is not feasible to think that SC can shut down every single unit it faces. To be truthful, I think Cowan's running caught SC a bit off guard in that one series, but for the most part, the SC defense rebounded well and held him in check, both through the air and on the ground. One play that did make me wonder was a third and long on the Bruins' last scoring drive. I was shocked to see SC bring only three guys and with UCLA having a 3rd and 15, Cowan had enough time to sit back in the pocket and thread the needle for a first down and a 21 yards gain. I simply can't explain that logic there since this kid had all kinds of trouble with SC's pressure and he rarely, if ever completed anything down the field of note when he was pressured. Still, I have to say that this unit came to play and they did not disappoint.
What can we say about the coaching in this game? I don't know how anyone would conclude that Pete and his staff got the better of this one. The Oline looked awful for a good part of the game. What I can't tell is how much is on the preparation and how much is on the kids and their execution. As for the play calling, I was truly dismayed. People can say that anyone who writes an opinion does not know squat about football, but I have to wonder if slow handoffs is really the best way to counter a pressure, penetrating defense. I also have to wonder why we did not see more short slants and outs until UCLA showed they could take it away! Instead we saw an attempt to gain a first down on fourth and a few yards by running the sweep to the short side of the field. When is the last time that worked? We did see one wheel route and it was a very good call indeed, Unfortunately for USC, the pass was not perfect and CJ Gable was unable to haul it in. However, it sure might have been nice to see that play once again, perhaps to the other side using Bradford, a guy who has shown he has very good hands. Nitpicking you might say---but I don't think so. I just don't think the players were put in their best position to capitalize on the blitzing, quick defense. And for the short screen over the middle, I thought SC junked that play after it failed last week against the Irish.
Ending the regular season at 10 wins and 2 losses is a very good season indeed. It would have been nice to win them all, but going undefeated year in and year out is not a likely scenario, not even with Pete Carroll as the head coach. With the losses USC sustained to graduation and to injuries, this team has done very well and I am very excited that SC is going to have a chance to win another game in the Rose Bowl. Winning a fifth straight Pac-10 championship is nothing to sneeze at and the team should be congratulated for a very successful season. However, I guess we have been spoiled beyond reason and despite all the great wins, it is hard to accept a loss to the Bruins of all teams. In fact, right now, it is simply hard to accept any kind of loss. That is exactly the way I always wanted it to be. I wanted SC to be so accustomed to winning that anything short of a victory will be unacceptable.
By now Pete will have met with the players and he will have spoken to them. There is much to pleased with, but I hope he has told them that there is still one very big game to be played. It will be essential for USC to be prepared mentally and physically for their upcoming game. Although it has not yet been announced, one has to assume that we will get to see that matchup between USC and LSU. If we thought we saw pressure form the Bruins, just wait until the Bengal Tigers come marching in. Pete Carroll is the nation's premier head college football coach and if anyone can get the kids back up and ready for the upcoming game, it is Pete. Hopefully the Trojans can iron out some of their difficulties on offense and they can continue their excellent defensive play. One thing is for sure, only time will tell.