Moral victories don't mean a lot for a program like USC but there's something to be said for the way we fought back with an emotional effort and almost pulled things out on a day when we clearly did not play our sharpest football.
It was a disappointing game for the Trojans on Saturday as they headed into the showdown with Kansas State as a team with all the momentum in the world but unfortunately they hit a snag with a sluggish offense and shaky special teams play on the way to a 27-20 loss. An extremely vocal crowd of 49,276 saw USC mount a comeback attempt at the end but by the time the Trojan offense found its rhythm it was too little, too late and the Wildcat offense was able to make just enough plays to come away with the win.Moral victories don't mean a lot for a program like USC but there's something to be said for the way we fought back with an emotional effort and almost pulled things out on a day when we clearly did not play our sharpest football.
Slow start for offense
It's not a good thing when the timing is off in an offense that is so dependent on timing but that is exactly what happened to the Trojan offense for the majority of the game against a physical KansasState defense.A combination of poor field position and the fact that we were heading into a stiff wind kept the play calling conservative for USC in the first quarter and that prevented the quick attack we saw last week in Boulder.The Wildcat defense was focused on keeping the ball away from Malaefou MacKenzie in the passing game which took away the sparkplug we have come to look for this season.With MacKenzie as a non-factor Carson Palmer tried to look to his wide receivers but they were often blanketed with physical coverage and had six dropped balls on the day in addition to a critical fumble after one completed pass.Palmer was also sacked twice but that doesn't tell the story of how many times he was hurried, pressured or forced to scramble out of the pocket.The Trojan running game that had progressed so much last week also took a step backwards as Zach Wilson had his share of troubles in his first start of the year while freshman Winston Justice had his baptism under fire in a hostile environment.It's hard to point a finger at one specific area because we were just off in all facets of the offensive game for the first three quarters and it wasn't until the 4th quarter that we finally saw things start to click.All of a sudden the Carson passes that had sailed off the mark were being zipped into the arms of open receivers as the Trojans began attacking the KansasState corners with good success and that in turn opened up holes for the running game.A quick TD pass from Palmer to Keary Colbert was followed shortly after that by Sultan McCullough running behind a nice block from Norm Katnik for a 25-yard TD and USC was right back in the game.They got the ball back one more time late in the quarter and gamely drove down the field only to come up just short.The fourth quarter surge proved that the attacking and efficient offense we have seen so far this season did not completely desert us but it sure would have been nice to see it kick it into gear a little sooner.
Keary Colbert was a bright spot on the day with 11 catches (USC only completed 18 in the game) for 125 yards with one touchdown.He was especially clutch late in the game with some critical catches to help the Trojans move the ball.
Troy Polamalu made the play that his team needed at the end of the first half when he knocked the ball loose from Ell Roberson on a pass attempt with Mike Patterson picking it up and going in for the touchdown.
3rd down blues
No stat spoke more loudly to the struggles of the Trojan offense in the first half than the fact that we were 0-9 on 3rd down conversions.For the game we converted only 3 of 18 attempts, not the performance that Norm Chow was looking for.
Key to Game – FinalKansasState drive
There was left on the clock when KansasState got the ball at their 20 and momentum clearly standing with the Men of Troy.The Trojans had just scored a touchdown to get within seven and Pete Carroll was calling on his exhausted defense to make one more stop and give the offense another chance with the ball.Unfortunately we have seen this situation in recent years as teams have been able to control the ball on a crucial fourth quarter drive to thwart a USC comeback attempt.Two years ago it was Notre Dame who used an overpowering running attack, last year it was Oregon who passed the ball down the field to secure the victory and this time it was KansasState using the run. Eight straight times on the drive the Wildcats ran the football and in doing so they marched right down the field taking important time off the clock.The first play of the drive was a beauty and gave an indication that we might be in trouble.The Cats gave the ball to RB Darren Sproles who looked to be trapped behind the line by a group of Trojans led by one of our best tacklers in Matt Grootegoed but Sproles put on a reverse pivot move that left the defenders grasping for air as he got outside for a nice gain.His acceleration on the next play gained good yardage as well and the Wildcats proceeded to move on from there.The Trojans eventually got a major break when the officials blew a fumble call against K-State QB Ell Roberson but there was too much ground to make up and too little time to do it after the Wildcats had controlled the ball on a drive when USC really need a stop.
Notes from the sidelines
Ronald Nunn left the game in the first half with a knee injury and was replaced by William Buchanan.The Wildcats certainly paid attention to the switch when they threw the ball because more often than not it went to the receiver being guarded by Buchanan, a freshman who only recently moved to the position and who was giving a huge cushion off the line of scrimmage.Buchanan got the playing time ahead of Justin Wyatt, who played extensively in the opener, and Marcell Allmond, a corner who brings more physical size.The injury to Nunn appeared to be one that is common on artificial turf as it happened without contact when he was planting his foot……One major factor in the game was the ability of Ell Roberson to complete some key passes and escape trouble on too many plays when the Trojans appeared to have him in their grasp.The Trojans certainly knew about his running ability but they weren't prepared for him to come out and hit 10 of 15 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown with no picks……The television production of the game by TBS was bad enough to warrant mention as viewers missed several plays due to the station being late coming back from commercials, the announcers knew little about the team and the camermen were often lost while trying to follow the action….Melvin Simmons led the Trojan defense with 11 total tackles…
Coaches will often preach about the importance of special teams and nowhere was that more evident than in this game as the special teams had such a major impact on the field position and momentum.Many Trojan fans will look at the struggles of the USC special teams as a factor in the loss but it's not as if we didn't have chances of our own to capitalize with KansasState making some mistakes as well.Shaun Codyblocked an early field goal attempt, we saw Justin Wyatt recover a fumbled punt and Dallas Sartz also caused a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half which was recovered by Oscar Lua.We saw Greig Carlson at punt return and he showed the instincts to come up and catch the ball, he also took a wicked hit that drew a halo flag and unfortunately brought a round of applause from K-State fans who wanted revenge from the hit Troy Polamalu put on Lockett last season.There was a solid showing by Ryan Kileen who consistently is putting kickoffs in the end zone and who came on to replace David Davis and made his extra points. With all of those breaks coming our way, however, we just couldn't take advantage as the Trojan offense was suffering through a day where not much was going right.Of course, the offense wasn't helped when Davis missed a chip shot 30-yard field goal in the first half that would've given USC an early lead.There was also the chance to head into the locker room with some major momentum after Polamalu caused a fumble that was returned for a score by Mike Patterson but Phillip Eaves got pancacked on the extra point attempt with the ball being blocked and then picked up by Terrance Newman who returned it for two points.It was an all around day to forget for Trojan punter Tom Malone as well.Malone had plenty of opportunities early in the game to get adjusted to the crowd and wind factor as he punted seven times in the first half alone but he looked like a golfer trying to compensate going into the wind by hitting it extra hard and the results weren't good.It got worse in the second half when the freshman was forced to punt from deep in our territory and an ill-timed 12-yard kick gave K-State tremendous field position which they promptly turned into a score on a TD pass to make it 19-6.After seeing such positive improvement in the special teams last season it has to be a concern for Pete Carroll to see this area struggle.Kennedy Pola was able to devote all of his coaching energies to the special teams in 2001 with impressive results but now Pola has the important responsibility of guiding the Trojan running backs while also overseeing special teams with the help of graduate assistant Brennan Carroll.You can be sure this trio of coaches will be working hard to cure the troubles we saw on Saturday when special teams certainly played a big role in the KansasState victory.