I've seen or listened to about 650 USC games in my lifetime. But I do not remember a game, including the loss to Stanford at home a few years ago, where I've seen the USC Trojans play so tight.
The Trojans didn't just lose their poise they played as though they left it back in Southern California, when they boarded the plane to Seattle. I've never seen a USC QB play so timidly and limited. And the play calling by the Trojan coaches was timid and limited as well.
Remember after the Rose Bowl when USC was going to be returning 10 starters back from an offense that had averaged over 38 points a game in 2008? That sure seems a long time ago now.
What happened on Saturday? And can the Trojans bounce back? Sure they can. All my life I tried not to be a person who held onto grief or grudges or guilt. I never been able to reach back into the past and change it and I find if you try to go forward looking back in the rear view mirror you will wreck your life.
I want to encourage you this morning. If it is discouragement you are looking for you can find it in bountiful supply on the message boards, where poster are venting the grief and their grudges and trying to find a place or places to lay the guilt for a loss like Saturday, to a team that had only won 1 out of its last 16 games.
I know any jackass can kick down a barn in a day, but it takes a good carpenter a long time to build one. I want to encourage you.
But to bring encouragement we have to look at what went wrong, and then we will see what can be done about it.
How can the Trojans bounce back?
They have to bring more than a half a page of their playbook to each game:
USC is going to have to send one of its wide receivers more than 10 yards down the field, and not be afraid the world is going to come to an end if they do. Is it possible with three five-star quarterbacks and a stable load of what were the nation's top high school receivers, the Trojans can't throw the ball downfield a single time in a game?
Okay, Aaron Corp tried to throw one down the middle to Anthony McCoy and it fell 10 yards short. Show some courage and stretch the field, even if the QB throws it 20 yards past his receiver into the end zone. Three years with Aaron Corp, all of this year's spring and fall practice, and USC can't even throw the ball downfield?
But if Corp couldn't throw the ball downfield, then you have to try another option at QB:
No one Trojan was the scapegoat for Saturday's win. Corp threw a needless pick deep in Washington territory, but Stanley Havili and Stafon Johnson fumbled down there as well. Joe McKnight fumbled twice and was fortunate the fumbles were recovered by the Trojans.
USC's running backs dropped the ball without really being hit hard by the Huskies. The running backs just put the ball on the ground. Aaron made a lot of mistakes without being under much pressure.
USC was 0-for-10 in third down conversions and 0-for-1 on fourth down. Even if Aaron Corp had a lot of pressure on third downs it would still be inexcusable.
Washington knew by the beginning of the second half that USC's passing attack could not hurt them at all, and Washington's defensive coordinator Nick Holt ran their defense with that in mind.
Clean up the turnovers, penalties and special team's performance:
USC rushed for 250 yards on 33 carries. That is an average of 7.6 yards a carry. Washington rushed for 56 yards and averaged 1.7 yards a carry. But USC didn't take care of the football. The Trojans had ten penalties for 69 yards. One was a terrible call on Everson Griffen when he tackled Jake Locker on the sidelines. But the last roughing the passer penalty on Averell Spicer was inexcusable on Spicer's part.
USC kickoffs and kick coverage gave Washington good starting field position all day. K Jacob Harfman has not had a touchback in his last two games. Billy O'Malley had 4 punts for a 41.0 average thanks to a 25 yard roll on one punt.
I didn't see any of USC's kickoff coverage get inside the Washington 20 yard-line all day.
Play some defense on 3rd down:
USC defense has given up 11.3 points a game over the first three games. That should be good enough to be 3-0, but it wasn't. They allowed Washington to convert several times on third-and-very long yardage. In fact, most of Washington yardage for the game was on third-and-long. USC missed Taylor Mays and Shareece Wright on Saturday.
There is a reason Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard started throughout the month of August at safety. Mays sat out Saturday while Pinkard played corner. What's happened to the best secondary in college football?
USC was playing Saturday with just one starter in position from what was the first-team secondary all summer. Maybe it's time to move Pinkard back to safety with Mays and let TJ Bryant play corner along with Thomas. At least Thomas, Pinkard and Mays would be playing the positions they played all of August.
Pray Matt Barkley is ready to play Saturday:
I think we saw today the impact a fine performance by Jake Locker had on the results of the game. No player on the football field has the impact that a QB does on the results of a game. Jake Locker was 7-of-15 on third down and often in long yardage situations with now running game. The Trojans on the other hand went 0-for-11 on third and fourth down, often in short yardage situations.
USC's defense played well today, but not well enough to win. They allowed the game winning drive in the closing moments. The defense didn't cause a single turnover all day and didn't play their best on the field at the end when USC needed it most.
USC tried so hard not to lose Saturday, they lost. The Trojans better hope QB Matt Barkley is ready to go Saturday against Washington State. And if Barkley is ready to play, then Carroll, Morton and Bates need to open up the Trojan playbook and start playing Trojan football.
Because what they have been doing so far is not going to get them any further than a middle of the road finish in the Pac-10. And it will get the Trojans run off the field in Berkley in a couple of weeks.
The conservative play-calling has been an issue this season. (Doug Zylstra Photo)
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If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at firstname.lastname@example.org