Gut Check Time
Losing to Stanford is completely and totally unacceptable. There is enough blame to go around for this loss and unfortunately I think many could see something like this coming. The team has shown inconsistent and sloppy play dating back to last year. A lot of this is on the coaches and I will discuss this below. All is not right with Trojan football program right now and I think (hope?) Pete Carroll agrees. Here is my (completely uninformed view) on what is wrong:
1) Complacency--Everyone in and around the program has become complacent...including the fans. Given the unbelievable run this program has been on, this is hard to avoid. The players and coaches are simply showing up and expecting to win...this is not what got the Trojans to where they are. I think we saw this big time at UCLA last year and again against Stanford. There is no sense of urgency, no "chip on the shoulder". The Trojans need to get this back. A big piece of this falls on the coaches. This complacency reared its ugly head on 3rd and 19 in the 4th quarter against Stanford. The Trojans clinging to a 6 point lead late in the 4th choose to throw it deep over the middle? USC would NEVER call this play if we were playing Cal, Oregon, etc...they got COMPLACENT. Result...ball is intercepted and returned into Trojan territory. I have no doubt the Trojan defense would have prevented a 80yd Stanford drive...instead the Cardinal only had to drive 40yds.
2) Turnovers--When the Trojans were rolling every team they played, they were absolutely dominating the turnover ratio. Last year this became a struggle and this year has been an absolute disaster with turnovers. There are a variety of reasons (in my opinion) why the Trojans are struggling with turnovers. The Offense--Couple of things here. First, in past years, the Trojan offense would jump out to big leads and force other teams to take chances, resulting in turnovers. Now the Trojan offense is less explosive and teams realize they can play it close to the vest...less turnovers. Also, the Trojan passing game this year has been inconsistent at best. A big reason for this has been the young wide receivers. JDB deserves to take some of the blame, but probably not the level of heat he is taking on USC message boards. USC has thrown a full season's worth of interception in only 5 games. The Defense--While the Trojans are putting more pressure on the QB this year than last (thanks to the great play of Sed Ellis, LJ and Kyle Moore), they inexplicably seem to play very timid on 3rd and long (or 4th and long). 3rd and long is the best opportunity to force turnovers (5 and 7 step drops allow for more sacks....sacks=fumbles and long passes=more interceptions), but for some reason the Trojans play very soft and conservative. Allowing Stanford to convert a 4th and 20 with the game in the balance is shocking....even more so given the Trojans chose not to apply pressure to the untested QB.
3) Special Teams--Special teams at USC have been very poor under Carroll, with the exception of the return teams with Reggie. Special teams are a big negative for the Trojans. The punt return for a TD last year at OSU cost USC the game. Against Stanford, the Trojans had a blocked extra point and allowed 23 yds per punt return. The combination of poor returns for the Trojans and big returns for the opposition has created a very significant field position disadvantage for USC. USC does not seem interested in using special teams to create an advantage despite having an unbelievable group of athletes.
4) Injuries--The Trojans have been absolutely decimated by injuries. Injuries of this magnitude to any other team in America would render those teams completely uncompetitive. When is the last time a team lost 2 starting OL on one play! As it stands today, the Trojans starting OL looks like this:
- Sam Baker--playing with broken rib and strained hamstring
- Jeff Byers--playing with injured thumb (cannot grip the ball)
- Matt Spanos--playing with torn triceps and severely damaged finger
- Zack Heberer--2nd string RS Frosh
- Drew Radovich--Healthy! (knock on wood)
You add to this the Trojans are missing their 2 best running backs (Gable, Stafon), are playing a 5th string guy at corner (converted safety), missing their starting SLB (Cushing) and of course are playing the 2nd string QB! This is just bad luck for the Trojans and there is nothing to do about it except hope the kids get healthy and there are no more injuries!
Enough about Stanford...it was a disaster. The real question is how will the Trojans respond?
USC vs Arizona
This is the biggest game for USC in a long time....the 5th most important game of the Carroll era in my opinion
1. Oklahoma (2005 Orange Bowl)
2. Texas (2006 Rose Bowl)
3. ASU (2003--following the loss to Cal...this game got the Trojans rolling)
4. UCLA (2001--Pete makes it clear the Trojans are back)
5. Arizona (2007--Is the run over or are the Trojans going to rebound?)
This is the most nervous/anxious/excited/fired-up I have been for a SC game in some time. Not only is this a "crossroads" game for the program, but also the first start for Mark Sanchez. Interesting fact--this is the first time a QB has missed a game due to injury since Pete Carroll took over as head coach. There is just a different feeling about this game...I expect a fired up crowd early in the game...hopefully the Trojans can play well and maintain that momentum.
- The Wildcats are one dimensional on offense...they rank 14th nationally in passing offense and 111th nationally in rushing offense
- Defensively, Arizona is ranked 7th in the conference against the pass and 5th in the conference against the run...disappointing numbers for a team known for fielding a very good defense
- Arizona hired Texas Tech offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes in the off season and he is responsible for the explosive passing attack led by QB Willie Tuitama
- I expect the Trojans will shut down the Wildcats running game and force AZ to rely on the passing game. Given the injuries at corner for the Trojans, this may be a challenging match up. The Wildcats have a trio of talented WR led by Mike Thomas. Thomas had a nice game against SC in the Coliseum 2 years ago.
- Given the injuries, I think the Trojans will play a soft cover 2 most of the game....keep the ball in front and tackles. The weakness of the AZ offense is the offensive line...I think the Trojans will try and get pressure with the front 4 (at least during the first half). Oregon St sacked Tuitama 8 yes 8 times last week
- I think Tuitama will be able to move the ball down the field...will the Trojans be able to keep the Wildcats from scoring? I think Pete is going to rely on the defense to win this game
- Offensively, I think the Trojans are going ULTRA ULTRA conservative. Pete cannot stand the turnovers and I think the offense will reflect this. This makes me very nervous as I think it plays into the strength of the AZ defense
- AZ has 2 very good corners...expect them to play tight, take away the short passes and force Sanchez to make some throws to beat them. I am not sure that Pete will allow Sanchez to do this
- I think you will see SC try and establish the running game...not a bad plan except for the health of our OL. Hopefully we will see a more diverse running game with some sweeps and draws...probably a few more carries for Havilli. Also, look for the Trojans to run left much more than right (assuming Byers is at LG and not center)
- Almost guarantee a reverse for Rojo tomorrow. Also expect the Trojans to try and rely on Davis an Havilli in the passing game. AZ will be expecting this so it will be interesting to see what happens
- UCLA and Stanford created the blueprint to beat SC...pressure the QB, crowd the line and see if the QB can beat you. Well one thing Sanchez can do to be very effective against this strategy is to tuck the ball and run it. I hope (and believe) Sanchez will make a couple of big, important plays with his feet tomorrow
- I think you will see a couple of deep balls from Sanchez, but they will be deep enough that if they are intercepted it will be like a punt. I would be shocked to see the 20 yard crossing routes over the middle
- Will we see a lot of Joe McKnight...who knows, but I doubt it. Pete is going conservative and JM has 2 fumbles already this year
I expect a very close low scoring game tomorrow. I can't wait! Lets hope the Trojans come out on top. Huge game for the program...I believe in this team and coaching staff. See you tomorrow.