After years of dominating the Pac-10 with devastating offensive attacks, Jeremy Bates looks like the (other) Trojan Horse which, this weekend, allowed the Washington Huskies in to level the first blow in a conference effort to topple the reigning champs.
USC has by no means lost the Pac-10 with their second post-Ohio State "trap game" loss in as many seasons, but they will not head to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl without a serious shakeup of the shoddy play calling they've showed thus far.
What's baffling to the Trojan Nation is that USC's only question mark on the offensive side of the ball to start the season was supposed to be the quarterback position. Every other offensive starter returned, including the nation's strongest offensive line, a ridiculous embarrassment of riches in the Trojan backfield, and a USC receiving corps as capable of any the Trojans have started in years.
And nothing but amazing things were shouted about Bates and his skills with quarterbacks and offenses. We were told that his vanilla play calling from the first two games were a factor of him trying to be conservative for a young freshman QB, but it's beginning to look like that's the only spice he has in his cabinet.
Hell, after yesterday's horrible showing in Seattle, he might've even used up all of the vanilla.
It was a foregone conclusion that the real dilemma of this team would be shoring up the front-seven on the defensive side of the ball that saw so many of last year's great stars move onto Sunday rosters. In all honesty, the Trojan D's front seven might be the team's strength three games into the season.
The offense has been listless behind abysmal play calling and poor planning. Last night, Pete Carroll stood in front of the team and shouldered all of the blame for not improving the team in the week between the Ohio State and Washington games, which was the right thing to do, but he's protecting his offensive (and special teams) staff that was simply outmatched by Nick Holt and the UW defense.
Bates couldn't figure out how to call a single third-down conversion; the Trojans finished 0-10 on the day. They mismanaged an end of the half quick march down the field, and missed an opportunity to kick a field goal to take a 13-10 lead into the lockers. There were too many 3rd-and-long situations, which, in my estimation, means that the coaching staff wasn't making good adjustments and setting the offense up for success.
Most importantly though, with the game on the line, starting at the Husky 44-yard-line, the Trojan offense ran the ball five times in a row, didn't convert on a 3rd-and-long from the Washington seven-yard-line, and settled for a game-losing field goal.
The first two runs, a nice 34-yard scamper by Joe McKnight, which ended with David Ausberry recovering Joe's second fumble of the day, and a great 11-yard rush by Stafon Johnson, got the Trojans down to the 11-yard-line.
But Stafon Johnson was stopped on first down, and Aaron Corp was forced out of the pocket and made a four-yard scramble to set up a 3rd-and-6 from the Husky seven-yard-line.
The Husky defense loaded the box, again, with eight men. And somehow, Bates thought that running the ball out to the short side of the field would be the best bet. This is the play call that made me wonder if Jeremy Bates is the fabled Trojan Horse.
Why not hit Havili out to the flat, or put a touch pass up in the back of the end zone for any of the play making Trojan receivers?
Running Johnson around the end was probably the last call that should have been made, especially considering that Nick Holt has been touting the linebackers as the strength of his rebuilt defense. They, and every other Husky player it seemed, were there to receive Johnson.
Without a single third-down conversion on the day, to run the ball on a must-have 3rd-and-6 is just simply poor play calling. That call ensured the Trojan loss, in my opinion.
Granted, the Trojan players didn't really inspire a whole lot of faith with the way they played on Saturday in Seattle, but the coaching staff is to blame for this loss. Four fumbles, an interception, and eight penalties for a total of 75 yards was a horrendous showing for the touted Trojan offense and for the special teams.
It seemed every single time the Trojans dropped back for a kick, there was another penalty tacked onto the end of the play pushing the Trojans further into their own corner. While Corp looked scared and unsure of himself nearly the entire game, he wasn't helped out with dropped passes, fumbles, and poor starting field position. But something tells me his younger, injured counterpart wouldn't have crumbled under pressure.
With freshman phenom Matt Barkley out, this was Corp's chance to show the world that the coaches had made a mistake. This was his lone opportunity to shine and force a difficult decision once Barkley is game-ready. Instead, Corp drove a nail in his own coffin. He will not start another game while a healthy Barkley is on campus.
Every chance the ABC cameramen had for a close-up, they took, and you could see something different in his eyes than the look you saw in Barkley's a week ago. Corp looked hesitant in his feet, distrusting of his arm, and plain scared in his eyes. Simply, he looked scared as he gathered plays and returned to the huddle.
Without both of the Trojans' emotional leaders (Matt Barkley and All-American safety Taylor Mays), USC needed Corp. They needed a QB yesterday who had the moxie to reassure his teammates that everything was fine, that it was just business as usual for the Trojans who have a depth of talent at every position.
They needed Bates to borrow from Sarkissian's emotional playbook. They needed someone to lead them.
But Corp didn't have that poise. Bates couldn't pave a road to success for Aaron's first start. And the Trojan offense sputtered, fumbled, dropped passes and buckled under pressure to a Husky team that couldn't match up to the Trojans on paper.
No one decided to step into the leadership role, and it cost them the game and most probably a shot at the national championship. Hopefully, this will make it clear that a big shake up is needed, if the Trojans plan to win key road games this year and run the table.
We'll have to see if the Trojans can find the spark on offense and fix all of the fundamentals problems that have plagued them in the first three games of the season. Hopefully they caught the problems early enough in the season, and can shore up the walls to keep the rest of the Pac-10 from bringing down the reign of Troy.