“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” This timeless quote from 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke stands to reason as the lesson the USC Trojans failed to learn after last year’s post-Ohio State victory hangover. While head coach Pete Carroll preached to his team all week to not come out flat against the much-improved Washington Huskies, the Trojans went up to Seattle and, just like a year ago, hindered their pursuit of a BCS championship in their Pac-10 opener after an emotional victory against the Buckeyes.
Many members of Trojan Nation will maintain that they saw this upset coming, but were nevertheless shocked after USC fell to the Huskies 16-13 in an ignominious defeat that could jeopardize their return to the BCS title game. Saturday’s defeat could be chalked up to four reasons: 1) The Men of Troy experienced yet another emotional letdown after so much was at stake in last week’s victory in Columbus. 2) Backup quarterback Aaron Corp’s performance demonstrated why Carroll was so upset when Mark Sanchez decided not to stay in college an additional year, and validated the coach’s decision to instead picked true freshman Matt Barkley to lead the 2009 offense. 3) New Husky head coach Steve Sarkisian was extremely well prepared for this highly-anticipated matchup against the team he spent eight years coaching. 4) Any team that goes 0-10 on third-down conversions should not be expected to win the game.
Saturday’s defeat is only the latest of a string of losses to lesser opponents since 2006, when the trend started with an improbable 13-9 defeat to cross-town rival UCLA. After subsequent conference losses to Oregon State and Stanford, teams that USC was also favored to beat by three touchdowns, one can only surmise that this hurdle is purely mental. The Trojans have a roster of athletically gifted, highly recruited talent from all over the country. That they lose to vastly inferior schools suggests a possible lack of competitive fire when preparing for games they should win. Or, perhaps, the PAC-10 has finally caught up to USC in game-planning.
The Trojans dominated in the running game with 250 rushing yards as they averaged almost eight yards per carry, yet lost the time of possession battle by almost 10 minutes. Corp, whose starting status was kept mum by Coach Carroll throughout the week, failed to consistently connect with his playmaking wideouts downfield, especially on critical third downs. Conversely, Washington featured back Chris Polk mustered only 71 yards on 25 carries. Husky quarterback Jake Locker held the Trojan defense in check with a steady yet unspectacular day by completing 21 of 35 passes for 237 yards and a rushing touchdown. Much of the junior’s performance could also be attributed to the absence of All-American Trojan safety Taylor Mays.
In last week’s victory over OSU, Mays briefly left the game with a sprained knee, but later returned to action. The injury wasn’t considered serious at the time, but after further evaluation, the Trojan medical staff decided that the best way to preserve their stud safety for the entirety of the season would be to give Mays a week off against a team they thought they could beat without him. Mays, understandably upset after the game, called the defeat in his hometown of Seattle “a slap in the face.”
Next Saturday presents a challenge within a challenge. When Pac-10 doormat Washington State visits the Coliseum next week to take on the beleaguered Trojans, everyone, including Las Vegas as well as the Cougar faithful, expects a blowout. With starter Matt Barkley expected to return to the huddle, the Men of Troy should win this game handily. However, if the Cougars find a way keep the game to within a touchdown, this result would provide evidence that we may be witnessing the demise of college football’s greatest dynasty of the decade this side of Gainesville.