After learning the USC Trojans completed all of seven passes the entire afternoon, accrued almost 100 yards in penalties, and converted only 15% of their third downs against Arizona State, one would have been shocked to learn that Southern Cal did not endure their first two-game losing streak for the first time since Pete Carroll took over as head coach. The loss to Oregon could be attributed to the Trojan defense and their inability to contain a mobile quarterback in a spread offense. In the game at Arizona State last Saturday, the defense showed up, but the offense performed like they left their playbooks in Eugene on Halloween.
Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley appears to have regressed after he started the season well. Perhaps his fans forgot he was still only a true freshman because he didn’t play like a first-year starter until recently. Barkley passed for only 112 yards on Saturday, but his yardage total would look even uglier if WR Damian Williams hadn’t turned a short pass into a 75-yard touchdown after the catch.
The Trojans have had a reputation for being brash trash-talkers, but this attitude almost cost them in the ASU game. A prime example is DB Will Harris’ 55-yard interception return. After Harris hot-dogged into the end zone towards the end of the second quarter, the ensuing unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the Sun Devils great field position, and could have come back to haunt USC had their inspired defense not held ASU scoreless until halftime. Such mental mistakes will not help Southern Cal reach an at-large BCS Bowl berth, which is their only saving grace in 2009 given that they have probably blown their BCS Championship hopes and the Pac-10 conference title to Oregon. The current crop of Trojans isn’t as dominant as the program was five years ago, and doesn’t possess the same margin for error like they did back in the salad days with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush in the backfield. Coach Carroll and the rest of the coaching staff needs to re-teach discipline to this team to ensure a strong finish.
Many excuses can be made about the Trojans’ disappointing season. They have watched their offensive and defensive coordinators defect to rival programs, as well as several key defenders and their starting quarterback leave for the NFL. While Barkley hasn’t generated Heisman trophy talk, USC fans should take a step back and realize that, when considering all the outlying factors in an improved Pac-10, Southern Cal’s season isn’t so terrible after all. The problem is partly that USC fans have been so spoiled by the success of the Carroll glory years, that “rebuilding”, “retooling”, and “encouraging two-loss season” isn’t really part of their vocabulary. Injuries have taken their toll as well, and will definitely play a factor when Stanford, the program that defeated both teams USC fell to earlier this season, comes to town to try and repeat one of college football’s all-time shocking upsets at the Coliseum back in 2007.
WR Williams, Southern Cal’s top playmaker on offense, suffered a high ankle sprain last week, and is listed as doubtful for the Stanford game. Starting LB Malcolm Smith missed last week’s bout in Tempe with a broken bone in his shoulder, and is expected to miss this week as well. On the bright side, sorely missed TE Anthony McCoy returned to practice, and hopes to play against Stanford. Furthermore, LB Jarvis Jones has also started practicing again after sustaining an injured neck in Oregon a couple weeks ago. Last, but certainly not least, DE Everson Griffin, who leads the conference with a sack-per-game average, injured his toe in Eugene on October 31. However, the junior standout indicated that he plans on suiting up when the Cardinal comes to town this Saturday. With multi-tooled QB Andrew Luck and powerhouse tailback Toby Gerhart expected to keep the Trojans on their toes all afternoon, USC won’t be favored by seven touchdowns again like they were a couple years ago.