usc fell to the arizona wildcats on saturday afternoon, 21-17. With that loss, the Trojans dropped out of the top 25 for the first time since 2001 (they actually finished 24th in the final BCS standings) and they’re lucky the USC name is big enough to keep them in a game. bowling that is taking place. after christmas day.
How did you get to this point?
Reading: Why is usc football so bad
How did a show, heralded as recently as earlier this season as the best show in the nation, drop to the middle of the pac-10?
Is the defense inexperienced? Head coach Pete Carroll’s obsession with starting Matt Barkley, a true freshman? the rest of the conference closing the talent gap? rotation in the coaching staff?
All of these answers have been put forward to rationalize the sudden mediocrity of Trojans.
While all of those answers have some validity, the clear picture this year’s usc football team shows us is that there are fundamental flaws across the board. flaws that, if left uncorrected, will constantly keep the Trojans in the background of the conference, even if they continue their streak of high-ranking recruiting classes.
First of all, it’s important to remember the so-called dominant years of USC football, especially 2003 to 2005, when USC won two national championships and was a Vince Young touchdown run from a third.
usc could have easily lost four games in 2004 or 2005.
Take 2004 for example. USC had to hang on to beat an awful Stanford team 31-28, needing a punt return from Reggie Bush to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
the trojans defeated cal 23-17, a fourth stop deep in usc territory was the difference as aaron rodgers had a record day in the coliseum.
the season closed with an eight point win over an average oregon state (reggie bush’s famous punt return in the fog) and a five point win over ucla (where olson drew and the bruins had the ball with a chance to win and usc needed a career-high 204 rushing yards out of the brush to secure the win).
any and all previous games could have been usc losses. the difference is that the norm-led offense knew how to get the ball to their playmakers in key situations.
even the offensively dominant 2005 team, which dropped 70 points at arkansas and held itself to no fewer than 34 points, could have gone 9-3 if a couple of balls had bounced differently. Everyone remembers the Bush Push game, but don’t forget the Trojans were losing Arizona State 21-3 on the road at the half and USC had to scramble to hold off underdog Fresno State 50-42.
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While there have been issues this season with defense, the kick-return team never gets a big return, and the Trojans can’t kick a field goal over 40 yards; The complete inability to put the team’s best playmakers in playmaking position is why USC finished the season 8-4, rather than continue their BCS bowling series.
Hindsight is always 20-20 and Trojans fans should have had their first clue when new playcaller Jeremy Bates mentioned earlier in spring practice how hard the offense was to learn. Clearly, college offenses have gotten more complex over time, but it wasn’t too long ago that Pete Carroll touted the ease of learning the USC offense when Norm Chow was coordinating. An example of this complexity is Mitch Musttain admitting that it took him two years to learn the USC offense.
Those chow-led offenses didn’t seem to have a problem scoring.
A basic principle of attacking football is to get the ball to the athletes in space. usc used to do this in many ways. They sent the ball to wide receivers Mike Williams, Steve Smith, Keary Colbert, and Dwayne Jarrett on fast, tight, lopsided runs, and when defenses inevitably fell back, they used the bubble screen.
chow frequently singled out reggie bush as a wide receiver where he couldn’t be defended, or had him run pass routes down the middle from the backfield.
and you can always count on a powerful running game, whether it’s justin fargas/sultan mccullough in 2002, or the famous bush/lendale white “thunder and lightning” backfield.
what was the carroll-bates plan this year? I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’ve heard coaches compare Joe McKnight to Bush, and he had a successful year, breaking the 1,000-yard rushing mark. but how often did it seem like every sweep, extension run or swing pass he got was to the short side of the field? he rarely lined up or toward the wide receiver.
How often did it seem like the only routes wide receivers used were bubble screens and fades? where were the three step drop drop and let it fly pass plays?
usc supposedly has nfl-style talent at wide receiver. heck damian williams will probably leave the league early but why did we never see williams athleticism ronald johnson david ausberry, (before injury) brice butler, travon patterson etc. did they ever get a constant chance to use their speed where they could do damage?
mat barkley gets a lot of blame for his high interceptions, but be honest, did pete carroll and jeremy bates ever give him a chance to succeed with easier pitches like regular cross routes, seam routes, or throws? No. carroll/bates kept pointing out routes where defensive backs with much less athletic ability could use the sideline as an additional defender, or bubble screens with cornerbacks in tight coverage.
Think about the off-field passing routes I mentioned earlier. remember the ohio state game when plays down the middle on joe mcknight were the hallmark of the winning play? Does anyone remember mcknight ever catching a pass up the middle this season?
the other problem i have with pete carroll’s trojan offense is the need they feel to get the ball to so many athletes. the coaching staff has been juggling for three years now to bring the ball to its block of runners; Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight, Allen Bradford, and CJ Gable. (Not to mention the two who transferred, Emmanuel Moody and Broderick Green). then there’s the struggle to find room on the field for seven different wide receivers.
remember when the only two runners were bush and white?
remember when the only two wide receivers for two years seemed to be jarrett and smith? Heck, the third wide receiver during the 2005 season was often Brad Walker, famous for being the guy Bush tried to throw the ball to in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
The offense played with a tight end, Dominque Byrd, with Fred Davis occasionally as a backup. this year, carroll/bates tried to balance three.
It seems to me that instead of consistently getting the ball to the top three or four players, Pete Carroll feels like he needs to keep his five-star talent pool happy.
compare ‘sc offensively with oregon. sure, the ducks spread the field, but the ball is mostly in the hands of four people.
for that matter, look at the state of oregon. 90 percent of the time the ball goes to the same family, be it james or jacquizz rodgers. and besides toby gerhart and andrew luck, quickly name me one more offensive player from stanford. however, both the cardinal and the beavers finished ahead of the trojans in the pac-10.
sure, usc’s defense is flawed.
Taylor Mays playing safety in punt return formation. Not to mention his inability to break up passes. I know everyone loves the jarring hit after the first shot and the downward look, but what does it accomplish?
eversen griffen diving down the line of scrimmage as the quarterback rolls around him. Where do you think he’s going while Andrew Luck keeps running out of him for a first down or a touchdown? Dude, your job isn’t to stop the diving game, but holding off a quarterback for once would be nice.
And those two are supposedly the two best defenders on this Trojan team.
This defense, however, only gave up an average of 20.4 points per game.
Shouldn’t this incredible collection of talent be able to score 24+ points per game?
usc’s offense used to be great when pete carroll would focus on defense and leave the offense to norm chow. Ever since Carroll began inserting himself into the offense, first with Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin, now this year with bats, the offense has steadily gone downhill.
It’s about time one of the five most recognizable programs in college football didn’t let itself down on the offensive end of football.
Go find a top level coordinator, let him implement his system and get out of his way.
Then coach carroll, you can spend your time figuring out how to stop the spread.
You can follow my random thoughts about the sports world on twitter at @plh55.
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