Monday, October 30, 2006

The Positive

Pete Carroll: "Four turnovers and a punt return. That's what it takes to beat us."

Frustrating in so many ways

Turnovers: First and foremost, -4 in the turnover battle?! WTF?!! I have no idea when the last time that happened was. It turns out the last time USC committed four turnovers was the last time they lost a regular season game, in 2003 vs. Cal (Cal also had four turnovers in that game). The Trojans absolutely need to fix this problem if they want to win out.

Play-calling: Where’s the offensive creativity? Where’s the urgency? Sarkiffian finally opened it up when they were down 23 with less than 20:00 remaining, and lo and behold, the Trojans almost pulled off the comeback. Is there some reason why they can’t or shouldn’t make those plays starting in the first quarter? What's with the decision to go for a TD on 4th and goal from the 10 instead of kicking the field goal? I don't even want to get started on the call on the final two-point conversion attempt.

Soft pass coverage: If there was one aspect of the Trojans’ play that looked especially lackadaisical, it had to be their zone pass coverage. The Beavers weren’t gaining many yards after the catch, but they didn’t need to, consistently hitting receivers for 15 to 20 yards per catch. It would have been nice to see more tight one-on-one coverage, giving Trojan defenders more chances to break up passes or even, god forbid, intercept a pass or two.

Slow starts: This is a well-established pattern for 2006 that I hoped would be broken last Saturday. Following slow starts in all but the ASU game, the Trojans didn't seem to wake up until late in the third quarter. Even I didn't sleep in that late on Saturdays when I was at USC.

OK - rant over.

It will be interesting to see how the Trojans respond to their first regular-season loss in over three years. Will this be a learning experience from which they bounce back stronger, or will they self-destruct and begin a painful slide to a second-tier bowl game?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What planet ya from, Charlie?

Ooooooo, I liked this. Best quote:

"Hey, care to know what befuddles me, Charlie? How the head coach of Notre Dame, a program which has consistently been overrated and ranked higher than it deserved to be for more than a decade -- and for most of the past century -- has the audacity to complain about polls. I mean … wow! That more than befuddles me."

Be careful, Charlie - remember what happened to the last coach who complained about the BCS standings, Tommy Tuberville (Arkansas 27 - Auburn 10).

HT: Student Body Right.

Update: Stewart Mandel of chimes in with some hard numbers.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

So it says on their license plates. I can't say I disagree, based on limited experience with the state. West Virginia was wild indeed for me and a few friends last weekend:

If you have the means to hit the Gauley River during the fall drawdown, I highly recommend it. It is so choice.

I Miss Norm

Do any other Trojan football fans miss Norm Chow?

I wrote multiple times during the 2005 season that, even though the USC offense continued to put up monster numbers after the departure of Chow as offensive coordinator, it was too early to reach a verdict on whether the Trojan offense would ultimately suffer without Chow.

First, I wrote that with the players returning in 2005 (Bush, Byrd, Jarrett, Leinart, Smith, White, and four past starters on the offensive line), the offense would be extremely prolific no matter who was running the show. My concern was the loss of Chow’s play-calling genius.

Then, I questioned Michael Ventre’s assertion on MSNBC that USC lost nothing offensively when they lost Chow. Finally, I reiterated my feeling that USC was worse off for losing Chow’s play-calling ability and we would have to wait until at least 2006 before passing judgment on the performance of his replacements, Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. To repeat a quote from a December 2005 Pat Forde article on (insider):

"Norm had an uncanny ability to call plays," Sarkisian said. "We may not have always known what was coming, but it worked. Especially in big games, he was willing to make calls nobody else would make.

"I think we're a little bit more on the structured side. We know what calls are coming. We know by the play sheet what to call, depending on the situation. The quarterback knows what's being called by the specific situation."

That sounds great from the perspective of an opposing defensive coordinator.

Personally, I think with Norm Chow calling the plays, Lendale White does not get stopped on 4th & 2 to turn the ball over to Texas with just over two minutes remaining in the Rose Bowl, and we are defending national champs; the Trojans do not go four games in a row without scoring 30 points or more in 2006; and USC does not settle for four field goals against Washington.

Yes, I miss Norm.

2006 So Far

The good news is we’re 5 and 0. The bad news is . . . well, I’m not terribly comfortable with the manner in which we got to 5-0.

I felt really good after the Arkansas game. After a slow start, the Trojans took control of the game in the second half and won a decisive victory. The slow start could be chalked up to it being the first game of the season. Now, it just looks like Arkansas hadn’t yet realized their potential.

The defense looked great in the Nebraska game. However, based on more recent indicators, that appears to have been a result of Nebraska’s conservative offensive play-calling rather than inspired defensive play.

The final score of the Arizona game looked decisive, but Arizona’s offense is the worst in the conference, it was close until the fourth quarter, and the Trojans needed Arizona to shoot itself in the foot in order to reach the 20-point plateau.

The close, down-to-the-wire victory in Pullman could be attributed to narrowly escaping a widely-predicted trap game played in a remote hostile environment, but the same script played out one week later, at home, against the other Washington school that won only three games in the previous two seasons.

Where are all the big defensive plays? After +5 turnovers in the season-opening Arkansas game, USC is -1 over the following four games and has lost the turnover battle in the last two games (when was the last time that happened?!). USC has only 7 sacks on the season (5 in the Arizona game) with zero in the last two games.

The Trojans are doing enough to win games and are still undefeated, so I’m not complaining. With luck, the team will settle into a dominating style of play we have come to expect from Pete Carroll-coached Trojan teams. Perhaps they will continue to do just enough to win the rest of their games and remain in contention for a national title throughout the season. More likely, if their play does not begin an upward trend soon, they’ll drop a game or two in the second half of the season, especially with a challenging sequence of Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame in November.