Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Still Miss Norm

At about this time in 2006, I lamented the absence of Norm Chow and expressed my belief that USC was worse off without Chow. I had hope after the Nebraska game that USC might finally be learning to fill the void, but the 2007 season since then has killed that hope. This column by Jon Wilner makes many of the same points I made in 2005 to argue that USC has not adequately replaced Chow's skill sets:

USC should not be scoring 23 points against Stanford, 20 against Arizona and 17 against Oregon. It should not be committing 10 turnovers in those three games (the Trojans are last in the league in turnover margin). There’s too much talent, way, way too much talent on the USC side of the ball. And those other teams, Arizona, Oregon and Stanford — they aren’t very good defensively (fifth, seventh and ninth in the Pac-10, respectively).

[. . .]

In Year One A.N. (After Norm), the Trojans had arguably the best array of offensive talent in Pac-10 history, and there have been some pretty good offenses in this league:

A Heisman-winning quarterback, the best tailback of his generation, another tailback who scored 26 touchdowns, plus two NFL receivers and three first-team all-league linemen. The Trojans averaged 49 points and almost 600 yards per game and play-callers Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin looked like they were little Norm Jrs. But you didn’t need to be an offensive mastermind to Get the ball to Reggie.

The past two years, the Trojans have gotten progressively sloppier, more predictable and far less effective. Some of the decline has to do with personnel, but not all of it — not even close to all of it.

[. . .]

Chow would never run when everyone knew a run was coming, he’d never call all those swing passes and bubble screens, all those quick outs that are easy to see coming and even easier to defend. He’d be throwing downfield – and doing it effectively.

I believe that Steve Sarkisian is a smart coach, and I believe that he will learn from his mistakes, but he is relatively inexperienced and it is hard to not think of what might have been had Pete Carroll conducted a nation-wide search to find a replacement for Chow. I hope that promoting first Lane Kiffin and now Sarkisian to Chow's former position pays off in the long run for USC, but the USC football program should not be in the business of providing on-the-job training!

Friday, October 26, 2007


The Trojans appear to be returning to near full-strength just in the nick of time. I expect Saturday’s game at Oregon to be the most challenging game of the regular season for the Trojans.

Here is the projected depth chart for the 2007 Trojans updated to reflect the current injury situation to the best of my knowledge. I should note that I was surprised to see Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, and especially Stafon Johnson play as much as they did at Notre Dame.

Affected players’ names are followed by a number indicating the number of games he has missed so far this year due to injury and his status for the Oregon game.
Strikethroughs indicate players who are out for the year.
Contrary to USC’s official press release last week, Nick Howell is not out for the year.

The linebacker corps has returned to virtually full strength. Cushing, Maualuga, and Keith Rivers are all finally ready to start together for the first time since the Idaho game. The secondary will also be starting their strongest line-up, excepting Josh Pinkard who is lost for the year. Finally, the offensive line is surely returning to health. The 2007 projected starting offensive line of Sam Baker, Jeff Byers, Matt Spanos, Chilo Rachal, and Drew Radovich will probably start together for the first time this year.

Mark Sanchez will start again in place of the healing John David Booty. That might be a good thing.

I am very excited about tomorrow’s game. This is about the time Pete Carroll’s Trojan teams have engaged the afterburners in years past, and last week at Notre Dame they played their most complete game of the season. Of course, Notre Dame is no Oregon (this phrase normally having the opposite meaning than in 2007) and Notre Dame Stadium is no Autzen. However, I believe tomorrow we will finally be privileged to see the Trojan football team everyone expected at the beginning of the season.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Are the 2007 Trojans cursed?

The Trojan line-up has been devastated by injuries. This is the situation as far as I can tell, based on attrition to the depth chart since the season opener:

Affected players’ names are followed by a number indicating the number of games he has missed so far this year due to injury and his status for the Notre Dame game.
Strikethroughs indicate players who are out for the year.

The offensive line and the secondary have been hit especially hard. At one point, Josh Pinkard, Cary Harris, Shareece Wright, and Vincent Joseph were all out at the same time, leaving virtually no CBs to play opposite Terrell Thomas. Safety Mozique McCurtis filled in. It’s even worse than it looks on the offensive line. According to USC’s 2007 media guide, Nick Howell was Matt Spanos’s original backup. However, Spanos injured his triceps prior to the opener, so USC opened the season with true freshman Kristofer O’Dowd at center. O’Dowd played commendably for the first three games. Then, O’Dowd and RG Chilo Rachal both injured their knees during a single play at Washington. It looks like USC will start Butch Lewis at LT, Jeff Byers at LG, Spanos at C, Alatini Malu at RG, and Drew Radovich at RT for the Notre Dame game.

I know that injuries must be expected during the course of any season, but this is ridiculous.

Add this to the adversity with which the team has had to deal. Many of the passengers on the team’s charter flight to South Bend were thrown from their seats, putting the fear of death into some of the players, when the plane dropped abruptly during its landing approach. The pilot aborted the landing and circled around for a repeat attempt.

Welcome to Notre Dame. I’m sure the jungle grass and the green jerseys will help calm your nerves.

A tip of the hat to Student Body Right.

UPDATE: I know the graphic is unreadable, but if you click on it, you will be linked to a full-size version.

Monday, October 08, 2007


I'm not unhappy about where USC is ranked this week, but this . . .

USC #7 Coaches' Poll
USC #10 AP Poll

is wrong. I expected the Trojans to land somewhere between #10 and #15, but a ranking as low as #20 would not have upset me.

Like I said below,
The fact is there is no objective evidence this year’s team is any better than average, even though they have more talent than any other team in the country. USC has beaten four teams with a combined record of 9-14 (Idaho is 1-5; Nebraska is 4-2, barely beat Ball St., and got blown out by Missouri; Washington St. is 2-4; and Washington is 2-3) and lost to Stanford with its 2-3 record.

USC will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves, with games against Oregon, Cal, and Arizona St. on the schedule. I hope they live up to their still-lofty ranking.


It might be time to revise my expectations for USC football - for this season, obviously, but maybe also for the program itself. The last time I went through such a transition was in 2003 when the Trojans followed an outstanding season (11-2, Orange Bowl victory over Iowa, Carson Palmer’s Heisman) with a national championship. I started to believe that BCS bowl berths would be commonplace and national championships not infrequent.

Trojan fans have been spoiled by an unprecedented level of success over the last five years or so. We have come to expect that kind of success every year, and we have been lulled into believing that Pete Carroll has installed a system at USC that will perpetuate this success as long as Carroll remains the head coach. However, the loss to Stanford raises serious questions about this perception. Is USC returning to a more normal state for modern college football programs? Was this game the continuation of a negative trend that started with the 2006 Rose Bowl (Texas 41 – USC 38 if anyone needs a reminder), a trend characterized by losing to three unranked Pac-10 teams in less than a year, a trend in which last year’s dominating Rose Bowl victory over Michigan is an anomalous blip? Or, is USC football still on an elevated plateau with the loss to Stanford as a rare exception? I hope for the latter, but I fear the former.

The fact is there is no objective evidence this year’s team is any better than average, even though they have more talent than any other team in the country. USC has beaten four teams with a combined record of 9-14 (Idaho is 1-5; Nebraska is 4-2, barely beat Ball St., and got blown out by Missouri; Washington St. is 2-4; and Washington is 2-3) and lost to Stanford with its 2-3 record. It is unreasonable to expect the Trojans to never lose. It is not unreasonable, however, to expect the Trojans never to lose at home against a team the caliber of Stanford.

Carroll and the rest of the USC coaching staff have received excessive praise for reviving a slumbering program and building it into the dominant program of the decade. It was deserved. However, the fire and intensity with which Trojan teams customarily played during their amazing four-year run from 2002-2005 has only been evident sporadically since then. The extreme listlessness and total lack of intensity the Trojans displayed last Saturday against Stanford is impossible for me to fathom. Has all the success in the recent past led to arrogance and complacency on the coaching staff? It has sure looked that way lately. Hopefully, this loss is just what the team needed to prompt some recalibration of its own.

It’s time for the coaches to really earn their pay. Yes, Carroll is a recruiting fiend, but if this game proves anything, it’s that vastly superior talent does not guarantee wins. Apparently the Washington game wasn’t enough proof for the players that they have to do more than just show up to win, and for the coaches that they have to take every opponent seriously. Carroll has not had a Trojan team in this situation before. This team could feasibly self-destruct and limp through the rest of the season with 4 or 5 more losses (if Stanford can beat USC at home, then anybody can beat them). This team, players and coaches, needs to use this loss as a wake-up call to reevaluate, refocus, and rededicate to playing and coaching football like Trojan fans have come to expect. If that doesn’t happen, I will start having doubts about the health of the USC football program. Which will it be? Prove that the Stanford game was a fluke and USC still sets the bar for college football excellence!

However the rest of the season goes, it just got a lot more interesting, and I’ll be watching just as closely and enthusiastically as ever.

Fight On!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I knew our seats were probably nosebleed-inducing, but was surprised (and out of breath) to find they were in the absolute top row.

Our view of the field standing up. The support post did not actually obstruct our view when sitting.

Looking east over Lake Washington toward the Cascade Mountains. The mountains are not visible due to the weather.

Second quarter

Even though we were sitting in the top row, it was a great vantage point and we still had a good view of the action.

Fourth quarter. This play was Jake Locker's one-yard sneak for the Huskies' last touchdown of the game. The visitors' section, Spirit of Troy, and contingent of four Song Girls are in the background.

You probably can’t make out the numbers on the board displaying team statistics near the top of the above photo. This was one of the last plays of the game, so they should read something pretty close to: Huskies 190 total yards (100 rushing/90 passing); Trojans 460 total yards (224 rushing, 236 passing). Yeah, USC dominated the game statistically. So why was the final score so close? Trojan mistakes from start to finish.

USC committed three turnovers, two of which led directly to Husky touchdowns (one 14 yard drive after a fumbled snap and one pick-six). A blocked punt and return to the USC nine yard-line led to the third Husky touchdown. UW’s field goal concluded a 10-play, 22 yard drive that was jumpstarted by a 15-yard penalty for interfering with the punt receiver and extended by two 15-yard pass interference calls. USC was penalized for 161 yards and five of the Huskies 15 first downs were due to penalties.

That is the litany of negatives, aside from Booty’s inconsistency. The positives? Well, the last time USC made this many mistakes, in Corvallis in 2006, they dropped their first Pac-10 game in three years. The fact that the Trojans escaped Husky Stadium with a road win after that much sloppy and mentally-deficient play can be thought of as a positive. All the credit goes to the defense, which was truly dominant. UW’s first drive of the game was its longest at 67 yards, but ended with a Thomas Williams interception. Only one other Husky drive was longer than 30 yards.

This week’s Stanford game arrives at a fortuitous time. USC has suffered a rash of injuries. Hopefully, the next couple of games will give LB Brian Cushing, LB Clay Matthews (Cushing’s back-up), C Kristofer O’Dowd, RG Chilo Rachal, OG Alatini Malu (Rachal’s back-up), CB Cary Harris, CB Shareece Wright (Harris’s back-up), and TB Stafon Johnson time to rest and heal before the meat of the schedule begins on October 27.

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UW Tailgating Photos

Cat and I flew to Seattle early Saturday morning for the USC-UW game. We landed at noon, rented a car, and drove straight to the U District. After parking north of campus, we met up with my cousins who are sophomores at UW for a few hours of tailgating with another cousin, who is a USC fan. I tailgated with Anne at the last USC game I attended in person.

Anne, Cat, and Marnie

Marnie is not actually a USC fan; she apparently lost a bet to Anne the previous weekend when USC played Washington State.

Cat was definitely the MVP of our mixed Husky-Trojan flip cup competition.

Husky Stadium, north side

The clouds over Husky Stadium looked ominous, foreshadowing the mistake-riddled play of the Trojans throughout the game.

Our tailgate hosts: Zach and Anne, Marnie and her husband.

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