Once is an anomaly. Twice is a concern. Three times is a trend. Three consecutive seasons, three inexcusable losses for Southern Cal — two out of three on the road in Corvallis.
Before I go through the route of what’s wrong with Pete Carroll’s program right now, first, let’s note that it was a clear flexing of complete control by Oregon State. It was a Thursday night game on their home turf, and they came up psyched and pumped, dominating the line play on both sides, leaving holes one could fit a Ford pick-up through for Jacquizz Rodgers, who scored twice and rushed for 186 yards on the night, and his brother James, who caught two scores of his own from QB Lyle Moevao, whom I last saw getting destroyed by Penn State in Happy Valley a couple weeks ago.
USC gave games away the last two years. This time, they just got dominated, as the players seemed to play down to a team with clearly inferior talent, but ready to play its guts out against the behemoth with a target on its back. The game wasn’t as close as the 27-21 final score would indicate; although Mark Sanchez led a vaiiant attempt at a comeback, the 21-0 halftime score was truly indicative of the overall feel.
If anything, Southern Cal seems to have fallen prey to its own defensive plan, which I was joshing about over AIM yesterday — in a post on his blog, UConn D-lineman Rob Lunn described the Trojan D as “thiscat-thatcat defense.” I’ll cite his analysis:
Let me break down this complicated schematic for you—you take the 11 best defensive-minded athletes in the country, put them in white and crimson, and tell them to go cover “This Cat over here and That Cat over there.” Real defense is when you take a bunch of mediocre athletes, instill a sense of unquestionable pride and sacrifice, and turn them loose on opposing teams.
There is a smattering of “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts” pride there, but it seems accurate, as the defense did not play like a unit against the Beavers; it seemed like a separate effort of great individual talent, each man trying to make a play, but not necessarily always playing together. The well-oiled machine that the program has been under Carroll always had drips and drabs of that, but now, it has sprung a leak.
In any case, I feel somewhat smarter for dropping USC to #2 and then #3 in my personal rankings, even though I wasn’t sure they would lose because of just how awful the Pac-10 had turned out to be in the first couple of weeks, but not much. I thought they had the easiest pass to a title game pass, and on paper, they certainly did, but now we have to look at whether Carroll is smart enough and savvy enough as a college coach to adjust his methods and figure out where the kinks are, because no number of five-star recruits can paper over a program that can’t get it done when everything is skewed so heavily in its favor.