Trojans Come Up Flaccid In Efforts To Penetrate Beavers

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.

Rushing The Field: That Was Supposed To Be Competitive, Right?

Honest question: is 35-3 a bad enough beating for Ohio State that we can no longer consider them candidates for the BCS championship game? After watching USC’s offensive pick apart the secondary and the Trojans’ front seven on defense get after Todd Boeckman early and often, it seems that Jim Tressel’s ethic and mentality in Columbus may need just as much of a change as Lloyd Carr’s did in Michigan. That wound up with Carr leaving and Rich Rodriguez replacing him, but I am not suggesting such a drastic step.  What it may require is Tressel stretching out his recruiting area — because he can get every athlete in the Midwest and many in the Atlantic part of Big 10 territory that he likes, but he isn’t attracting players that can be difference makers in out-of-conference games.  I don’t think Beanie Wells would have made a lick of difference, either, and you know what? I don’t like the Buckeyes much when they have to play Penn State are their spread offense later this year, either.

They may not be able to get by Wisconsin, who grind out wins. For every play that Fresno State made against the Badgers in the San Joaquin Valley, the Badgers had answers and their defense was able to keep Tom Brandstater in check.

The dirty little secret about USC? They have the easiest path to the MNC game because the Pac-10, usually good for 2nd in conference strength behind the SEC these days, is in a down cycle. USC was one of only two Pac-10 teams that won an out-of-conference game convincingly, and I would rather not count Oregon State-Hawai’i as any sort of meaningful OOC game. Oregon lost another QB and snuck by Purdue in OT, to be fair.

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Above The Rim: Walking In Memphis (All-College Edition)

Tennessee 66, Memphis 62 – Chris Lofton has an off night with two layups and Tennessee takes the win on the road thanks to good bench play and Memphis’ inability to make free throws (again, I will not pick them to make a Final Four until they shoot at least 60% as a team). Derrick Rose still looks like a dynamo who’s ready to play 82 games.

Indiana 85, Northwestern 82 – The players show support for their departed coach (Kelvin Sampson) on their shoes while picking up what usually is a gimme win in Evanston that was anything but, considering the tension.

Drake 71, Butler 64 – The Humane Society is offended at such a dogfight, but the rest of us were entertained when two teams of Bulldogs faced each other: Drake got 25 from sophomore Josh Young, including the closing free throws that put the game out of reach. A.J. Graves led Butler with 18.

Baylor 92, Kansas State 86 – Yes, apparently you can have a team where one player scores 44 (Michael Beasley), another scores 31 (Bill Walker), and still lose when the rest of the team only scores 11 points. Balanced scoring keeps Baylor in the hunt for a tourney spot.

UCLA 75, Oregon 65 – The Ducks, in yet another hideous experimental uniform courtesy of big booster Phil Knight’s company, get up early on the Bruins yet allow them to come back at home in Westwood. Kevin Love gets 15 points and 11 boards, still looks like he needs another year in school.

USC 81, Oregon State 53 – This game was 45-15 or something like that at the half. The Beavers have just fallen apart this season and showed it at the Galen Center. O.J. Mayo led the Trojans with 21.

Arizona 65, Wazzu 55 – Chase Budinger nails down 22 points while Jerryd Bayless chips in 20, doing the “0” in a Wildcats uniform proud. Wazzu’s still in third place in the Pac-10, but Arizona needed it more to keep pace in the standings.

Photo: AP/Mark Humphrey

Above The Rim: Ice Cold.

For whatever reason, the hoops review here has been NBA-centric, but now I’m adding college hoops to it. Hopefully this will get it close to daily.

Spurs 90, Heat 89 – This was a title-winning team two years ago in Miami, now they get absolutely no breaks and have now lost 15 in a row. They haven’t won since December 22nd. Karmic payback for Riles easing Stan Van Jeremy to the side a couple years back? You never know, but this hodge-podge has nothing except Dwyane Wade, and if anyone comes calling with the tired line that Shaq still makes a difference (he’s out and hurt, of course), it’d be nice if that analyst just went out back and flailed himself.

Warriors 121, Nets 119 – Hack-a-Cliche on the AP writer who came up with “Hack-a-Boone” in the write-up of this game for the fouling strategy of sending Nets F Josh Boone to shoot free throws (he made half, an improvement.)  Monta Ellis went absolutely nuts — 39 points in 41 minutes, 13-of-14 from the line; Baron Davis had his eighth career triple-double (25 points, 12 boards, 10 assists). Vince Carter had 29, Boone had 21 for the Nets.

Bucks 104, Pacers 92 – All about Michael Redd and his 37, going off in the first three quarters of this one — the Bucks had a 21-7 run during the third quarter, opening up the lead for the win against a Jermaine O’Neal-less Indiana team.

UCLA 80, Oregon 75 – All you need is Love, and some clutch second half work. Oregon was up by seven in the 2nd half and the Bruins mounted the comeback, taking the lead with less than two minutes to go and icing it with a pair of Darren Collison free throws. Kevin Love had 26 and 18 boards, Collison had 22, Malik Hairston had 18 for the Ducks.

Arizona 76, Wazzu 74 – The Cougs are hitting the skids a little quick in the Pac-10 schedule right now, getting beat up by the Wildcats’ bombing from the three-point line (12-of-21 last night.)

USC 68, Oregon State 44 – 19 for O.J. Mayo, 18 for Davon Jefferson, and USC is working its way back to .500 in conference play while Oregon State looks to be this year’s doormat.

Duke 81, Virginia Tech 64 – It’s so much easier to hate on the Blue Devils when they’re good (or at least it’s more fun and less trendy).  Kyle Singler led Coach K’s crew with 16 in a very, very chippy game — and Deron Washington apparently likes to cheap shot himself some Blue Devils (hat tips to D-Wil for the video clips below.)

Washington did it to Lee Melchioni a couple years back, too:

Photo: AP/Alan Diaz