Washington Loss Edition – 9/20/09

I am not going to spend a lot of time in this week’s musings going”around the country”. When USC suffers a loss like this, my mind is rather narrowly focused, and right now all I really care about is the situation with the cardinal and gold.

– A lot of things can be said about today’s loss.  It is difficult for the rest of the country to appreciate what it means to have our starting safety and very best defensive player out, as well as our starting Quarterback (the loss of which was only appreciated when we saw the performance of his back-up), and our starting wide receiver (whose injury I maintain is the most significant event of our season so far). But these three injuries, as important as they are, simply can not justify the loss we suffered today.

– I would really like to hand it to the Matt Barkley haters out there; you guys really know your stuff!!!

– I have not missed watching a single USC game in well over 15 years, and I certainly have not missed a single game of the Pete Carroll era. In his entire time at USC, including the Stanford, Oregon State, and UCLA losses, I have not seen a USC team go 0-for-10 on third downs, or lose the turnover battle 3-0. I have seen some breakdown in penalty discipline, and that also has to be mentioned today. But essentially, turning the ball over three times in the red zone is a formula for losing to anyone – always and forever – let alone a good Washington team on the road.

– USC has lost six conference games since the start of 2006. They have not lost a single non-conference game. I absolutely hate to say it, but no coach has ever had more of a reputation for absolutely always winning the big games, and yet occassionally, and bizarrely, losing a lesser game. This reputation will now stick, at least until it doesn’t any more.

– I am forced to assume that the coaches have a reason for not playing C.J. Gable, but when you see the fumble issues with McKnight and Johnson, you have to wonder how Gable’s fumble issues of late last year were such a dealbreaker for his playing time. The kid is a special athlete, and I also realize that, as catastrophic as Stefon’s fumble was Saturday, he has not had a “fumbling problem” at USC. We have got to get our offense going, and I just wonder if Gable can play a part in that.

– Even the most mature and reasonable of USC fans have got to now say that the much-heralded offensive line we talked about all off-season was unbelievably overrated. They have been brutally man-handled the last two games. To me, this season comes down to whether or not the line ends up being the line of five veterans we thought we had, or the line I watched yesterday.

– There is a real chicken-or-the-egg thing going on with the play-calling and Aaron Corp yesterday. Did he struggle because the play-calling was too conservative, and there was no creativity or punch in what the offense was doing? OR, did the offense have no creativity or punch, because Corp was impotent, listless, ineffective, and incapable? Frankly, I do not see how we can deny that he flat-out missed opportunities when they were there. The offense did become rather reminiscent of 1999, yes, but I am not willing to put that all on Bates. From what I saw, if we had opened up the playbook things could have gotten worse, not better.

– And the idea that Carroll is to blame for not telling Corp until Saturday morning that he was starting is inane. If this kid didn’t know he was starting, or didn’t know that there was a very, very high likelihood of him starting, and get prepared accordingly, then I don’t know what to say.

– I have said it many times before, but this season it feels differently. One loss does not ruin a season, and it never will. If USC wins the rest of their games, like they did last year, we will be Pac-10 champs again, and that is all I ever, ever, ever care about. But the idea that we will win the rest of our games right now seems ridiculous. If somehow we can go up to Cal and get a win, then I will believe 11-1 is possible. But if Cal whacks us around, then the word that Carroll has simply never had in his reality will very likely become this year’s paradigm: “Re-building”.

– And that does beg an important question. If this becomes a re-building year, what made it so? We did lose a starting QB who is now starting on Sundays, and we did lose a ton of defensive starters who made up the best defense I believe college football has ever seen. BUT, we returned every single other starter on offense, and to me, this defense is the LEAST of our concerns. Sooooo, why in the world should this season become a re-building year? Is it a true freshman at quarterback? Is it all the new coaches on staff? To me, it is special teams, and an offense that really wasn’t all that good last year either. IF, we do not start punting the ball more than 35 yards, and IF we do not start getting SOME return game out of our kickoff and punt return, and IF we do not start getting our kickoffs in the back of the end zone, and if our place-kicking game is not reliable and potent, THEN we will see what “re-building” means. There are skill players on offense that are among the best in the country (granted, Ronald Johnson has to – he just HAS TO – come back). The true freshman QB is absolutely capable of winning games. The line is seasoned, and supposedly powerful. And the defense is ridiculously good, again. But the offense can not go 90 yards every time. Field position is the name of the game. And our special teams has the ability to keep us down this year if we do not fix it.

– With all of that said, and I assure you that my concerns about our O-line and special teams are sincere, I still caution the haters from actually predicting this season is over. Carroll has made his critics look like fools over and over and over. This year, we have a very tough road schedule to deal with. But, we also are Trojans. I have seen the bulk of the Pac-10 at one time or another lose a key game, and literally throw in the towel on their season (Cal and UCLA routinely do this). For whatever reason, USC has not generally done this (those reasons, by the way, are coaching, and the DNA of being a Trojan). I hope, pray, and believe we will not start now.

– I do wonder if the coaches can explain the clock management at the end of the first half that kept us from kicking a field goal, three points which would have insured an overtime. I have thought through every scenario, and the only possible thing to say is, “Yeah, we messed that up – badly.”

– I know of few football fans around this country that can say what I will say now (meaning, people I am friends with). The major other football programs here on the west coast have no fans that can say what I will now say. I do not know if USC will again go 11-1, win the conference, and win the Rose Bowl, OR, end up with 3 or 4 painful losses and up in the Emerald Bowl or something like that. What I do know is this: the intuitive reaction that non-Trojans have to losses like yesterday is what defines their non-Trojanness (“are you still going to go the Washington State game?”; “I am getting rid of my USC hat”; “are you still calling yourself a Trojan?”: etc., etc., etc.). The world is filled with losers, and they are not defined by, nor have they ever been defined by, their losing. They are defined by how they respond to their losing. Michael Irvin famously said, “Look up. Get up. But don’t ever give up.”. Though not a Trojan, Irvin gets it (and his personal testimony earns him a spot as an honorary Trojan, but I digress). We Trojans have a saying of our own – “Fight on”. And for now, that means beating the Washington State Cougars. One game at a time. Anything can happen.

What we have to do is respond. And respond we will.

Fight on, Trojans.