Weekly Musings – Oregon Edition

I am 100% devoted to my USC Trojans, and if we were 0-11 with one game to play, I would be uncompromising in my support for our team. Along those lines, there will not be a game we lose that will not upset me – even devastate me. I hate losing, and one point I have made countless times about the 1996-2000 era at USC was that losing became far too acceptable (which is different than saying it became far too common, though that was true too). Last night’s game has a lot that can be said about it, and I will say a lot of it, but I will say that when you go down 21-3 to a team that is likely the very best team in the country (and possibly by a wide margin), and come back to make it a hyper-competitive game on the backs of an outstanding offensive performance, we do have some silver lining in there. There was a lot of fight in that offense last night. Obviously we have to discuss the defense too, but my point is that I believe in this team and believe in the spirit that is Troy. The Arizona game was far more disappointing to me, though a loss is a loss just like a win is a win. Let’s look at the state of our season, let’s discuss last night’s game, and then let’s tour around the country.

When you let another team score 62 points on you in your own stadium, it sounds ridiculous to think that you could beat them in their own stadium in the Pac-12 Championship. But we can beat them, and I believe we will if given another chance. The issue that should be dominating our conversation, though, is not an Oregon rematch. It is Arizona State. And then it is UCLA. And then it is Notre Dame. But the reality is that we do now control our own destiny for a Pac-12 South Championship (second in a row, by the way), and we even control our own destiny for a trip to the Rose Bowl. Let’s hold off on that last part. Arizona State was competitive with Oregon State last night in Corvalis, and they have won some games this year. If you look at their schedule, though, they haven’t beaten a single team this year that is even decent. I believe we are going to tune them up, but we just can not take that for granted. The UCLA game is probably the tougher one of the two, and I am sure their 66-10 pummeling of Arizona has a lot of people worried. UCLA is a tough game to win whether they have 1 loss or 7 losses. But the truth is that Arizona does not have a single win this season on the road, and they played the game of their lives against USC, and were the beneficiaries of five turnovers and 13 penalties. They got down early and it snowballed. We can beat UCLA, and we will. This is a team that lost to Cal, who I believe my wife’s small group at church would beat. If we take care of business the next two weeks, we will have that Oregon rematch which represents our path to the Rose Bowl. Period. Before that, we would have the chance to ruin Notre Dame’s undefeated season, though after their game against Pitt yesterday, I am not so sure they will beat Boston College (just kidding – they will). Notre Dame’s offense is legit, but that offense is highly questionable, which will come in handy since it is our defense that has become highly questionable. I respect the front seven of Notre Dame, but I think our offense has the capability to run up the score on them. So, with the understanding that it is a week-by-week project, I think we can finish 3-0, and I frankly think we will.

But how could I think we may beat Oregon in Eugene? Well, I don’t necessarily think we will, but I know we can. And I also should say, the idea that Oregon State COULD beat Oregon (in Corvalis) is not outside the realm of possibility. It won’t happen, but it could, and I would love to go play Oregon State in the Pac-12 championship. But the bottom line about an Oregon rematch game can not be reached without discussing last night’s game.

We probably can not beat Oregon 28-21, but I think we theoretically could beat them 50-45. A COUPLE more stops last night on the defensive end, and just one more score offensively, and obviously it is a different story. But that sounds crazy, right? Well, no, it isn’t. We settled for three when Agoular just couldn’t quite hold on to a very, very, very near touchdown pass on our first possession. We were BLATANTLY held in the end zone on the pass play to Lee that ended up being an end zone interception for the Ducks. Lee got a little carried away right before the half and fumbled the ball when we certainly were about to put three on the board, and maybe even seven. Our receivers had their way with Oregon’s secondary, and more importantly, we ran the ball very well. We can score on Oregon – we just put up a gazillion yards and scored 51 points. The issue is the defense, obviously, and I just believe it is possible that we can create ONE more turnover, or make ONE more third down stop, or pick off ONE pass. That #24 can not possibly have another night like he did last night (right?). We may not play as well offensively either, but I am just saying that beating anyone twice is hard, and I think we CAN do it.

So what about last night? Some musings …

– CLK called a very impressive game offensively. The running of Redd and McNeal was impressive, the holes big, and the yardage gains crucial. The run/pass balance was stellar, And Matt really did execute well (a couple bad passes notwithstanding). It was the kind of offensive performance many of us thought we would have each game – with huge pass plays to receivers downfield, big time kickoff returns, and steady, impactful runs from scrimmage. The tight ends got involved, and Barkley was crisp and effective. I would give the offense an A-, and they had practically no penalties, which is the biggest thing that can be said.

– Matt threw a bad pick when under pressure, but I am not going to criticize him for the pick in the end zone. Lee was held, right in front of a crooked referee, so that was it was.

– The ball-carriers held on to the ball, and they picked up extra yardage after being hit by defenders. It was cool to see. Run that way in your next three games, and you will go 3-0.

– When you are down 10 with five minutes to go against Oregon and their offense, there is by no means an easy path to victory. But the call, and subsequent refusal to overturn the call, on the onside kick was utterly extraordinary. The referees have lost their subtlely and nuance when it comes to their hatred of USC. There was a time when they were somewhat better at disguising it (barely). USC recovered that onside kick – there was no freaking controversy about it – and the refs denied the teams and the fans the possibility of some serious late game drama. Unforgivable.

– I will stop short of saying the refs stole the games from us, something I have only said twice in my life – Stanford 2010 and Stanford 2011. You can not say the refs stole the game from you when the other team scored 62 points and generates over 700 yards of offense, with one kid running for half of it.

– All of us in the USC family are understandably dumbfounded that we were not able to stop their offense better than we did. I share the frustration of watching #24 run through us like a knife through butter. The runs through the middle did not bother me as much as the way we let him get to the corners. But he ran disciplined lines, stuck to his angles, and apparently had butter coated all over his uniform. It is one thing when their fast and talented offense evades us, but the tackling was atrocious, and it cost us the game.

– I don’t think we should have deferred on opening kick-off and I don’t think we should have punted in middle of fourth quarter on 4th and 6 from near midfield …

– The fumble before the end of half (by Oregon) was a direct result of us knocking the brains out of their quarterback. I don’t think he knew his name when he took the next snap. We just needed to cause another turnover or two and the game could have gone very differently.

– The last two games have been a bit more what I expected this season in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of the team before the season started: A high-powered, big-play offense, with a defense that under-performed expectations. The first half of the season was the opposite of what I expected: A strong defense with a tepid and underwhelming offense. We need to get the best of all worlds on the field at once.

– The team got the message about penalties: A great week-over-week improvement …

– I found out on Friday that we are LAST in the nation (going into this game) at 3rd down conversions (offensively) when the yards-to-go were two or less. That is perhaps the worst stat of the season, and has been a reflection of poor play-calling and an offense that has not asserted up-front dominance. We seemed to do better Saturday but I would need to see the numbers …

– I do not believe the team is going to give up on the season. Anyone who TIVO’d the game last night should watch, and see the real possibility that exists of beating Oregon IF we get the chance at a rematch, For now, it is all business. BEAT the Sun Devils, and get ready for a war with the improved Bruins (who nonetheless, are still Bruins).

– Aguolar is an impressive young man, not just on the field, but in his demeanor and post-game maturity. Developing him as a bonafide third receiver option is going to be a big deal for the rest of this season.

– Does anyone else feel like Jawanza Starling is struggling?

– There was a FOURTH down play in the middle of the field in the late part of the third quarter (forgive me if it was early in the fourth quarter) where Oregon went for it. Two receivers stacked on the right side of the field, and one of them just speared Robey out of the play, the QB then threw the ball to the open receiver for a crucial first down. The referee was four feet away. Just sayin’.

– We have no choice but to put this game behind us. Bring on ASU. And let’s get loud in the Coliseum. Really loud. We have a Rose Bowl berth to play for, and I’d rather be in the Rose Bowl than any other game in the world.

AROUND THE COUNTRY …

– I can not put into words what a laughingstock and joke that Alabama/LSU game was. Pathetic, ugly, sad college football display (two years in a row). If you think Alabama wants to play Oregon in a national championship game, you are insane.

– Had LSU beaten Alabama, or if they lose in the SEC championship, and if Oregon and Kansas State are undefeated at the end of the year, I kid you not that these douchebags who run the BCS and NCAA would still put an SEC team in the fictitious championship game. The SEC crush at ESPN and so forth is just sad, and unfair to fans of the sport. LSU would be a fourth place team in the Pac-12, and Alabama would be second (or third).

– Notre Dame got a triple OT win over Pittsburgh (who has five losses). I am going to struggle to stick to my belief in a “one week at a time” worldview for USC. I can not wait for that game. I LOVE beating the Irish. Love it. And I have gotten quite used to it.

– I still haven’t stopped laughing about San Diego State’s defeat of Boise State

– The Mississippi schools sure turned out to be a disappointment …

– Is Nebraska of all teams going to represent the Big-10 in the Rose Bowl? Ay yi yi ..

I will leave it there now. I am excited for MMQB tomorrow and excited to come back to the Coliseum next week to avenge last year’s loss against the Sun Devils. Fiight on.