Weekly Musings – Washingston State Edition (the low point has arrived)

I do believe this weekend marks the lowest point for the USC football program since our last place conference finish in the year 2000. I do not mean it is the saddest loss – it is not. I mean, “low”. Humiliating. Punishing. Depressing. Mystifying. I am not a perma-pessimist, and I have a pathological optimism about me in my personal life and business life. For me to say what I am saying about this loss and feeling what I am feeling about this loss does not happen easily.

I am not depressed this weekend MERELY because we lost the game. I am not depressed MERELY because of how we lost it (which frankly is not even something I would believe if I had not seen it with my own eyes). I am depressed because any rational person has to view this game as some sort of a pre-cursor to the season ahead. I see one team – perhaps two – that I would expect us to be the favorite going into for the rest of the year. The defense is good, and perhaps will become extraordinary, but the offensive deficiencies are so severe that I can not even imagine what kind of scores our defense will have to hold opposing teams to if we are to win games. I suppose one thing that still separates me from 99% of the haters is that I actually hate this has happened; the haters live for this. I will be rooting my a$s off for USC to win every game; they will actually hope for worse moments to occur so as to accelerate the inevitable (whether they admit it or not); they get psychological satisfaction in seeing this scenario play out, while I feel for our players and the state of our program. Each person involved with the program can analyze the state of their own psyche; I won’t waste time judging any particular individuals … I speak in general terms here: Those who love the university and the spirit of Fight On are heartbroken; those who have tremendous dissatisfactions about the state of their own lives sit around typing venom and hate. For you Trojans out there, stay focused – remember our “first things” – above all else, we embody fight on.

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– It is a foregone conclusion in my mind that CLK is a goner. I can see scenarios where doing that now vs. the end of the year would be beneficial, but I do not believe Pat Haden will go there. Perhaps I am wrong (as an aside, one way you can determine if a chat board typist is a real Trojan or a childish douchebag is how they speak of Pat Haden; those who fail to appreciate the caliber of AD we have at USC are not to be taken seriously, and I am happy to defend this claim any time). I echo those who feel that a CLK-resignation/termination now with an Orgeron interim position would be best, and may salvage some part of our 2013-14 recruiting efforts. I think, though, that the grown-ups in the room have to recognize the following: There is no way this all goes down without collateral damage. Recruiting efforts are going to take a hit no matter what sequence is used to play all this out. Those who believe that the second CLK is off the sideline we will begin beating Stanford and Oregon may not be most qualified to offer football analysis. We do not have a good football team, at least on the offensive side of the ball. If the fact that we are not good is CLK’s fault, fine – type away. But those Quarterbacks are not going to become world-beaters the second CLK is gone. We have a good enough defense (I think) that we can hold some teams down a bit. I would like to think that some improvement in the play-calling would enable a more dynamic offense. But teams are able to shut down Lee because there is not the dual threat of Robert Woods we have enjoyed. The TE’s are not seeing balls thrown at them. The Offensive Line is bad at worst, and mediocre at best. And both QB’s, knowing they are fighting for the starting job, have looked like Aaron Corp in Seattle for sixty minutes apiece …

– I got on a tangent, but my point is that I believe CLK’s time at our university is over, whether that be this week, this month, or in December. I like the guy personally a lot. Those who resort to personal and unsubstantiated attacks on CLK lack the maturity to be taken seriously. But as a head coach, Lane has been unable to improve the morale of the team, the confidence of the team, the discipline of the team, the execution of the team, or the talent of the team. I believe the sanctions have taken their toll, and I believe what CLK did in 2011 was the stuff of legends. But his insistence on holding on to play-calling duties this off-season will be his kryptonite. Leaders recognize their own shortcomings and make changes. He has been constitutionally incapable of doing so at USC, and now we are losing to the worst team in our conference in our own home opener without giving up an offensive touchdown. It is an unfathomable state of affairs, frankly.

– The fact that our first pass attempt over 20 yards the other night came on a hail mary at the very end of the first half tells you all you need to know. The strategic deficiencies in refusing to open up the offense and play with a full deck are bad enough. But the specific cases, ones that he continues to defend, by the way, are the ones I just can not believe. A backward pass on 2nd-and-9 for a loss followed by a run play on 3rd-and-16 are the plays that I can not forgive. I do not believe I have seen Lane throw the ball on a 3rd-and-long in two years. Forcing your offense into a two-down offense situation because you decided to surrender on third down is not Trojan football.

– Blame CLK all you want but Marqise Lee has been hurting this team. This tendency to run the ball 15-yards in the wrong direction got me in a lot of trouble in third grade recess, and though Lee has unimaginable athletic talent, it is bad, bad, bad football. He is frustrated, but what is needed is upperclassmen leadership and extraordinary playmaking. The fourth down screw-up possibly cost us the game. He will do some big things for us this year, and I love the kid, but Lee has been shockingly bad in the first two games (and yes, I do acknowledge the lack of balls downfield for him to change that – I am merely commenting on the opportunities he has been given)

– No more valid criticism of CLK exists (beyond play-calling) than this: The QB’s he has overseen at USC have regressed, not progressed. I am mystified by how unprepared both Kessler and Wittek appear for the moment when they are in the game.

– Tre Madden was a beast out there Saturday night, and I join the chorus in the obvious question of why play action was not used after setting up the run so effectively. I do not mind that we failed to mix in more ball-carriers (even though I love Justin Davis) as I like the idea of letting one runner get a rhythm and confidence and flow (I have never liked the “tailback by committee”). What I mind is that we did not mix up the play-calling and involve our tight ends to actually capitalize on the effective ground game we had established.

– Third down conversions win football games. What we have done against two of the worst teams on our schedule tell you all you need to know about why I am predicting a long season.

– To make my point regarding the irrationality of many on “chat boards”, I woke up to a post yesterday morning that said, “Pete Carroll should have left after 2005”. That will be news to the guy in Heritage Hall who cleans the three consecutive Rose Bowl championships won after 2005 as the second half of the greatest dynasty in the history of college football. Wow. This is what we are dealing with – Pete Carroll wasn’t even good enough WHILE we were dominating college football and smelling roses year after year after year.

– One of the things complicating what will be a search for a new coach is the extraordinary adjustments that have taken place in the compensation culture around the country. It used to be quite easy to recruit a guy who had been making 600-800k when you could pay 1-2mm. Charlie Strong is making 3.7mm at Louisville. Kevin Sumlin is making 3.1mm at Texas A&M. The times have changed.

– Other names floating out there confuse me. Gruden has no college resume (I know Pete didn’t either, but I hesitate to assume the needle can be found twice in the haystack), and has no passion for the University (and based on all the opportunities he has turned down no passion for the college game at all). Petrino is a goofball and has a toxic reputation, something I can’t imagine Pat Haden would bite on. If I were a betting man I would say that Haden has Del Rio on his list, and I personally would be curious to see if James Franklin from Vandy has the gravitas to be our head coach.

– The Gundy talk doesn’t do a lot for me, but what do I know, “I’m forty!!!”

– I do not believe there is a chance Pat will do it, but one advantage to making the break now besides the obvious recruiting situation is that at the end of the season we face a competition from several other universities in the pursuit of a top coach. Florida could be looking (I wouldn’t bet on that just yet) and I have to think Texas will be. People are throwing Nebraska out there as well but of course they are 2-0. If indeed USC, Texas, and Florida were all looking that would be three of the top five programs of the last ten years all looking at the same time. Would make for a nice Christmas bonus for the agents.

– The best thing we can do as Trojans is sit back, moderate expectations for this season, and pray the team brings everything it has to each and every game. We have some good coaches, and plenty of good players (the CLK haters holding on to the rhetoric that “we have the best talent in the nation and can not win” are living in a scary denial of reality). Part of me hopes the lame duck CLK just decides to throw caution to the wind and open it all up … I do not think he will.

– I would like to hold more teams to seven rushing yards; I would just like to win the games in which we do that

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A trip around the country …

– It is awfully weird to me that ESPN hasn’t changed the footage for the “comin’ to your city” song in over four years. Is ESPN budget-constrained all of a sudden? Bizarre thing to be skimpy over when their college gameday franchise has become a mega-revenue center for the network. I’ll move on …

– I have to get to Michigan’s campus some day, not just for the big house, but for the campus itself. It looks absolutely phenomenal.

– Favorite signs: “Rudy was offsides”, and “Everett Colson was Manti Teo’s Girlfriend”.

– Texas looked bad bad bad. Michigan looked good but I suspect Notre Dame is mediocre at best. Giving a coach a big contract extension at Notre Dame is usually a good way to lock down really bad football play for several years. Georgia may still be in contention for the season. I think Alabama is going to manhandle Texas A&M.

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I will call it quits here. I am despondent over the state of our football program, but completely un-phased in my belief in the spirit of Troy. We have resilience in our DNA, and I believe we will recover. This is sad to watch. I empathize with the temptation to turn to bitching and moaning and hating as a coping mechanism. But the truth is that the valleys we suffer through make the peaks we inevitably enjoy all the sweeter. And those peaks are coming back. I guarantee it.

We will rebuild. We will be back. The men of Troy will fight on.