The headline of the last Skinny was “It All Comes Down to the Running Game” and boy did it ever. Toby Gerhart and Stanford ran for 325 yards while thoroughly outplaying USC in every phase of the game in a 55-21 blowout of the Trojans. It was the most points ever given up by USC in the Coliseum and after 28 straight victories in November under Pete Carroll; the Trojan program is clearly out of sync.
Before we get into some of the issues that are plaguing the Trojans, USC fans must tip their cap to Jim Harbaugh and the Stanford program. Harbaugh inherited a program that was 1-11 in 2006 and in his third year he has Stanford in a position to possibly go to the Rose Bowl. In the last two weeks, Stanford scored 106 points in victories over Top 10 teams and physically beat up the opponent. Harbaugh did exactly what Pete Carroll did when he came to USC. He loaded his staff up with experienced and hungry coaches and has given his players every opportunity to excel.
After seven years of “always competing” and finishing stronger than anybody, the Trojan program is in peril. USC only has 3 losses and you don’t want to overreact but the way the Trojans have lost and the fact the Trojans could easily have 5 or 6 losses at this point is very concerning with the amount of talent they have.
The issues can be addressed and the ship can be turned in the right direction but if you truly want to Win Forever you have to continually evolve, innovate and not let ego get in the way.
Discussion points for the water cooler and IM chats:
1- No Hunger- With seven consecutive AP top 4 finishes and ending the season with a bowl win 6 of those 7 years, the Trojan program and its fans seem to be living on its accomplishments of the past. The program seems to have forgotten how bitter losing can taste and do not play with the attitude “WE MUST WIN THIS GAME”.
An example of that was clear when after suffering one of the worst losses in USC history, some players were seen after the game smiling, laughing and carrying on like it was no big deal. Like some of the “new” LA fans that have joined the bandwagon the past 5 years, I wonder if some of the supposed “5” star recruits just wanted to be along for the ride and not put the necessary work in to become a high caliber player. When you’re the top dog with everyone gunning for you, especially with a young team, you have to outwork everyone else.
(lack of depth/experience, coaching attrition, Pete’s focus after the jump)
2- Lack of Depth and Experience: Despite great recruiting classes, the Trojans are sorely lacking in the depth department in terms of players who are ready to contribute consistently. In the past few weeks, the Trojans have had to convert Strong Safety Shane Horton to an undersized Linebacker and move True Freshman Defensive End Devon Kennard to Linebacker. They both started against Stanford.
Quite a few players are playing with nagging injuries and conditioning looks to be an issue. In years past the Trojans were able to plug players and not have a significant drop off and that is certainly not the case the second half of this season.
The coaches should be cut slack for this situation as injuries combined with a young team is very difficult to overcome. Remember, the Trojans lost a great group of LB’s to the NFL last season along with a top 5 Quarterback.
3- The attrition of the coaching staff: Since 2004, USC has had to replace almost every single position coach. The offensive coordinator has been changed 3 times!
The success of the program has lead to coaches getting better jobs elsewhere and
It’s very difficult to go through that much change and keep things status quo.
Coach Carroll loves to promote or hire young and upcoming coaches. The energy they bring to the table is great. However, you miss two key components of a coaching staff when you do that. You lose out on experienced game callers who can help the coach make key mid-game adjustments and you lose stability since younger coaches are more transient.
Know matter how good the head coach is, college football is too complex to they assistants coaches are interchangeable. Stability keeps things fluid.
4- Is Pete Carroll focused enough especially with such A Young Defense?: Between working on a book entitled “Win Forever”, helping run a very successful charity, being arguably the top sports celebrity in Los Angeles and getting pulled in a thousand directions, was Pete able to give this defense the attention it needed? Is Pete stretched too thin in general?
When the head coach sets up his coaching staff to have full control, which Pete has done, he has to be on top of every little detail of the program which is very time intensive.
5- The Pac-10 responded to USC’s challenge: Other Pac-10 schools got tired of being considered “everybody else”. The conference as a whole has taken a big step up in quality. In fact, in a head to head match-up this year, the top 5 teams in the Pac-10 would whip the SEC. The level of talent and coaching has improved immensely over the past 4 years and that is being played out on the field this year. When Jim Harbaugh went for two points up 48-21 on the Trojans, he was sending a message to the Trojans that two can play that game. This will be the first time in 6 years the All-Pac-10 team is not dominated by Trojans.
Coach Carroll has been able to successfully patch the cracks that appeared in the program since 2005… it will be interesting to see if he is able to rebuild “better than it has ever been done before”. I wouldn’t bet against him.