Mark Sanchez Rewards Pete Carroll’s Trust


Call it a special knack or perhaps a sixth sense that Pete Carroll has, but the winningest coach in college football is able to recognize that winning edge that a player or a recruit has.

After going 6-6 in his first year and a 10-6 loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl, Carroll threw out the offensive scheme he and Norm Chow had designed and created a new pro style offense to fit Palmer’s skill set.

The result: Carson Palmer completed 309 of 489 passes for 3942 yards and 33 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions during the 2002 season and led the Trojans to an impressive 38-17 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Orange Bowl. His completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns were all USC single season records, and Palmer went on to win the Heisman Trophy.

The following year, neither Matt Cassell nor Matt Leinart set himself apart in the quarterback competition. In fact, both were mediocre at best. But Carroll recognized that winning edge in Leinart and named him the starting quarterback before the end of Spring practice. The rest is history.

USC went on to win two National Championships and Leinart, like Carson Palmer, won the Heisman Trophy.

Jump ahead three years. After the departure of John David Booty, the Trojans were again faced with what many thought would be a very close quarterback competition.

This time it was fourth-year junior, Mark Sanchez, facing off against Mitch Mustain, the 2005 Gatorade, USA Today and Parade Magazine Player of the Year and a transfer from Arkansas, where he started 8 games for the Razorbacks and went 8-0. Aaron Corp, a speedy redshirt freshman, was thrown into the mix as well.

The competition was supposed to go down to the wire. Many figured it would last beyond Spring practice and well into Fall Camp. It didn’t.

Pete Carroll again recognized that winning edge in Sanchez. Carroll was impressed by Sanchez’ leadership qualities and command of the offense. So, like he did with Leinart, a week before the annual spring “Huddle” scrimmage at the Coliseum, Carroll named Mark Sanchez the Trojans starting quarterback.

But Carroll’s trust in Sanchez didn’t end there. Three weeks before their opener with the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Mark Sanchez dislocated his knee. Carroll immediately brought in his other two quarterbacks to share time running the first unit offense. But he didn’t lose faith in Sanchez’ determination and ability to recover.

While some coaches might have panicked or become overly cautious and went with one of his reserves, both fine quarterbacks in their own right, Carroll stuck with Sanchez.

Today, Mark Sanchez rewarded that trust. He showed the 61,000 at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville as well as a national audience on ABC exactly what Carroll had noticed in Sanchez long before anyone else.

Sanchez completed 26 of 35 passes for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns with only one interception on a pass that the receiver tipped into the hands of the defensive back. Sanchez wound up with a quarterback rating of 177.

Incredible, yes. But even more incredible was Sanchez’ command of the Trojan offense. His reads were perfect. His audibles were perfect. He looked off receivers like an experienced NFL quarterback, consistently finding the open man. Most of his passes were thrown to a spot where only his receivers could make the catch.

He showed excellent mobility and athleticism, rolling out and throwing perfect strikes on the run. He knew the pass routes so well that time and again he hit the receivers in full stride, twice to Patrick Turner, one for a 20 yard gain, the other for a 42-yard TD, and a 49-yard TD strike to Ronald Johnson.

So, what can we call that special ability that Pete Carroll has to see players with that winning edge? Maybe it’s the “Heisman Eye.” In Sanchez’ case, time will tell. And the clock has already started ticking.