Trojans’ Bounce Back Game Just a Dribble


The Trojans held a 43-point spread going into Saturday night’s game with the Washington State Cougars, a team they pummeled 69-0 last year in Pullman.

This was supposed to be the Trojans’ huge bounce back game after a stunning 16-13 loss to Washington in Seattle last week. But it turned out to be only a bounce back quarter as the Trojans short-changed their fans and themselves over the final three periods.

After blowing away the Cougars in the first quarter, 20-0, the lackadaisical Trojans played the Cougars dead even over the remainder of the game.

The 27-6 Trojan victory sent a lot of fans home scratching their heads and wondering: “What is wrong with the offense?”

Nothing that an experienced quarterback and play caller couldn’t fix. But the Trojans have neither. It would also help if they had an offensive line that lived up to all the preseason hype.

All during spring practice and fall camp, the question was always about the defense. The Trojans lost eight starters to the NFL from the defensive side of the ball. On the offensive side, they only lost two – Mark Sanchez and Patrick Turner.

So, the concerns had been about the defense and how they would fare this season. After four games, the defense looks fine. But it’s the offense that can’t get out of its own way.

Against Washington last week, the offense committed three turnovers, two fumbles and an Aaron Corp interception, all in the red zone. Last night against the Cougars, the offense lost two more fumbles. They were also responsible for most of the penalty yardage in both games. Eight for 85 yards in Seattle and 13 for 115 yards at the Coliseum last night.

The coaching staff praised the offensive line before the season began, claiming this line might have been the best during the Pete Carroll era. Yet there have been a significant number of false starts and holding penalties.

That would be more or less the case with an inexperienced line. But since these players are all returning starters, one has to think it is a lack of concentration and pride of performance.

You cannot tell me that anyone on the offensive line is proud of the fact that the Cougars, a team in transition, stopped two Trojan scoring drives with goal line stands inside the five-yard line.

That cannot possibly be emblematic of the best offensive line in the Pete Carroll era. Or, for that matter, an offensive line worthy of its Top Ten ranking.

The loss of Mark Sanchez and Patrick Turner along with the injury to Ronald Johnson has had a much greater effect than anyone had imagined.

With Turner and Johnson in the lineup, that opened up the field for Damian Williams. So far, David Ausberry and Travon Patterson along with the younger receivers like Brice Butler have been unable to fill that gap, leaving teams to double up on Williams.

The tight ends need to be more active. Anthony McCoy and Blake Ayles each caught a pass last night. But Rhett Ellison dropped a sure touchdown, and Ausberry and Patterson had no catches.

As remarkable as he may be, Matt Barkley cannot be expected to fill the shoes of Mark Sanchez. Although some day he may surpass Sanchez and Matt Leinart in the Trojan record books, right now he needs that offensive line to give him time to make his reads and go through his progressions.

Barkley needs the running backs to stop fumbling the ball, and the offensive line to buckle down and wedge out holes on the goal line. If that doesn’t happen it is going to be a very long season.

Instead of Competition Tuesday and Turnover Wednesday, what about No Excuses Week – a Return to the Fundamentals?

More than competing with one another for starting spots, the entire team needs to work on the fundamentals. Blocking, tackling, holding onto the football, and running precise routes. But most of all the offense, the defense, and the special teams need to get in sync.

This week is another trap game, just like the Washington game. The Cal Bears have to be really angry and upset with themselves for their awful showing against Oregon. They will be determined not to let the Trojans come into their house and embarrass them.

Although it is still early in the season, this is essentially a Pac-10 elimination game for both teams. Whichever team loses will have a very difficult time, an almost impossible chance of winning the Pac-10 title.

For the Bears and Jeff Tedford, it’s do or die. For the Trojans it’s time to live up to all the hype.