Does USC Need to Dial Down The Intensity at Practice?


Perhaps no other college football team in the nation competes at practice like Pete Carroll’s Trojans. The speed and intensity of each session on Howard Jones Field is often greater than what the team experiences in the actual games come Saturday.

It is this spirit of intense competition that has made Pete Carroll’s teams at USC so successful. Seven straight Pac-10 titles, seven straight 11-win or better seasons, seven straight BCS Bowl appearances, seven straight Top 4 or better finishes.

But this season, all of that may be about to change.

With one conference loss already handed to them courtesy of former Pete Carroll assistants, Steve Sarkisian and Nick Holt, the head coach and defensive coordinator respectively of the Washington Huskies, the Trojans now face a grueling October.

USC must play three highly ranked opponents this month, all three on the road. The one home game they have is with the team that upset the Trojans last season to ruin their national title aspirations.

Call it karma, call it bad luck, or just plain coincidence, but the injury bug has brought a plague upon the Trojans this season. It started in fall camp when freshman linebacker hopeful Frankie Telfert discovered he had a heart condition that would end his football career.

It continued throughout camp as center Kris O’Dowd suffered another dislocated kneecap. Then more linemen, both offensive and defensive alike, suffered sprains and muscle pulls. The starting quarterback, Aaron Corp, cracked his fibula. True freshman, Matt Barkley, was quickly pressed into service.

The top cornerback, Shareece Wright, was declared academically ineligible.

Then in the annual Fall Huddle, No. 2 wide receiver, Ronald Johnson, was lost for most of the year with a broken collarbone.

As players came back from injury, others went out with injuries. The Trojans could never reach full strength.

The Trojans went into the Horseshoe at Ohio State with high hopes and came out with a narrow victory. But they also lost two more key players: quarterback Matt Barkley, a shoulder contusion, and All-American safety, Taylor Mays, a sprained knee.

Aaron Corp, still not completely healed, took over for Barkley, and his rust was quite evident. In addition, nickel back Brian Baucham suffered lacerations in a motorcycle accident on his way to practice and had to miss the game.

It was Baucham who would have been on the field on a third-and-long passing situation when Jake Locker completed a third-and-15from deep in his own end. That started the winning Husky drive that gave them a 16-13 upset win over the Trojans.

Linebacker Malcolm Smith suffered a severe sprain in that game. Jordan Campbell, his replacement, fell victim to the same fate as he suffered a severely sprained ankle in the Washington State game.

The Trojans also lost two more key players for the season in that game. Defensive tackle, Hebron Fangupo, broke his leg, and defensive back Marshall Jones suffered a cracked vertebrae.

Then just this morning in a freak accident in the weight room, senior tailback Stafon Johnson had a barbell he was bench-pressing drop on his throat. Johnson was rushed to a hospital for surgery.

As of 9:30 this evening, his family reports that he is in still surgery to repair his vocal chords. It is safe to say at this point that Stafon will miss most if not all of this season.

It has gotten so bad that Coach Carroll has decided to burn Byron Moore’s red-shirt year due to the injuries to Baucham and Marshall Jones.

Now I’m not one to tell Coach Carroll how to run his team or conduct practices, but with the depth chart getting thinner and thinner, I think it would be a good idea to dial down the intensity at practice.

I believe any coach and his team must go with what has made them successful over the years. However, the extent of injuries, both on and off the field, this season makes it necessary to dial down the amount of intensity at practice.

There have already been far too many injuries that the Pac-10 crown is sure to slip out of their hands. The Trojans can ill afford to have more injuries at practice.

With the toughest part of their schedule now upon them, they will need to utilize every player who is healthy enough to compete.

There are bound to be more injuries in the upcoming games. But the coaches must do everything possible at this point to minimize injuries during practices.

Pete Carroll lectured the team today on fixing the things that they can control like the 13 penalties they committed against Washington State. But with the depth chart shrinking by the day, Coach Carroll and his staff have the ability to control the number of injuries at practice.

Red-shirts are the team’s future. Burning red-shirts and throwing inexperienced players into the fire of competition is not a good precedent. It won’t ensure victories and will only jeopardize future squads.

So, I believe, keeping the remaining experienced players healthy and available for games is a priority, and it is something the staff can definitely control.