USC-Oregon: In Defense of Pete Carroll’s Defense


The USC defense has been getting clobbered lately. No, not by Jimmy Clausen and Notre Dame, or Sean Canfield and Oregon State.

But by the Los Angeles media as well as the ever-wise college football commentators on ESPN. The E stands for The Eternal as in the See-All and Know-All Sports Network.

I have openly criticized Coach Carroll in a few of my articles. Nevertheless, I’m often surprised that many writers and commentators don’t look at the whole picture. They need to fire off a story to make a deadline and just take the first thing that comes to mind.

Both the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily News carried articles today, critical of Pete Carroll’s handling of the USC defense. ESPN has also been quick to point out the defensive collapse the last two games.

Oh, really? And what would they have Carroll do?

Jump onto the field and make a picture perfect shoulder tackle of an opposing ball carrier before he reaches the first down marker?

There is no problem with Pete Carroll’s defense.

The USC defense that allowed only 8.6 points, 173.8 passing yards, and 64.8 rushing yards per game over the first five games has now given up 31.5 points, 307 passing yards and 117.5 rushing yards per game over the past two games.

Is Carroll to blame? Of course, he will accept the blame like any decent coach rather than let it fall on his players. But execution is not something a coach can always control.

Neither are injuries and fatigue.

Prior to the opening game, I wrote that I expected USC to drop at least two if not three games this year. One of the things I based that on was Shareece Wright being declared academically ineligible. I thought at the time it would have huge implications further down the line.

First of all, it caused Josh Pinkard to move over from safety to cornerback, and the nickel back, Will Harris, moved into Pinkard’s safety spot. Brian Baucham then became the nickel back.

But as the season progressed, Taylor Mays went down with a sprained knee. Then Brian Baucham dumped his motorcycle on the 110 Freeway. Taylor Mays’ backup, Drew McAllister suffered a severe hip flexor. Pinkard got banged up as well when Taylor Mays crashed into him on a sideline play in the opener.

Remember that the defensive backfield during fall camp was considered USC’s deepest group. The defensive line and the linebackers had been decimated by the NFL Draft, and all of last year’s reserves had to step up and fill the starting spots.

Then one by one linemen started going down—Averell Spicer, Armand Armstead. No sooner did one or two of them come back than two more went down—Hebron Fangupo, Christian Tupou.

The same thing happened with the very thin linebacking corps. Malcolm Smith went down with an ankle sprain as did backup Jordan Campbell.

Do you get the picture?

Sure, the defense was fine in the first five games against teams that did not have explosive offenses. All the guys who had stepped up were able to go four full quarters as long as they were getting a lot of three-and-outs and the USC offense established ball-control drives.

Then along came Notre Dame and Oregon State, and suddenly Pete Carroll’s no longer a defensive genius according to these media types.

It’s called fatigue, people. There are no replacements to give the starters any relief because the replacements are now the starters.

Oh, and thank you, Todd McShay, for you wonderful video, showing that Taylor Mays has been a couple steps slow on TD passes. You would be, too, if you were playing with a sprained knee.

Just because Mays and Pinkard are in the starting lineup does not mean they are a hundred percent. They are playing hurt, and there’s nothing Pete Carroll can do about it but let them suck it up.

I criticized Mays as much as anyone for going for the big hit instead of the big INT. However, I have come to realize that Mays like several others in that defense are nowhere near a hundred percent.

Mays has no choice if he can’t leap or run over to cover as fast as he did last year. The only thing he can do is launch himself and try to throw a shoulder into the receiver.

Carroll has also been criticized for his pass defense adjustments in the second half of the Notre Dame and Oregon State games. But if the linebackers and secondary are winded, even the best of schemes won’t hold up.

The other thing that is beyond Carroll’s control is the movement of staff. When Nick Holt decided to join Steve Sarkisian in Washington, what was Carroll expected to do?

Holt was a major loss. Not as far as defensive schemes and game planning were concerned. His Husky defenses this year haven’t been all that great. However, he knows how to teach the basics.

He made pass rushers like Clay Matthews, Jr. and Kyle Moore effective. He taught his players how to get penetration and containment. Above all, he demanded toughness. And no arm tackles!

Also the success of the USC offense has actually hurt the defense. All season long fans have been calling for Jeremy Bates to open up the offense and let Matt Barkley throw the long ball.

Over the past two games that is exactly what has happened.

So, instead of sustained scoring drives that kept the Trojan defense on the sidelines, USC scored quickly, and the defense found itself right back on the field again.

Last week Oregon State ran 77 plays versus 58 for USC. The week before, Notre Dame ran 75 plays to 62 for USC.

But against Cal, the numbers were reversed. USC ran 77 plays to 65 for Cal. USC must return to the same type of ball-control offense. The defense is not deep enough to remain on the field for 70-plus plays.

However, with the offense now banged up just like the defense, I don’t expect the Trojans to come out on top against No. 10 Oregon at a place like Autzen Stadium. But that does not mean they won’t.

The trick is the offense must grind it out with sustained, ball-control scoring drives against the nation’s No. 19 defense to keep their own defense off the field as much as possible. If that happens, USC fans will be in for a real treat.

And maybe the media will stop haunting Pete Carroll with their narrow-minded conjectures.