Thursday, October 18, 2007

Talkin' Trojans | by Pat

Here to help us preview the Trojans are the fine gents from Conquest Chronicles, one of the best college football blogs out there. Here are their answers to our questions, and over on their site you can find our answers to their questions.

1. What is going on in Trojanland? The past few games have spawned a million and one critics with people blaming everything from young assistant coaches, to injuries, to inexperienced players, to the long grass in ND Stadium. What is your opinion on the suddenly mortal looking Men of Troy?

DC Trojan: You've already identified all the problems - it's a question of all of them hitting at once. Well, except for the long grass. Actually, it seems to me that this season's problems are just last season's, only more so. The play-calling still doesn't match well with the skills of the starters, the defense is not generating the points that it did in the 2003 - 2005 period, the "bend don't break" approach is yielding too many passing yards, etc. Last season the first indication of trouble was the relative shortfall of the running game, and the lack of defensive scoring. This season, that's compounded by the injuries to the offensive line and a secondary that was already a bit short before injury, as well as the lack of any consistent wide receivers who aren't actually Tight Ends. There's also no escaping the fact that John David Booty isn't as effective as Matt Leinart - I don't know that I buy the prevailing opinion that his height is causing the tipped passes, for instance; I think it's part and parcel of how he sees (and doesn't see) the field. He's got a great arm and a great touch when he has time. That's the problem.

Paragon SC: Pete Carroll is a creature of habit and he is stubborn to change. We have all been frustrated with the pass plays that seem to garner opposing offenses 7-9 yards a play. The "bend don't break" approach that DC Trojan alluded too is an attempt to probe and see how they react to certain situations before making adjustments. Pete Carroll would rather give up that yardage in the hopes of getting a turnover and not give up the big play.

The other thing that must be realized is that with all the talent SC has Pete Carroll, at least in the early going, was tinkering with different players in different packages. So that might have affected consistency. Provided players are healthy USC can flip the switch when it needs to, just look at the third quarter against Nebraska. I realize that the "running back by committee" is an indication that you don't have a dominant back but with the talent SC has sometimes a dominant back isn't what you need. It may be considered toying with your opponents but no other team can flex its muscles like that and afford such luxuries.

2. With ND having its own QB controversy of sorts, what is your take on the current Trojan quarterback situation? Whom do you prefer to start against Notre Dame and why?

DC Trojan: The heartburn inducing fact about either Sanchez or Booty is that they throw interceptions and plenty of them. I haven't been following the details of Notre Dame's season but one abiding impression is that the Irish defense is pretty opportunistic with turnovers - as I read the game report against UCLA, for instance, it seemed that the offense wasn't getting anywhere in particular but the defense made the difference. That being the case, I'd have slight preference for starting Sanchez solely on the grounds that Booty's finger isn't healed yet. Starting an injured JDB in such a rivalry game, potentially in the rain, seems like a good way to create the conditions for failure.

In all honesty, my stress levels would be alleviated more significantly if Chilo Rachal, Stafon Johnson, and Brian Cushing were to start. If USC is to win this game, it will have to be through ball control on offense, and sacking Sharpley or Clausen at every opportunity to safeguard our secondary.

Paragon SC: Controversies rise out of poor performance. Booty being injured, at least to me, removes the controversy. Can he play or not it is as simple as that. There weren't too many complaints about Booty's play until the Washington game when the injuries started piling up. My frustration with Booty's performance against Stanford was that the coaching staff left Booty in while he was injured while allowing him to continue to throw passes, that's just foolish. I think Sanchez should start if for other reason than that he is healthy. I want to win and for the most part I trust the coaching staff to make the right call. Most of the time they do make the right call so I will defer to them here.

3. Despite the struggles this year, Pete Carroll has had tremendous success at USC. How did you regard him when he first took the job? Did your opinion of him change as he built USC into a title contender? And what do you think the future holds for Pete Carroll and USC?"

DC Trojan: I will freely admit that I was horrified when USC hired Pete Carroll. It seemed like a dreadful choice based on his performance with the Jets and the Patriots. I'd say that goes to show what I know by comparison to our AD, but no-one has convinced me yet that hiring Pete Carroll was an instance of anything other than desperation by Mike Garrett, a man who is plainly so lucky that rabbits rub his feet.

Obviously I've changed my opinion of Carroll in terms of the results that he has produced since he's taken over. I remain convinced that he has the right overall personality to recruit and motivate college football players in a way that few others can, though it would be nice if he were more overtly a disciplinarian - having players like Eric Wright disappear in the wake of scandal doesn't send a very loud message, for instance. During the game, I think his defensive adjustments are outstanding. Carroll also cured SC of a bad and long-standing habit of only really playing in the second half, which is not totally effective when you're already down by 2 - 3 touchdowns.

As for the future, some of that is going to depend on how badly the rest of this season goes, and how he chooses to deal with it in the off-season. If you think back to the first years of Carroll's tenure, you have to think about what a bunch of odd ducks and personalities he had working for him - by which I mean, having Carroll, Ed Orgeron, and Norm Chow all coaching in one place - talk about an unlikely group combining to dramatic effect. Much as I like Steve Sarkisian, he and Nick Holt just don't produce results of the same standard. All of which to say, if this season progresses as I suspect it might with at least another 3 conference losses, Carroll really needs to have a rethink about who he's hiring, and possibly start thinking in terms of succession by getting more experienced coordinators. Digging in his heels after a bad season would burn tolerance that he's built up over years of results... except of course with the kind of "fan" that wants him fired for losing to Stanford.

As for USC as a team, there's talent in them thar hills, if only we could mine it over the next season or two. Kris O'Dowd's success in stepping into the offensive line as a true freshman, Joe McKnight's growing confidence, the play of Stanley Havili: these are all causes for optimism for next year. It's unlikely that SC will have another run like 2003 - 2005 (basically until about the last couple minutes of the Rose Bowl versus Texas); the players are in place for a glide path that would be a good year for most teams. But that's only going to come to fruition if the coaching is adjusted to the players who are on the ground today, and the players actually execute.

One other thought, lest I be accused of ducking it: doubtless some BGS readers are thinking about the prospect of penalties against USC over Reggie Bush's shenanigans. I have no idea how that will shake out - I remain, as a homer, convinced that the NCAA is going to need a smoking gun in the form of someone at the University knowing but not acting, before bringing down the hammer. As a cynic, however, I can't help but think that a bad year for USC might mean that lowered revenues and a decline in favorable media exposure might help the NCAA overcome any timidity. If that happens, then I suppose we dig in for the long rebuilding process. TBD, as they say.

Paragon SC: DC Trojan hits all the right points here but to expound on one of his points I see on fatal flaw with Pete Carroll, his unwillingness (some would say inability) to adequately replace Chow, Orgeron, and Davis. To be fair, this was the perfect storm of coaches that came together to coach the perfect storm of talent that they recruited. Nothing lasts forever and keeping top-flight assistants is just such an example. The problem is replacing that coaching talent and the development of the younger players is not where we have seen it in the past.

I do think that SC was setting itself up to go on another run similar to what we saw in 2003-2005 before the injuries set in. This defense is taking on the looks of the defenses from 2002-2004. Keith Rivers is obviously having a monster year but he is doing it under the radar. His play may not be spectacular but it is solid and he is seemingly in on every tackle. Ellis along with Rivers are on fire on the defense. Ellis has had some compare him a to Mike Patterson and that comparison is not too far off, as he commands blockers because he's so hard to move and disrupts everything along the line filling the gaps and lanes. Ellis isn't quite as good at getting to the quarterback as Patterson was though. Patterson also commanded blockers because he was simply too quick, too strong and too low to the ground for a single blocker and he required a lot of double teams and extra attention to make sure he didn't move the defensive interior backwards. Patterson was more effective against both the run and the pass while Ellis is dominant against the run and in completely scuttling what a 5-man line tries to set up in the pass and run game.

The defense is still doing a pretty good job even with all the injuries they have. So if more of our players were healthy and if the Offense was hitting on all cylinders this team would have been real scary. We'll see what team shows up on Saturday. Good Luck Guys!