Friday, September 24, 2010

Attitude Improving But Still a Problem for USC Football

There's little doubt in my mind the Trojans will beat the Washington State Cougars tomorrow. They had better because Wazzu is terrible. However this game will probably tell very little about USC. Instead we have the past couple seasons and a few contests into the 2010 season to comprehend how this team operates.

Perhaps first and foremost attitude problems have been a mainstay for the Cardinal and Gold. I don't even need to talk about the off the field stuff but USC also devolved into a reckless unit under Pete Carroll particularly in the last few years. It became typical to see late hits both out of bounds and on quarterbacks. There were the multiple false start penalties during home games. The near fight with UCLA. Pete was cool with making it rain on the Bruins but complained to Jim Harbaugh what his deal was after Stanford stomped USC. Hypocrite. But what disgusted me the most was seeing players sprint for the locker rooms after losses. They didn't even have the decency to shake hands with the other team and demonstrate a shred of sportsmanship.

Attitude also breed entitlement. The Golden Child Joe McKnight and The Freak Everson Griffen were immensely talented prep superstars who underperformed at SC. But they had bad performances and transgressions constantly forgiven. Competition seemingly gave way to favoritism as McKnight and Matt Barkley were given opportunities when they weren't the best available options.

The 2010 edition of the Trojans seems to be headed in the right direction in terms of off field discipline. New athletic director Pat Haden and Lane Kiffin appear to be doing the right things and there's definitely a noticeable less Hollywood approach to the team. The home sideline no longer is crammed with celebrities and scores of boosters. It's reassuring to hear the compliance office is ever present around the team. That being said the results haven't shown on the gridiron. The Trojans are one of the most penalized teams in the country though a few flags from the Minnesota game shouldn't have counted. It's gonna take time and perhaps a few recruiting classes (that will be restricted and thus extremely carefully constructed) to change the culture inside and out.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

USC Football Still Wreckless (At Least On the Field)

Costly holds, late hits, personal fouls and even an ejection.

USC football returned to Los Angeles for the first time following NCAA sanctions -- and a lot stupid things remained exactly the same. The Trojans played like fools, amassing 13 fouls for 140 yards in a sloppy 17-14 win over a Virginia Cavaliers team that's predicted to finish last in the ACC.

It was the same ol' story that USC fans have seen for the last two years as the team erased touchdowns and momentum with careless penalties, culminating with Rhett Ellison's head butt following an onside kick recovery that led to a 30-yard infraction and his disqualification. It was a a fitting finish to a terrible game.

The Cavs imploded on themselves with penalties as well though Virginia did rack up 340 yards in total offense against Monte Kiffin's supposedly vaunted defense. Kiffin runs a similar defense to what Pete Caroll did and the results were similar; a break but don't break D that failed to create much havoc. In fact the defense tried to sabotage itself. Safety TJ McDonald, who had an easy pick in the endzone, was constantly head-hunting and drew a couple of 15-yard penalties due to his high strikes. MLD Devon Kennard was consistently late at reading the running back and was often left in the dust. The defensive line managed two sacks but was manhandled by the Cavs O-line for most of the game. Poor tackling and failing to wrap ballhandlers led to plenty of YAC for the Cavs.

The offense was better but not by much. The stagnant running game averaged less than four yards a carry. Dillon Baxter looked fine in his collegiate debut. Once he ran vertical the yards followed. Nothing splashy but credit the Virginia defense for playing smart and hard the whole game. Marc Tyler looked nothing like the shifty bruiser from the Hawaii game. Tyler was slow and rarely had a second effort that went far.

Matt Barkley looked pretty good though his accuracy was a little off in the second half. Ronald Johnson was sensational. If not for a holding penalty RoJo would have been credited with a long TD haul. Also if Barkley had thrown a few better balls a 150-yard game was possible.

Jordan Cameron did a great job jumping up and snagging the onside kick late. He also did a nifty job reaching up for a touchdown. USC has lacked a TE option since Anthony McCoy graduated. Maybe Jordan is the answer at that position but there still plenty of questions as to whether the Trojans can play solid, disciplined football.