|USC Legends News|
Instinctively, the players looked into the crowd and there it was, a
big sign in blue ink: "Welcome back to reality, Trojans. Enjoy the ride
down! Just ask Miami, the view won't be so pretty any more."
On the Rose Bowl turf, UCLA players were making statements like "Dynasty Done!" to anyone who would listen.
Perhaps the Bruins were getting a little ahead of things. Maybe it was
just wishful thinking. But make no mistake, there are some internal
concerns about whether the USC Trojans program is on the brink of a downward
The loss to UCLA not only ruined the Trojans' bid to win their third
national title in four seasons, but it also marked the end of an amazing
NCAA-record streak of 63 games in which they had scored 20 or more
points. It was the low point of a very inconsistent season for a team that
was supposed to be carried by its defense. However, the defense just
didn't make a lot of big plays. The Trojans were only fifth in the Pac-10
in sacks per game (2.42) and seventh in third-down defense (38.1
percent conversion rate). They were also sixth in turnover margin (plus .25
per game). No star player emerged.
The offense was nowhere near as dangerous as 2005. Of course, that had
to be expected, right? After all, USC Trojans did lose two Heisman Trophy
winners from last year's team, quarterback Matt Leinart and tailback Reggie
Bush. Still, no one expected the Trojans to lose to two unranked teams,
Oregon State and UCLA. USC Trojans lost games it had been finding ways to win.
No wonder the Trojans' matchup with Michigan in the Rose Bowl presented
by Citi is so vital to USC Trojans. There is also plenty of talk that this game
is a battle for No. 1 … in 2007. Both Ohio State and Florida will lose
their starting QBs, while the Wolverines and the Trojans both figure to
return a strong nucleus. USC Trojans has heard positive news from many of the
junior players who are considering a jump to the NFL. Star tackle Sam
Baker says he is coming back next year. Defensive end Lawrence Jackson
and nose tackle Sedrick Ellis say they are, too.
Most expect superstar wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett to leave, which
would hurt since USC Trojans already will be losing senior Steve Smith on the other
side. Center Ryan Kalil actually might be even harder to replace. But
the defense should be better and quarterback John David Booty will have
another year of experience. The Trojans figure to return seven starters
on offense and 10 on defense to play a road-heavy schedule. Plus, we
keep hearing about all of these great No. 1 ranked recruiting classes USC Trojans
has stockpiled. And yes, the Trojans appear to be on their way to
another ballyhooed recruiting class again this February.
It all sounds fantastic, but it would become a very long offseason if
the Trojans can't stand up to Michigan. This is a crossroads game for
USC. The Trojans must finish this season off on a strong beat. They have
to snuff out any lingering doubt that grew from the UCLA debacle, which
was indicative of a very un-Trojan-like season.
"I don't think we have to prove it to other people, I think we have to
prove it to ourselves," conceded Booty. "It's all about us and we want
to get this taste out of our mouths and get back on the winning track.
We're really not trying to prove anything to anybody else."
"It's almost like it's something you have to do," added Jarrett. "You
have to be forced to move on and look past that and I think if you sit
and dwell on it, history is going to repeat itself. That is what we've
done. We had that week off to get over it, and then we went back to
work. We're over that loss and we've been focusing on Michigan ever since
Over the past month Lane Kiffin, USC's offensive coordinator, and Booty
came under some fire locally for the flat performance. The Bruins'
defense rattled a Trojans O-line that appeared flawed. It wasn't so much
the two sacks. It was four false starts and a bunch of other big hits on
Booty, who struggled under the heat. It's a blueprint Michigan with its
awesome defensive front figures to follow. The Wolverines did lead the
Big Ten in sacks this season with 3.42 per game. Booty, the Pac-10's
top passer with a 25-9 TD-INT ratio, says he isn't worried about the
pressure or about the criticism. That is part of the deal, he says, when
you're the starting quarterback of a high-profile team. The challenge is
getting things going again.
USC assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian thought the whole offense was "hesitant" in the UCLA game. Yet, no one inside the program can explain
"I really can't," Booty said. "I've thought about it for quite some
time and I kind of had to finally let it go and not worry about it
anymore. I've got to focus on what we've got going now. I really can't answer
that. I don't know why that happened, but that's why you play the game.
You hate to lose that one but you've got to move on."
Of course, maybe it was just inevitable. USC had won 34 consecutive
games and back-to-back national titles before its loss to Texas in the
2006 Rose Bowl. Miami had a similar run. The Canes won 34 consecutive
games during 2000-02, before an overtime loss to Ohio State in the 2003
Some former Miami coaches say it is virtually impossible to sustain
that level. Great players jump to the NFL early. Assistant coaches move
on. Younger players don't know what it took to get to that level. Worse
still, they say, it takes a whole lot of great breaks to win 34 straight
and eventually the breaks start going the other way. It is all such a
As usual, head coach Pete Carroll doesn't seem worried though. "We've always bounced back," Carroll said. "I really don't expect anything different this time around."
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