And that was that.

Well, I was just riffing as usual, but it turns out that at the end of my meanderings on the second half of the season, I unintentionally called it: SC couldn’t get by Oregon State today.

In retrospect, it was strangely reminiscent of the last Pac-10 loss against Cal in 2003. USC comes out of a bye week against a team that they were – on paper – well able to beat, get behind, mount a furious comeback, and then lose by a couple at the buzzer.

Some initial thoughts about the game – and in the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that I missed some chunks of it dealing with children:

  • I don’t care for Oregon State, but I’d rather post a first loss against them than UCLA. Mind you, after they lost to WSU 37 – 15, they probably have other things on their mind at the moment.
  • That said, Oregon State absolutely left everything on the field; well done to them.
  • Did anyone point out that the need for more turnovers was meant to be against the opposition?
  • SC’s offensive play calling is making things too easy for opposition teams. If you see Steve Smith or Dwayne Jarrett getting triple teamed, you’re making the wrong damn calls. It looked like things were going better for SC when they started putting Smith, Jarrett, and Turner in, and firing some long passes.
  • I think that Booty is misreading the speed of Jarrett and Smith. The interception in the end zone and some other drops came off balls that were behind the receiver. We’ve seen that Booty can get the ball to the undefended side of the receiver in prior games, but he’s not placing the ball reliably.
  • The Defense was HUGE in minimizing the damage from offensive turnovers, but there’s something not quite right with the defensive scheming. Oregon State played a good game but Matt Moore looked better than usual. I saw the pounding they took against Boise State and he was hopeless under pressure. Even allowing for improvement through the season, plainly Moore wasn’t under enough pressure. Is there any merit to rethinking this season’s hybrid setup?
  • The only point at which I was genuinely pissed today was when it was either 30 – 10 or 33 – 10 and it looked like the Trojans were on the verge of quitting. Regardless of the result, I was really impressed that they were able to dig themselves out of the hole. (Prefer no hole, but there you go).
  • Actually, that’s not true, I wasn’t too psyched about the punt return for a touchdown, and there some play late where they needed yards and the coaches gave the ball to Washington for almost no gain… what was up with that?
  • That last drive got me so fired up that I shouted out loud enough twice to cause both my daughters to burst into tears (I think the 4 year old was just trying to get in on the sympathy).

So what’s next? Well, oddly I feel a slight sense of relief, even though a loss to either Oregon or Cal would probably put us out of contention for the Rose Bowl, never mind the BCS Championship game. So, plainly there’s no cause to give up as fans, but perhaps the team can take the opportunity to make a clean break with some of the problems that they’ve been showing all season. What I mean by that is that perhaps this result has got everyone’s attention and will prompt some clean-sheet thinking. (I am such a consultant it makes me ill…)

Part of SC’s travails this season have been breaking in a lot of new players, part of them have been play-calling, and part just basic fuck-ups on the part of the players (hold on to the ball, for instance!) These can all be addressed to one degree or another. I think the players have it in them to come back fighting, and fortunately Stanford is next up for practice purposes. However, they need to keep on working on the basics on ball control, snapping, all that stuff – because that’s what allows the talent to come out.

And the coaches need to have a think about the overall approach that they are taking. There’s a lot of talent, the fight-back was encouraging, but they can’t be holding on to ideas like trying to establish the run when they are behind on the road. Score some points, and then settle into killing the clock. Kiffin and Holt need to spend some time not just breaking down game-tape on the opposition, but taking a step back to look at their tendencies.

Enough rambling, it’s late, I’m out.

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