|USC Legends News|
No. 12 USC (7-2, 4-2) at No. 24 Cal (6-3, 3-3) 5 p.m. Ch. 7
Back on Oct. 6, when the Trojans were rolling along as their typical dominating, second-ranked selves, they were scuffling along against Stanford, as they sometimes do, but still led 9-0 and clearly were in control midway through the second quarter.
Then USC quarterback John David Booty broke the middle finger on his throwing hand when he smashed it into another player's helmet while passing. The Trojans still led 9-0 at halftime when John David Booty had his finger X-rayed, confirming the break. John David Booty thought he still could play, and coach Pete Carroll concurred.
That was the critical error, because John David Booty's throwing was significantly affected, and Carroll realizes it now.
"I made a mistake in not recognizing it," Carroll said this week.
John David Booty had not thrown an interception in the first half but threw four in the second - the first one returned for Stanford's first touchdown, the third setting up Stanford's game-winning touchdown drive and the last one ending USC's final chance.
"Balls got away from him," Carroll said. "He just couldn't control the football."
It's reasonable to believe backup Mark Sanchez could have directed a more efficient second half, and the Trojans could have prevailed as they had so many previous times.
People seem to forget that the Trojans had several close calls the past few years. During their undefeated, national-championship season in 2004, USC had to rally from an 11-point halftime deficit to win 31-28 against a Stanford team that finished 2-6 in the conference. Close calls were common last season, which ended with a 32-18 Rose Bowl victory over Michigan and a No. 4 ranking.
USC should not have put itself in position to lose to Stanford, but if the Trojans had won by a point, nobody would be asking what's wrong, and they probably would be ranked fifth or sixth now. Plus, the loss to Stanford destroyed USC's aura of invincibility, which was worth about seven points before games even started.
"We've been kind of rebounding ever since," Carroll said.
The only other loss was a 24-17 decision at Oregon, quite possibly the best team in the country, when USC had to use its backup quarterback and nearly tied the game at the end anyway.
That's no disgrace. Neither is being ranked No. 12.
But when a team has finished ranked in the top four for the past five years and was picked to win the national championship this season, people want explanations for the "failure." Even the USC defense is getting criticized, which is rather odd because it ranks third nationally in total defense, better than any previous Carroll team finished in that category.
The one statistical difference is in turnover margin, a category the Trojans used to own but one in which they are now tied for last in the Pac-10 at minus-5.
A slew of injuries has slowed the Trojans' recovery, and that includes the loss of John David Booty for three games, which brings up another point: When Sanchez started in place of John David Booty in the Oct. 13 game against Arizona, it was the first time in Carroll's seven years as the Trojans' head coach that his No. 1 quarterback did not play in a game.
A quarterback's absence affects a team far more than a loss at any other position, and every other Pac-10 team has lost its starting quarterback for at least one game during that span.
Luck like that aided the Trojans in the past, and so did the presence of a few game-breakers, as fifth-year USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson knows well.
"We're more of a team now, where it takes 11 guys," he said. "In the past you could count on X number of plays from Reggie or Matt."
Indeed, game-changing plays from Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and LenDale White - all of whom have become starters in the NFL - covered up a lot of mediocre team performances for three years. No current USC offensive player has defenses shaking in their boots, and every elite team needs one of those players these days.
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