The Perils of the Northwest
It was just moments after USC’s 2008 Trojans had finished off a good, young Oregon team, 44-10, at the Coliseum. Pete Carroll was sprinting off the field and just as he brushed by me, he looked over and shouted a loud expletive.
I figured he was kidding. Why would he possibly be angry after such an impressive victory? So later, in the winning locker room, as I was interviewing him for the book I was writing about him, I asked him about that expletive.
“Oh, that,” he said. “I just realized how mad I was about last week, because I know what it might cost us.”
The last week to which he was referring was an inexplicable 27-21 loss to three-touchdown underdog Oregon State in Corvallis. And as it turned out, all it cost him and his 12-1 team was a chance at a third national championhship.
Such are the perils of L.A.-based schools playing football in the Pacific Northwest. Just ask UCLA.
The poor, punchless Bruins were down to their fourth-string quarterback, a kid most of us never had heard of, in the final minutes of a disheartening, mistake-prone 24-7 loss at Washington Thursday night. And all that cost Rick Neuheisel’s team was a probable postseason bowl appearance.
So now it is USC’s turn again. The Trojans travel to Corvallis, where they have lost three of their last four times to Mike Riley’s plucky Beavers.
And to many SC boosters, this has the same kind of feeling, a kind of in between match that doesn’t bode well. Trojans coach Lane Kiffin seemed to be thinking the same thing earlier this week, when he criticized his kids for their lack of intensity in practice.
Oregon State certainly won’t lack for intensity on Saturday night. Riley, who happens to be the nicest man in coaching, always seems to have the right kind of schemes to attack USC, both offensively and defensively.
One of the more amazing things about this first Kiffin-coached Trojans team is how hard it has played, week in and week out. It hasn’t always been artful, especially on defense. But his players have ignored the burden of NCAA sanctions and a bowl ban to perform with a high energy, even after that emotional loss to No. 1 ranked Oregon.
That has to continue if they want to reach their goal and finish the season 10-3. Some, you suspect, are already looking ahead to the more glamorous match ups against Notre Dame and UCLA. That would be a mistake.
If they think otherwise, they ought to text or tweet NFL stars Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews Jr. and Rey Maualuga. They’re still trying to figure out how they lost in Corvallis with a defense that might have been the best college football has seen in the past 25 years.
The truth is the Trojans came out flat that night, and with a nationally televised audience for the mid-week game, the kids in Corvallis went nuts, producing the kind of atmosphere we’re likely to see again on Saturday.
No, the stakes won’t be as high. But beating USC is still a cool thing to achieve when you go to school in a tiny, nondescript town in Oregon.
One way or another, the lesson of playing in in the Northwest, in general, and Corvallis, in particular, already has been taught.
Now we’re about to find out if the Trojans have learned.
PICKS OF THE WEEK – One point, one lousy point, is all that prevented me from a second consecutive 2-0 week and an 11-7-2 record. But five-point favorite Stanford, despite controlling the ball for more than 42 minutes, could only beat Arizona State, 17-13, so we had to be satisfied with a 1-1 finish after Michael Vick and the Eagles demolished the Redskins on Monday night. And so we round the turn and head into the stretch . . .
WISCONSIN (minus 5) AT MICHIGAN — No, the Badgers probably won’t score 83 points again, and the Wolverines aren’t likely to give up 65. But both of those things have happened this season, and Wisconsin, still very much in the Rose Bowl race, should be too much for a Michigan team that leaks points every time you look up. I love Dennard Robinson, but that defense makes it tough for him to win.
RAVENS (minus 10) AT PANTHERS — My first inclination was to keep riding the Michael Vick Express. Then I took a closer look at this game. It is bad enough that Carolina is the lowest scoring team in the league, producing just 9 touchdowns in 9 games. But now, with all their other quarterbacks injured, they go against the fearsome Baltimore defense with one Brian St. Pierre over center. This is a 30 year old stay-at-home dad who can’t even be called a journeyman, having thrown just five passes in eight NFL seasons. So Ray Lewis, meet Mr. St. Pierre. Yikes! If the Ravens can’t cover here, they never will.
LAST WEEK’S RECORD: 1-1 OVERALL RECORD: 10-8-2
— STEVE BISHEFF