Carroll: Pac-10 is catching up to USC |

Carroll: Pac-10 is catching up to USC

Greg Beacham, The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – After three days spent pondering the wounds and puzzles left over from Southern California’s unprecedented thrashing by Oregon, coach Pete Carroll has arrived at two conclusions.

He thinks the Trojans’ defensive game plan was terrible – too complicated for the youngsters and too cautious for the veterans. He threw it out, never to use it again.

Carroll also has decided the Trojans’ lofty standards of nearly a decade haven’t really slipped. Instead, he insists the Pac-10 is simply catching up to the pace set by the surest thing in college football for most of the past seven seasons.

“This is unusual,” said Carroll, who’s 94-17 at USC. “This is a different impact, but when you lose, you lose. When you get beat, you get beat. You have to deal with it. If we want to give it style points and all that, it tasted a little different, but it’s the same mechanisms that have to kick in.”

Although that 47-20 Halloween nightmare left the 12th-ranked Trojans (6-2, 3-2 Pac-10) facing long odds to maintain their streak of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles, Carroll seems unshaken in his confidence that USC will recover in his favorite month. USC is 27-0 in November games under Carroll, and the Trojans face their final road trip of the season Saturday at Arizona State (4-4, 2-3).

“You can’t do anything about things that have already occurred,” Carroll said. “You can only do what’s ahead of you and have an opportunity to control what’s right in front of you. That’s how we’ve always focused. That is a big principle in our approach. You don’t try to control things that are out of your reach, and that’s done already.”

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Although Carroll insists the Trojans aren’t slipping, their defensive results over the past 2 1/2 games are alarming. The Trojans have surrendered 103 points in their last five halves of football dating to their narrow win over Notre Dame, culminating in Oregon’s one-punt performance while racking up 613 yards – more than any Carroll defense had allowed.

Yet if Carroll is correct about the Pac-10’s rise, maybe the loss shouldn’t be such a surprise. Maybe the day will soon arrive when a victory over USC isn’t cause for a storm-the-field celebration by the opponents’ fans, as it has been pretty much every time since 2003.

“The conference is loaded this year, and we still have enormous challenges coming down the schedule here,” Carroll said. “It’s just a really upscaled version of what our conference has been, and it’s been good before that. Our coaches felt this going into the season that we could rival any conference, and I’m seeing it exactly that way.

“It’s not just one style. It’s different styles, it’s different approaches, but it’s loaded with a lot of really exciting players and good schemes and really good coaching.”

Oregon is in prime position to claim the Rose Bowl berth that has belonged to USC in each of the past four seasons. The USC offense doesn’t have the creativity or resources possessed by Oregon – and it certainly couldn’t match up last Saturday, when the Ducks scored on every possession of the second half.

Carroll has insisted the Pac-10 was markedly improved before the Trojans largely destroyed it in each of the past seven years, so few believed him when he said the same thing this summer.

Although USC’s hopes of winning the conference hinge on a total collapse by Oregon, the Trojans aren’t out of the race for a BCS bowl bid. A 10-2 USC team likely would be a very attractive candidate for the Fiesta Bowl, if other factors out of the Trojans’ control work out properly.

“All we can do is keep playing and see what happens,” linebacker Michael Morgan said. “We’re not going to stop working hard.”

Not all of the Trojans’ recent problems can be put on the defense. USC’s offense has been inconsistent at best, and no last-minute exploits could bail out quarterback Matt Barkley and his teammates.

Carroll has been relentlessly supportive of Barkley, the freshman who hadn’t lost as a starter until the Oregon trip. Although Barkley’s 246.7 yards passing per game are the second-most in the conference, his numerous freshman inconsistencies include six interceptions.

Carroll said Barkley “just kind of ran out of firepower in the second half, and unfortunately, we were going to have to score just about every time he had the football, the way it was going.”

“I think in future years, as he grows and gains even more command, there will be games where you can’t stop him,” Carroll said. “There will be games where he’ll score every time, downfield series after series after series. With the proper help and everybody around him, he’s just that capable.”