Monday, October 30, 2006

Down Goes USC! Down Goes USC!

I figured USC would dominate the Pac-10 landscape once again on Saturday, but never did I think it would be like this. As you may have heard by now, the mighty Trojans were defeated 33-31 by Oregon State in a game for the ages.

After playing with fire for three consecutive weeks, USC finally got burned. They turned the ball over repeatedly in the first half, gave up several big plays early in the second, and then were turned away on a two-point conversion after a furious comeback in the final quarter. Now the BCS race is wide open, not to mention the battle for a Pac-10 title.

As pre-Aftermath 50 Cent would say, this game had "a lil' bit a everything." Oregon State came out fired up, marching right down the field to take a 7-0 lead. USC quickly responded, but when John David Booty's would-be touchdown pass was underthrown and wrestled away from Dwayne Jarrett by OSU safety Bryan Payton, you could feel that it was going to be a tough afternoon for USC. In fact, the Trojans were lucky to be down just 16-10 at the half, as Oregon State was forced to settle for field goals on several drives despite having a short field.

In the second half, USC looked sluggish coming out of the gates and Oregon State responded, scoring a quick touchdown and then getting a punt return touchdown from do-everything wide out Sammie Stroughter (eight catches for 127 yards in addition to the 61-yard punt return). Suddenly, the score was 30-10. The Beavers nearly scored another touchdown (settling for a 20-yard field goal) before USC started putting up a fight.

The Torjans quickly marched down the field and into the red zone before stalling out. Faced with a 23-point defecit, Pete Carroll was clearly thinking his team would need three touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions to tie the game, so he went for it on fourth-and-goal from the eight. Huge mistake. Monstrous mistake.

I haven't heard anyone even discuss this, and maybe that is fair, since Carroll has been so terrific at USC. Second guessing him on something like this is akin to "what have you done for me lately?" and might not be appropriate. But the fact of the matter is that USC should have kicked a field goal and taken the points there. Oregon State was missing its star running back Yvenson Bernard and was going to have a tough time chewing up clock. Holding a big lead against a heavy favorite is always a difficult task for an underdog in college football (see: Michigan State hosting Notre Dame earlier this year) and USC should have known that the Beavers would start to freak out as the game continued.

Sure enough, Oregon State started playing with its collective hands wrapped around its throat, USC started moving the ball with ease, and suddenly, they were scoring a touchdown with seven seconds left and setting up for a potential game-tying two-point conversion. With that field goal the Trojans passed up, the touchdown pass to Steve Smith (who had a monster game with 11 catches for 258 yards and two scores) would have given them a 34-33 win, without the need for any two-point conversions.

But that's not the way it went down, and the result was a shocking victory for Oregon State. How shocking? They broke USC's 38-game regular season winning streak and 27-game Pac-10 winning streak and in the process defeated the Trojans for just the third time since 1967. And they did it without their best player. Pretty heady stuff.

So now the Pac-10 is wide open. Cal is undefeated and in the driver's seat for the Pac-10 title and automatic BCS bid, since the conference champ is decided by a bizarre tiebreaking system of "who hasn't won it most recently." Seriously, that is the tiebreaker in the Pac-10. The team that more recently won a conference title loses out in the event of a tie. Dumb as can be, but there you have it. So even if the Trojans defeat Cal, the Bears would still have the tiebreaker should they both lose one game. If that is how it goes down, what will become of USC? Will they make a BCS game or even get back in the national title picture? That would require a lot of help and running the table. If not, they could be Holiday Bowl-bound (as have other very good Pac-10 teams that have finished behind USC in recent years, like Cal in 2004 and Oregon last year). Wouldn't that be something?

No comments: