USC no longer Pac-10 bully
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- As he took off his wristbands and threw them on the turf, USC linebacker Rey Maualuga looked up at the scoreboard for nearly a minute in disbelief.
Oregon State 27, USC 21
He finally raised his eyebrows and sighed, turning around to the sea of orange Oregon State fans behind and giving them the ever-so-slightest golf clap as he nodded his head.
"They beat us fair and square," said Maualuga, limping off the field with an ice pack on his right leg. "You have to give respect where respect is due."
If we simply go off the definition of an upset, Oregon State's win over USC easily classifies as one. In fact, it easily ranks as the biggest upset of this young college football season, which has been devoid of the stunners and shockers that littered the schedule last year.
If we, however, close our dictionary and open up a history book (a USC media guide will do), this was about as predictable as the frequency of presidential elections. Sure, the results may surprise some of us, but the timing never should.
USC's struggles in Corvallis (the Trojans have now lost three of their last four), and its difficulty in Pac-10 road openers (it's lost six of 10), was well-publicized. Yet despite the constant warnings and history lessons, USC waltzed into Reser Stadium and was blindsided by an Oregon State team that dominated the Trojans in a fashion they hadn't experienced since their last trip to Corvallis in 2006.
As good as USC might look in winning its last 20 nonconference regular-season games, it hasn't been able to re-capture the Pac-10 dominance it enjoyed before 2006. USC's last seven regular-season losses have come in the Pac-10. It isn't a matter of overconfidence or overlooking the opponent at this point. The Trojans just aren't able to dominate the Pac-10, as bad as it may be (the conference's combined record is now 18-18 with each team having at least one loss), the way they did from 2003-2006 when the Trojans won 27 consecutive conference games.
There was nothing fancy about Oregon State's performance against USC. Pete Carroll and the Trojans knew exactly what the Beavers were doing and they couldn't stop it. Oregon State freshman tailback Jacquizz Rodgers ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns, with 117 yards coming in the first half. Oregon State plowed through USC's defensive line with an inside zone that left USC's interior defensive linemen Fili Mola and Avrerell Spencer looking down at the turf most of the night
"They didn't hide what they were doing, they just did it and we couldn't stop them," Carroll said. "We couldn't tackle them. Our inability to stop the Rodgers zone play, I'm just beside myself. We weren't ready to do what we needed to do."
Despite making adjustments in the second half to slow down Oregon State's attack, the damage was already done and it was apparent in the body language of the Trojans as they walked quietly on the sideline, confused by the big plays Oregon State would continue to make in key spots.
"The inside zone messed us up. We didn't have a feel for what gaps we were supposed to be in," said Maualuga. "It was surreal. They were just running the same plays and we didn't know how to stop it. Rogers had the game of his life. We just couldn't stop him."
USC was just as out of sync on offense, going three and out on its first two series, and got shut out in the first half of a game, 21-0, for the first time since the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl. Despite having a stacked backfield with a handful of tailbacks that could start on most teams and quarterback in Mark Sanchez who was considered a Heisman Trophy candidate, USC felt the need to get tricky, calling a couple of direct snaps to Joe McKnight that were stuffed. It was a common theme for McKnight, who would finish the game with 10 yards on seven carries and also gave up a costly fumble on one of the direct snap plays that would result in an Oregon State touchdown.
No one took the loss harder than McKnight, who sat in the hallway leading to the visiting locker room after the loss by himself before he finally made his way back to his locker and put his head down as tears streamed down his eyes. Carroll went over to his distraught tailback and knelt in front of him and told him to keep his head up as he patted him on the head before he made his way around the cramped visiting locker room, patting each player on the back.
As he walked out, Taylor Mays reminded his teammates of one thing before he headed toward the bus. "We're still USC," he said. "And that still means something."
Maybe so, but it's beginning to mean less and less in Corvallis.