HE HAS long gone
against the grain in this staid, often self-important- profession, so it wasn't
overly surprising to see Pete Carroll playing with an action figure in the
visitors' locker room at Nebraska last Saturday.
The USC coach would argue that he wasn't playing with the five-inch facsimile
of Jack Bauer so much as he was holding it at arm's length, examining it,
admiring it. The toy was a gift from Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Bauer, that
bane of international terrorists, in the hit series 24.
Saturday may have been Carroll's birthday—he turned 56—but it was the coach who
bestowed a more profound gift on his offensive linemen: He gave them the chance
to take over the game.
Six minutes into
the second quarter at Lincoln's Memorial Stadium, the question was not whether
the Trojans were the top-ranked team in the nation; it was whether they were
the best team on the field. They trailed by 10--7 to a Nebraska team that was
taking it to them physically. Clubbed in the larynx on a kickoff return,
Vincent Joseph had left the field on a gurney. (He turned out to be fine.)
During the extended stoppage of play Carroll gathered his offensive linemen
"He told us,
'You know what? We're not gonna throw any passes,'" recalls right tackle
Drew Radovich. "We're gonna run the ball until we score."
'em off the football and go have some fun," is how Carroll remembers
Five running plays
and 45 yards later, USC had a 14--10 lead. On their next possession the Trojans
covered 73 yards in nine plays—60 of those yards coming on the ground, through
the sort of vast, yawning holes that Cornhuskers backs by the name of Mike
Rozier and Ahman Green once dashed on this field. Southern California scored
touchdowns on five straight possessions to take a 42--10 lead, serving notice,
in the process, that:
1. Nebraska, which
under fourth-year coach Bill Callahan has taken baby steps in the direction of
its former glory, still has a long way to go.
ineptitude in the running game last season was an anomaly. The Trojans were
limited by a raft of injuries at fullback and, it would appear, by the
seasonlong presence in Carroll's doghouse of the team's best back.
When the game
ended—the final was 49--31, the Cornhuskers having punched in two late scores
against USC's second-string D—the Trojans had outrushed the home team 313 yards
to 31. USC unveiled what Carroll described as "some cool misdirection
plays" in which wide receivers motioned in one direction and the
ballcarrier took the handoff going in the other. That deception "created
some hesitation in their linebacker play," according to offensive
coordinator Steve Sarkisian, "that allowed our linemen to get up on 'em and
drive 'em down the field."
The end result:
sportswriters scrambling to find synonyms for gaping hole.
Yawning breaches. Vast chasms. The Trojans hogs—including true freshman center
Kris O'Dowd—created some of each. "I've been around here awhile,"
senior left tackle Sam Baker said on the field after the game. "It's not
too often [that Carroll] puts the game on our shoulders. It gets you fired