Booty's job has
been made more difficult by constant shuffling in the lineup. The Trojans have
lost their top three fullbacks ( Brandon Hancock, Ryan Powdrell and Stanley
Havili) to season-ending injuries, and their two standout wide receivers,
Dwayne Jarrett (separated shoulder) and Steve Smith (sprained ankle), have been
limited as well. USC has been so battered that at one point in the Washington
game Booty was surrounded by a freshman tailback (Moody), a former walk-on
fullback (Mike Brittingham) and a pair of receivers (sophomore Patrick Turner
and freshman Vidal Hazelton) who had 21 career catches between them.
junior who missed the last two seasons because of academic problems, was
initially hindered by a hamstring injury, but his powerful running on the
Trojans' winning drive against Arizona State was reminiscent of White and
signaled his return to health. He could make USC a much more dangerous team in
the second half of the season. "That's always been an element of our
game," says center and senior co-captain Ryan Kalil. "It got overlooked
sometimes because our offense could be pretty flashy, but the ability to pound
the ball is something we've been missing lately. If we can get back to that, it
will open things up for the rest of our offense, and you'll probably see us
start hitting some of those big plays again."
diminished potency of USC's offense is more obvious, the dropoff on D might be
more to blame for the closer games. The defenses of recent years weren't
dominant, but they did have a knack for sacks and forcing turnovers that has
been nowhere in evidence this season. The Trojans have only nine sacks (last
year they finished with 32), and no player has more than 1 1/2. The tamer pass
rush could be at least partly the result of a switch from the 4--3 look of
previous years to a predominantly 3--4 scheme in order to take advantage of an
abundance of outstanding linebackers. Opponents are also using more three-step
drops and short passes to blunt the USC rush.
forced 38 turnovers last season, second-best in the nation, but they have only
10 this year, which ties them for 100th. That's particularly bothersome to the
defensive-minded Carroll, who values takeaways so much that his midweek
practices, which emphasize stripping the ball, recovering fumbles and catching
tipped passes, are dubbed Turnover Wednesdays. "People talk about the
problems with our fullbacks and receivers, but the biggest thing is we're not
taking the ball away from people," Carroll says. "That's the real thing
that changes games and creates big victory margins. Once we start doing that,
we're going to be really hard to beat."
hard to beat, which is easy to forget. The Trojans are also becoming accustomed
to the pressure of close games, which should benefit them in the second half of
the season. "The schedule might be getting tougher," says Kalil.
"But so are we."