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Trojans able to win despite themselves

Missed opportunities, injuries, turnovers and 16 penalties for 161 yards almost cost top-ranked USC a victory on the road.

September 30, 2007|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- All those yellow flags on the turf at Husky Stadium did not add up to a new USC record for penalties.

It just seemed that way.

On a blustery Saturday night when the top-ranked Trojans struggled in so many areas -- injuries, turnovers, missed opportunities -- penalties were a major reason they had to scramble for a 27-24 victory over underdog Washington.

"Every penalty in the history of football might have gotten assessed tonight," Coach Pete Carroll said. "It was everything you wanted to see in the world of officiating."

As in 16 penalties for 161 yards.

That was only a handful short of the team-record 21 committed against Oregon in 1999. The negative yardage rivaled Washington's 190 yards in total offense for the game.

"If I'm their coach, I'm alarmed with that many penalties," Washington Coach Tyrone Willingham said. "But at the same time, I think our guys were playing and forcing some things."

USC players did not disagree entirely with Willingham's comment, saying that Washington was aggressive all game. But a few of the Trojans were angry about the officiating.

"Some of the calls, I think, were bogus," linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "Sometimes you think the refs are against you."

Whistles started blowing from the beginning, the Trojans' defensive line jumping offside on the first play from scrimmage. The offensive line got into the act, too, with three false-start penalties on the first two possessions, and holding calls later on.

At least the front five could point to a specific reason. Starting center Kristofer O'Dowd and guard Chilo Rachal left the game early with injuries, forcing reserves Matt Spanos and Alatini Malu into action.

"You get that adrenaline flowing so hard and you lose focus for half a second," Spanos said.

The noise from a raucous crowd of 68,654, sensing a possible upset, did not help matters.

"I couldn't hear and guys in front of me were flinching," tackle Sam Baker said. "That's what happened on my penalty."

The defense did not have any readily apparent excuses.

In the first quarter, cornerback Shareece Wright was called for a personal foul on what he thought was a clean tackle of Washington quarterback Jake Locker. A few plays later, linebacker Thomas Williams was called for grabbing a blocker's facemask on a play when he thought he was being held.

"When they threw the flag," he said, "I thought it was on the other guy."

Back on the sideline, his teammates told him to put the call out of his mind and focus on the next series.

Safety Taylor Mays said he did not worry about a pass interference call when his feet tangled with a Washington receiver. Quarterback John David Booty tried not to let his offensive line get frustrated.

"That's what I kept telling our guys in the huddle," Booty said. "You've got to keep battling."

Carroll praised his team for finding a way to win a game when things did not go right. But he also talked about getting back to work on Monday to, as he explained, "clean it up."

His players had little doubt that penalties would be a topic of conversation.

"We've got to bounce back," Baker said. "I'm sure we're going to hear a lot about it."

--

david.wharton@latimes.com

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