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Carroll's opponents can learn from past

August 31, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- I'm here in the Commonwealth with Uncle Pete, and right from the start it's obvious this isn't going to be a fair fight.

Everyone says the grounds here are so pretty, so historic, and while I haven't set my eyes yet on the Wahoos, I've seen Katie Couric's bedroom, a blind Homer with his naked student guide and T. J.'s rotunda, and USC can trump it all with one stop to Heritage Hall.

USC has the Duke in bronze, and nobody beats John Wayne.

There's nothing like four hours on the road before a USC kickoff these days, the oddsmakers and most everyone else knowing the opposition doesn't have a chance, so what else is there to see?

They have a bunch of buildings here surrounding the Lawn, which looks more like an unkempt fairway at a public golf course.

Ran into USC fan Gary Capata, the mayor of the city of Laguna Niguel, and he suggested ripping up the Lawn and putting down synthetic grass like they've done in Laguna Niguel. Just what we need, another civil war.

Couric got her start here living on the edge of the Lawn -- in Room 26, a 6-by-6 cell, which probably explains why she's still trying to break free as a news anchor. Edgar Allan Poe also lived here, and for all we know someone is locked in his room and still trying to break free.

Thomas Jefferson, the original T.J., founded this place and was also a writer known to irritate folks. He initiated the "Academical Village," leaving someone else to come up with the "training table," which tells you how little they think about football here.

USC rallies around Tommy Trojan; the Virginia Wahoos, or Hoos as they like to call themselves, have a statue of a naked teenager with harp in hand sitting at the feet of Homer. That might do wonders for the Virginia harp team, but not sure about the football team.

And the football team had high hopes too, but after weeks of practice was left splattered across the field before more than 60,000 orange-clad fans.

Uncle Pete will do that to you. In the last six years, he's ruined the start of the season for six schools, winning by an average of 25 points a game.

He's also not opposed to making a mockery of your football school in the second game -- note to Ohio State -- winning all six by an average of 32 points a game.

"Every game is a championship game," said Carroll, his philosophy no different for Ohio State than Virginia, and just maybe USC's edge.

"We don't ever try to play great in games. We try to play to our capabilities and do it every game. That's why we can go across the country into a hostile environment and play so well. We don't care where the score goes; we just play."

Maybe so, but with the score standing at 45-7, they played "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" in the stadium, and so the Trojans added yet another touchdown.

They did as they pleased all day long, Carroll making the case afterward they now have something in Mark Sanchez they haven't had since Matt Leinart. As if USC was in need of yet another asset.

"He can strike deep in a heartbeat, and we haven't had that in the last few years," Carroll said. "John David Booty was very conservative and that was fine, but Mark has that attitude to just seize it. He had two deep ball opportunities and hit them both."

The Trojans are loaded on defense, and although some might think Carroll would prefer a conservative quarterback and let his defense dictate the terms of surrender, he said, "No, no, no.

"Mark has unusual qualities, and our job as coaches when you have someone with unusual qualities is to bring those qualities to the forefront."

Hard to find fault with anything the Trojans did, but as Carroll said, "We're not putting ourselves in the Hall of Fame. To go crazy like that would be wrong."

In fact some experts have suggested USC lacks the experience Ohio State packs, and although they concede the Trojans might win such a game later in the year, they believe USC won't be ready early on.

"Were we ready today?" Carroll shot back.

But Ohio State has so many returning starters . . .

"Look at history; it doesn't make a whole lot of difference," he said, and now that's the kind of history worth noting.

Around here they make a historical big deal about the rotunda that T.J. built, a statue of him standing prominently inside, and the place burned down something like 50 years after he died and then had to be rebuilt.

Where's the statue of the guy who rebuilt it?

As Carroll knows so well with the Ohio State game next, it's what have you done for us lately.

IT'S TRUE, I was wearing a "Virginia" T-shirt, and several Trojans fans had something to say about it, unaware it's my wife's name. As soon as I explained it to USC fan Rebecca Tsujimoto, she said, "This way you can keep your wife close to your heart all day."

If you're waiting for a punch line, forget it. I'm headed home.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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