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The Aftershocks

No excuses are made, but disappointment will stay with USC for the rest of the season

September 27, 2008|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

After USC's team charter returned to Los Angeles in the wee hours of Friday morning, defensive tackle Fili Moala went home to sleep off the previous night's disappointment.

"I thought I would wake up and feel better," Moala said softly, breaking the midday silence in Heritage Hall. "But I was like, 'Man. We really did lose.' "

Moala, his teammates and coaches -- and legions of college football fans -- were still mulling the Trojans' 27-21 loss to Oregon State, a 25 1/2 -point underdog, that will knock USC from atop the polls.

USC won't find out how far it fell until Sunday, but rankings were far from the Trojans' minds a day after Oregon State physically punished them in their Pacific 10 Conference opener.

"We're going to be fighting a long time to recover from the first game," Coach Pete Carroll said.

USC simply never matched Oregon State's emotion on a night when an orange-clad crowd at Reser Stadium buoyed the Beavers.

The Trojans did not look ready, especially in the first half when they fell behind 21-0.

"I don't think we took them lightly," Moala said. "I think it was just hard for us to just get going."

Carroll, who is on the road recruiting this weekend, took the blame.

"It's about carrying the focus of practice to the game and I didn't do a good enough job," he said by phone. "It has to start with me."

Oregon State beat USC by playing more physical than perhaps any team since Texas in the 2006 Bowl Championship Series title game. The style, as much as the result, shocked the Trojans and a national television audience.

"We just got beat up front," Carroll said. "The reasons are real hard to nail because we practiced well, but by the time we got to game time we didn't have the edge we needed."

The Beavers wavered some in the third quarter, giving up two touchdowns and having a field-goal attempt blocked. But they collected themselves and went on to finish the job.

USC aided its demise by failing to wrap up 5-foot-7 freshman Jacquizz Rodgers, who seemed to spin away from would-be tacklers on nearly every one of his 37 carries for 186 yards.

Rodgers got help from his brother, James, a receiver who was sent in motion throughout the game but rarely got the ball on reverses that USC never stopped anticipating.

The strategy allowed Jacquizz to run his basic play over and over again from various formations.

"They didn't hide what they were doing, they just did it and we couldn't stop it," Carroll said after the game.

USC's offensive line also had problems. The Trojans gave up only one sack, but an Oregon State front seven devoid of any starters from last season's highly regarded unit pressured quarterback Mark Sanchez most of the game.

The Trojans mishandled several stunts that they took care of with ease in their first two games. USC also hurt itself with seven penalties, including four personal fouls, and turnovers by tailback Joe McKnight and Sanchez.

"I didn't make any plays," McKnight said dejectedly as he sat in his locker room dressing stall after the game. "They trusted me with the ball and I dropped it."

McKnight's second-quarter fumble led to an Oregon State touchdown. He recovered his own fumbled punt in the fourth quarter, but he let several kicks bounce until they were downed by Oregon State deep in USC territory.

Late in the fourth quarter, with USC trailing, 21-14, a punted ball rolled to the two. Three plays later, Oregon State intercepted a Sanchez pass to set up the decisive touchdown.

USC players did not point fingers, each position group shouldering blame.

"We all had our share in the loss," Sanchez said afterward.

USC was off Friday and will not practice again until Monday. Linebacker Rey Maualuga is scheduled to have an MRI exam for a knee sprain and offensive lineman Zack Heberer (toe) could miss time, but Carroll said Brian Cushing (broken hand bone) and safety Taylor Mays (chest bruise) would be fine.

"We're still best friends, we're still family, we're still going to come and practice hard on Monday," Mays said in the locker room. "We're still USC and that means something."

What it means to pollsters, and to the humbled Trojans' chances of playing for a national title, remains to be seen.

--

gary.klein@latimes.com

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