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BILL PLASCHKE

On Halloween, Trojans' identity is well-masked

USC's usual game-changing defense is missing in action, leaving Trojans looking very much unlike a Pete Carroll team in 47-20 loss at Oregon.

November 01, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

FROM EUGENE, ORE. — So you think you gave out the good stuff at your house? You should have seen what was happening at USC's house.

On a chilly, misty Halloween night, Oregon loudly knocked on the gaudy door dressed in green and black and bold.

The Trojans opened up, took one look, and meekly handed them their season.

Trick or beating.

"We just got destroyed," said linebacker Michael Morgan.

Pumpkin rinds on the lawn and egg yolk on the windows.

"I've never been in nothing like this," said safety Taylor Mays.

From holiday loss to Holiday Bowl?

"These guys feel horrible, we all feel terrible," said Coach Pete Carroll.

Around 5 p.m. Saturday, the self-assured Trojans danced into quaint Autzen Stadium with dreams of another Rose Bowl and perhaps even another national championship.

Nearly four ear-splitting hours later, they sprinted out through howling vampires and goblins and other costumed creatures that stormed the field after Oregon's 47-20 victory.

"I never thought this could happen," said quarterback Matt Barkley.

In giving up 391 yards rushing and 613 total yards in the worst loss in Carroll's nine years, the Trojans didn't just get beat.

"We got beat up," Mays said.

In allowing Oregon to average nearly eight yards per play, they did more than just roll over.

"It really wasn't that hard for [Oregon]," Carroll said.

It was the most points that USC has given up in a non-overtime game in 18 years, but it was more deflating than that. It was the most yards USC has given up in 63 years, but it was even more crushing than that.

Like the dude who struts into the office Halloween party in a Frankenstein outfit before someone steals his mask to reveal a rookie from the mail room, the Trojans were exposed.

Pete Carroll coaches world-class defense? Not this year, not after the Trojans have given up an average of 487 yards in their last three games.

"You never expect something like that," Carroll said.

Pete Carroll coaches teams to meet difficult moments? Not this year, not after they have lost twice amid the Pacific Northwest's lousy weather and screaming fans.

"We haven't seen something like this in a long time," said defensive end Wes Horton.

Seven straight Pac-10 championships? Seven straight BCS bowls? Both streaks probably ended on a night that ended in a cacophony of despair.

Outside the USC locker room, the crowded field was filled with sounds of jubilant cheers and chants.

Inside in the locker room, the crowded aisles were filled with the sound of helmets smashing against metal.

"This has never happened to us before," said defensive end Nick Perry.

What did happen? On a talent-laden team like this one, the only explanation is a lack of preparation combining with a lack of will.

The Ducks came out in a no-huddle offense. The Trojans responded with a no-stamina defense.

Jeremiah Masoli, the Ducks' 5-foot-11 quarterback, slid through the line like he was Jeremiah Mazola.

LaMichael James, the Ducks' 5-foot-barely running back, ran over the line like he was LeBron James.

Where were the linebackers? Who are the linebackers? You don't lose an entire linebacker group to the NFL and not feel it. On Saturday night, the Trojans felt it.

Where was Taylor Mays? Who is Taylor Mays? These days, the defensive leader is notable only for late hits, another one occurring on Masoli at the end of one of the Ducks' touchdown drives.

On one second-quarter play, Masoli couldn't find anybody open, so he simply ran downfield for 48 yards, leading to a touchdown.

On another play, James seemingly disappeared into the line, then reappeared moments later on the other side, busting a run for 33 yards that also led to a touchdown.

"It was this one power play they kept running, and we couldn't stop it," Perry said. "So they just ran it over and over again."

Think about that. The famously tough Trojans being beaten on a power play. The famously adaptive Trojans being beaten on it again and again.

Oregon scored touchdowns on a 13-play drive, and a four-play drive. The Ducks scored touchdowns on a one-yard stroll over an open goal line, and a perfect 17-yard pass that beat Josh Pinkard to the back of the end zone.

A pass to former Trojan Jamere Holland.

Yeah, that kind of night.

"They gained seven or eight yards a carry on bad plays for them," Carroll said.

Don't worry, we're not forgetting the offense. Although he faced an constant uphill climb against an opposing offense that only needed its punter once, Matt Barkley struggled with the moment.

Twice he could have hit an open Blake Ayles downfield on potential touchdown passes, but both times he overthrew him, once by five yards. While he hit on 21 of 38 passes, Barkley still looked shaky at times that might have changed the momentum.

You can attribute his game to freshman inexperience. You can write off the offense as never having had a chance.

But as for the Trojans' defense, there really is no excuse.

That is Carroll's baby. That is how he brought this program to power. Their offensive flash has brought them headlines, but their defensive grunt work has won them championships.

For now, that defense is gone, that identity is gone, and beyond Carroll's usual exhortations, nobody seems to know what happens next.

The question asked of costumed children on doorsteps throughout the country Saturday night can be asked today of the Trojans.

And who are you supposed to be?

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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