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Pete Carroll defends call for last-minute pass

The Trojans coach says he understands the mentality of decisions that could be viewed as piling it on against already beaten opponents.

November 30, 2009|By Gary Klein
  • USC Coach Pete Carroll celebrates a late score with Damian Williams (18) and Matt Barkley (7) on Saturday night.
USC Coach Pete Carroll celebrates a late score with Damian Williams (18)… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Pete Carroll referenced Jim Harbaugh.

Next, he invoked the names of Knute Rockne and Woody Hayes.

Carroll on Sunday was explaining the mentality behind coaching decisions that can be interpreted as pouring it on against already beaten opponents.

"I totally understand that mentality, and I don't mind at all if other people don't understand that," he said.

Carroll found himself at the center of controversy late Saturday night after the Trojans scored on a 48-yard touchdown pass play in the final minute of a 28-7 victory over UCLA at the Coliseum.

Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley had taken a knee with 54 seconds left, indicating that USC was willing to run out the clock, but UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel countered by calling a timeout, one of three he had at his disposal.

USC answered with Barkley's bomb to receiver Damian Williams.

"It was the best ending, I think, we could ask for," Barkley said in the locker room after the game.

Carroll said Sunday that he knew the play would become a hot-button issue the moment Williams caught the ball.

"I realized as we executed the play perfectly: This is one of those times people could take a look at this thing and have a bunch of opinions," he said. "And it certainly has."

A poll on The Times website Sunday asked readers whether they agreed with Carroll's decision to go for the long pass.

More than 14,000 had responded by 9 p.m., evenly divided between those who considered it a bad move that showed poor sportsmanship and those who had no problem with the call and thought that Neuheisel asked for it when he called a timeout.

Speaking generally about reaction to the play, Carroll said, "I think Trojan fans like to see us beat UCLA. They have fun winning. I'm sure people on the other side will find reason to be upset.

"Fans, they get to do whatever they want. They get to cheer you, boo you; they can like you or not like you. You usually get a little bit of all of that every year."

But Carroll disputed the notion that the play would add fuel to an already fiery crosstown rivalry: "How could you fuel it more . . . after 79 years and of playing each other in every sport around the calendar forever?"

Carroll acknowledged that the brawl that nearly ensued after the touchdown, "could have been something bad."

But he chalked it up as just another rivalry moment.

"There's tremendous emotion in these matchups, and it's everything everybody wants in terms of buildup," he said. "Emotions sometimes change the environment."

About that interception . . .

Carroll praised Williams for playing well in his return from an ankle injury, but he said the junior's route running was partly to blame for a Barkley pass that was intercepted in the second quarter.

Barkley completed 18 of 26 passes for 206 yards and the late touchdown. The freshman has passed for 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.

"I loved the way he played," Carroll said. "I say that because it was UCLA and it was coming off the Stanford game when he had four turnovers.

"He handled it and did an extraordinary job. . . . I'm proud of him."

Quick hits

Garrett Green suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and tailback Joe McKnight suffered a thigh bruise against the Bruins. . . . Linebacker Malcolm Smith was selected as the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week. Smith had 15 tackles and returned one of the Trojans' three interceptions 62 yards for a first-quarter touchdown.

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