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USC FYI

USC's Pete Carroll backs his play caller

Jeremy Bates' play selection is being criticized as too conservative, but Carroll says the first-year assistant coach is doing the right thing in bringing Trojans' young quarterbacks along slowly.

September 21, 2009|Gary Klein

As USC attempts to move forward after its upset loss to Washington, Coach Pete Carroll says the Trojans' turnover problems need to be dealt with aggressively.

But what of the conservative play-calling that seemed to shackle the Trojans at times in their 16-13 defeat?

Carroll on Sunday defended the decisions of play-caller Jeremy Bates, who became an immediate topic for Internet message-board vitriol the second Erik Folk kicked the game-winning field goal for the Huskies.

Carroll backed the first-year quarterbacks coach, noting that the Trojans started two games with first-year freshman Matt Barkley and the Washington game with Aaron Corp, a third-year sophomore making his first collegiate start.

"He's working well with the development of our young guys," Carroll said of Bates. "I don't disagree at all with what we've done. We're trying to move forward and not expose them as the factor in the game."

But quarterback play was a major factor in the Trojans' narrow victory at Ohio State and the loss at Washington, which dropped them from third to 10th in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll and from third to 12th in the Associated Press media poll.

The Trojans passed for only 110 yards against Washington, their lowest total in eight-plus seasons under Carroll.

USC has averaged only 152.5 yards passing in its last two games and has not attempted longer passes in any of its three games.

The absence of speedy receiver Ronald Johnson, who suffered a broken collarbone during training camp, is "a factor" in the Trojans' approach, Carroll said.

But it mainly comes back to the quarterbacks.

"We have limited ourselves some to bring our guys along," Carroll said. "There's some necessity in there to make sure we're making good positive movement and not taking chances we don't need to take in tight games."

USC went conservative on its final drive against Washington, calling a running play on third and six at the Huskies seven-yard line instead of passing into the end zone.

Tailback Stafon Johnson was stopped for no gain -- making the Trojans 0 for 10 on third down -- and USC kicked a tying field goal.

"Looking back," Bates said in the locker room after the game, "it was a bad call."

Carroll disagreed.

"We had to make sure that we didn't get out there and make a mistake," he said Sunday.

Carroll also defended the decision not to explicitly tell Corp that he would be starting against the Huskies.

"We just talked during the week, he knew it was likely he would get the start," Carroll said. "I wanted him prepared. . . . We just kind of kept it at that and it never changed.

"We never really made a big declaration just to protect the whole approach to the weekend."

With Corp struggling, Carroll said that midway through the fourth quarter he considered turning to either Barkley or junior Mitch Mustain and told both to warm up.

But when Barkley could not get sufficiently loose, Carroll said the coach's thought became, "Let's go with Aaron and see if we can pull this out."

Carroll said a determination about the starter for Saturday's game against Washington State will be made after seeing how Barkley progresses from the bone bruise in his passing shoulder he suffered against Ohio State.

If Barkley is not healthy, Carroll said Corp "will be the guy at this point."

And what of Mustain?

"He's just been behind those guys at this point," Carroll said. "But the way things are, Mitch will be right in the middle of things if we need him."

Mustain could also take on a larger role as a punter. Mustain will practice "extensively" at the spot this week, Carroll said.

"He's as raw as you can get," Carroll said, "but he's a good athlete and he has a good leg."

Quick hits

Carroll said tailback C.J. Gable did not play because he was ill. "Unless we ran out of guys, we were just going to hold him out." With Trojans running backs fumbling four times against the Huskies, Gable could be in the mix this week, Carroll said. . . . Safety Taylor Mays received therapy for the knee sprain that kept him sidelined against Washington. His availability for the Washington State game will be determined this week.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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