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T.J. SIMERS

The truth is out there for USC fans, if they can handle it

After inexplicable loss to Washington, there's a clamoring for Mitch Mustain to step in after Aaron Corp stumbled. But Pete Carroll takes the blame and gushes about the injured Matt Barkley.

September 22, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

I e-mailed USC sports information director Tim Tessalone to find out what time Monday I might talk to punter Mitch Mustain.

He replied: "QBs available on Tuesdays after practice as always."

My response: "I had no idea Mustain is a QB -- does Pete know?"

What better time to drop by USC than on "Tell the Truth Monday," as Pete & the Boys like to call it, to find out what they've got against Mustain.

The last time I asked the question was during Carroll's "Tell 'em anything to go away Tuesday" media session before the season opener, Carroll becoming very testy and dismissing the question.

And until Saturday evening, I was a Trojans fan.

"You're like a cockroach," Tessalone said, and in this case -- dead meat was the obvious attraction.

The Trojans threw away almost any national championship chatter with an inexplicable loss to Washington, many USC fans now calling for a quarterback they've never seen play.

I stopped by USC on Monday to find out if Mustain has ever been told why the coaching staff treats him like someone from UCLA.

But even though Mustain isn't doing much of anything these days, Tessalone said Mustain would not be allowed to talk. Then he went to the kid and told him he better clam up.

What if he talked? Were they going to bench him?

Right now no one seems to know why the kid -- who is 61-2 going back to junior high school, according to the USC media guide -- has a better chance of punting than throwing.

Maybe Mustain has been tweeting nasty things about Carroll. Maybe he should have gone 9-0 as a freshman starter at Arkansas instead of 8-0. Maybe Carroll's obvious coaching crush on Matt Barkley allows him to see no one else.

"I really do like the guy," gushed Carroll when Barkley's name was mentioned. "But I'm not sure I'd call it 'crush' because I really don't know what that means."

Whatever, The Times' daily sports poll asked the question after the loss to Washington: Now who should USC start at quarterback?

Aaron Corp had 15% of the vote, Barkley 40%, and Mustain pulled 45%.

Everyone, of course, loves the guy who isn't playing when things go sour, but why isn't Mustain getting any consideration?

"He's our third-string quarterback," said Carroll in stating the obvious, Barkley taking the bulk of first-team snaps Monday and Corp all the others.

"And that's it," Carroll said.

When Corp struggled against Washington, Barkley began warming up. Mustain was catching his passes.

"I asked both of them to warm up," Carroll said. "I asked Matt how he felt, and he wasn't loose. When he couldn't get his arm going we stuck with Aaron."

Did you ask Mitch how he was doing?

"I already knew," Carroll said, and at 100%, it wasn't good enough to get him into the game. Makes you wonder if Corp got hurt, if they'd send in Barkley -- sling and all.

"I'm watching practice every day," said Carroll, a nice way of saying he's seen enough of Mustain and it isn't enough to warrant a promotion.

Someone has to be No. 3 on the depth chart, and unless the yahoos on the message boards are saying Carroll has no clue when it comes to identifying talent, just what are they saying?

The job here belongs to Barkley, Corp right there with Mustain if Barkley is healthy.

"I got Matt warming up [in Washington] because maybe he could have had the chance to save the day," Carroll said, and like I said, he's really sold on the kid.

The Trojans had no success throwing the ball against Washington. Some folks have pointed to the play calling, others to Corp's inexperience.

"If I were you, I'd go home," Tessalone said, and I'm sure he was just joking. Or maybe they're just not used to losing around here, although it seems to happen every year about this time.

You can look it up. In "Always Compete," a new book by Steve Bisheff, he quotes Carroll as saying after losing the third game last season to Oregon State, "it has to start with me."

Sound familiar? Carroll said the same thing the other day, and so when he talks about his running backs having to learn to hold on to the ball or get benched, what about a coach who apparently hasn't learned from his own mistake -- repeated over and over?

This keeps up, and he becomes Norv Turner.

Carroll, of course, is the best college coach in the game save his Achilles' heel. OK, so second-best in town this year so far. If he had beaten the Pac-10 doormats that have upset his teams over the years, no one would rank anywhere near him. He'd be near perfect.

"That's the best quarterback we've played in nine years here," Carroll said when told Washington has beaten only Idaho and USC the last two years. "Jake Locker has ridiculous talent, and had he remained healthy last year, Tyrone [Willingham] would still be coaching there."

Leave it to Carroll to find a way where he could have won last Saturday's game.

But instead, they were losers, the inexplicable losses in the past costing them a chance to play for the national title. This year will almost certainly be different.

A year ago he had Mark Sanchez at quarterback, thereby allowing the Trojans a chance to rebound. This time around he's going to have to develop Barkley, a project he relishes, but one fraught with up-and-down results.

Carroll is going to have to coach these games like an NFL head coach, and that's scary given his record up there.

He's going to have to run the ball, hold on to it, play field position, rely on defense, keep it close and win in the fourth quarter against the likes of Cal, Oregon State, Notre Dame, Arizona State and Oregon. It comes down to the quarterback, always does.

And maybe the kid wins three or four out of five, good enough for any team, but USC.

Sorry, it's "Tell the Truth Monday," as you know.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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