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USC FOOTBALL

Trojans need a tune-up after off-key performance

Pete Carroll tries to keep the mood light on first practice day after stunning upset loss at Washington, but there's also a palpable sense of urgency.

September 22, 2009|Gary Klein

Pete Carroll swears it was only a simple tribute, a way to let the USC marching band know he hears them.

But Carroll's choice for his "song of the day" Monday on his many social media network platforms rang curious.

With the Trojans coming off an embarrassing 16-13 upset loss at Washington, Carroll selected the Offspring's "The Kids Aren't Alright."

No symbolism or commentary intended, according to Carroll.

"Our band plays that song," he said, chuckling. "I just thought it would draw some attention."

Not that the Trojans are lacking for any.

Carroll, his coaching staff and his players continued to invite national scrutiny after what has become an almost annual misstep against a previously unranked Pacific 10 Conference opponent.

USC was a three-touchdown favorite against Washington, a team that this month ended a 15-game losing streak that included a 56-0 loss to the Trojans last season.

The defeat, once again, might have ended USC's hopes for a berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

"That's in our head, but it's not what we focus on," senior cornerback Kevin Thomas said.

Instead, Carroll is hoping his team will regroup for a run to an eighth consecutive Pac-10 championship and possibly more.

The Trojans have played in seven consecutive BCS bowl games.

"We've been here before and hopefully we'll be able to turn it as we have in times past," he said. "That's way, way, way easier said than done."

On Monday, the Trojans watched film and attempted to put behind them a game in which they committed three turnovers that killed potential scoring drives.

"It's 'Tell the Truth Monday' so we always get the truth out," senior tight end Anthony McCoy said.

And the truth was?

"We [stunk] that game," McCoy said.

The defeat, like those in previous seasons against Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford, also left more than a sour taste in Carroll's mouth.

"It's pretty miserable," Carroll said of the aftereffects of losing. "I think Bill Parcells said it was something like waking up in the middle of the night with vomit in your mouth.

"He was on the money."

The Trojans began moving forward with a short practice that featured increased focus on special teams and the return of freshman quarterback Matt Barkley.

Barkley, sidelined Saturday because of a bone bruise in his right shoulder, split first-team snaps with Aaron Corp.

Though Barkley's throwing motion appeared to have returned to normal, his velocity had not.

Nevertheless, Carroll was encouraged. If Barkley progresses through the week, he will be under center Saturday night against Washington State.

"I'd love for him to come back and start if he's ready to go," Carroll said.

If Barkley is deemed not ready to play, Corp will start again after throwing for only 110 yards, with one interception, against Washington.

Carroll hinted that there also could be a shake-up in the tailback rotation if Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson continue to fumble.

Johnson lost a fumble against Washington; McKnight's two fumbles were recovered by the Trojans.

"They have to take care of stuff all week long and make sure we feel good about it or they're not going to play very much," Carroll said. "It has to go to that. There's too many other good guys that can play."

Carroll continued to defend the conservative play-calling that has characterized the Trojans' offense.

And he gave no indication that it would cease.

"If we have to be closer to the vest, we better be because we can't keep giving the football away or we're not going to win any games," he said.

But several players said it was more than just turnovers that stymied the Trojans.

Center Kristofer O'Dowd pointed to a few instances of poorly executed footwork that prevented plays from developing.

McCoy also focused on the less obvious.

"To the fans' eye, it was Corp throwing the pick and running backs fumbling," he said. "But you noticed that some blocking schemes were messed up where some guys couldn't get free.

"That forced [Corp] to throw to a guy who wasn't open. Just little things, little mental mistakes we've got to fix."

Offensive lineman Jeff Byers, a sixth-year senior, is confident that the Trojans will put the loss behind them.

Comparing the Washington defeat to others, he said, is useless.

"You try to forget about them so it's hard to compare to the ones from years past," Byers said. "You just know you get that feeling in your gut and it motivates you to work hard."

Gable ready,

willing and able

Junior tailback C.J. Gable is keeping his cool despite no opportunities to carry the ball in the last two games.

Gable said he was ready to play against Washington despite being ill the night before.

Gable, who tumbled down the depth chart after fumbling last season against UCLA and Penn State, acknowledged frustration that other tailbacks continue to get opportunities despite fumbling.

"If they fumble and they get back in, I guess those are the guys that can do that," he said. "I just know I can't do that.

"Whenever I get my opportunity, I'm holding on to the ball because it might be the last one I ever get."

Quick hits

Linebacker Malcolm Smith suffered a high ankle sprain against Washington and is doubtful for Washington State. Luthur Brown, Shane Horton or Jordan Campbell could start in his place. . . . Safety Taylor Mays (knee) did some running but his status for Saturday is still to be determined.

--

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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