Back on Track?

Damian Williams (Getty Images)

Winning the Emerald Bowl will never be mistaken for a Rose Bowl victory or have anywhere the excitement of a national championship, but this win, over a solid Boston College team, was a big step in the right direction for a program going through a rebuilding year.

After a disappointing regular season that included two blowout losses, the USC Trojans began their bowl preparation on a miserable rainy day in the middle of December.

The horrible weather that day punctuated just how far the mighty Men of Troy had sunk.

The regular season began with expectations of an eighth consecutive BCS bowl appearance, but ended with a home loss and a trip to Emerald Bowl.

Most observers expected the player's spirits to be as dampened as the soggy turf on Cromwell Field that cold afternoon. But the Trojans, who were just coming of an emotional loss to Arizona, responded with one of the most spirited and physical practices of the season.

"We want to make sure and capture them and get off to a great start," Carroll said at the time.

A team with basically nothing to play for, in a bowl that some of the players had never even heard of, banded together to end a disappointing season on a positive note, and begin building for the future.

Pete Carroll's program had taken a step backward, and was on the verge of slipping even further, so he made several subtle changes to the Trojans' preparation and approach. The most visible being the debut of the Trojan Drill, which was a slight variation of the famously grueling Oklahoma Drill.

The drill pitted three offensive linemen against three defensive linemen with a running back attempting to run the ball up the middle. The drill immediately knocked any rust off the players and set the tone for every Emerald bowl practice to follow.

"We just kind of went retro in a sense," Carroll said. "We went back to the basics of football, back to loving the game for playing tough, hardnosed football."

Carroll's teams have been physically dominant in the past, and the veteran coach was sending a message to this young group about regaining that toughness.

"The coaches called us out and we knew that we had to be physical," Allen Bradford said. "That's a whole new demeanor that we are trying to bring to the football team, really being physical and being tough."

While the Trojans continued their solid preparation on the practice field, the eligibility issues of tailback Joe McKnight was all anybody wanted to talk about, and the academic problems of Anthony McCoy, Tyron Smith and Averell Spicer provided yet another off-field distraction.

"There was a lot of distraction and a lot of adversity going into this thing, most of it self-inflicted," Carroll said. "I am very happy with the way we turned our focus and the way we adjusted. We accomplished a number of things internally by the way we turned our focus."

The mounting issues provided the so-called experts the opening to declare that a distracted USC team would get upset in San Francisco, but the Trojans' upbeat practices told a different story.

"The whole preparation felt different and we went about it in a different way," Carroll said. "I really credit the assistant coaches and the players for joining in and redirecting. It was time to do that and we did it."

While others questioned Carroll's lack of institutional control, he showed that he is still one of the best in the business at keeping his team focused on the goal at hand, which was finishing with a win and regaining some of the Trojans' trademark swagger in the process.

"We started in the rain and just being able to finish today the way that we did, it says a lot about our team," said Damian Williams, after USC's 24-13 victory.

Winning the Emerald Bowl will never be mistaken for a Rose Bowl victory or have anywhere the excitement of a national championship, but this win, over a solid Boston College team, was a big step in the right direction for a program going through a rebuilding year.

"We are trying to set the tone for next year," Allen Bradford said. "We have to come back and get our respect back."


Pete Carroll celebrates the Emerald Bowl victory. (Getty Images)


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If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at kevin@scplaybook.com


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