This is what happens when a team gets too caught up in its own image.
USC beat up on Ohio State, lapped up all the kudos and then sat down to worry what might transpire when it finishes its unbeaten season and Georgia or Oklahoma or somebody does likewise.
Well, the Trojans forgot there were still 10 more games on the schedule, and in the first one, plucky, unranked, 24-point underdog Oregon State and a tiny freshman tailback who was more slippery than a bar of soap embarrassed them in front of a National TV audience last night. The surreal 27-21 upset knocked them out of No. 1 and probably out of the BCS title race.
Let's not hear any "what ifs" about this one, either. USC was outplayed and outcoached by the Beavers and Mike Riley. They lost because they couldn't overcome what was easily the worst half of football of the Pete Carroll Era.
All you Trojan fans thought that Stanford loss was bad, huh? Well, this one was even worse. At least Carroll's guys led in that game. In this one, they were almost blown off the field in the first 30 minutes.
They couldn't block, they certainly couldn't tackle little Jacquizz Rodgers, who finished the game with a staggering 37 carries for 186 yards, and they barely could muster up a couple of gratuitous first downs on the way to a 21-0 humiliation in the first 30 minutes that ended up even more frustrating when corner Kevin Thomas allowed a pass in the end zone to go through his hands for OSU's third TD.
The Trojans rallied some in the second half, even closing to within a touchdown, but every time they tried to gain any serious momentum, they were guilty of a dumb penalty, or they dropped the ball, or they threw a pivotal interception.
But they couldn't complain afterwards. Oregon State was the better team from here to Sarah Palin country. The Beavers didn't just win, they overwhelmed USC on both sides of the line of scrimmage with people all those so-called savvy recruiting experts never had on their lists. Some of us had thought during the summer that this could be the trap game on the USC schedule, but then Penn State walloped OSU, who also lost to Stanford, and our opinions changed. Obviously, they shouldn't have.
So where exactly did the Trojans go wrong in this one? Well, let me count the ways:
*The defensive line that was something of a question mark at the start of the season turned in a dismal performance, allowing the Beavers blockers to push it all over the field, creating more than enough space for the amazing Mr. Rodgers to run through his favorite new neighborhood. Sedrick Ellis, the all-everything nose tackle now in the NFL, was sorely missed in this game.
*Yoo hoo, Rey? You remember Maualuga, the All American and Butkus Award candidate at middle linebacker? Well, where was he last night? Rodgers kept squirting through for 8, 9, 12, 14 yards a shot right up the middle. Shouldn't the middle linebacker have made some of those plays? The stat sheet showed he did finish with double digit tackles, but every time I looked up he was getting blocked. The only time he was prominent was when he left the game with an injured knee in the fourth quarter.
*Too much McKnight, not enough Stafon. Joe McKnight did have a nice start to the season, running especially well against Ohio State. And everybody knows he is sort of Carroll's favorite tailback. But he was awful last night, unable to find any room to run, dropping passes, fumbling a punt and almost fumbling the ball another time. As for that gimmicky spread with the direct snap to Joe? Ditch it, Pete. Twice, it flopped horribly last night. Stafon Johnson, meanwhile, in his brief appearances, was clearly the Trojans' most effective runner. But Carroll never left him in for more than two plays at a time, never allowing him to get into a flow, even when it appeared he had the Oregon State defense on its heels in the second half. For whatever reason, Carroll and Steve Sarkisian consistently disdain the thought of becoming a power running team, then throwing off play-action. Funny, it always worked well back in the John McKay and John Robinson years.
*The offensive line that was so impressive against the Buckeyes regressed in this one. Except when Johnson was in, there weren't any consistent holes to run through, and Mark Sanchez was tormented all evening long by the Beavers' pass rush.
*Sanchez isn't quite ready to be a Heisman candidate yet. We were all guilty of gushing too soon over this talented kid, forgetting this was just his third start and first Pac-10 game on the road in his initial year as a starting quarterback. He did some good things, threw some nice passes, but his defense put him in an early hole, and he wasn't quite ready for the overwhelming pressure of being pinned inside his own 10 with a couple of minutes to play in a stadium where the noise level was off the charts. It was a bad interception he threw in that situation, but young, still learning quarterbacks tend to do that. And yes, despite all our early attempts to hand him the Heisman, that's still what Sanchez is.
*Riley has Carroll's number, especially in Oregon. The coach who almost got the USC job clearly outmaneuvered the one who did. His schemes were so much better, it was ridiculous. That's two times in a row he's knocked off Carroll and the Trojans at Reser Stadium, and this time he did it with a 5-11 quarterback and a 5-6 tailback, among other things. Put these two rosters side by side, and there is no comparison in the raw talent, overall athleticism or overwhelming size.
But that didn't matter on a cool night in Corvallis, because the Beavers still had Riley. And the Trojans still had their helmets in the clouds.
They're only Friday's opinions, but at least they're all mine:
By the way, where was fullback Stanley Havili for USC? Did Oregon State have his pass routes covered, too? Probably. They seemed to have everything else covered . . .
Almost as embarrassing as USC's performance was that "Ask Dr. Lou" TV bit with Lou Holtz at halftime. The segment was forced and contrived, and those are the best things you can say about it . . .
Joe Torre won't admit it, but you know he has to feel great satisfaction taking a flawed Dodgers team to the playoffs, while his old friends from New York won't play in the postseason . . .
Wait a minute, now the Seattle Mariners are blaming their horrendous season on Ichiro? Come on, guys . . .
I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again. I knew Mark Teixeira was good before he came to the Angels. But I didn't know he was THIS good . . .
Now at least USC realizes its problem. It just didn't recruit a 5-6 tailback . . .