Pete Carroll is navigating uncharted territory.
After his team suffered the worst loss in the last 12 years of the program, the USC coach is starting from scratch. The Trojans sit third in the Pac-10 standings and are considered outsiders for the conference crown.
But despite not playing the role of favorite in the conference, the mission of closing out the year with a strong effort remains the same.
“The ability to return and deal with the finish of the season has been something that’s been pretty unique for us,” Carroll said at his weekly press conference. “We need to see if we can rediscover that again.”
Although spirits were low following the loss to Oregon, the Trojans have two streaks working in their favor heading into their next game.
USC has not lost consecutive games under Carroll since the coach’s inaugural season. And November has been especially kind to Carroll, who is 27-0 during the month since arriving at USC.
The Trojans hope that those two pieces of recent history will remain on their side this Saturday, when they travel to Tempe, Ariz. to take on Arizona State at 5 p.m. PST.
Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said he expects the Trojans to have no hangover from last week’s Halloween disappointment.
“A lot of teams have gone up to Oregon and had that happen and things just start rolling on you and it’s tough, but that program isn’t where it’s at by not coming back and fighting like heck,” Erickson said at his weekly press conference. “They react pretty well when they get beat.”
Carroll immediately expressed his disappointment in the USC defense after the loss. He noted that most of the problems were schematic and said that he planned to throw out the gameplan that the Trojans had employed.
“What happened is we didn’t play with the same commitment and intensity that we normally do,” Carroll said. “We got caught looking and reaching and grabbing, and it was a nightmare.”
The Trojans are dealing with bruises beyond the ones to their egos. Several players will play through injuries on Saturday, while others will miss the game entirely. Senior tight end Anthony McCoy is among those not expected to play after he was unable to practice throughout the week.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Damian Williams, however, is expected to play, as are running backs junior Joe McKnight and redshirt junior Allen Bradford.
The news of McKnight and Bradford’s health came as a relief for USC, given the task it faces against Arizona State, which ranks No. 4 in the country in run defense. Linebackers senior Mike Nixon and freshman Vontaze Burfict have starred in a unit that already has 13 interceptions this year.
“They’ve pretty much taken the running game away from teams for the most part,” Carroll said. “And it allows their pass rush to get run at you, so we have to deal with that.”
The trip to Tempe represents the Trojans’ last road game of the year. The away games have thoroughly tested USC this year. The game against Cal was the lone road trip in which USC won by more than a touchdown.
“It’s been a difficult year on the road,” Carroll said. “I think our message is to finish this road season on a good note.”
Coming back after a devastating loss would be a tough task, Carroll said. But the USC coach thought his players would not have trouble bouncing back.
“They’re respectable, and they felt the hit,” Carroll said. “But they’re ready to turn and go ahead.”