After suffering their worst loss since 1997, the No. 12 Trojans took their first step toward turning the page Monday by trying to put the pieces back together on the practice field.
USC struggled on both sides of the ball during what was perhaps the most humiliating defeat of the Pete Carroll era, but the coach said he liked what he saw out of his players at Monday’s practice and expects his team to play strong throughout its remaining schedule.
“We had a very good first day of the week, better than the last couple Mondays for obvious reasons, but it was a very sharp day,” he said. “We’ll just do it one day at a time, and that’s how you rebuild the mentality.”
Once labeled USC’s strength, the Trojans’ defense appeared helpless Saturday. It surrendered 47 points and 613 total yards to the No. 8 Ducks in a game that many thought would be a tight battle. But Carroll said most of the blame falls on the coaches, not the players.
“The guys were mentally bottled up with the stuff we were doing,” Carroll said. “We tried to scheme in too much. So we made mistakes we normally wouldn’t make. We didn’t play the way we’d normally play. It was a disastrous outcome when they were able to run the ball like that.”
Carroll, who said he felt sick after watching tape of the 47-20 loss in Eugene, Ore., was referring to the 391 rushing yards the Trojans gave up on the ground. He said he originally liked the gameplan he and his coaches set up, and that it may have worked with last year’s veteran defense, but it didn’t hit right on Saturday.
The players, like Carroll, believe they need to stop thinking about Saturday and start looking forward. Redshirt sophomore middle linebacker Chris Galippo, who was one of many Trojans held out of practice Monday due to injury, said the defense needs to learn from its mistakes.
“We’re just going back to basics and taking it one step at a time,” Galippo said. “We’re not putting our heads in our laps, but keeping our heads up and just finishing the season out. You just never know what’s going to happen. Don’t count us out.”
Some critics have argued that the Pac-10 is one of the weaker conferences when compared to the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten. But Carroll said the conference is strong from top to bottom this year with great quarterbacking and speedy defenses. He said USC will have a tough opponent every week from here on out.
“The comparisons will hopefully be made when it comes bowl time when everybody gets to play,” he said. “This conference — and I talked about it at the beginning of the year — is better than I thought it was going to be, and I thought it was going to be pretty strong anyway.”
The upcoming opponents might be even tougher for USC due to the injury bug that has plagued the team recently.
Galippo did not practice Monday because he suffered a neck injury Saturday. He had an MRI and X-rays, but said he feels fine and will be ready to practice Tuesday.
Junior running back Joe McKnight was also held out of practice due to a number of injuries, the biggest of which is his hurt ankle. But like Galippo, McKnight said he thinks he’ll be ready to go for Saturday’s game.
Redshirt junior Damian Williams also did not suit up yesterday because he is nursing a sore glute muscle that he re-aggravated against Oregon. He said he feels stronger than he did last week, but he is still sore.
Junior linebacker Malcolm Smith was originally diagnosed with a cracked shoulder after a collision in Saturday’s contest. Carroll said, however, that an MRI showed no crack, so the coach is not sure if or when Smith will return. Redshirt sophomore Shane Horton would start in his place.
Junior defensive end Everson Griffen also did not practice due to a sprained toe. Carroll said he will know more about the injury Tuesday night.
Junior wide receiver Ronald Johnson also did not appear at practice due to sickness.