NCF Nation: Patrick Turner

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

PASADENA, Calif. -- First of all, USC coach Pete Carroll admits the Trojans didn't distinguish themselves in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi.

"We curled up in the fourth quarter," he said. "We sucked in the fourth quarter."

But, he noted, his team just whipped the Nittany Lions 38-24 after leading 31-7 entering the final frame.

"We gave them a chance to keep the score close, but it really wasn't that close of a football game," he said. "With all due respect -- I think they're a terrific team -- but we ran away with it."

And Carroll -- and his players -- also think this: "I don't think anybody can beat us."

In other words, as happy as USC was with winning another Rose Bowl, the program is still smarting from its exclusion from a chance to prove itself the nation's best team.

"I feel like we can beat anybody in the country," receiver Patrick Turner said. "We wish there was a playoff."

Carroll was quick to point to the Pac-10's redeeming bowl season. After being maligned much of the year, the conference went 5-0 in bowl games, beating four ranked teams and teams from four other BCS conferences.

The Pac-10 should end up with four teams ranked in the final top-25 poll.

"It obviously shows the regard for the [Pac-10] schedule wasn't proper, was not right, was not accurate," Carroll said. "I know [the bowl record] is a pretty cool fact when you're comparing stuff right now. It's interesting."

There is the chance that the Trojans will get some sympathy from AP voters, who have the option to rank them No. 1.

"I hope this helps whoever is out there in a dark cave doing all the BCS math," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "I hope they watched this game."

Or, as safety Taylor Mays said: "Vote for us!"

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

USC coach Pete Carroll spent part of last night's Rose Bowl conference call defending his team's desire to play yet another game in Pasadena. 

Carroll said all the right things, reaffirmed his love for the Rose Bowl, how it's always USC's top goal, yada, yada, yada. The coach said claims that USC isn't amped to face another supposedly overmatched Big Ten team stemmed solely from the media. 

"Watch the interviews from our players and coaches," Carroll said. "We're pumped about this opportunity, excited, feel honored that we have this matchup. Everything else you hear to the contrary is written by people from the media side of it. That's not our guys talking. It's never what we've been about. 

"Every single day we walk off the practice field, we see the Rose Bowl at the end of the tunnel, everybody knows that's what we're shooting for. There's no doubt about it. We're all pumped up about this."

There's no doubt Carroll is pumped. He'd be geeked to play in the International Bowl and request the game be moved outside. That's one of the reasons he's so easy to like. 

But it's hard to believe his players are itching to face another Big Ten team in the Rose Bowl after dominating Illinois and Michigan the last two seasons.  

Here's how Trojans defensive tackle Kyle Moore characterized the BCS after his team finished off UCLA on Saturday.

"They did us wrong," he said. "They did us dirty. We were No. 5 [in the BCS poll], we win 56-0 [against Washington], then they moved us down to No. 7. We've been trying to move back to that spot since then. I don't know how this BCS works." 

Enter teammate Patrick Turner

"We've been going to Rose Bowls for a while now," Turner said. "It's like a home game."

The Trojans don't seem too excited, and their interest in the game -- or lack thereof -- could benefit Penn State come Jan. 1. 

Penn State has enough talent to pace the Trojans, but given USC's amazing track record in bowl games under Carroll, any intangible edge the Lions can get will be beneficial. 

Carroll is a master motivator, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if USC gets to the right mental state before kickoff. But Penn State has been disrespected more than USC this season, and there's no doubt Joe Paterno's players will be ready for the Rose Bowl.

The Lions were totally dismissed from the national title picture after a 1-point road loss to a pretty good Iowa team. They inexplicably fell to No. 8 in the BCS standings -- behind inferior squads in Utah and Texas Tech -- and drew criticism for their conference affiliation more than anything they did on the field. 

Penn State has an excellent opportunity to show it's not another Big Ten flop, that it can compete with the nation's best.

The Lions have plenty of reasons to get excited for the Rose Bowl. 

Does USC?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Pete Carroll recognized the sea of skeptical looks that surrounded him. He had just announced that he was satisfied with his offense's performance in a 17-3 win over California, and he knew that the gaggle of reporters wasn't buying what he was selling.

 
  Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIRE
 USC coach Pete Carroll wasn't sweating his team's lackluster offensive performance in a 17-3 win over Cal.

Sure, Cal has a good defense. But the Bears give up 21 points per game, so USC's performance was below average.

And the talent on the Trojans offense isn't below average.

It was all part of the plan, Carroll countered. He and the offensive coaches had pulled hard on the reins of quarterback Mark Sanchez and his teammates, knowing that the Bears had forced more turnovers than any other Pac-10 team.

"You guys don't understand that in this game we were very concerned about their defense taking the football away from us," Carroll explained. "Mark was schooled all week long to not take any chances down the field, to not feel bad about dumping the ball off or throwing the ball away, so we don't give them a chance to do what they do so well. I thought he did a beautiful job of that today."

Hmm.

Sanchez's numbers were, well, fine. He completed 18 of 29 passes for 238 yards with two touchdowns and -- most importantly -- no interceptions.

But still. 17 points?

Carroll would be glad to know that Sanchez, who was hardly his typical buoyant self after the game, stayed on message, despite questions probing for frustration or self-doubt.

"I didn't throw four touchdowns or for 400 yards but this is just as sweet. I played like this team needed me to tonight," he said. "They can't all be 52-7, 69-0 or 56-0."

Those are previous USC blowout wins. But a team fighting to get back into the national title race can never have too many blowout wins.

The numbers weren't bad. The Trojans gained 411 yards, including 173 on the ground. They only had one turnover, a Joe McKnight fumble in Cal territory after a spectacular run. They averaged 6.2 yards per play.

Part of the problem was Cal's well-executed plan to play keep-away with the Trojans. Through three quarters, the Bears had nearly an eight-minute advantage in time of possession.

Still, USC didn't get adequate value out of nine trips into Bears territory, in large part because they were 4 of 11 on third down.

Asked about third down, Carroll immediately started waxing poetic about his defense, which again was, to use his term, "crazy lights-out."

He's right about that, with linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing and safety Taylor Mays combining for 24 tackles and many crazy-lights-out hits in another utterly dominant performance.

But the question was about his offense.

"I don't know," Carroll said. "I'll have to go back and look at what the issues were. I know we were a little bit off."

Receiver Patrick Turner hauled in a 19-yard touchdown from Sanchez on a beautiful throw through a small window in the Bears zone. It was one of the few offensive highlights, but Turner didn't have an explanation for why his unit isn't more consistent nine games into the season or what they might do to fix the problems.

"That's not my job -- I don't know," he said. "I just run what I'm supposed to run."

Turner then volunteered that it's the "little things" derailing the offense. Center Kristofer O'Dowd said it was "missed assignments" and not being familiar with Cal's unusual 3-4 defensive front. Receiver Ronald Johnson, who caught the other Sanchez TD pass, offered that it was hard to pass because the Bears drop so many players into coverage.

Each offered that "a win is a win."

But every win isn't equal in the BCS system, and as good as the defense was, pollsters might raise a skeptical eyebrow at 17 points.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
 Matt Brown/Icon SMI
 USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian would "love someday to be a head football coach."

USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is a hot head-coaching prospect and runs a unit that -- if recruiting rankings are to be believed -- is almost as talented annually as any in the nation.

Of course, when an offense is perceived as owning elite talent, the margin for error is small and fans are quick to criticize when things aren't perfect. More than a few believe the Trojans 32.6 points and 434.9 yards per game in 2007 qualified as underachieving, regardless of the critical injuries at many key positions.

So with just four starters back on offense, what's in store in 2008? Is quarterback Mark Sanchez the man? What's up with the logjams at tailback and receiver? And is an offensive line with just one returning starter in trouble?

Sark stopped by for a chat.

What did Mark Sanchez do in the spring to jump ahead in the quarterback race?

Steve Sarkisian: The first thing that jumps out is he has a great comfort level with the offense. He does a nice job handling the offense as far as making the proper checks, the audibles, getting the ball into guys' hands quickly. But on top of that I think we felt and saw his energetic leadership. We saw a charismatic guy who loved to come out and work and practice every day and I think it was contagious for the entire football team. Those are some of the qualities you like to see in a leader, a guy who makes those around him better.

Is there a chance that someone else will start at quarterback in the opener at Virginia?

SS: Up until now [Sanchez] won the job. But we're going to give those other guys their opportunities in fall camp to go out and compete and prove they're worthy of playing time. But up until this point, Mark is the guy for us.

It seems like the competition remains wide-open at tailback, with a bunch of guys who could end up starting or at least get a lot of carries: How does the pecking order stack up there?

SS: If we were going to play today you'd see three guys: You'd see Joe McKnight. You'd see Stafon Johnson. You'd see C.J. Gable. For sure those three. But I think you're also going to get a little dose of Allen Bradford as well. Now that doesn't mean Allen Bradford couldn't be the lead dog by the end of camp. And that doesn't mean Marc Tyler or Broderick Green couldn't get in the mix. But coming out of spring football, those three guys really established themselves. And Allen Bradford made a lot of noise.

You guys have so many talented running backs, but has there been much discussion among the coaches about maybe picking one horse, one guy who gets 25 carries a game?

SS: Not really. We've always had -- go back to when it was Justin Fargas and Sultan McCullough -- we've always had sort of a two-horse-type backfield with a third guy who was kind of a variety-type guy who can do a lot of different things. So we've always been that way. Sure, preferably you'd like it to be two solid guys where you know what you're getting. But right now we're looking at three or four guys. But I think that kind of stuff kind of settles itself out. Injuries come into play and guys step up. But it's good to know we've got that luxury at that position because it is a tough position to sustain and stay healthy at. As you saw last year. The moment Stafon Johnson established himself as the back, he got hurt and then Chauncey Washington played and Joe McKnight stepped up when we lost C.J. Gable after the third game. So, obvious, it's a luxury to have three guys there -- or four or five.

Same thing at receiver: What's the pecking order there?

 
 AP Photo/John Froschauer
 Wide receiver Patrick Turner had 48 catches for 569 yards last year, including 3 scores.

SS: Coming out of spring football you really saw Vidal Hazelton really rise to the challenge. He was a [50]-catch guy as a sophomore and really was playing injured. He got healthy during spring football and looked fantastic. Patrick Turner, I think, is poised for a big-time senior season, and Damian Williams, a transfer from Arkansas, really impressed people. The two young guys, David Ausberry and Ronald Johnson, really stepped up in spring and got better. Then there are some dark horses in there: Travon Patterson, and a true freshman by the name of Brice Butler is coming into the mix. I think it is a really good position group for us because we've got a lot of depth there. But, again, we're looking for two or three guys to really step up and take over that spot and be the go-to guys for us.

The receivers as a group took some criticism last year. Was that fair? Were you disappointed in some of the production?

SS: Well, I think as a group offensively we were disappointed in ourselves as a whole. That position group was young and inexperienced and had some drops early in the season. And to compound that they were replacing maybe the greatest tandem of receivers in college football history in Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett. I think that made that discrepancy even bigger. There was a lot of pressure on them last year, but I really like how they ended the year. They grew up. I like the way Vidal ended the year. It was unfortunate that Patrick Turner couldn't pla
y in the bowl game. But he got better during the year. And I think David Ausberry got better and Ronald Johnson got better and it carried over to spring practice. They'll be ready for fall camp.

The offensive line needs four new starters. Is this a reload or rebuild?

SS: Last year we were hit with an injury bug up front all last year; it seemed like every week we had a different starting five. That forced a lot of our young kids to have to play last year, whether that was Charles Brown or Zach Heberer or Kristofer O'Dowd, the true freshman. So those guys got a lot more experience than I think people realize. It sounds like we're an inexperienced group because we're replacing four starters. But in reality these guys have played a lot of football and we're excited about them. This is an ornery group. They're competitive and athletic and tough and nasty. I think realistically we're a good eight deep with guys who can play. The challenge for us is to just get cohesive as we go through fall camp.

Of the guys we maybe haven't heard much about, who's going to break out this year?

SS: I don't know how to answer that. We've got a lot of kids who are very talented who have kind of just waited for their opportunity. The guy who jumps out at me is [tight end] Anthony McCoy, the guy who's played behind Fred Davis the last couple of years. I'm anxious to see [fullback] Stanley Havili as a sophomore. Damian Williams the transfer from Arkansas. And I'm anxious to see our quarterback play. I expect him to play really well and I think he expects to play really well. I wouldn't be surprised if he went out and had a great year.

Your name seems to come up a lot during coaching searches the past couple of years. What are your thoughts on your future as far as becoming a head coach? Do you have a timeline? Are you anxious about it?

SS: There's no question I'd love someday to be a head football coach. But I'm extremely fortunate. I am at a tremendous place at a tremendous time. Pete Carroll has been very good to me. We're winning. We've got great kids. We get to live in Los Angeles. I love it. I'm in no rush to get out of here. Every day is learning, watching how Pete handles our football team. I have fun going to work every day. So, yeah, I want to be a head football coach. But I'm not in any rush.

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