Is Pete Carroll still a coaching whiz when given a month to prepare for a team?
By Scott Wolf
Give a coach a month to prepare for an opponent and you would not find a hotter name than USCs Pete Carroll. At least that was the belief a year ago.
But Carrolls reputation for getting better with time took a bit of a beating at last years Rose Bowl, when Texas quarterback Vince Young befuddled the Trojans defense.
It did not help that even a special defense designed for the Rose Bowl barely got used.
“We had a defense where we tried to bring the ends up to contain the quarterback, but we never ran it, USC linebacker Oscar Lua said. “I asked Coach, `Why arent we running the defense? He said, `Right now isnt the time.
Said linebacker Brian Cushing: “We ran a lot of plays in our base defense.
Carroll sees it quite differently, of course.
“We thought wed be able to tackle (Young) and there was too much space and he was a very elusive guy to get, he said. “It wasnt the designed running plays that killed us, it was the scrambles.
Thats a contrast to the 2004 Rose Bowl, when Carroll installed cornerback blitzes that totally changed the game and allowed USC to defeat Michigan 28-14. USC sacked Wolverines quarterback John Navarre nine times, even though he was only sacked 15 times the entire season.
“We had (cornerback) Will Poole blitzing and we knew they were a big passing team, Lua said. “But now they have a good running game to complement it. I think we have to do something that they havent seen on film.
Carroll said you cant just order changes with a month off and get them to work effectively in a game.
“Its not that easy, he said. “We had a great pass rush that day. That much time is a plus to do stuff but its not a guaranteed success.
So which Carroll will USC get on New Years Day? The one who devised a special defense that worked against Michigan or the one who could not stop Young?
USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said fans need to realize that putting in gimmicks is not necessarily a recipe for success in bowl games.
“He does a great job of knowing the game plan is for the players and not for him, Kiffin said. “Hes so smart, it could be hard for him to do only what the players are capable but he knows he cant put everything he thinks about into a game plan. Sometimes you can only take two things. Hes that good to realize it and pick the right things. He can process so many things.
Kiffin believes the key to Carrolls success is an ability to squeeze 28 hours of work into a normal 18-hour work day.
Its not unusual to see Carroll in his office late at night watching film after the rest of the coaching staff goes home.
“That happens all the time, Kiffin said. “He works a ton of hours. Anybody can be in the office, but he utilizes the time better than anyone. He can be talking to me about recruiting and watching tape.
“And hes getting both things done. He doesnt get things done half way.
Another indication of Carrolls prowess when given extra time, according to Kiffin, is his record in season openers, which provides even more opportunities than a bowl game.
“If you give him a month, hes even better, Kiffin said. “Just like the season openers. Actually, hes just good period.
Carroll is 6-0 in season openers with two victories over Auburn and this years rout of Arkansas. He is 3-2 in bowl games, with losses in the 2001 Vegas Bowl and the 2006 Rose Bowl to Texas.
But 12 months ago, Carroll was a bowl genius following the 55-19 rout of Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl.
“I dont really talk about (bowl adjustments), thats something (the media) talks about, Carroll said. “Every coach does it.
So much of the adjustments that Carrolls known for are defensive, but hes also involved with the offense. What if Michigan tries to emulate UCLAs defense, which limited the Trojans offense to seven points.
“We couldnt really adjust and when we did, UCLA did something different, wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett said. “If Michigan does, well be ready because the coaches went into the lab and got ready.
Kiffin said he does not believe Michigan will use UCLA as a model for the Rose Bowl.
“I really doubt Michigan would change what they are doing, Kiffin said. “They lead the country in rushing defense. Theyre the best defense on film weve seen.
In Carrolls defense, Cushing said some changes made for the Rose Bowl did not work because of Young.
“Things worked better in practice than in the game, Cushing said. “I havent seen anyone like that in my life.