Trojans tune up for rare home game
LOS ANGELES (AP)Even a seasoned, successful coach such as Pete Carroll can catch a little homesickness.
Thanks to a curiously end-loaded schedule, No. 4 Southern California has spent nearly all season on the road. The Trojans (5-1, 2-1 Pac-10) have played at the Coliseum just twice this season, and both games were easy wins against the two weakest teams on their schedule.
All of USC's biggest games have been away from Los Angeles, including their upset loss to Washington and their victories over Ohio State, California and Notre Dame. Although the Trojans still have just that one defeat, it's not an easy way to stay in national title contention halfway through the season.
"It really does seem like we haven't been home much," said Carroll, whose Trojans host Oregon State on Saturday night. "We've been road warriors, and out and about. We've had a great time on the trips, and we've grown from it. It's wonderful to be back and playing in front of our home crowd, though."
The multi-game road trips don't end yet, either. After hosting the Beavers (4-2, 2-1) in a rematch with the only team that beat them last year, the Trojans will head out for perilous back-to-back road games at Oregon on Halloween night and at Arizona State next month.
In all, six of USC's first nine games are on the road - not exactly the ideal slate for staying in title contention with a freshman quarterback. Even if the Trojans get by Oregon State, the Ducks next week will have a considerable home-field advantage at Autzen Stadium for a showdown that could decide the Pac-10 title.
"We're going to try to max that out and make it a great homecoming and get this thing started in the second half," Carroll said. "We know we have a lot of home games in the second half of the season. It would be great to get off on the good foot here at the Coliseum against Oregon State."
The Trojans have lost just once at the Coliseum since his second year in charge in 2002, with nine of their 10 losses in that eight-year stretch either on the road or in the Rose Bowl.
Yet Carroll has managed to turn this season's disadvantages into tests for his team, cementing the us-against-the-world mentality that follows the Pac-10's premier program into most of its road games.
"We actually like going on the road," linebacker Michael Morgan said. "There's a little more excitement, a little more energy from the fans getting into it. Everybody gets excited and wants to come out when USC is in town, and we like it."
The Trojans appear fully recovered from last weekend's trip when they "beat Notre Dame twice," as Carroll repeatedly said with a laugh.
And he wasn't just talking about the extra second put back on the clock to allow the Irish one last failed chance for a potential game-tying touchdown. The Trojans led by 20 points early in the fourth quarter, but Matt Barkley's late interception helped Notre Dame's comeback, which died just short of the goal line in USC's 34-27 win.
"There's a lot of stuff we take out of that game," Carroll said. "Getting a chance for our young kids to go back to Notre Dame and get that experience and understand what that's all about. Of course, for the quarterback, it was great for him. But we also learned a lot about how you can turn a game by your own mistakes and things, as we did in the fourth quarter. We almost gave them a chance to get back into that thing."
Carroll also doesn't expect any letdown this time after a Midwest road trip. Last month, some wondered whether the emotion of the Trojans' win at Ohio State contributed to their dismal play against the Huskies one week later.
"The difference is we're playing at home," Carroll said. "It's a different follow-up week in terms of travel and all that kind of stuff, so that changes it some. We're going to try to put together a great prep. Obviously the Pac-10, whoever it is, gets our attention."