No. 11 Trojans stagger home to face Stanford

BY foxsports • November 11, 2009

After playing just two games at the Coliseum in the previous nine weeks, the 11th-ranked Trojans finally are back in town to finish out a regular season that could end with anything from another Pac-10 title to a berth in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Starting with Saturday's visit from No. 25 Stanford, USC (7-2, 4-2 Pac-10) will finish its schedule with three straight home games over four weekends. Coach Pete Carroll signed off on this schedule, which loaded the Trojans with tough road games in close succession while playing six of their first nine away, but he's grateful the travel grind from Seattle to South Bend finally has ended.

"We've seen some great stadiums and some great atmospheres," Carroll said Tuesday. "Hopefully as we finish up this year, we can really create a big stir at the Coliseum, and everybody has a great time with it. We'll try to play well enough to get everybody excited, but it's great to be coming back home."

The comforts of home are desperately needed, since USC arguably hasn't been in such a fragile state since Carroll's second year on campus.

After the Trojans' 47-20 loss at Oregon on Halloween in the worst defeat of Carroll's tenure, USC barely survived its trip to face mediocre Arizona State last weekend. The Trojans won 14-9 entirely thanks to a defense that shut down the Sun Devils and scored as many points as USC's offense.

Unless the Trojans' offense gets itself together this week after slipping to the middle of the conference pack over the past two games, the surging Cardinal (6-3, 5-2) will be in position to repeat their victory at the Coliseum in 2007 - and this time, it won't be one of the biggest upsets of the decade.

Carroll is grateful for the familiarity of home in that process. He's also excited to play an afternoon game after a series of late start times across the country, mandated by the Trojans' television drawing power, that also prevent the Trojans from getting into a week-to-week rhythm.

"When you play college football during the day, that's the way we grew up watching it," Carroll said. "Our guys are all checking their watches at 12:30 every day this week, remembering that this is the time that we'll be playing. Other than that, we can't do a whole lot about it, but just make them aware that it's coming four or five hours faster than it usually does. I want them to be excited about the fact that we get to get up in the morning, and off we go."

Maybe that'll also be the wakeup call his offense needs.

Carroll remains staunchly supportive of freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, who's 28 for 60 for 299 yards in the Trojans' last two games. Yet the Trojans' passing offense is now ranked eighth in the Pac-10 with just 221.6 yards per game.

In his least productive game yet, Barkley was almost completely stifled by the Sun Devils, who gave up 75 of his 112 yards passing in Tempe on a single short pass. That ball was turned into a rambling touchdown by Damian Williams, who missed practice Monday with a sprained ankle.

Barkley has a solid completion percentage, but the perils of allowing a freshman to learn on the job - even a freshman with Barkley's prodigious talents - are finally catching up to USC. They're evident all the way to the Trojans' struggles on third-down conversions (32.4 percent).

"We have to continue to compete there," Carroll said. "We're not living up to the standards that we need to play really well. It affects the whole football team when you have to go punt the football again, so we have to get better there."