Monday, September 17, 2012

USC Locker Room Mess

When USC tight end Randall Telfair admitted after the Stanford loss that the Trojans weren't prepared, he wasn't kidding. He made public something that had apparently been concerning insiders all week.

Two sources close to the team confide that many of the players have been inflicted with the swelled-head syndrome that comes from wallowing in gushing press hype. Apparently last week's practices weren't that intense, with players assuming that Stanford, without the great QB Andrew Luck, wasn't good enough to beat mighty USC and that the Trojan passing game would decimate that Cardinal secondary, which has three new starters.

The Holmes factor, say the sources, was a big factor in the loss. USC knew that center Khaled Holmes wasn't going to play and that his replacement was an inexperienced freshman. According to the sources, all the hype about QB Matt Barkley and WRs Marquise Lee and Robert Woods overshadows that fact that Holmes is clearly the team's MVP. He doesn't play, USC doesn't win. With him healthy, say the sources, the Trojans beat the Cardinal. It's partly mental. The confidence of Barkley and the rest of the O-line dips when Holmes doesn't play. Some of the players underestimated Luck-less Stanford and figured the Cardinal was a dead duck, even without Holmes.

The Trojans, say the sources, were lulled by the San Jose State game, which Stanford barely won, 20-17. Stanford QB Josh Nunes blundered badly in that game. But the Nunes who played against USC was different--many, many times better, his learning curve up sharply. The Cardinal wasn't ready for that Nunes.

One of the sources singled out the USC wide receivers as the most unfocused lot. Their heads, he noted, weren't totally into the practices. You could tell that in the game, particularly with Woods, who looked, at times, like he was in a daze, running poor routes. Lee wasn't much better.

Apparently there was much tension in the locker room all last week. Some veterans were trying to pump some sense into the unfocused players, but were not successful. So, after a lazy week of half-hearted practice and nasty intra-player tension, USC simply wasn't ready for the Cardindal, particularly for those tough, beefy linemen who gobbled up the Trojans. Freshman center Cyrus Hobbi, say the sources, was destroyed by the Stanford line, both mentally and physically.

Since the game, the sources report, the USC locker-room tension is even worse, with some players angry at the ones who were practicing last week at half speed.

The team is in a deep funk. The sources say Barkley, whose Heisman hopes have dimmed to a flicker, is furious with his teammates who, he feels, let him down. That attitude, of course, adds to the tension. The question is: can the Trojans spiral out of this darkness in time to prepare properly for the Cal game on Saturday?