Carroll: Third downs are USC's Achilles' heel.
LOS ANGELES -- As strong as USC might have looked last Saturday at Notre Dame, no team ever plays a perfect game. The fifth-ranked Trojans have left a lot to be desired in third-down situations, according to coach Pete Carroll.
"We're not effective on either side of the ball on third down right now, and we're really concerned," Carroll said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "It's been the story for a while, which I'm not really happy about, because we haven't changed it and fixed it."
The Trojans (6-1, 2-1 Pac-10) converted only four of 11 third-down plays in their 45-14 romp at South Bend, making them 29-for-90 this season. The only time they got more than four extra sets of downs in a game was two weeks ago at home against Stanford, when they were 6-for-13 in a 44-21 victory.
"It's not about us being predictable," Carroll said. "It's just about executing in that situation. So I don't think it's the other team. It's us."
The Trojans haven't been much better when their opponents have the ball on third down. Over the last four weeks, the defense has remained on the field after 30 of 68 of those situations.
"Quite often," Carroll said, "it comes down to one guy -- the guy who has to make the grab, or pick up the blitz, or cover the receiver. So it comes down to a one-on-one (confrontation), and we try to focus on that. But we haven't been getting as much of that as we would like."
There is no reason to think the Trojans have it all figured out heading into Saturday's game at Washington, which begins a season-ending stretch of five games against Pac-10 foes.
Carroll doesn't anticipate an emotional letdown by his Trojans, who won at Notre Dame for just the second time since 1983 and matched their most lopsided victory ever against the Fighting Irish in a rivalry that goes back 77 years.
"That was a great day, but that thing's behind us already and over with," said Carroll, whose team's only loss was to California in triple overtime on Sept. 27 at Berkeley.
The unranked Huskies (4-3, 2-1 Pac-10), were ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll until their 46-16 loss at UCLA, which preceded an embarrassing 28-17 home loss to Nevada. But they have appeared to get themselves back on track, as evidenced by Saturday's 38-17 win at Oregon State.
The Trojans have won three straight and 14 of 15. But they have lost nine of the past 13 road games against the Huskies -- including their previous visit two years ago on a last-second, 32-yard field goal by John Anderson -- and are looking to win there for the first time in 10 years.
"They look very dangerous, and I know that they're feeling they've got a chance to fight for this championship, too," Carroll said. "So the way we look at it, it's a championship matchup for us and we've got to go get it."
Sophomore quarterback Matt Leinart, who set career highs with 351 yards, 26 completions and four touchdown passes against Notre Dame, is looking to keep it rolling against the Huskies.
Through the first seven games, the left-hander's numbers are comparable to what Carson Palmer put up last season through the first seven games of his Heisman Trophy campaign. Leinart has a better completion average than Palmer (.620 to .603), with four more TD passes and seven interceptions -- the same total Palmer had at this stage last year.
"He's so confident right now, and he's had a lot to work with," Carroll said. "He's had a real good running game, he's had the receivers working their routes and getting open, and coach (Norm) Chow is calling stuff at the right time to give him good opportunities."
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