Tollner Seeks Answers, May Juggle the Lineup

Times Staff Writer

USC had high expectations at the start of the season for apparently legitimate reasons.

The Trojans were mainly a veteran team, especially on offense, and had just won Pacific 10 championship and the Rose Bowl.

Now it’s another season, one that is slipping away fast for Coach Ted Tollner’s team. USC has a mediocre overall record of 4-4 and has been virtually eliminated from the Rose Bowl race with a 3-2 conference record.

Tollner still believes USC has the personnel to be a better team than its record indicates. But the Trojans, Tollner said, are just not executing efficiently on offense, and he is perplexed by the breakdowns. He said that USC’s offensive scheme, the I formation, a staple for the Trojans since the John McKay era in the 1960s, is still best suited to his material.


Tollner is not shirking the responsibility for USC’s disappointing season, and there is a possibility he may make some lineup changes for Saturday’s game with Washington at Seattle.

It was assumed that USC reached the low point of its season Oct. 26 when it was routed by Notre Dame, 37-3, at South Bend, Ind.

But last Saturday’s 14-6 loss to lowly California at Berkeley, a team that USC usually figures to beat handily, may be a new low.

“I thought we had the ingredients from a pure physical standpoint to be a championship team and it’s disappointing that we’re not,” Tollner said. “I know what the outsiders are going to say, that it’s all my fault. I have to take responsibility because that is part of the job.

“I can absorb that but I have to look beyond and say that’s the way it is, but there has to be more to it than that. Why aren’t we making the plays? Why does Al Washington fumble a punt against Cal when we have a chance to win? Why does Hank Norman drop a pass? Why does Sean Salisbury throw over or behind a receiver when he’s open? Why does someone miss a block?”

The questions are obvious, but the answers aren’t as easy for Tollner and his staff.

Is it time to junk the I for another formation?

” . . . in most instances, that (the I formation) isn’t the problem. It’s just the execution of the play. If you’re not executing, you look for other mysterious reasons, and I can’t give you any. All I can give you are the hard facts of football. We’re not executing properly and execution is a coach’s responsibility. So I’m not trying to pass it off.”


Tollner said he’s going to take a hard look at his personnel with the prospect of some lineup changes.

“I want to look at it in more detail and evaluate it more thoroughly than I have,” he said.

USC failed to score a touchdown in losses to Arizona State (24-0), Notre Dame and Cal. The Trojans were averaging 203.3 yards rushing before the Cal game, but gained only 130 yards against the Bears, who were yielding an average of 187 yards rushing a game.

So what went wrong?

“Going into the game we thought that Cal would be vulnerable to the running game,” Tollner said. “We had some excellent field position in the second half and thought that now is the time to go after them. It was a matchup in our favor against a team that has had trouble stopping the rush. But we didn’t get it done.

“A variety of people missed blocks. Or, someone wouldn’t hit the right hole. It only takes one guy to have a breakdown and it takes only one play on a drive to have some problems.”

“We still have a chance for a winning year and to feel good about ourselves,” he said. “There’s a potential for a bowl berth if we can pull ourselves together. We are doing what we believe gives us our best chance to win. We’ll make some minor adjustments but, for the most part, it isn’t the design that has caused our problems as it is the execution. The disheartening thing is that the plays are there to be successful.”


Time, however, is running out on the Trojans.

Trojan Notes Even if USC wins the rest of its games against Washington, UCLA and Oregon, it would be eliminated from the Rose Bowl by finishing in a tie for the title with either Arizona State or Arizona due to conference tiebreaking procedures. Arizona State has a 4-1 conference record with games remaining against Stanford and Arizona. The Wildcats are 3-2 with Oregon and ASU left on the schedule. If either Arizona school wins Saturday, USC is mathematically eliminated from the Rose Bowl race. Washington (4-2), like USC, is barely alive in the race. Last year, the championship race came down to the winner of the USC-Washington game in the second week of November with USC winning, 16-7, at the Coliseum. . . . It isn’t coincidental, perhaps, that Cal and Notre Dame gained more than 200 yards rushing against USC in the absence of nose guard Tony Colorito, who is inactive with a sprained left ankle. Colorito is doubtful for the Washington game, and so is tailback Aaron Emanuel, who didn’t play against Cal due to a sprained ankle. But offensive guard Tom Hallock, who has been sidelined with a sprained knee, may be available for Saturday’s game. . . . Ted Tollner said that USC got a bad mark on the ball in the closing minutes of the Cal game. On third and 12 from the Cal 49, Sean Salisbury threw a sideline pass to Hank Norman for an apparent first down, according to television replays. But USC was credited with an 11-yard gain setting up Salisbury’s fourth-and-one pass that just went beyond the outstretched hands of tight end Joe Cormier at the Cal 11. “It’s about as poor a mark as I’ve seen,” Tollner said of the third-down pass. “At that stage, we had two choices, make the first down and eat up some more time, or go for it all and then try to get the ball back on an onside kick.” Tollner said USC wasn’t playing for a tie but was still trying to win. . . . USC has made only 42% of its third-down conversions this season, 55 out of 131 attempts.