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Carroll sees the system as USC’s salvation

Times Staff Writer

Pete Carroll and his USC players grew accustomed to a routine and the feeling that accompanied it.

For more than three years, save for the week before openers, the Trojans reported to practices during the regular season buoyed by victories and confident about their chances of eventually playing for a national title.

But after losing at Oregon State and observing his players during a somber plane ride home, Carroll acknowledged Sunday that today would be different.

“It’s a bit of a shift and it calls for a shift,” Carroll said. “You’ve got to make sure we’re on track. ... But this is not a reason for us to change much. We’re not dumping on things because we lost a game.

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“Even more so, we go to what we always do and rely on the system and repetition of it to get us back.”

The 33-31 loss Saturday dropped the previously unbeaten Trojans from third to eighth in the Bowl Championship Series standings and from third to ninth in the Associated Press media poll.

Carroll, who had briefly addressed the national championship race with his players in the locker room after the game, said that he would not do so again.

“Me stressing that right now, that’s a waste of time,” he said. “We have to go play Stanford. ... The rest of it takes care of itself in due time.”

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One of Carroll’s more immediate concerns is monitoring the mood of a team, and a program, that have not dealt with a regular-season defeat since a triple-overtime loss at California on Sept. 27, 2003.

“It’s important at first to watch everybody and to see how guys are reacting to it, because not everybody will handle it the same,” Carroll said. “That’s a real important part of the coaches’ job this week. ... Every experience is brand new to these young guys.”

For many veterans too.

Junior receiver Dwayne Jarrett, for example, had lost only one game in his career. Texas’ 41-38 Rose Bowl victory over the Trojans ended a 34-game USC winning streak that began the week after the defeat at Berkeley.

After the loss Saturday, which ended USC’s 27-game Pacific 10 Conference winning streak, Jarrett sat in his dressing stall and attempted to grasp the concept of losing during the regular season.

“It’s definitely weird,” he said.

Carroll is hoping that the Trojans will rebound from their turnover-plagued performance against Oregon State the same way the 2003 team did after the Cal loss.

USC finished 12-1 and won the AP national title.

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To reach anything resembling that goal, the Trojans must reduce their turnovers and cause opponents to commit more of them.

USC, which has annually been among the national leaders in turnover margin, had four turnovers against Oregon State and did not create one. The Trojans are minus-14 for the season.

“This is the lowest turnover ratio we’ve had this late in the season, I think, at any time since we’ve been here,” said Carroll, who is in his sixth season. “It’s just been a monthlong drought.”

Said defensive end Lawrence Jackson: “You have to think that if you go five years or so just beating people up and taking the ball, at some point in time it’s going to start getting hard.”

Carroll said avoiding and causing fumbles would remain a focus as the Trojans prepare for their final five games against Stanford, Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame and UCLA.

“I’m looking for attention to detail about the football -- more than ever, because it cooked us this time,” he said.

Tailback Chauncey Washington fumbled twice against Oregon State.

“When you’re the lead back, you get the ball in your hands a lot,” Carroll said. “He’s got to be the best we have at it. ... We’ll be real hard on him about it. The emphasis will be firmly applied.”

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Carroll said quarterback John David Booty underthrew a pass to Jarrett that was intercepted in the end zone but that Oregon State safety Bryan Payton made a great play to come up with the ball.

Booty’s last pass on a two-point conversion attempt was tipped away by a defensive lineman, a problem that has plagued the fourth-year junior in practices and games.

“It does happen some, but there’s nothing that we can do more than try to create our passing lanes, and he does some subtle moves to find space to throw the football,” Carroll said. “It was very unfortunate that happened on the last play.”

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gary.klein@latimes.com


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