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PREPARATION TIME IS DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD WHAT WORKED FOR USC BEFORE, DIDN'T IN 2006.

Byline: SCOTT WOLF Staff Writer

Give a coach a month to prepare for an opponent, and you would not find a hotter name than USC's Pete Carroll. At least that was the belief a year ago.

But Carroll's reputation for getting better with time took a bit of a beating at last year's Rose Bowl, when University of Texas quarterback Vince Young befuddled the Trojans' defense.

It did not help that a special defense designed for the Rose Bowl barely got used.

``We had a defense where we tried to bring the ends up to contain the quarterback, but we never ran it,'' USC linebacker Oscar Lua said. ``I asked coach, `Why aren't we running the defense?' He said, `Right now isn't the time.' ''

Said linebacker Brian Cushing: ``We ran a lot of plays in our base defense.''

Carroll sees it quite differently, of course.

``We thought we'd be able to tackle (Young) and there was too much space and he was a very elusive guy to get,'' he said. ``It wasn't the designed running plays that killed us, it was the scrambles.''

That's a contrast to the 2004 Rose Bowl, when Carroll installed cornerback blitzes that totally changed the game and allowed USC to defeat Michigan 28-14.

USC sacked Wolverines quarterback John Navarre nine times, even though he was only sacked 15 times the entire season.

``We had (cornerback) Will Poole blitzing and we knew they were a big passing team,'' Lua said. ``But now they have a good running game to complement it.

``I think we have to do something that they haven't seen on film.''

Carroll said you can't just order changes with a month off and get them to work effectively in a game.

``It's not that easy,'' he said. ``We had a great pass rush that day. That much time is a plus to do stuff, but it's not a guaranteed success.''

So which Carroll will USC get on New Year's Day? The one who devised a special defense that worked against Michigan or the one who could not stop Young?

USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said fans need to realize that putting in gimmicks is not necessarily a recipe for success in bowl games.

``He does a great job of knowing the game plan is for the players and not for him,'' Kiffin said. ``He's so smart, it could be hard for him to do only what the players are capable but he knows he can't put everything he thinks about into a game plan. Sometimes you can only take two things. He's that good to realize it and pick the right things. He can process so many things.''

Kiffin said he believes the key to Carroll's success is an ability to squeeze 28 hours of work into a normal 18-hour work day.

It's not unusual to see Carroll in his office late at night watching film after the rest of the coaching staff goes home.

``That happens all the time,'' Kiffin said. ``He works a ton of hours.

``Anybody can be in the office, but he utilizes the time better than anyone. He can be talking to me about recruiting and watching tape.

``And he's getting both things done. He doesn't get things done halfway.''

Another indication of Carroll's prowess when given extra time, according to Kiffin, is his record in season openers, which provides even more opportunities than a bowl game.

``If you give him a month, he's even better,'' Kiffin said. ``Just like the season openers. Actually, he's just good, period.''

Carroll is 6-0 in season openers with two victories over Auburn and this year's rout of Arkansas. He is 3-2 in bowl games, with losses in the 2001 Vegas Bowl and the 2006 Rose Bowl to Texas.

But before the Rose Bowl loss, Carroll was hailed as a bowl genius following the 55-19 rout of Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl.

``I don't really talk about (bowl adjustments), that's something (the media) talks about,'' Carroll said. ``Every coach does it.''

So many of the adjustments that Carroll's known for are defensive, but he's also involved with the offense. What if Michigan tries to emulate UCLA's defense, which limited the Trojans' offense to seven points?

``We couldn't really adjust and when we did, UCLA did something different,'' wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett said. ``If Michigan does, we'll be ready because the coaches went into the lab and got ready.''

Kiffin said he does not believe Michigan will use UCLA as a model for the Rose Bowl.

``I really doubt Michigan would change what they are doing,'' Kiffin said.

``They lead the country in rushing defense. They're the best defense on film we've seen.''

In Carroll's defense, Cushing said some changes made for the Rose Bowl did not work because of Young.

``Things worked better in practice than in the game,'' Cushing said. ``I haven't seen anyone like that in my life.''

scott.wolf@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

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(color) For the 2006 Rose Bowl, USC coach Pete Carroll designed a special defense to contain Vince Young, but the Trojans barely used it.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 30, 2006
Words:853
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