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September 16, 2009

Trojans struggling on special teams

Going into a hostile crowd at Ohio State, the Trojans hoped their execution in all three phases of the game would carry them to victory. Although they came out of Columbus with a victory, it was despite stellar play from their special teams.

Special teams coach Brian Schneider learned that the Trojans did one good thing.

"The fact that we won and we didn't play good on special teams," Schneider said. "Normally, when you lose the field position battle like that, you normally don't have a chance to win. Hopefully we learned some lessons and got better in some areas, but we were just fortunate to get out of there with a win."

Pete Carroll noted the Trojan's struggles were compounded by a good performance by Ohio State.

"Ohio State was way better, and they kicked the heck out of the football. And we kicked it miserably," Carroll said. "That was a big difference and was a 10-yard field position change in the punting game and the kickoffs that they had an advantage on us. We just didn't do as well and we have to hit the ball better."

The biggest struggle was in the punting game. Punter Billy O'Malley averaged 37 yards a kick and had a high snap sail through his hands in the end zone for a safety.

"It was a high snap, but it was catchable too," Schneider said. "One bad thing compounded by him dropping it so they could have helped each other out there. It's just one of those things where it was a high snap, and we got our hands on it and it went through. And those kinds of things really hurt you."

The struggles O'Malley had during the game have led to an increased focus on the battle with Jacob Harfman for the punting job. Harfman, a junior college transfer, averaged 40 yards a kick last year and has displayed a strong leg at times during practices.

"We're competing every week," Schneider said. "We're charting everything out there, and they know that they're competing. They know that whoever has the best is going to be out there. They were real close during camp too and so it's not like there was a huge difference. We had to make a call, and we made it."

If Harfman is to overtake O'Malley, it will not come down to just kicking the ball farther.

"There are a number of aspects to it," Carroll said. "It isn't just the flight of the ball, it's the tempo and the get-off times and position of the ball. All those types of things are part of the decision."

After initially wanting Harfman to focus just on kickoffs, O'Malley's performance has led to a change in thinking. Further complicating the matters, the beginning of Pac-10 play means the team is limited to just 64 players who can travel.

"Now that we're going a little bit, we're reassessing it a bit," Carroll said. "We thought first couple of road games everyone could play, we could take as many as we wanted, so we've experimented somewhat with that. As we go now, we're trying to figure that thing out this week."

Protection was also an issue for the punt and field goal teams, another area in which the Trojans had a few lapses.

"A lot of guys had to play, we rotated a lot of guys in and the rotations didn't work out real well," Carroll said. "Some of the guys that came in at the backup positions didn't perform as well. We're really disappointed in that performance; guys tried real hard but we weren't as sharp as we have been."

As the coaches worked on protection during Tuesday's practice, the trip to Seattle this week is also prompting extra drills to prepare for the possibility of rain on Saturday.

"We'll work on wet ball drills with our snappers and our holders and the punters catching the ball," Schneider said. "We all have to work in those conditions so as long as you're working with a wet ball, as far as kicking it, you just have to make sure you're handling it alright."

Schneider knows it was difficult enough to handle the ball last week.


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