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Chow casts long shadow as USC game looms

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    Former Southern California offensive coordinator Norm Chow, left, stands on the practice field with LenDale White, right, and Matt Leinart , center, during Pro Day, Sunday, April 2, 2006, in Los Angeles.

SEATTLE » The Pac-12 coaches conference call Tuesday featured a lot of the usual bromides about having to be better in Week 2, and the opponent being way better than it actually is, and how they have great respect for (fill in the blank).

What wasn’t said was really more interesting.

For instance, Utah plays at USC on Saturday in the very first Pac-12 league game, and a part of the attendant buzz is over Norm Chow’s return to play the Trojans.

He already did this while he was at UCLA, of course. But it seems to have more juice this time, inasmuch as the revered offensive coordinator is back at his alma mater and clearly has been given the keys to the offense, which he was never going to have completely with Rick Neuheisel coaching the Bruins.

The history: Chow was with the Trojans from 2001 to ’04, which was the most resplendent time of Pete Carroll’s tenure there; the latter two years produced national titles.

But the 65-year-old Chow casts a huge shadow, and, at least to some degree, Carroll got tired of people referring to “Norm Chow’s offense”—he would correct them: “It’s USC’s offense”—and Carroll was happy to usher Chow out the door to the NFL after ’04.

The young lions were there — Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian — and Carroll was moving control of the offense to them. Carroll, now with the Seahawks, likes to act young and hip, and that might have greased the transition. Maybe Carroll found Chow’s sway more daunting than he wanted.

Without a lot of elaboration Tuesday, Kiffin spoke respectfully of Chow, saying, “I have nothing against Norm at all. He’s been great to me always. I have great respect for him.”

Kiffin didn’t back away from the notion that he initially tried to lure Chow back to USC from UCLA, saying, “It just didn’t work out. They weren’t direct, but some initial conversations with some other people. I could definitely work with him. He’s very easy to work with and get along with.”

Kyle Whittingham, the Utes coach, told me in July that with his veteran’s expertise, Chow had sort of taken the place of John Pease, who retired at 67 from Utah after last season (Pease was Don James’ defensive-line coach at Washington from 1977 to ’82).

“He’s (Chow) been a great sounding board for me,” said Whittingham, and you can bet some of the sounding this week is about Kiffin’s tendencies on offense.

So, intrigue inside the headsets Saturday.

Neither Utah nor USC was especially happy with its offense last week—the Utes sputtering for 101 passing yards; USC scoring 19 first-half points and then getting nothing, which is a marked difference from its pattern under Carroll.

A bit surprisingly, Kiffin said he doesn’t think the history attached to the first Pac-12 conference game is a factor on his roster.

“Not within the players,” he said. “But we do feel it from the media and the people around here.”

Meanwhile, the unspoken words were the provocative ones in Eugene, where Oregon coach Chip Kelly surely knows the public perception is growing that any big, fast defense will have its way with his spread-option attack.

In games against Boise State, Ohio State, Auburn and LSU since Kelly arrived two years ago, the Ducks have rushed for an average of 95 yards and 18 points.

Reporter No. 1: “What’s your comment on that discussion (about the low production against good teams)?”

Kelly: “I don’t have any comment to that discussion. We don’t have those discussions. Our sole focus is on Nevada right now.”

Reporter No. 2: “The conventional wisdom is that when Oregon faces an SEC-style defense, the offense will struggle. Is there something people are missing with that assumption?”

Kelly: “I don’t go on people’s assumptions. We’ve played three SEC teams in the last year and we’re 1-2.”

Nobody else asked anything, so Kelly didn’t lend any more glimpses into the program’s inner workings. If you’re thinking he’s a little peeved at the notion his offense doesn’t work under the brightest lights, you’re probably on the right track.


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