Looking for Southern California's soft spot? Try behind center.
OK, let's make this very clear: John David Booty is better than most college quarterbacks. He'll probably have an NFL career.
Despite all the Heisman hype, though, Booty is no Carson Palmer and he's no Matt Leinart. That's an awfully high standard to hold a quarterback to, but Booty was expected to be playing near that level by now and he's not. That's a big reason why USC is now No. 2 in the AP Top 25.
The Trojans made a slew of mistakes in 27-24 victory at Washington on Saturday night. They had 16 penalties, three turnovers and a blocked punt. USC's inexperienced receivers don't appear to be in sync with their fifth-year senior quarterback.
``We missed a lot of passes,'' USC coach Pete Carroll said. ``(Booty) said he didn't have a secure grip on the football. But there were a lot of catchable passes. That was really surprising - three times we had balls that we dropped.''
That doesn't excuse Booty for several passes he had batted down at the line of scrimmage, a problem that plagued him last season - remember the final pivotal plays in losses to Oregon State and UCLA - and hasn't been fixed.
Nor does it take him off the hook for the inaccurate passes, like the one he threw behind Stanley Havili that hit the fullback in the shoulder pads and bounced to Washington's Mesphin Forrester, who returned it for a touchdown.
Booty threw two interceptions and would've had a critical third in the fourth quarter, but Washington's Byron Davenport bobbled the underthrown pass in the end zone and replay review correctly called it incomplete. USC ended up getting a much-needed field goal on the drive and Booty nearly threw away those three points.
In a hostile environment, with his team barely hanging on for much of the second half, Booty never distinguished himself. He was just another guy on an offense that couldn't stop hurting itself.
love to do over again, but that is why you play the game.''
Much was made by Carroll and USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian going into this season about how Booty, now a year removed from back surgery, would be stronger and better.
Right now, though, the strength of USC's offense is clearly its running game with Stafon Johnson and Chauncey Washington. That running game took a hit against Washington when freshman center Kristofer O'Dowd (dislocated knee) and right guard Chilo Rachal (sprained knee) were lost on the same play in the first quarter. It's unclear how long they will be out.
With Stanford next up for USC, the Trojans should easily regroup with a big win at the L.A. Coliseum.
Down the road, however, there are some daunting road trips. The Trojans play at Oregon later this month and at California and at Arizona State in November. At some point they'll be in a tight spot and need their quarterback to be great.
Seventeen starts into his college career, it's still unclear if Booty can do that. It's unlikely the Trojans can win a national title if he doesn't.
AP Sports Writer Gregg Bell contributed to this report.
Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at rrusso(at)ap.org.

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