USC vs. Utah: All Fun Until Someone Fumbles

Utah vs. USC
September 23, 2016 at 7:05pm
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT: 46,133 (45,807)
Total Time: 3 hours 21 minutes

A long season just got longer as the Trojans drop to 1-3 overall, 0-2 in the conference, and 0-1 in the Pac-12 South. We’ve all probably had our fill of the bad, so I won’t open with that. Make no mistake though, the bad will be covered—just later.

We’ll start with the best: Adoree’ Jackson deserves MVP for that game, even if he slipped at the end to allow the Utes’ go-ahead touchdown. He put life into the team with his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on special teams. On defense, he broke up two passes and recovered a fumble. He also ran for 11 yards on a single carry on offense. Maybe he should go full-McCaffrey and throw for a TD too. No, please don’t.

Defensively, Cam Smith, Uchenna Nwosu, and Porter Gustin all played relatively well. Cam Smith compiled 6 tackles, 1 for a loss, and a fumble recovery in just the first quarter alone. Smith and Gustin also showed textbook discipline when defending the read option plays. That’s a welcome sight.

Offensively, the entire unit was much improved. Sure, the big storyline going into the game was the switch for Sam Darnold at quarterback. That certainly helped—he made some big time plays and kept some drives alive that Browne likely couldn’t have—but the supporting cast also stepped it up. Unfortunately, it was three weeks late and a few hundred thousand dollars short or however that saying goes. Sorry, let me stay on the positives…

The offensive line actually made a lot of blocks as a unit, allowing Justin Davis burst through the holes. Davis used his limited opportunities well, averaging 17 yards per carry in the first half and scoring his first touchdown of the season.

The pass protection was also mostly adequate, allowing Darnold time to find receivers open on a variety of routes. Then receivers and tight ends actually hung onto the ball, despite the rain. I don’t really remember there being many—if any—drops during that game. Players like Steven Mitchell and Tyler Petite have really shown themselves to be reliable pass-catchers. Tyler Petite might need some ballet lesson to help him with his balance though.

Darnold might’ve been the biggest bright spot on offense. He improved in terms of not straying in the pocket. He took decent scrambles, while remaining disciplined enough to go for available passes. So many athletic QBs just tuck and run at the first sign of trouble. Darnold clearly isn’t one of those. He fit some tough passes into tight windows while avoiding interceptions. I think I really only saw one or two bad throws from him this game. His scramble on the last play of the game was very Russell Wilson-esque (that’s a good thing).

Overall, the first half was relatively clean in terms of penalties. By some stroke of luck or a straight up voodoo magic, the team had one penalty for 5 yards. It did contribute to a stalled drive and settling for a field goal in the redzone, but oh well. I’ll take what I can get at this point. Now onward to the brave, new frontier of  same old negatives for the team.

It was almost misleading to use the word “clean” to describe the first half. Despite averaging almost eight yards per play and not punting, they ended three of their own drives with fumbles. They were so close to adding a few more. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was trying to do too much, but it just has to stop.

Then there was the penalties. Some of them were absolutely back-breaking. It wasn’t the free yardage that killed it, but rather the peripherals. I’ll intentionally leave names out because my purpose is to describe the effect rather than call out a player. For example, the team’s ineligible receiver downfield penalty only cost the offense 5 yards on paper. In reality though, it negated a 32-yard pass to Darreus Rogers. That 37-yard swing killed a drive. They punted without ever getting out of that set of downs. With the rise of RPOs (run-pass options) in college football, a greater emphasis has been placed on ineligible receiver downfield rules. Plays are packaged in a way that the quarterback can choose either a run ( can be set up as handoff or QB draw) or throw it to a receiver. That gets confusing not just for the defense, but for the offensive linemen as well. The result in this situation was a guard more than three yards down the field as if trying to make a run block. The NCAA considered this a big enough issue that they proposed changing the rule so that players are flagged at 1 yard out (like the NFL), rather than the current 3 yards. Instead of implementing the rule, they opted to emphasize that officials should call it. You can argue that it was a ticky-tack call, but unfortunately for USC, the refs were coached by the NCAA to look for it. Two years ago the Trojans probably could’ve gotten away with it.

Now that I’ve adequately waste your time with an entire 200 word paragraph on a single penalty, I can move on to the next costly penalty. It happened a flew plays later when Utah was 3rd-and-10 at their own 7-yard line. A Utah receiver was grabbed slightly out of his break by a USC corner, prompting a pass interference flag. The play quickly changed what likely would’ve been a three-and-out at the 7-yard line, to a 1st-and-10 at the 22. Quite the swing. They ultimately drove the entire 93 yards for the touchdown. It hurt that much more when it drained 5:29 of the remaining 5:45.

These two drives characterized the gulf between the two coaches. The difference can be hard to spot. You may be inclined to argue that the team was only a few plays away from turning it around. The problem actually started long before that. It’s about instilling a mentality in the players and team. It may sound cliche, but one team was playing not to lose and the other was playing to win. One rises to the occasion, the other wilts under pressure.

You run on a 3rd-and-6 to set up a 4th-and-3. That initially made me think they were playing that with a 4-down mentality. Instead, it was just a set up to settle for a field goal. Not too big of a deal in a vaccuum, I guess. On their next offensive possession, the pass to JuJu on 3rd-and-5 got spotted for 4th-and-3. Helton should have went for it. Instead, he elected to punt. Why? You just chose a short, 30-yard punt over the opportunity to put the game away.

You don’t need to look far back in the USC coaching history to find people that did that. Coach O took that shot when he put Arizona out of its misery and again against Stanford instead of punting for overtime. Even Steve Sarkisian tried it against Utah two years ago despite ultimately failing.

In the post game presser, the JuJu, speaking for the offense, said they even wanted to go for it. Denied the opportunity—again. Like against Stanford, Alabama, Oregon in 2015 and probably more that I’ve forgotten about.

The team lacks a killer instinct because the coach lacks one. Kyle Whittingham clearly did. His team went for it on 4th down a total of four times, going 4 for 4. On that final drive, he even did it twice and was vindicated.

I know this comes with the benefit of hindsight, but consider all the possibilities that stem from the choice to punt or go for it.

If they punt, there are really only three possible outcomes (especially with only one timeout left, but more on that later):

  1. Win, after the defense stops Utah (What Helton was “hoping” for from an ailing defense that generated 0 sacks and only 4 TFLs all game)
  2. Utah drains the clock and kicks a field goal to force overtime
  3. Utah drains the clock and wins it (what happened)

On the other hand, if they had gone for it:

  1. Convert and go for the eventual touchdown to win the game
  2. Convert and continue to drain the clock to win the game
  3. Fail and allow Utah the extra 30 yards from not punting
    1. Utah cannot drain the entire clock with a shorter field giving Helton and the team another chance to catch up if Utah scores

You’re putting your fate in your own hands in the second case. More of the latter outcomes look favorable, especially with the benefit of hindsight. Both in NFL and college football, rules favor the offense. A perfect offense would beat a perfect defense, if such things existed.

A perfect defense, USC was not. Before that final drive, USC had already allowed the second worst offense in the conference (statistically, at 26 ppg) to score 24 points. They somehow only managed to put up an average of  26 against Southern Utah, a weakened BYU, and San Jose State. At least USC, being the statisical worst offense in the conference (20.3 ppg) had some semblance of an excuse, having played #1 Alabama and #7 Stanford. That’s the defense he trusted. Speaking of trust:

Maybe he just misspoke, but officials are wrong all the time—even if they aren’t the terrible Pac-12 ones. The game moves fast, the guys are human. Why would you ever say that you trust them? It took me a careful review of the play to come to the conclusion that the spot was actually correct. Smith-Schuster made contact with the ball at the Utah 35-yard line, but did not establish his possession until one foot hit the ground at the Utah 37-yard line. Somehow though, he trusted that they got it right. It’s another thing if he said one of the coaches in the booth relayed that information, but, no, it was based on trust. Helton says a lot of things about trust and hope in regards to what’s happening on the field. I really hope that’s just semantics, but it really looks like he lacks a cohesive plan. Just winging it and hoping things bounce his way.

He will tell you that a few plays would’ve been the difference—that they would’ve won the game. Winning is a threshold, sure. That’s a big thing, no doubt.Had his team come out of the gates meeting even only a majority of their potential, this game would’ve been a blowout, not a barely achieved victory he couldn’t even get.

Rest of the bad:

  • Fumbling on 3 of the 3 first drives and almost 4 of the first 4 had Darnold not sold the pass so well
  • Allowing 12 straight run plays for a TD
  • Ahead 24-10, averaging 8 yards per play, still can’t put the game away
  • Taking out Justin Davis from the game when he was averaging over 12 yards per carry
  • Still being too liberal with timeouts

And just so I don’t finish on a sour note,

Rest of the good:

  • Being able to string together an 8 play, 91-yard drive for TD
  • Going 6 for 10 on third down conversions
  • Converting on 100% of field goals. Boermeester is 6 of 7 on field goals and 10/10 on PATs this season.
  • Credit for not giving up after three fumbles, I guess

CommBro Breaker

After nearly two thousand words, you can have some easy to read snippets.

Morale Boosting Stat of the Week: USC #1 in the country in punt return yardage, averaging 40.25 yards per return

Misleading Stat of the Week: USC maintains its perfect record against unranked opponents. They also have a perfect record against G5 teams. Yeah, that’s 1-0 against Utah State on both counts.

Also, I’d like to announce that one of my favorite stats has increased by 1. I knew I started the count for a good reason!

Turnovers off of turnovers count: 2

Kubo: A review

Kubo and the Two Strings

Runtime: 1 hour 42 minutes
Budget: Estimated to be $60 million

I was busy prepping to leave the country and was busy catching up on everything after I got back. As a result, I have not published any movie reviews in a while, so I hope no one was sitting on their Netscape Navigator hitting the reload button. What’s that? You’ve all moved onto Internet Explorer and it’s called a refresh button?

Yes, as the resident Slowpoke, I am now about to give you new stuff about old things. Here are mini reviews on all the movies I watched between Finding Dory and Kubo:

Warcraft– Pretty good, but critically panned for what I perceive to be shallow reason. Could’ve and should’ve been longer to make cuts less awkward.It was made with care.

The Shallows– Summer movie for the shark obsessed. Small cast, low budget. Not terrible, not great. Pretty decent considering how cheaply it was made (Estimated $17 million).

Star Trek Beyond– I feel like since the reboot series started, each one has been getting worse. They haven’t gotten to the point of bad yet and they’ve got some watch value. However, if the trend continues, the next one will be a waste of money.

Suicide Squad– Terrible movie. I actually opted out of reviewing it rather than just being a time constraint.

Now that your trailers are over, time for the feature film.

Kubo was an intelligently made film that somehow maintained a PG rating in this day and age. It can get dark at times, so don’t go running to take your kids just yet. You should be the judge of whether your kid is mature enough…unless he/she is 20 years old. At that point it might be time to let them screen what movies they watch on their own. Just a suggestion.

One aspect of the intelligence was the quick, snarky remarks tossed back and forth by the characters. The movie had more quips than one of my posts. Again, I’ll let you be the judge on what that means.

From a cinematography standpoint, it viewed like a pop-up book. I mean that in the best way possible.

So not like that one. Yeah, I’m not letting you be the judge this time. What I actually meant is that the film was very artfully done and visually appealing.

While mostly well done, the film does harp on some of the same corny refrains that family movies like to do. Despite pushing these good ‘ole values, they somehow gave quite a dubious message at the end. Staying true to my no spoiler effort, I can’t really say much more than that.

CommBro Breaker

The ADA and PETA can probably collaborate on a class-action lawsuit against Kubo and friends. Watch it and you’ll see.

USC vs. Stanford: False Start, True Struggle

Stanford vs. USC
September 17, 2016 at 5:14pm
Stanford Stadium, Palto Alto, CA: 48,763 (50,424)
Total Time: 3 hours 3 minutes

This was one of those games where everyone asks “Oh my gosh, what happened?” It’s really hard to describe even with a few sentence explanation. Quite simply, that was a pretty horrible game. You can blame the refs for some bad calls/non-calls, but that’d be quite disingenuous.

Frankly, this coaching staff and team have shown almost all that they need to at this point. They’ve played tough opponents, mediocre ones, and conference foes. I almost don’t even want to write about it. There are no excuses left to give at this point. They aren’t sandbagging against lesser opponents, they aren’t just overmatched by the #1 team in the nation. This team has serious problem and they just aren’t where they need to be or where they should be.

With a few key exceptions, the team needs to take a quantum leap to stay competitive this season. I’m afraid that it won’t happen fast enough. They didn’t show anything new since playing against Alabama. It was the same deal, down to the first half 3-17 score.

Taking a look at the USC-Stanford games since 2010, a lot of the games were within one possession. Starting with the first game in 2015, it moved up to two possession. It then moved up to three possessions in the 2015 rematch, and remained that way in 2016. Meanwhile, they continually score less on offense—hitting a 24 year low in points score on Stanford. They lost 9-23 back in 1992…before most of the players on either rosters were born. It suggests that the team’s trajectory is going in the wrong direction.

Game USC Stanford Differential Result
2010 35 37 -2 L
2011 (3OT) 48 56 -8 L
2012 14 21 -7 L
2013 20 17 3 W
2014 13 10 3 W
2015 31 41 -10 L
2015 (Pac-12 CG) 22 41 -19 L
2016 10 27 -17 L

There is a growing vocal minority clamoring on making the switch from Browne to Darnold. As cathartic as it can be to blame such an easy thing, such a risky change probably wouldn’t produce the results they seek. Browne carries a similar problem as Cody Kessler did in holding onto the ball too long rather than trying to throw a receiver open in the middle of the field.

Everyone has issues: Browne, the receivers, the offensive line. The bigger problem is that they tend to succeed out of phase. Here are a few scenarios:

Receivers get open>QB sees them>One o-lineman allows DE in for a sack
Receviers get open>O-line blocks well>QB holds onto ball
O-line blocks well>QB ready to throw>Receivers covered completely

Then sometimes they step up their game, with two failing:

QB ready to throw>Receivers can’t get open>O-line allows LB in for a sack
O-line blocks well>Receivers can’t get open>QB holds onto ball too long

Or an even better scenario:

O-line false start

About those false starts…seriously embarrassing. The Trojans amassed six false starts in the game. They actually had more false starts than points in the first half—5 false starts, 3 points.

Good thing we couldn’t hear them though since the officials’ mics weren’t even working. The Pac-12 is really the model conference!

Another glaring obstacle—other than trying to find new synonyms for “problem”—is Helton’s management of timeouts. He habitually burns throughthem too fast and too furiously.

By my judgment, he has a very basketball-like mentality with them. He uses it to draw up specific plays. That stuff should really have been prepped long before and just signalled to the QB. Yet somehow, they can leave the sideline confused and unorganized. Perhaps that’s where they planned their little hot potato trick play that ended with an incomplete pass.

What’s the purpose of the no huddle if you can’t even communicate properly? They aren’t even really using it for hurry-up offense and yet they have to suffer all the drawbacks like each individual player needing to understand the call.

I’m going to stop droning on and go into hurry-up mode:

  • Christian McCaffrey consistently picked up 5 or 6 yards on first down, allowing Stanford to continual run on second and third down in order to convert.
  • USC on the other hand, had negative plays on first down and/or penalties, making them need 10+ yards on third downs (average of 10.08 to go on third down)
    • Forcing them into passing situations or just running to set up a punt
  • Like the Alabama game, miscommunications and defensive breakdowns allows explosive play for TD
    • Team gave up like in Alabama game too

Sad Stat of the Week #1: The last time USC started 1-2 is 2001.

Sad Stat of the Week #2: USC’s offense is averaging 20.3 points per game, tied for 108th in the nation

Justin Davis had this to say: “If we don’t play disciplined with this talent, this talent is going to waste”

CommBro Breaker

The real Commbro Breaker is nobody got ejected this game.

Positives in hurry-up mode:

  • Deontay Burnett deserves recognition for his efforts. I didn’t mention him last game, but he definitely has contributed his fair share the past two games
  • A decent redzone stand, holding Stanford to 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Stanford still went for it, and got the touchdown in the end, but I guess you can’t stop them forever at the 1.
    • I’m really bad at this positivity thing
  • Adoree’ Jackson’s interception
  • Browne continues to have above average poise in the pocket that you’d like to see in a quarterback
  • USC offense while lining up under center
  • Steven Mitchell continues his consistency
  • Touchdown against a ranked opponent?
  • At least we’re using tight ends now
  • Okay, I give up…kind of like the team did

Misleading Stat of the Week: Stanford actually decreased USC’s tackles for loss allowed per game from 9 to 7.33.

USC vs. Utah State: Win of the Year

USC vs. Utah State
September 10, 2016 at 11:00am
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA: 62,487 (93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 18 minutes

Early in the morning (at least in the college football world), the Trojans scored their first touchdown of the season en route to their first win since November 28, 2015. They ended a 0-3 losing streak that carried over nine and a half months. That first touchdown was also the first since early in the fourth quarter of the Holiday Bowl on December 30th. It feels good to celebrate touchdowns and wins again.

That was also Max Browne’s first career touchdown at USC and first win as a starter. Clay Helton joins in the “first win” crew, bringing him to 1-3 as non-interim head coach. The climbs back to .500, sitting at 1-1 overall. In case you wanted a win ratio that looked better than either of those, know that the Trojans are 6-0 against Utah State. Perfect! Let’s hope they can also start off “perfect” in Pac-12 play in Palo Alto next week against Stanford. It kicks off at a decent time, so there’s that.

The culmination of this week’s 11:00am start and being the first game with new NFL safety regulations, crowds got stuck at the gate. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the ticket scanners weren’t working. They just tore my ticket printed paper ticket. I’d also like to eat my pasta by hand and call my friends to chat from a payphone. Such barbarism. Either way, it was a great combo (commbro?). Thanks Pac-12! You’re always looking out for us. Yeah, nah. Look at what they did:

Their superior scheduling led not only to the morning mess, but low attendance. The announced 62,487 looked a lot more like 45-50,000. Then a few thousand more filed out after the first two quarters. So basically the half full Coliseum half emptied after halftime. That’s the lowest attendance in quite some time. It’s lower than those lame Thursday night games. You’d have to reach back to 2013, right after that Washington State game to find a number lower. There were 62,006 attending that unnaturally short game against Boston College.

Perhaps that was why the game started like my 1982 Mercedes-Benz does on a particularly (California) frigid morning. At first, it looked like they picked up right where they left off from the Arlington outing. They even capped it off with an ejection! With all this drama, who needs high school prom or TNT.

As the final score would indicate, they cleaned up their act after a big play from Michael Pittman. His punt block and ensuing return by Quinton Powell set up the all the firsts.Special teams turned out to be impactful during this game, including missed field goals on both sides and, of course, JuDoree’ JacSchuster’s 77-yard punt return for a touchdown.

What’s interesting about that return that he hadn’t picked up a single punt prior to that. He even appeared to misjudge the distance and let one sail over his head. It almost looked like he was going to let that one be downed as well, but got a running head start before scooping it up. The entire return teams deserves credit for making it possible through the blocks.

The defense performed admirably for the most part except for the last drive of the third quarter. There was still some confusion sometimes on the defense, which is concerning, but they managed to hold the Aggies to a mere 7 points. Can’t complain too much about that—especially after considering that former walk-on safety, Matt Lopes, had to come in for an injured Marvel Tell in the second half. They also managed this defensive performance without the aid of punts pinning the opposing offense deep in their own territory. Clancy Pendergast’s previous squad had a lot of help from that back in 2013. On Saturday, they showed that they didn’t need it. The offense, however, might need some more help on their side.

You can’t criticize too much in a 45-7 win, but, of the three phases, offense clearly needed the most work. They still lack a clear identity and the next game isn’t really the time to be having a quarter-life crisis. Stanford will be coming off a bye week following a Friday game. That’s a lot of time for preparation for an already consistent team. Let’s not get ahead of oursevles though. It all begins and ends with the offensive line. They have really take it up one more step. If they continue like this, Browne’s decision-making will suffer even when he’s not pressured. The receivers need to contribute by putting more distance between themselves and the DBs at the top of their route (then catch the ball, but more on that later). They all go hand-in-hand, actually. To summarize:

  • Better blocking by offensive line
  • Receivers need to get more separation sooner
  • Browne needs to improve decision making

Browne floated up a few passes that could’ve been picked off. One of them actually was, but Leon McQuay was there to bail him out with his own interception. Browne did take lots of deep shots and, sadly, most of them ended in PIs and drops.

Speaking of drops, Browne dropped an accurate pass right into Darreus Rogers’ area. Rogers did the polite thing and treated others how he was treated. Yes, he dropped it. Great work, Darreus. Football etiquette. Super simple stuff. Too mean? Maybe. He did tie for most catches on the team after all.

With that being said, Steven Mitchell has actually been a much more reliable pass catcher. I don’t think he dropped a single one against the Aggies. All in all, the combination of Browne and Darnold spread the ball to 10 different receivers, with a majority going to Darreus Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster (7 each).

Having a few long drives, being 6 out of 6 in the red zone, and 2 out of 2 on fourth down converstions are also a plus.

CommBro Breaker

I honestly think Helton should stop constantly switching QBs. It screws up the rhythm of the game. If you want to do it for a special situation like with Ajene Harris (he opted not to throw anyway) or Jalen Greene, sure. But doing it a few times a game can destabilize the offense. Also, with a situation like Saturday, when both QBs come away with two touchdowns, it can stir up some controversy again. Is Helton showing a lack of conviction in his decision? All of this may end up hurting team down the road. Or perhaps I’m just mad that the switching invalidated by prediction of Browne getting three touchdowns. You’ll never know.

Misleading Stat of the Week: Take a look at the 38-10 Western Kentucky-Alabama score! They managed to score more and allow less than the Trojans team did. The same Western Kentucky that we poached a few coaches from. Interesting.

There are so many factors that make this misleading. Alabama and Lane Kiffin were probably significantly more motivated against USC. Also, the touchdown was scored in garbage time. The week after playing a big game also tends to be a bit of slump. One game like this doesn’t mean much.

Statistics Gore of the Week: USC is scoring 22.5 points per game and allowing 29.5 points per game. By my calculations, they are 0-2 and will have zero wins for the rest of the season.

Useless Stat of the Week: USC turnovers off of turnovers count: 1

USC vs. Alabama: Being Blunt

Alabama vs. USC (Advocare Classic)
September 3, 2016 at 7:14pm
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX: 81,359
Total Time: 3 hours 19 minutes

We are nothing.

All the national championships, Heismans, and top ten recruiting classes couldn’t protect the Trojans from what just went down. Alabama made USC look like an FCS team in its worst loss in the past half century.

Even Fort Worth recognizes that the USC flag should be flown half-mast

Even Fort Worth recognizes that the USC flag should be flown half-mast

Not since John McKay’s 0-51 defeat against Notre Dame in 1966 have I ever seen a margin of loss that wide. The gulf is a sobering and succinct reminder of how far the team still has to go.

After suffering through sanctions and a head coaching situation as stable as North Korea’s economy, the team collapsed in primetime.That ended USC’s streak of 18 season opener wins and drops USC to 2-6 against Bama.

USC started out well enough. A deep pass on the second play to Darreus Rogers set up a long field goal. Matt Boormeester, in his first USC first goal attempt, barely bounced the ball off the upright and crossbar to give them the lead 2 minutes and 32 seconds into the game.

They led 3-0 for the next 19 minutes and 42 seconds. It was almost a good half of football (22:14 to be exact). Since that opening drive squeaker, the Trojans didn’t score for another 39 minutes and 54 seconds. More depressing than the contents of my refrigerator.

It was a far cry from that charmed first quarter when the defense held Alabama to zero points and 12 yards. We already mentioned the crazy field goal. There was also the safety blitz by Leon McQuay on 3rd-and-9 that de-cleated Blake Barnett and ended Alabama’s first drive.

Max Browne pulled out a 17-yard run from his bag of tricks on 3rd-and-10. Sure, they ended up failing a 4th down play, but it was okay: they forced a three-and-out for Bama. Even their impressive punter kicking coffin cornering it couldn’t phase USC. Tilbey bailed them out on his first kick as a Trojan, punting 52 yards.

Saban figured it wasn’t working and made the change at quarterback. USC spent a timeout in order to account for it. Turned out that was a sound decision because the call totally caused Jalen Hurtsto fumble during a zone read play. Magic.

By midway through the second quarter, whatever hocus pocus crap the Trojans took advantage of clearly subsided. Next time, put more quarters in the machine Clay (by the way, did you know you still need quarters for parking meters in Dallas? They don’t take credit card. How archaic is that?).

After USC’s fourth straight three-and-out, they kicked a shorter punt that was compounded on by a 15-yard penalty on the little freshie, Michael Pittman. That was a signal of the things to come.

I don't mean to be blunt, but is he signalling for a blunt?

I don’t mean to be blunt, but is the defensive coordinator signalling for a blunt?

Iman Marshall makes a key mistake during the drive. He turns around to look at the quarterback after shoving Ardarius Stewart out-of-bounds. That gave Stewart the separation he needed to catch the incoming pass for a touchdown. There was some controversy over this play, but, sorry, it was completely legal. Stewart did not go out-of-bounds on his own accord and managed to reestablish himself in the field of play before catching the pass. Even if Helton wanted to challenge it (illegal touching is one of the few penalty non-calls you can challenge), he burned all the timeouts for the half already. Obviously, 3-7 is not an insurmountable score differential, but the problems didn’t stop coming.

Next thing you know, Edoga is limping along to the sideline, followed shortly by Noah Jefferson from the defensive side. Losing a key guy like Jefferson on an already thin defensive line had immediate reprecussions. Damien Harris slips through that line for a 46-yard run. Only Adoree’ Jackson’s speed and strength of will prevented the touchdown. The silver lining is the defense recovered in the red zone, holding Bama to a field goal.

I can keep going about the problems in the second half, but I don’t want to. I’ll sum up a few points and circle back to the big picture:

  • Jabari Ruffin ejected for being dumb (probably)
  • Max Browne pass deflected for pick six
  • Cornerback blitz leaves Ardarius Stewart wide open for a 71-yard touchdown.
  • Chris Tillbey fumbles a perfect snap
  • Who kept track after that

The overall key points (or at least the ones I remember after that mind-numbing experience):

  • USC still has the Sarkisian trademark of depending too heavily on explosive plays
    • USC also still depends on making people miss in space. Bama has disciplined tacklers so that doesn’t happen often.
  • USC tried to win with speed on the outside. Alabama’s defense is probably the fastest any Trojan has  seen in about ten years. The perimeter plays don’t really work on them.
  • Being unable to establish the run forced the OC to always call plays off his back foot
  • Offensive line was the biggest weak point of the game, allowing too much pressure even though Alabama rarely rushed more than the standard four. That’s a telltale sign that your team is being dominated
  • Quarterbacks displayed some of their old issues we’ve seen from practice
    • Browne tends to not lead receivers off well on routes across the middle (leads to things like pick six)
    • Darnold has problems meshing with running back on hand offs
  • USC lack of depth/experience
    • Example: Edoga allowed an unimpeded Jonathan Allen—All-SEC first teamer, 5th in the nation in sacks last year—to come off the edge and sack Browne from the blindside. Set up halfback screen on 3rd-and-long when Browne just skips the ball off the ground because the play was horribly compromised.Yet, it probably got even worse once Edoga left the game.
  • Alabama remained consistent throughout the game:
    • Rare, if not non-existent, breakdown in coverage
    • Superior special teams play
    • Capitalized on USC mistakes (USC failed to capitalize on Alabama errors)

No respectable City of Angles post will give you the bad without the good, or the good without the bad. So here are the positives I saw:

  • Leon McQuay continues where he left off from last season. He is a playmaker at safety. Appears to really study his film
  • Adoree’ made not one, but two touchdown-saving tackles. That demonstrated not only his insane athletic ability, but his inability to give up on a play or game. Also, he managed to keep Calvin Ridley in check on an island.
  • Noah Jefferson is young, but was a impact player at defensive tackle.
  • Max Browne showed a lot of poise and made smart decisions in his first start. I full expect great things out of him this season. I would not be surprised to see him bounce back and throw for three touchdowns against Utah State.

CommBro Breaker

What’s City of Angles without bad photoshops? Cheer up with this one:

I don't have words for this:

I don’t have words for this:

Maybe defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt gave all his players a hit of weed during half time to improve their performance. Disclaimer: This is a troll conspiracy theory, not an attempt at libel or defamation.

Misleading Stat of the Week: USC is worst in the nation (127 out of 127) with 2.9 yards per offensive play. That’s what week one against the #1 team feels like. The average will get pulled much higher as the season progresses.

Useless Stat of the Week: USC has almost as many punting yards (403) as Alabama’s total offense (465)