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

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