USC vs. Cal: Thursday Night Lights

USC vs. California
October 27, 2016 at 7:36pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA: 61,725 (93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 27 minutes

USC climbs another step above .500 and sits at 5-3 (4-2 in Pac-12). Currently, that Pac-12 record ties with Utah. However, if Utah and USC were to win out, the Trojans would still be second place since the Utes own the tie-breaker. USC would need both Utah and Colorado to drop at least one more in order to win the South. The good thing is that the Utes and Buffs have yet to play each other, so one loss will be picked up there. The winner of that game has to lose somewhere else. Things get complicated when you lose to the good teams within your division. You know what else is complicated? Thursday night games. Besides the fact that Thursday Night Lights really doesn’t have the same ring to it, it should really stop being a thing.

A few drops of rain was the final threshold. A large number of people took that as a sign to leave. It sure seems like the most Southern California thing to do, but given the context, it’s hard to blame them. Rain just slows down LA traffic to a crawl. And not one of those quick cockroach crawls either. No man, it’s more like a snail in a wheelchair sinking into quicksand. The Thursday night idea was already terrible. LA is congested enough without adding 93,607 61,725 people. And 7:30PM? When I got into bed post-game, it was already past 1:00AM. Thanks Larry Scott.

The Pac-12’s reasoning is that the game gets more exposure since there isn’t as much football happening. You know…except for this little thing called Thursday Night Football. And also since it started at 10:30PM Eastern. When your primary reason gets mostly invalidated, why are you still doing this crap?

Lots of people are poking fun at Sonny Dykes’ post-game complaint, but put your fandom trash talking aside for a moment. He really has a point. And if nobody with a modicum of clout voices their displeasure, the already tone-deaf Pac-12 would definitely not make any changes. So maybe he didn’t do it the right way. He’s almost using it as an excuse for his team, but he’s not wrong. Here’s Sonny Dykes’ quote:

“We looked like a tired, beat-up football team and we were. I think it’s a travesty for whoever scheduled this football game to schedule us in back-to-back weekday games on six days rest to play a team on the road on an open date. I hope the Pac-12 doesn’t do that again to any other school. It’s not right for the kids. It’s not right for the players. They’ve had to miss a bunch of class. Everyone talks about student-athlete welfare, and they didn’t put their money where their mouth is on that one.”

It’s kind of strange that so many people are telling Cal to “stop whining.” When all the Pac-12 South opponents had a bye week to prepare for USC, lots of Trojans lamented that. Why turn around and call someone out for the same thing? This isn’t the pain Olympics. It’s dumb scheduling by the Pac-12—and it shouldn’t happen to any team. Maybe the next time Scott (or maybe the next Commissioner) and his team negotiate a TV deal in 2023 or whatever, he’ll actually try to fight some of these stupid weekday games (like a Friday conference championship? What the hell, man).

If you want to point out some actual questionable decision by Dykes, I’ll give you some. Most coaches have learned to kick away from Adoree’ Jackson on punts and kickoffs—either from film or firsthand experience. Dykes chose the firsthand experience. Afterwards, his kicker tried putting it short, which got closer and closer to midfield. At that point—especially considering how the Trojans almost moved the ball at will—you might as well onside kick it every time. At least you have a chance to deny the Trojans some possessions. Not that I’m complaining…

I also can’t complain about 398 rushing yards and a 21 point margin of victory. Getting to 400 would’ve looked better, but I’m not even sure that’s one of those first world problems memes. It’s beyond that.

You may be inclined to knock on Ronald Jones’ 223 rushing yards. Accumulated off a Cal defense bad against the run! I don’t know man, but it’s the most since Allen Bradford’s 223-yard performance against Washington…6 years ago. You’re telling me that we haven’t played a team with a worse defense in 6 years? Hard to believe. A good running back could pick up 100-something against a subpar defense easily, but 200 something is definitely worth something. Aca’Cedric Ware actually had more carries this game, but only managed 130 yards. You can only downplay it so much.

Going off of that, all the negativity from Trojan fans is, frankly, kind of ridiculous. USC can only play against whatever is presented to them each week. Yes, they’ve been stomping on teams that aren’t quite complete for the past 4 games. However, they’ve definitely improved and you can’t cast too many judgments until they face the real test on November 12. At this point, losses would reveal more about the team than wins, but luckily for all of us, they haven’t been doing that. As for the things we can see right now…

It seems Helton got enough timeout reps throughout the season to make the quick call when he needed it. The holder’s botched handling of snap on third down was saved by Helton’s elite timeout call. I’m glad the holder didn’t try to run it this time. He really needs to step it up considering this is one of those “you only had one job” situations.He’s been causing some kicking woes for Boermeester.

In other news, penalties hit a season-high 13. A two year high, actually. Coincidentally the last time was also a home game against Cal. Three weeks ago, I was praising this team for having a 4-year low penalty count against Colorado. The 2016 sample seems indicative of the Colorado game being an anomaly rather than showing improvement. Some of them were the Pac-12 being the Pac-12, but that’s too many to dismiss. Blatant facemask tackles (back-to-back, as well) almost led to a Cal scoring drive. Marvell Tell definitely made up for it with the interception though. That certainly helped offset USC’s three turnovers.

(CommBro Breaker)

For a game that featured five total fumbles (three lost) and two interceptions, you would think there would be a turnover off of a turnover somewhere, but unfortunately, I cannot increase the count this week.

(/CommBro Breaker)

Turnovers rear their ugly head again and the Trojans finished the game with a negative turnover margin. What will it take to fix this problem? The fumbles can be argued as having been freak plays, but the interception falls squarely on Darnold’s shoulders. The interceptor was watching the quarterback the entire play and aptly got into position to make the play. The safety, Luke Rubenzer, was a former quarterback, so he probably had a pretty good read on the situation. In fact, Luke Rubenzer is still listed as a QB on Cal’s website.

And because I didn’t know where to fit this…

It’s hard to tell where the USC pass rush is at right now. Definitely a weak point starting out in the season that got worse after Noah Jefferson went out with injury. However, with Davis Webb getting the ball out so quickly, it really wouldn’t be a fair evaluation. Cal came into the game scoring 43 points per game and you can’t hold a good offense down forever. They were going to be able to pass the ball and score points. However, with USC favoring a nickel package on almost every play, Cal was able to get decent yardage running the ball. I hope Clancy decides to get out of that every once in a while against Washington, or the Trojans may allow Myles Gaskin to run wild. It sounds like Noah Jefferson will be returning in time for the Washington game, so really, that game in Seattle will reveal a lot about the team.

Will the real CommBro Breaker please stand up

I already used up all my content so I’m just going to give you a bunch of bogus stats.

Useless Stat of the Week:  USC’s average points per game allowed is still 24 after Thursday; the 24 points Cal scored against USC left it in equilibrium.

Misleading Stat of the Week: USC is undefeated…against teams that start with the letter C (Colorado and Cal).

Misleading Stat of the Week #2: 100% of Porter Gustin’s tackles were for a loss.

He was credited with one assisted tackle and 0.5 TFL. Haha!

USC vs. Arizona: THTR 122

Arizona vs. USC
October 15, 2016 at 12:35pm
Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ: 55,463 (55,675)
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

The Trojans won for the first time in their new road jerseys and the first in Helton’s tenure as permanent head coach. USC moves up to a winning record overall (4-3) and in the Pac-12 (3-2) for the first time this season. That’s a start. A good way to head into the bye week. Now the Trojans can focus on recovering from injuries. It’s a good time for a bye with injuries to key personnel. Off the top of my head, there guys like Justin Davis, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Steven Mitchell. But before looking forward, let’s look back.

Update: Steven Mitchell has torn his ACL and will be out for the season. Best wishes to him on his recovery.

After playing a solid first half, they could afford to go into cruise control mode for the second half. Not a bad way to go. The last USC drive of the half was really a microcosm of the entire game. Two minute drill, even though the Trojans don’t really have one at this point. After making a sweet first down grab, JuJu gets flagged for taunting. Come on man. Now a bunch of time runs off the clock for no reason. I thought that penalty would prevent USC from making that last score before the half.

USC was driving down the field, quickly running out of time. If only Helton had, y’know, saved his timeouts. I’ve been harping on this crap all season and here’s a point when having them would really help. But wait, Arizona takes a timeout with 34 seconds left on the clock. Despite spending all of USC’s timeouts, Helton somehow managed to get a favorable timeout call. Why save your timeouts when you can dip into your opponents’ too? Sorry I doubted you Helton. I didn’t know you were such a master manipulator like that.

Right out of the timeout, JuJu makes an unreal catch and run for the touchdown. Looks like I was wrong for doubting him too. Luck > logic.

In reality, Arizona’s players and coaching staff made repeated errors that allowed the Trojans to dominate them. Combined with Darnold’s elite improvisation and a zero turnover game, the Trojans had all but put the game away by halftime.

The only times that the Wildcats showed anything worthwhile was on their first touchdown drive. Even then, most of the yardage was subsidized. The Trojans punted from their own 19 for an underwhelming 34 yards. It was immediately followed up by a personal foul penalty, nullifying half the punt. Two plays later, a pass interference penalty took off another 16 yards. Two penalties and the punt was effectively useless.The Wildcats had to drive a mere 16 yards on their own for their only touchdown that mattered.

The Arizona quarterback finished the first half with a -9.5 passer rating. Granted, he is apparently 17 years old and starting the first game of his college career. Still, stellar job by the defense to shut him down that hard.

(CommBro Breaker Conspiracy)

You know what else was -9.5? The opening spread for USC-Arizona. Must be Illuminati or something.


It hasn’t even been a year! I’ll keep finding ways to recycle this image. You just watch.

(/CommBro Breaker Conspiracy)

Like I was saying, the offensive gameplan for USC didn’t inspire much confidence. Most of it was Sam Darnold’s ability to extend plays and scramble for first downs. He’s the fairy godmother and USC is Cinderella. Midnight will come eventually if you don’t get a real horse, bro.

Zach Banner returned to the starting lineup and the offensive line played okay. The usually penalty-accumulating Banner had zero this game, which is always good. In fact, the entire offensive line only received one penalty (I do have to note that one was offset by an Arizona penalty. Again, they helped USC out quite a bit this game). Wish I could say the same about the rest of the team though. After hitting a low last week, they’re back to normal with 8 penalties this game.

To finish up on offense, the receivers and the running backs all performed well. A lot of the running backs’ yards were picked up in garbage time in large chunks. Dom Davis got 85 yards and Aca’cedric Ware had runs of 37 and 21 yards. It really seemed like USC could’ve dropped 60 points on Arizona easily. The receivers also adjusted well to some spotty passes. However, adjustments can only get you so far. Some were so far out of reach there was no shot. Darnold has a tendency to underthrow deep balls, but seems to have overcorrected this game, overthrowing quite a few times. Since Jalen Greene overthrew as well, maybe that Arizona Stadium altitude (~700m or ~2300 ft) could have affected deep balls like it does with kicks. Either way, the receivers saved Darnold from a few picks this game, as they did last game. It feels good to have a zero turnover game.

Defensively, you can’t really say many bad things about holding a team to 14 points (7 in garbage time), forcing four turnovers and making a goal line 4th down stop. Iman Marshall bounced back this week with the interception after dropping two potential ones last week.

Lastly, special teams. Man, kind of a lackluster week for them. A fumble during a punt return, some negative returns, and almost turning a PAT into a two point conversion of Arizona. That was just an all-time bad decision by holder. He should just fell on the ball. Did you really think you could’ve Darnold’d botched snap into two points? Arizona equally matched the bad decision with an unnecessary hit to draw a penalty. Lucky us.

CommBro Breaker

Going back to conspiracy theories, Dane Cruikshank was the #9 opposite of JuJu Smith-Schuster. As the cornerback, he had the unfortunate position of covering JuJu. He was most notable for being the one that JuJu stepped over, drawing a penalty. You know who else caused trouble like that? Crookshanks. Who is this Cruikshank character. Is he a Wildcat?—or is he Hermione’s cat?

Hm...there might be something to this

Hm…there might be something to this

Misleading Stat of the Week: Despite the failed PAT, USC remains #1 in the nation PAT conversion percentage!! (The failed handling of the snap doesn’t count as an attempt)

USC and 67 other teams also hold “first place.” It’s only slightly better than winning a participation award.

Uplifting Stat of the Week: USC is 16th in the nation with 67.5% of their kickoffs going for touchbacks. It’s been a while since we’ve had a kicker that could consistently kick that far. Guess I can’t hate on the special teams too much.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, THTR 122 is the class code for “Improvisation and Theatre Games” at USC—a 2-unit class I dropped immediately after the first class. Anyway, I just thought it was fitting because of what Darnold did on the field.

USC vs. Colorado: Fumbling Still Fun

USC vs. Colorado
October 8, 2016 at 1:10pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA: 68,302 (93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 17 minutes

USC claws its way back to a .500 record and sits at 3-3 overall (2-2 in Pac-12).

The Buffs entered the game at 4-1 (2-0 in Pac-12) having only lost to the current #4 Michigan. They were extremely competitive in that game, carrying the lead for half the game. However, disaster struck when their starting quarterback, Sefo Liufau went down in the 3rd quarter.

The Buffaloes looked decent on paper, but couldn’t overcome USC despite having a +3 turnover margin. Colorado, the former sole leader of the South Division, never even managed to take a lead on the Trojans. They fall to 4-2 overall (2-1 in Pac-12). They now tie with USC’s last opponent, ASU, for first place in the South. Meanwhile, USC sits at fourth despite beating them both.


Let’s play a game. I’ll make a wish and then someone can find a way to add a qualifier to spoil the dream. Juts kidding, I’m going to find the qualifier for you.

Wish: USC will win the game and their offense won’t have any three-and-outs

Qualifier: Wish granted, but instead of a true “three-and-out” where the Trojans punt, they will have two three-and-fumbles. And a four-and-interception. We’ll throw in a nine-and-fumble on the first drive too—the endzone. Enjoy!

Sam Darnold still managed to pull out a second consecutive 300-yard, 3 touchdown game, but looked like a freshman doing it. It looks like his youth finally caught up to him. He accounted for three of the team’s four turnovers and could’ve easily caused a few more. He threw a few ill-advised passes and some heavily underthrown balls.

A combination of skill and luck turned some potential turnovers into big plays. Late in the game, in a momentum-swinging play, Darreus Rogers bailed his quarterback out with the grab of the month. Colorado cornerback, Akhello Witherspoon, might have to file a police report for the mugging that took place.

In another play, Darnold barely improvised a touchdown out of a botched handoff in the red zone.These kinds of plays represent the best and worst of Darnold. It’s great when it works, but terrible when it doesn’t (like the fumble that turned into a touchback). Part of the growing pains is learning what situations are suitable or necessary for these trying to turn crap into gold moves. The bad ones can simply defined as “trying to do too much.” Ball security should come before that. I’m not worried about this yet. If he’s still doing the dumb ones late into next season, then we’ve got a problem.

There’s a common saying that good teams find a way to win. The Trojans overcame their mistakes and won it. That’s a pretty good sign.

In other news, Adoree’ Jackson is still good. He had:

  • 38-yard kickoff return
  • 47-yard punt return
  • An athletic, leaping interception

Uchenna Nwosu was another defensive standout. He broke up two passes and sacked the QB.

On the offense, JuJu Smith-Schuster made a smart and unselfish play to seal the win. His slide late in the fourth quarter characterizes his discipline and team spirit. Looks like he might’ve seen the ending of the Tennessee-Georgia game last week. Can’t leave too much time on the clock after scoring.

An example closer to home would be that USC-ASU game in 2014. With 3:02 remaining in the game, Javorius Allen scored on a 53-yard touchdown run to put them up 34-25. ASU still came back to win it. JuJu was a freshman, so he would’ve remembered that. The situation was a little different, making a slide still a bit of a risk, but in this game, it was definitely warranted.

OR MAYBE HE WAS JUST POINT SHAVING. By sliding, he killed all hope of USC beating the spread. Some bettors lost a lot of money.

Lastly (for the positives, at least), a huge thing of note is the lack of penalties this game. Two penalties is ridiculously low. Want to know the last time USC had two or fewer penalties? 2012. The infamous Sun Bowl game against Georgia Tech.That’s right folks, it’s been 46 games since—three and a half season—since the Trojans have played such a disciplined game.

Including the Georgia Tech and Colorado games, there have only been a total of six games out of the 48 in which the Trojans had less than five penalties. Since Sarkisian took over in 2014, there have only been three. If Helton can keep the penalty numbers under five, that will already go a long way.

Just so I can tack on some angles, here are the negatives:

  • Some of the play calling on third down
  • Justin Davis and Viane Talamaivao getting injured
  • 50% (2-4) in the red zone
  • The four turnovers (obviously)

Misleading Stat of the Week: Despite the loss, Colorado is closer to getting a winning record against USC than Stanford, Washington, Washington State, Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, Cal, and UCLA.

Totally misleading. In the 11 meetings since 1927, Colorado is, as you might have guessed, 0-11 against USC. They lose by an average of 21.5 points per game

Go Buffs? How about get buff.

Misleading Stat of the Week #2: 100% of Tyler Petite’s catches went for touchdowns. All two of them.

Turnovers off of turnovers count: 3

The count is building momentum. The great thing about it is how it showcases both teams’ screw-ups. It takes two bad plays on successive drives for this to happen.

USC vs. ASU: Easy as 1-2-3

USC vs. Arizona State
October 1, 2016 at 5:45pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA: 71,214 (93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes

For yet another game, USC gave up in the fourth quarter. Only this time it was because of a 35-point lead rather than a 3+ score deficit. The game ended before the torch was lit—the clock was about the only thing protesting that. Cheers and applause erupted as Max Browne entered the game. It was a testament to the respect earned by the captain and former starter.

The win was sorely needed. Pretty much everything from this point is a must win, so this was vital. There were still a few criticisms, but some of the naysayers are taking it too far. If Helton was nearly bad as people were making him out to be, beating anybody—even a supposedly “crappy” ASU team—would still be significant. These people are just trying to protect their pride after predicting a blowout going the other way. Don’t let it get in the way of celebrating a win. At least let the opponents do the trash talking.

Worry not, because I got you covered with the opponent trashtalking, man. When your friendly neighborhood CommBro was undercover at the local McDonald’s (because I had to eat somewhere with Cardinal and Gold colors preceding the game), I witnessed an ASU fan heckle a USC fan. The victim was wearing a Nike shirt that said “USC Never Stops.”


The genius ASU fan’s idea? “USC NEVER STOPS BEING 1 AND 3” before quickly realizing he painted himself into a corner. He still attempted to recover, though, by tacking on “UNTIL THEY ARE 1 AND 4.” Good try, homie.

By the way, ASU belongs to an undemanding fraternity of 80ish teams that spent a flatline ZERO weeks at #1 in the AP poll. No one ever even wanted to pretend they are a contender.

In all seriousness though, Arizona State is one of the teams closest to grabbing a winning record against USC. The overall record is 20*-12-0 *(including the vacated win, of course). It would still take them nine straight wins in order to overtake USC, but that’s one of the best the Pac’s got. That would be huge if it happen since USC could no longer claim they have a winning record over the entire Pac-12 Conference. The closest team is Utah (yikes!). USC is 10-4-0 against the Utes.

No matter though, the Trojans have staved off the Sun Devils for another season. The winning ways started out early. Olympic sprinter, Allyson Felix, led the team out of the tunnel (earning the distinction of being the first woman to lead the Trojans onto the football field). I’m not sure how she managed to run while carrying the weight of her six gold medals (no, she didn’t actually have them on her person), but it shows that she knows a thing or two about winning.

The announced 71,214 barely managed to file in (again, because of the long security lines), but gave the game a nice atmosphere. Quite a good turnout despite doom and gloom over a 1-3 start.

I have to qualify a statement I made earlier; there was a slight hiccup with the winning beginning. Clay Helton started out the game in a dubious manner. Going for it on 4th down with a sputtering run game on their own side of the 50-yard line on an uninspired play was straight up wrong. Nobody in the entire stadium believed in that call and unsurprisingly, it got blown up. Sure seemed like Helton wanted to appease a crowd rather than make a good decision. The situation was completely different from the 4th down against Utah and I genuinely believed that Helton wanted use it as a “see, I told you so” kind of moment. It gave us a strange first quarter that featured no punts, which usually is typical of shootouts. The 7-6 first quarter score was decidedly not a shootout.

Luckily, Jonathan Lockett covered well and made an athletic interception to give people a short memory. Lockett exhibited a vast improvement since the last time he got significant playing time. As a true freshman that entered the corner rotation, he failed to impress. He made many critical errors. He had a breakout game against ASU, showing that he really turned the corner. Instead of critical errors, he made critical plays ande made his presence felt as early as the second series.

Lockett’s pick set the offense up at the 5-yard line. Sam Darnold threw some legit passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster until Justin Davis decided he was tired of running for a loss. Davis drove it 49 yards to set up Darnold’s eventual touchdown pass to JuJu. The Trojans would never surrender the lead again.

In order to prevent back-to-back colossal posts, I’m going into summary mode:

Rest of the Positives (that I remember)

  • Started the first half strong: only 2 penalties for 10 yards
  • Boermeester making two 40+ yard field goals
  • Chuma at right tackle
  • Not allowing ASU to score for two and a half quarters
  • Darnold’s 4 total touchdowns, 0 interceptions and ~70% completion percentage
  • Deontay Burnett’s hard work paying off in tangible stats
  • Six tackles for losses
  • Back ups getting playing time so they can develop
  • CommBro trying to learn how to keep things concise with bullet points


  • Referees gifted calls to USC…for once. I felt kind of dirty
  • The 2-4-5 nicket formation matches up better with ASU than with Stanford or Alabama
  • Weaker pass rush might work on this team, but might not against others
  • USC took advantage of a slow ASU secondary
  • Dependent on explosive plays (20+ yard plays) to spark scoring drives

The above are the kind of things that don’t quite fit into the negatives. In some of these cases, it was difficult to make too much of a judgment. Beating ASU in this fashion doesn’t allow for a proper measure.

Straight Up Problems (Negatives)

  • A 4th down call so bad I have to mention it twice
  • Mismanagement of timeouts continue to be a problem
  • Less than 11 out on the field for special teams again…
  • Boermeester missing two field goals
  • Helton developed more as a coach, but is still trying to learn too much on the job

USC is USC and a bounce back was bound to happen evetually. What is this team going to do going foward?

CommBro Breaker

At this point, you might be wondering what the heck the title means. Here’s why:

JuJu Smith-Schuster: 123 yards receiving
Justin Davis: 123 yards rushing

Yeah, sometimes the titles are that shallow. At least it’s not clickbait.

Misleading Stat of the Week: Arizona State celebrates America more than USC. See for yourself:



I guess it just depends on what angle you’re looking from.