USC vs. UW: Types of Headaches

#17 Washington vs. #21 USC
September 29, 2019 at 12:40pm
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA: 66,975 (70,183)
Total Time: 3 hours 14 minutes

Clay Helton has proven his abilities yet again. USC plummets out of the rankings and down several statistical categories in yet another road loss. As predicted last week, Washington’s defensive backs took advantage of risky passes from Fink and turned it into three interceptions. The Huskies opted for a similar defensive strategy as BYU, with a plethora of drop eight. Like two weeks ago, the team was unprepared and had few answers as they fell behind by as much as three touchdowns. Despite receiving several breaks throughout the game, they failed to produce a competitive result.

Although USC’s 212 rush yards appear to illustrate a strong run game, nearly half of those yards were the result of two runs—neither of which ended in scoring drives. One of those drives ended in an interception and the other with a failed fourth down attempt. With Helton’s level of preparation, all the upcoming bye week will really do is give time for injured players to heal.

The postgame press conference and subsequent statements to the press on Sunday and Monday demonstrated Helton’s cookie cutter responses about “eliminating mistakes” and just how close they were to doing something special. You’ve been here three and a half years, dude. How can he keep saying the same things year and year and loss after loss? If he hasn’t fixed it now, he won’t be able to fix it anytime soon.


GOOD: Fink’s deep pass to Michael Pittman

BAD LUCK?: A lucky bounce for Washington as they scored off their own fumble in the end zone

BAD: This one is on the Pac-12 officials. Talanoa Hufanga’s celebration penalty was a result of him starting a side bump celebration from the sidelines, with the jump landing him just barely onto the field. Was something that barely qualifies as a violation really egregious enough for 15 yards?

BAD: 163 passing yards.

CommBro Breaker

It’s getting difficult to generate content. Such uninspired games beget uninspired posts. As one of my instructors used to say, at least mess up on something new—then at least we know you’re working on it. Helton-coached teams continue to display the same issues without much sign of improvement. I can only make so many new jokes out of the same material.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1: For yet another away game, the attendance is higher than any home game at the Coliseum since 2017 despite having larger stadiums than most of them.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: As touched upon earlier, USC has abysmal stats in the turnover category. Almost everything ranks below 120. Overall margin is at 124 (-7), average margin per game is 121 (-1.4/game), and total lost is three away from the bottom at 127 of 130 (13 lost).

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #3: USC is rank 110 in average opponent kickoff returns (24.42 yards).

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #4-6: Rankings for Opponent Long Scrimmage Plays:

  • #106 in 10+ yards (74)
  • #92 in 30+ yards (11)
  • #108 (of 108) in 80+ yards (1)

That means 107 teams have not allowed a play longer than 80 or more yards on defense and the Trojans are not among them. USC is in league with teams like Charlotte, Louisiana-Monroe, Troy, UMass, and Western Kentucky for that distinction.

Uplifting Stats of the Week: While lots of statistical categories suck, here are a few that don’t:

  • #23 in Sacks (13)
  • #24 in Passes Defended (25)
  • #14 in Passes Broken Up (23)
  • #1 in Field Goal Percentage (4 of 4)

Misleading Stat of the Week: As Helton claims, USC can still win out, get a Pac-12 championship and even a Rose Bowl/NY6 bowl berth. Even if he defied all odds and managed to do that, one can clearly tell he is underachieving by watching the games. It also won’t erase the memories of last season: the first losing season in 18 years and losses to both rivals. I guess it’s a stretch to call this a statistic though. Does that make me as misleading as Helton?

USC vs. UW: Party in the Husky Backfield

Washington vs. USC
November 12, 2016 at 4:36pm
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA: 72,364 (70,183)
Total Time: 3 hours 24 minutes

USC went on the road and orchestrated a double digit win against the formerly undefeated #4 team in the nation in primetime. No other team had even taken a double digit lead against the Washington Huskies previously. The Trojans held their lead for nearly the entire game. With that, Lee Corso’s College Gameday streak of 21 picks, UDub’s 12-game win streak, and a string of unfortunate Pac-12 opponents fall victim to USC’s resurgence.

The story of the game would have to be the championship caliber defense. Yet another week, they hold a team well below their average. USC took a 17-6 lead at halftime, holding Washington to 158 total yards and a mere 36 rushing yards. Somehow, the Huskies finished the game with even less (17) rushing yards than at the half. Other than Adoree’ Jackson slipping to give up a 70-yard touchdown pass, the defense did not allow a touchdown for 60 minutes. A defense that only gives up an average of 6.5 points per half to the former #2 scoring offense in the nation in an offense-crazy college football is one that I’ll take. Clancy Pendergast’s defense even managed to score some points towards the end when when Tee Martin’s offense stalled out in the fourth quarter.

The team mostly rushed four and still generated enough pressure to keep Jake Browning uncomfortable. Porter Gustin remains one of the most influential players on this side of the ball. His pass breakup, two sacks, constant pressures, and hits on the QB were vital to the win.

Adoree Jackson’ would qualify as a tie or close second. Jackson intercepted the Heisman candidate twice, accounting for 40% of Browning’s interceptions on the season (5 total). This Washington team was, and still is #1 in the nation in turnover margin with +15. They really don’t turn the ball over a lot, making Jackon’s achievement that much more impressive. However, a margin like that has as much to do with their offense as it does their defense.

This has been a statisically stingy Washington defense, allowing only 17 points per game, good for #11 in the nation. When viewing it from that lens, the offense did alright. Sam Darnold threw two interceptions, but one wasn’t his fault. Apparently the team has a slipping problem, because Darreus’ slip on the slant route led directly to Darnold’s second interception. The first one was totally on Darnold though for throwing it into triple coverage. More notable is that a redshirt freshman like Darnold was able to

Come on, say it with me

Come on, say it with me

both times. He led a decent drive after the first, but a dropped ball on third down led to a field goal. In the end, it didn’t matter that USC had to settle, but there was no way we could’ve known at the time. That was a pretty big mistake. After the second interception, Darnold led a 60-yard touchdown drive for their only offensive score in the second half. This offense needs to get over that last hump. They had lots of failed drives that could’veeffectively ended the game instead of leaving it up to the defense. Their last three offensive drives ended the following ways: punt (three-and-out), punt, and turnover on downs. Conversely, the defense’s last three were: forced punt, interception, safety.

Sure, Darnold has been responsible for the offensive awakening, but I’ve made three other picks for offensive players deserving recognition:

  1. Darreus Rogers made key receptions and I really mean that. Five of his six catches went for first downs or touchdowns—three of which were on third downs. One of his best plays was when he turned a likely interception on third down at the USC 14 into a 27-yard catch and run for a first down. I’m sure all of that makes up for his slip up.
  2. Ronald Jones, while not breaking off any large runs, showed that he could pick up the tough yards and be trusted to carry for 20 times a game.
  3. Daniel Imatorbhebhe for making challenging catches and a touchdown grab.

Lastly, we can’t forget about the special teams. After Darnold’s second interception, the defense rallied for a stop in field goal range. What really capped that off was a block by Rasheem Green and returned by Jackson to the USC 40. If they had made that kick, it would’ve turned it into a one point game.

I’ve been saying all season that the Trojans had to put together a complete game against Washington to prove to the nation how far they’ve come. They had their opportunity and capitalized, bringing a very convincing win as evidence of their progress. And they did it all with Helton’s strange timeout game, turnovers, dumb penalties, and probably everything else I complained about at some point in the season. All the mistakes they’ve made they were able to pare down to a manageable level. If you were holding your breath, you can celebrate a little now. I am too, nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t go too far though.

As much as I’d like to say…

(CommBro Breaker)

Pac-12, you had your chance when Pete Carroll lost his starting quarterback, most of his defense, and his offensive and defensive coordinator in a single offseason. You had your chance when Lane Kiffin was called in to rebuild a program straddled with unjust sanctions and an unprecedented number of transfers. You had your chance when we had 5 coaching changes in 3 seasons. During that entire stretch of seven years, all 11 (or nine back in ’09 and ’10) Pac-12 teams only managed to put together four Rose Bowl wins, two national championship appearances and one Heisman Trophy winner. For comparison, in the 7 year stretch immediately preceding that, USC topped all of that with 7 straight BCS bowl appearances, 4 of which were Rose Bowl wins, 2 national championships, and 3 Heisman Trophy winners. It’s our turn again.

(/CommBro Breaker)

I wouldn’t recommend actually going on record with that. Helton has clearly taken a huge step forward with this statement win. However, we’ve seen many teams fail to sustain that success. Just at USC:

  • Lane Kiffin 2011 beat #4 Oregon at Autzen Stadium in 2011, but eventually gets fired after 7-6 season and 3-2 start
  • Ed Orgeron beat #4 Stanford at the Coliseum in 2013, but lost to Notre Dame and UCLA

If you need examples outside of USC:

  • Kirk Ferentz at Iowa got a big contract extension after a 12-2 season and Rose Bowl appearance. Now 6-4 (4-3 in Big Ten), but they’re stuck with him and a huge buyout for like a decade
  • Charlie Strong had two 11+ win seasons at Louisville, but is now having trouble putting together a winning season in his third year at Texas

Sustained success is one of the most difficult things to achieve in football. Think of all the flash in the pan coaching jobs that everyone wanted to anoint. This major step is one that had to be taken by Helton, but unless you’re into gambling, you probably shouldn’t be touting him as the next Pete Carroll or anything like that. Helton has many more steps to take and that’s okay. He’s clearly grown a lot since he started and hopefully will grow a lot more. Be patient and let it play out because Helton isn’t going to be fired, hired away, or get a contract extension after his first full season as head coach.

CommBro Breaker 3.14

Useless Stat of the Week: Since Pete Carroll has left USC plays well against teams ranked between #4 for some reason…

  • 26-13 win against 2016 Washington #4 (AP, Coaches Playoff)
  • 20-17 win against 2013 Stanford #4 (BCS)
  • 38-35 win against 2011 Oregon #4 (AP, Coaches, BCS)
  • 48-56 3OT loss against 2011 Stanford #4 (AP, BCS)

Yet, they get beat by almost everyone else in the top ten

Misleading Stat of the Week: The Trojans are ranked #15 and #25 in the AP Poll

The USC Trojans shot up from unranked to #15. The Troy Trojans dragged themselves up from unranked to #25. Troy University is a school out in Alabama. Currently, they have only lost to Clemson.

USC vs. UW: Thursday is the New Monday

USC vs. Washington
October 8, 2015 at 6:00pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: 63,623
Total Time: 3 hours 8 minutes

Can we all just agree that, no matter the outcome, Thursday night games are a terrible idea? Between all the traffic, missing work/school, and lack of tailgating it’s hard to really stop and enjoy the game. Then you get home at some ridiculous hour and have a full day of work/school to look forward to.

The band takes the field and the stadium is still more than half empty

The band takes the field and the stadium is still more than half empty

They are terrible like Cody Kessler was right out of the gates. Did he just fail a midterm or something? Most of his passes were off target, finishing the night with 16/29 (55.2% completion) for 156 yards, 0 TDs and 2 interceptions. He was off from the very start of the game, compounding on his usual errors. Uncoincidentally, it was probably his worst game since the 2013 home loss against Washington State.

Maybe it was because the Washington defense kept hitting after the play. There were multiple roughing the passer penalties and one was even called for targeting. Maybe it was the starting center, Max Tuerk, leaving after injury. Or maybe because backup Toa Lobedahn continually snapping the ball low. Despite all of that, they came just a few plays short of an ugly win. You can blame Kessler some, for sure, but maybe the blame should ultimately go to the 40-year old guy with 20 more years of football experience who gets paid millions of dollars to account for this kind of stuff. Quarterbacks, or any player for that matter, are allowed to have off days. It became quite apparent that throwing the ball, especially the deep ball, wasn’t going to work. And neither were passes to the flats for negative yards. Hey Sark, that’s not what they mean by #tbt. That’s also not how you get people to “Turn Up,” in any sense of the phrase, slang or otherwise.

When asked about not making the adjustment to run more, Sark simply said “Hindsight is 20-20.”

Pretty sure most people had the foresight to see otherwise. The offense was offensive to viewers. Thanks to the whole Thursday night thing, the whole nation got to watch USC stink it up in primetime on ESPN. The dismal third down conversion rate of 7.6% (1 of 13) led to the lowest point total they’ve been held to since a 14-10 showing mid-2013 against Notre Dame. How could they be so unprepared after returning from a bye week? That falls on the coach, as the team falls to 0-2 at home against Pac-12 teams and 3-2 overall.

In one game the defense fails. This game, the offense fails. Watch out special teams, you might be next. Following the trends, USC should beat Notre Dame since Sarkisian usually doesn’t lose two in a row. Then they’re right on schedule to play Utah at home. With Pac-12 having a sweet road field advantage and Utah having notoriously good special teams, the perfect storm can hit the Trojans for to continue their streak of losing every other game. But don’t worry, I’m not done talking about the offense just yet.

The three turnovers USC gave up is the highest by a Sarkisian-coached USC team. Last season, the Trojans only lost a total of 12, good for #2 in the nation. Thanks to mistakes and subpar play, the Huskies only managed to get 7 points off those turnovers.

The normally accurate kicker, Cameron Van Winkle, missed a 31-yard field goal attempt, dropping his career 90% from the 30-39 yard range down to 81%. If UW true freshman quarterback, Jake Browning, had a little more experience, he could’ve connected on some of those deep passes and put the game away long before USC’s final drive in the fourth quarter. Much like USC, the Huskies bungled themselves up with penalties that kept the game close.

The inter-Pac-12 game penalties continue to plague this USC team. They were flagged 8 times for 62 yards. Quite comically, no infraction or player got called twice. Each of the flags were all unique little snowflakes commited by different people: offensive facemask, unsportsmanlike conduct, illegal shift, false start, substitution infraction, illegal formation, holding, and offside. Eight strangers with one deadly connection—and it’s not disagreements over Daisy Domergue.

Right down to the end of this painful, USC managed to stay in it. After scoring on the RoJo touchdown, the crowd woke up and probably surprised the crap out of Washington. The defense then delivers a tackle for a loss and sack to pitch a three-and-out. The USC offense answers…with three straight passes to get their very own three-and-out. The defense trots back out and scrapes together another three-and-out. This your chance offense! Nope, let’s botch lining up and waste a timeout. That wouldn’t be the end of the problems though.

The decision-making on the final set of downs was downright baffling. USC was at the Washington 25-yard line with a 3rd-and-6 with the following to consider:

  • Kessler throwing badly most of the night
  • Offensive line not pass-blocking well half the time
  • Averaging over 6 yards per carry
  • Down by 5

Put in a fullback and run the ball. If you get the first down, nothing to worry about. Keep going. Even if you don’t convert, it should be a convertable 4th-and-short. Instead, the call is to try a pass. Okay. Kessler feels phantom pressure, scrambles and gets sacked even though Adoree’ was open across the middle. Fine, you still got a shot at the end zone to try to win it. Wait what?

That fan’s reaction closely mirrorred mine. Did you give up on winning? What are you thinking, coaching staff? Under four minutes to go, with only one timeout remaining, a single first down by UW, and the game is sealed. Can you really bet on your defense to get a third straight three-and-out or maybe a turnover? Then you have to drive the length of the field to get a field goal or touchdown. There are too many moving parts with that plan and risk builds up exponentially with each layer. Sark didn’t have to worry about any of it because the field goal missed and the Huskies got a first down. Have some guts and just go for it on fourth. I doubt fans would’ve criticized that call even if it failed.

That field goal kick was almost symbolized the game. You think it’s not going to make it, it starts to look like it will and ends up just frustratingly and comically short. The final thud of the ball against the crossbar

To make matters worse, the Trojans exited the game four more injuries to key players.

CommBro Breaker

I’m sure Trojans and Huskies can bond over handing off instead of passing.

Also, you no longer have to wonder whether a 1-loss USC team can sneak into the playoff.

Misleading Stat of the Week: USC has 0 passing touchdowns in the month of October, which is tied for last in the nation.