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Matt Barkley, Lane Kiffin and the USC Trojans are happy that they're 5-1. They can't be much happy about anything else.
There is literally zero buzz around the USC Trojans right now, and a solid but unremarkable win against the Washington Huskies didn't change things. USC did their deal where they put up two touchdowns, took a three score lead, then held on for dear life the rest of the way. They pulled it off because they're the Trojans, but these kind of games won't help.
Or will it help?
The Trojans are looking terribly underwhelming heading into the halfway point of their season. You'd expect a lot more from USC at this point, but so far they've been involved in four conference games that have been one and two score affairs going into the fourth quarter.
The USC offense enjoys applying blunt metal objects to their feet, arms, heads, whatever. The Trojans undo nearly a half-dozen plays on a regular basis with penalties of all sorts. USC averages ten penalties in the game, worst in the country, and Matt Barkley and his cohorts Marqise Lee and Robert Woods always seem to go one step forward, one step back. The Trojans have averaged six yards per play but can't put the football in the end zone with any regularity.
Then there's the whole third down conversion thing. Guess who's last in the Pac-12 and bottom ten in the country? Not Colorado. The Trojans are 30% on the season so far, and it drops to 25% in Pac-12 play. It's a baffling stat, particularly when Barkley has two of the most dangerous wideouts in the country. USC went only 2 for 12 on Saturday night in Seattle, coming up short on plenty of manageable down-and-distance situations.
And as good as Oregon has looked in their third quarters, USC has looked equally bad. The Trojans have only scored 14 points in the third quarter this season, and ZERO in Pac-12 play. At this rate, USC fans might have to hope they take a 50 point halftime lead over the Ducks to have any chance. Lane Kiffin seems to enjoy whatever the opposite of halftime adjustments are.
The USC defense has been good, but not world-beating. After shutting down Cal and Utah for the most part, the Huskies had their chances to score and move ahead. Washington drove the field a bunch of times, and nearly made their win in Seattle a lot more uncomfortable than it should've been, but the Trojans managed to force one turnover at the goal-line and another turnover in the end zone. If not for John Baxter and the USC special teams (17 blocked kicks in three years!), it'd be hard to find a unit that's excelling at what they do.
Either this is some bizarre rope-a-dope strategy to keep the whole country off-balance for the final month of the season, or USC will have to fix a lot more in the next couple of weeks.
The good news is the Trojans do still have one more week to get the house in order, and hapless Colorado is the perfect team to fix an ailing squad. Right now, Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd keep on being various sorts of banged up, precluding an overwhelming ground attack. That makes more defenses play the passing game, and Barkley really doesn't seem comfortable throwing into bracketed coverage despite having some of the surest hands in football catching his throws.
So USC plays the sort of football game where they try to take an early lead, then grind clock from that point onward and dare the opponent to try and beat them with their passing game. Washington proved they could move it, although had trouble punching it in when they had the chance.
But they can't keep on giving their best for a quarter and a half and expect to hold on. This is the weakest part of USC's schedule, and they seem content to only skirt by with the barest of victories. Rich Rod's spread and shred isn't going to be merciful, nor will a rising ASU squad, nor will resurgent UCLA, nor will that vaunted Notre Dame defense. And of course Oregon, always Oregon, maybe twice this year for good measure.
There's a lot USC should feel proud about. They're forcing big turnovers, they're taking early leads, they're not blowing games, they're running the football pretty well, and they're coping with a minimal depth chart. But much more is expected from the Trojans, and if they plan to rise to those levels they'll need to get the house in order for the home stretch.