The USC Trojans have dawdled through September once again, and they paid the price with a terrible performance that wiped their slate clean. It remains to be seen whether that performance was the amplification of future flaws, or whether it was just USC struggling to stop swallowing their credentials as a national championship contender and getting burned for their lack of effort.
There can't be any more of that. Not as the schedule starts getting tougher, not as the opponents start realizing where USC is weak and where they are strong.
As USC gets ready for Utah, they have a lot to figure out. Will they be able to keep the methodical attack they returned to against Cal going? Will they stay oriented toward a defense that dominates on their side of the football, then ball controls the other team to death?
They seem to have a perfect target in the Utes on Thursday night, as Utah doesn't seem like they possess the offensive wherewithal to really break free and attack the Trojans and try and outscore them. Utah is struggling to move the football, as they're 116th in total yards per game and 121st in yards per offensive play. Jon Hays is getting better at managing the game, but Utah's rushing attack behind John White IV has been very meek, averaging around 2.65 rush yards per carry (120th overall). Former USC commit Kelvin York had a nice performance in relief against Arizona State, but it's clear that Utah needs a lot more on the ground if they don't expect to constantly go three-and-out this week.
But while the offense might be a bit of a wasteland, the defense does provide some measure of hope. Utah does seem to have a similar blueprint defensively to Stanford (terrible offense supplemented by an excellent defense), where they can try and plug up the run game, get pressure on Barkley and force him to make throws. Barkley didn't adapt so well to pressure the first time he faced it all game, but you have to think he'll be better ready to respond on this occasion.
There is still a lot for the Trojans to play for. They're still the prohibitive favorite to win the Pac-12 South, and if anyone has the capability to knock off Oregon as the conference champions, it's them. Heck, if a few dominoes fall the right way, a national championship suddenly becomes a distinct possibility once more. But they have to show the ability to not only absorb the blows, but come right back and deal them. There were signs of life shown against Cal, but USC needs a lot more if they expect to knock off the best in this conference.
All out of excuses now. Time to play.