The loss to Alabama is one USC will want to forget quickly as they move on to Utah State. But first we take a look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly from last Saturday in Arlington.
Although there’s not a lot of good to talk about, I thought one of the highlights of the game for USC was the defense. Yes, the game got out of hand in the second half, but this unit impressed for the majority of the first half, while the offense was trying to figure things out. There was a blown coverage in the second quarter that contributed to the momentum swing after the half, but overall the defense showed it might be better than advertised. Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith led the Trojans with 9 tackles each.
Captain Adoree' Jackson really stood out in this game with his effort and leadership. No one can make the argument he mailed it in when the game was out of hand. On a play late in the second half, Alabama RB Damien Harris busted out a 46 yard run for what looked like a touchdown. Jackson ran Harris down at the USC 13 yard line and the defense forced a field goal. Jackson chipped in with 4 tackles and had 4 returns for 112 yards.
The offensive unit for the Trojans belongs in the bad category, although an argument could be made that this should be in the ugly category. The offensive line that was raved about in the preseason got pushed around by Alabama and never gave Max Browne a chance to settle in.
The only time the passing offense looked functional was in the first quarter when Browne was 8-11 for 68 yards, but took 2 sacks. JuJu Smith-Schuster was double covered on almost every play of the game, winding up with only 1 catch for 9 yards. Sam Darnold took some snaps throughout the game, but don’t read much into that. Browne is the clear starter moving forward.
The running game, as a result of the poor offensive line performance, was almost non-existent. USC cycled three tailbacks throughout the game, attempting 30 carries for a total of 64 yards. Coach Clay Helton cited the Trojans inability to run the ball numerous times in the post game press conference, clearly indicating this crucial part of the game plan was a failure.
The ugly from this game is simple, Clay Helton and the USC staff were severely out coached by Nick Saban and company. The Trojans were not expected to come into this game and shock the world by beating #1 Alabama, especially with Helton in his first season as the permanent head coach. However, no one was expecting the wheels to completely fall off.
There was a point in the game where USC simply looked lost. No attempt seemed to be made to change up the game plan to jump start the offense. In fact, Tee Martin failed miserably in his first game taking on offensive coordinator duties. There was a moment in which it appeared Helton took over play calling for Martin. Senior RB Justin Davis said, "Somewhere in that game, we kind of got thinking we were overwhelmed at some point.” He said later “They didn't do anything crazy or special...They just outplayed us. We weren't ready”.
Previewing Utah State
The Trojans look to get back on track Saturday in their home opener against Utah State. USC has never lost to the Aggies, although their last match up in 2013 was much closer than expected with USC winning 17-14. This game will be the earliest kickoff for the program since the late 1950’s with an 11 a.m. PST start.
Look for USC to come out and try to run the ball early and often against the Aggies. Helton made it a point to talk extensively in the post-game press conference last week about USC’s inability to run the ball and protect Max Browne. The offensive line will need to improve their performance in the matchup against the Aggies. Justin Davis should get the majority of the carries this Saturday, with Smith-Schuster having a big game if the Trojans are able to run the ball effectively.
USC will be in great shape defensively if they can stop the run. The Aggies had 6 rushing touchdowns on 428 yards, albeit against FCS opponent Weber St. The defensive unit, especially the front four, can once again show it was potentially undersold in the preseason if they’re able to hold Utah State to a low score.
The Trojans will take the field without DE Jabari Ruffin who is suspended for the first half after stepping on the crotch of an Alabama player and sitting out the second half. Osa Masina and Don Hill will also sit out again, although they attended classes and practice this week while being investigated in a sexual assault case.
The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.