In light of early obstacles, any win will do
As sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley got up to leave his seat at the press conference after USCâs closer-than-youâd-like 17-14 win over Virginia Saturday night, he muttered in a hushed voice, almost out of range of the microphone, âA win is a win.â
The tone of the statement coming out of the young leaderâs mouth appeared to be a mixture of determination, exhaustion and, most of all, frustration.
But not the type of frustration youâd expect after a troubled three-point victory over a perennial ACC bottom feeder. This frustration seemed to come from the feeling that no one understood how hard it has been for this team, which was essentially broken down and rearranged during the offseason, to continue to play at an elite level and still come away with a 2-0 record.
It is understandable that USC fans expect the best from their team. After all, the Trojans have won 11 games or more and a Pac-10 title in seven of the last eight seasons; even last year, the one time when the team failed to achieve both those benchmarks, it still posted nine victories and an Emerald Bowl win.
But itâs time to wake up. Pete Carroll is off somewhere in Seattle, and the 2000s are over. USC still has great talent, great coaching and great fans, but this is an entirely different show, and there is still a lot of growing to do for the Trojans before they really deserve the expectations that are automatically placed on them with the start of every season.
The Virginia game marked only the 35th time that USC coach Lane Kiffin has been at the helm of a team â unheard of for a head coach at an upper-tier college program â and he is coaching a unit that put 10 sophomores and freshmen out on the field in starting offensive and defensive roles against the Cavaliers. No matter how good those players are, nothing can take the place of in-game experience, and there is going to be a significant learning curve as they try to become accustomed to collegiate-level football.
Even some of the starting upperclassmen â redshirt junior tailback Marc Tyler, redshirt junior tight end Rhett Ellison and junior tackle Armond Armstead, to name a few â have only started a handful of games in their careers, as they have dealt with lingering injuries or a loaded depth chart that prevented them from rising to the top spot.
The inexperience is evident. You can see it in the missed assignments, the overthrown passes and the miscommunication at the line. And even if youâve missed those instances, the blizzard of yellow flags should be a dead giveaway â USC has already racked up 24 penalties for 240 yards in two games, astronomical numbers for a college team.
To make matters worse, the pushover opponents that so many expected to face in the first couple of games (myself included â see my last column) never really showed up. In their place were two smart, well-run programs that werenât afraid to go toe-to-toe with a nationally ranked opponent.
They have faced the best passing offense in the nation in Hawaiâi, who, even after having both its first- and second-string quarterbacks knocked out of the game by USC defenders, continued to put up yards and points through the air.
They have faced a solid Virginia defense that ranks near the top in fewest points and yards allowed thus far, which put its foot down on the Trojan running game and held some of the most dynamic backs in the country to 147 combined yards on 33 attempts.
But they are 2-0. They have found a way to win, even if it hasnât been in typical USC fashion.
Call me soft or naĂŻve, but this team has faced more obstacles in the last nine months than any other team in the nation and it remains undefeated.
And they havenât shown any signs of letting up. The players have made it clear that they see the challenge ahead of them. If Kiffinâs post-game interviews are any indication, the Trojans will be out at practice today working harder than they have all season to be as prepared as possible for next week.
For that, they should be commended.
And for that, those of us in Trojan nation should take a deep breath, relax and remember: For now, a win is a win.
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