Stat to watch: fourth quarter scoring differential

During the last five seasons, USC has outscored its opponents in each of the first three quarters over the course of a season, sometimes by a decisive margin. The results, however, vary when studying the Trojans’ performance in the fourth quarter.

From 2006 to 2008, USC never lost the fourth quarter battle. During that span, the Trojans outscored opponents 306-132 in the final period, also posting a 34-5 record.

By contrast, the Trojans have been outscored in the fourth quarter the past two seasons by 57 points and have posted a 17-9 record over that time frame.

Fourth Quarter Scoring Differential

2010: Opponents 118 – USC 72

2009: Opponents 88 – USC 77

2008: USC 105 – Opponents 32

2007: USC 76 – Opponents 76

2006: USC 125 – Opponents 66

That inability to stop opponents in 2010 late in games is well documented. Washington and Stanford drove to kick field goals as time expired to win, and Notre Dame engineered a late drive to beat USC as well.

In the season opener Saturday against unranked Minnesota, the Golden Gophers outscored the Trojans 7-0 in the fourth quarter. In fact, the Trojans failed to score at all in the second half. Although the lack of second half production might be unsettling to fans, sophomore cornerback Torin Harris’s interception that sealed the victory should provide optimism after watching leads vanish late in games a year ago.

Moving forward, the Trojans must outscore their opponents in the fourth quarter. They can’t rely on building big leads early and then trying to hold on for dear life. As the last five years of data show, winning the fourth quarter is an important indicator of how successful the season will be.