Some USC fans bit their nails throughout the Trojans’ 42-29 win over Syracuse last Saturday — after all, they led the Orange by just five points entering the fourth quarter and ended up being outgained in total yardage, 455 to 445.
Even worse, senior center Khaled Holmes left the game with an injury, and though he is still listed as the starter for this week’s game at Stanford, it’s hard to forget he left MetLife Stadium on a cart.
But compared to the problems that have surfaced for other Pac-12 contenders over the first couple weeks of the season, USC might not have too much cause for concern.
Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, the only other player besides Matt Barkley entering his fourth year as quarterback in the Pac-12, retired from football Monday after suffering another serious shoulder injury in the Utes’ stunning overtime loss to Utah State last weekend. It was Wynn’s fourth shoulder injury in the last three years.
With Wynn directing their offense, the Utes were picked to finish second in the Pac-12 South in the conference’s preseason media poll.
But after losing to in-state rival Utah State for the first time in 15 years while averaging only 2.3 yards per carry and allowing Wynn to be sacked three times, it will take a big turnaround for the Utes to qualify for a bowl for the tenth year in a row.
Washington, led by touted gunslinger Keith Price, was a trendy preseason pick to disturb the Oregon-Stanford status quo atop the North division. Some of those bets were surely hedged after a slogging 21-12 win over San Diego State in their season opener, but Price promised the Huskies would bring their “A-game” in their week two matchup against LSU.
Naturally, the Huskies were promptly throttled 41-3 by the Bayou Bengals. Price completed less than half of his passes while throwing for just 157 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Washington also gained 26 yards on 24 carries. “A-game,” indeed.
You’d think we could expect some consistency from Stanford, which has recently become a perennial contender for the Pac-12 crown.
But even the Cardinal disappointed in its home opener against San Jose State, which makes a habit of getting walloped by power conference teams in its first game of the season.
From 2009-11, the Spartans gave up an average of 53.6 points against USC, Alabama and Stanford while mustering only a field goal in each blowout defeat. But this year, the Spartans marched into Palo Alto and gave Stanford a legitimate scare, outgaining the Cardinal in total yardage while falling valiantly 20-17.
Some say that Stanford redeemed itself last weekend with a 50-13 rout at home over Duke. But trust me, after living 30 minutes from Duke for 10 years, beating the Blue Devils — no matter the score — is nothing to get excited about.
Stanford’s defensive front seven allowed the Spartans’ offense to move down the field methodically and chew time off the clock in their upset bid. We’ll see this weekend if Stanford has the staying power to continue their program’s resurgence.
And that leaves Oregon. There’s no doubt that USC’s success will be defined by their game — or games — against the Ducks this season.And though our rivals from Eugene, Ore., haven’t shown any chinks in the armor yet, it was announced this week that they lost a pair of three-year starters for the rest of the season. Offensive lineman Carson York (fractured kneecap) and free safety John Boyett (knee surgery) have both likely played their last snaps as Ducks.
Realistically, as long as they still have running backs De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner creating havoc through the no-huddle offense, they’ll be a threat in the Pac-12. But like USC, their depth on defense has to be considered an issue after allowing an average of 29.5 points to Arkansas State and Fresno State.
The same issues that threaten to interrupt USC’s dream season — depth and inexperience on the defensive line — still remain. And a few more have emerged, with the injuries to Holmes and kicker Andre Heidari.
But can any team in the Pac-12 expose those flaws?
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