Alright guys, this is getting a little bit out of hand. We have been down at the end of the first quarter in all of the last five games. To say that we are coming out of the gates slow is an understatement. But something has to be said about the resiliency the Trojans are showing under Coach Clay Helton. This heart and passion is reminiscient of Pete Carrol’s tenure where we felt like we could win any game no matter what. I’ll be honest though, that performance by USC on a cold night in Boulder, Colorado was hard to watch. There were some very key defensive and special teams plays that kept us in the game. It seems like that is the case every week. With Oregon and UCLA on the horizon, the Trojans are going to have to figure out a way to start and finish strong. One-dimensional gameplans will not work against the good teams, and we saw how great Oregon looked against Stanford on Saturday.
- It really is same old, same old. The conditions were tough and Cody Kessler’s lone interception was most likely due to Steven Mitchell stopping his route, but there is simply no excuse for the mediocrity we are seeing on game day. I know that might sound harsh, but let’s call it constructive criticism. Kessler has the talent to sling the ball around the field, we saw it quite a bit last year. I sense a lack of game savvy and trust in his wide receivers. A leader takes chances and accepts the consequences of his actions. All I’m seeing is a quarterback who is afraid to take chances because he is afraid of those consequences. Not every throw has to be perfect. I know turnovers lose games, but so does not scoring touchdowns.
Running Backs: C+
- Ronald Jones II is human? I guess so Trojan fans. He seemed to have a hard time finding running room all night even with a decent amount of touches. Sometimes superstars have off games, especially those who are shining as true freshmen. That is where the veteran leaders step in and take control. With Tre Madden hurt and unavailable at game time, Justin Davis was the lone veteran back and the only real option the Trojans had. Davis stepped up with some hard runs and a key first down to ice the game. He might not be the game breaker that Jones II is, but his consistency is something that should not go unnoticed by Trojan fans and even scouts for the next level. The NFL loves backs who are smart, consistent, and catch the ball out of the backfield. I also want to point out that Ronald Jones II has struggled in pass protection, but if you take a look at USC’s second touchdown, Jones II made a crucial block to give Kessler time. Davis has also exhibited time and time again that he is the Trojan’s best pass blocking option.
Wide Receivers: B-
- Let’s give a shout out for a tight end touchdown! I feel like those are about as common as Halley’s Comet. Taylor McNamara came up with a crucial touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone to keep the momentum going. Steven Mitchell, disregarding his missed route, had some great slant passes that displayed his quickness off the ball. Even Jahleel Pinner got in on the action, redeeming himself after a drop in the Arizona game. JuJu maintained his consistency with another strong performance, finalizing the game with style after a long completion from Kessler.
Offensive Line: C
- Consistent pressure on a quarterback who is afraid to make mistakes is a recipe for disaster. Granted the line is makeshift and even received another injury blow with Viane Talamaivao tearing his meniscus. Coach Helton is unsure whether Talamaivao will be ready for the Oregon game. These guys are giving a great effort, but it seems like the technique and scheme is lacking. We simply aren’t utilizing the players in the right way. That is a huge problem especially with the offensive linemen being the cornerstone of the offense. If this group can improve against the powerful rushes of Oregon and UCLA, then expect the Trojans to have success.
Defensive Line: A-
- The playmaking of Delvon Simmons cannot go unnoticed for much longer. He always seems to make a big play, similar to his predecessor Leonard Williams. The forced fumble and blocked kick by Simmons gave USC the momentum it needed to get back into the game. The defense tallied 6 sacks against Colorado, many of them possible due to the holes opened up by the linemen and the relentless pursuit of the quarterback. The line also stopped Colorado to 60 yards rushing which is remarkable considering the struggles the Trojans had early on in the year stopping the run. Things can be cleaned up here and there but overall a very clutch and solid performance.
- Su’a Cravens is that guy. He is everywhere on the field and always makes the big plays when it matters. His sack of Colorado quarterback Cole Apsay started the second quarter off strong. He also plowed over a running back to get pressure on Apsay, culminating in a sack by Antwaun Woods. He is the glue of this defense and we need him to play out of his mind against Oregon and UCLA. Unfortunately, the linebacking corps will be shorthanded for the rest of the season as both middle linebackers Cameron Smith (torn ACL) and Lamar Dawson (shoulder surgery) are out for the year. Already thin on defense, this comes a devastating blow for the Trojans. Expect Michael Hutchings and Olajuwon Tucker to fill the role. Hutchings played a great game against Stanford last year when Hayes Pullard got ejected.
- Another big play by John “Pac-Man” Plattenburg. He seems to be eating up any opportunity he can get to shift the momentum toward the Trojans. Last week it was an interception, and this week it was a sack off of a safety blitz. However, the rest of the secondary had a sub-par performance, including what was probably the worst defensive performance of Adoree’ Jackson’s USC career. Colorado’s starting quarterback Sefo Liufau went down with an injury. On came true freshman Cade Apsay. The Trojans tried to get to him early with mixed success. He later torched the USC defense on quick slants and out routes. The secondary did a very poor job at adapting to the new quarterback and let Apsay have a field day in the first half.
Special Teams: D
- This group is tough to watch. Alex Wood made a clutch 41 yard field goal that ultimately made the difference in the game, but he continually can’t make his kickoffs go into the endzone. This puts a lot of pressure on our kick return team to give the opposing team bad field position. Speaking of field position, punter Kris Albarado was awful this game. USC media says he kicks the ball great in practice, but he just can’t seem to translate that to the game. His poor kick gave the punt coverage team no chance to catch Nelson Spruce’s big return that set up a Colorado touchdown. If our special teams do not improve next season, it will be another long year in this department.
- I think the Trojans would agree with you in saying this performance was not pretty. But they showed perseverance and came out with a road win. The Trojans now control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South and can clinch the South title with wins over Oregon and UCLA, something the Trojans have struggled with recently. Our linebacking corps will have to step up with the loss to two key players in Smith and Dawson. Oregon has been averaging around 8 yards per play in the past couple weeks, so it will be imperative for the Trojans to stop the big play and keep the Ducks from running away with the game.
Prediction: Oregon 45- USC 41
- Following along with the superstition seems to be working wonders for the Trojans. My picking of them to lose every week seems to be motivating the team at halftime to come back and win the game. This prediction might be a little closer than usual. Expect a great game up in Eugene this upcoming Saturday.