USC suffers historic season-opening defeat to Alabama

For about a quarter and a half, the No. 20 Trojans had to feel that they could upset top-ranked Alabama. They scored first, the presumably shoddy defensive unit was holding its own and redshirt junior quarterback Max Browne had completed his first seven passes as a starter.

And then, in a span of just over five minutes, those hopes were quickly crushed.

The Crimson Tide turned a 3-0 deficit in to a 17-3 halftime lead in a hurry, and then Nick Saban’s team — with former USC head coach Lane Kiffin guiding the offense — proceeded to drop 38 unanswered points on a USC squad that had no answer.

In the end, it was a humiliating 52-6 drubbing in primetime at the hands of the Crimson Tide, USC’s worst defeat since a 51-0 loss against Notre Dame in 1966.

“Obviously one game does not make a season,” head coach Clay Helton said. “We played a very good team today, and they played up to their potential. And just the cold, hard truth is we did not play up to ours.”

It started with a 39-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts to redshirt junior wide receiver ArDarius Stewart, who beat sophomore defensive back Iman Marshall to give Alabama a 7-3 lead. A 3-and-out and an Alabama field goal set up a critical miscue for the Trojans — Browne’s pass from deep in his own territory intended for sophomore wide receiver Deontay Burnett was deflected and intercepted by redshirt sophomore defensive end Marlon Humphrey for a pick-six.

From there, Alabama took firm control. Out of the half, missed coverage by USC left the entire right side of the field wide open for Stewart to catch and score on a 71-yard reception. Another Trojans’ fumble in their own territory quickly turned into 7 more points for the Crimson Tide, as Hurts waltzed into the end zone on a quarterback keeper to give Alabama a 28-point advantage.

Browne expressed remorse that a game had been hyped for years resulted in a disappointing loss.

“With a big-time opponent like that, I think we’re just disappointed in the fact that we feel like we didn’t go out there and play our best ball,” Browne said.

It was a forgettable debut for the redshirt junior, who had patiently waited for a chance to start at USC. Another key player, junior wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, would also like to erase this game from his memory. The star receiver struggled, catching just one pass for nine yards, as Alabama applied double coverage on him.

“It’s tough,” Smith-Schuster said about his one-catch night. “But it’s out of respect that they [double-teamed].”

Smith-Schuster added it was a combination of little mistakes that led to the blowout.

“It takes 11 guys to score and if one guys messes up it messes up the whole thing,” he said. “It confuses everybody else.”

The Crimson Tide scored their 38th unanswered point near the six-minute mark of the third quarter on another rushing touchdown by Hurts, who appears to have claimed the starting job over redshirt freshman Blake Barnett for Alabama.

Hurts finished the game with two touchdowns on 118 yards and 6-of-11 passing. Sophomore running back Damien Harris rushed for 140 yards, while Stewart caught four passes for 113 yards.

Helton admitted he was not pleased with his team’s physicality.

“Just being honest, I believe physicality is being able to impose your will in the run game,” Helton said. “We did not do that tonight … We can’t let JuJu Smith-Schuster get double-teamed all night. You have to be able to run the ball, get one-high coverages, and make it easier for quarterbacks.”

The first quarter started out quite innocent enough for both teams, and it was a field position battle to begin. The Trojans’ converted on their first drive with a 47-yard field goal by redshirt junior Matt Boermeester.

USC’s defense held its own early on. Senior linebacker Michael Hutchings sacked Barnett which led to a punt, and when the Tide went to Hurts at quarterback, he immediately coughed up a fumble that sophomore linebacker Cameron Smith recovered.

USC held Alabama to just one first down and two total passing yards in the first quarter.

But the Trojans failed to convert on their opportunities. Browne, after starting the game completing his first seven passes, soon struggled against a strong Alabama defensive front. He finished the half misfiring on 13 of his final 16 passes.

Offensive coordinator Tee Martin noted that the lack of a run game affected Browne’s accuracy. USC had just 64 yards on the ground, with leading rusher sophomore Ronald Jones II accruing only 46 yards on seven carries.

“Max, I thought, did a good job in the pocket and making the throws he had to make, but we didn’t consistently run the ball well enough to maintain the balance you need against a defense like that,” Martin said.

Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold replaced Browne for two series in the third quarter, both of which ended in three-and-outs. He came back in the fourth quarter for two more series, finishing with 29 yards on 4-of-8 passing.

Helton said he wanted Darnold to gain experience, and was pleased he didn’t make any “critical errors.” Though, he addressed his players in what he described as “brutally honest” fashion in the locker room.

“One game does not define us,” he said. “I expect from them to go back on that plane, watch tape, learn from it and have the chip on their shoulder. Play mad for the rest of the season … this is not who we are.”

12 replies
  1. GeorgeCurious
    GeorgeCurious says:

    I’m just glad Kiffin didn’t realize that putting another 6 points on the board would have represented USC’s worse loss in history. He would have made sure of it, believe me. Phew, that was close.

    All I know is we better blow out Utah State or heads will begin to roll. Fight on.

  2. Joe '79
    Joe '79 says:

    Perhaps Helton will have a rocky first year, as Carroll did; but comparing the competitive heart and discipline ND displayed in it’s loss Sunday to the physical and mental debacle that followed the primadonna “look-at-me” SC crawl onto the field Saturday night indicates a we might still be wandering the post-Pete wastelands (curse you NCAA for your pettiness and jealousy!).

    It is easy to like Coach Helton, hope he pulls it together. Gotta say, hat’s off to ND for their poise.

  3. Choose!
    Choose! says:

    Tee Martin should have never been promoted to OC. He totally did not have that team prepared at all. Plus he is a disgusting fat slob.

  4. joecohen66
    joecohen66 says:

    USC coaches are not in the same league as the Alabama coaches. Who was the coach who dialed corner blitz just before Alabama scored 1st TD? Our defense had the Alabama offense under control by playing tough disciplined defense. It was 3rd and 5. Bama QB was nervous and confused. A disciplined tight coverage would have done the trick. Instead, the coach called for corner blitz and leaving receiver uncovered and gave the nervous QB an open target. That was the pivot point of the game. Our players played their hearts out.

    Football is a game of schemes and strategies. Our inferior coaching staff doomed the outcome of this game long before the game started. This is the sad reality that our Trojan family will have to deal with for the next couple of years. Helton was a BAD hire.

  5. John
    John says:

    That was painful and embarrassing to watch.

    In all my years, I have never seen a more poorly coached USC team. I am sure that Pat Haden would not even be able to argue at how poorly USC was prepared and coached.

    Alabama is supremely talented and coached, but there is no reason that USC, with its talented roster and history, should look that bad and lose by 46. USC coaches looked like a bunch of amateurs compared to Alabama.

    Clay Helton is a good man, but he is not ready to be running a big-time program like USC. Pat Haden made a pitiful hire in Steve Sarkisian and followed that debacle up with the lazy hiring of Clay Helton.

    With Lynn Swann in charge, it’s time for USC to go out and get a real football coach.

    USC 91’

  6. FightOn!
    FightOn! says:

    In the spring, I discussed with Coach Helton the idea of speaking with the team about staying out of trouble with the law. I offered to bring a former player with me who is now a police officer. This offer was rejected. Now, he has two players looking at serious charges. Makes we wonder if this guy is the right hire to lead the football team of this prestigious university…

Comments are closed.