Extra Innings: Blowout on paper, but that’s not the whole story

At the beginning of the football season, I stressed the importance of USC exiting the first three weeks with a 2-1 record. A win over UNLV and either Stanford or Texas would have had multiple benefits. First, and most evident, starting the season with a winning record would do wonders for the team’s morale. Second, it would keep fans interested in the team. That didn’t happen.

This past week I spoke to many USC fans and the first thing they would say is always a variation of the following: “Why does USC suck? JT Daniels was really a let down.”

Morale is down — morale of the team, of the campus, of alumni and of fans everywhere. They all share a common denominator: They are not used to USC losing. That’s understandable, as USC is historically one of the most dominant football programs in the country. The team hasn’t ended the season with a losing record since the 2000 season (before the Pete Carroll era). Prior to that, their most recent season below .500 was in 1991. That’s an extremely impressive statistic. Perhaps it can be attributed to the weakness of the Pac-12/10 conference, but regardless, USC does not know how to deal with losing.

This week’s matchup is important for so many reasons. One, a win over Wazzu will return USC to a .500 record both overall and against Pac-12 competition. Two, Washington State was one of the two teams that ruined USC’s 2017 season, and USC loves sweet revenge. Three, it will show that USC is capable of overcoming an elite offense.

Washington State currently sits in the No. 2 spot in passing offense behind only Texas Tech. Wazzu averages 10.2 yards per completion and has scored nine passing touchdowns. This sets up an interesting comparison to USC’s passing situation. While the Trojans average 12 yards per completion, they have only scored one passing touchdown (against UNLV) and have produced just 822 passing yards compared to WSU’s 1,263.

Following the Wazzu matchup, USC has some easy competition on the horizon. Its closest matchup will probably be Arizona State. By then, the Trojans should have at least three Pac-12 wins (topping Arizona, Colorado and Utah). Those “easier” matchups should grant USC some time to figure out their offensive struggles before facing the Sun Devils at the end of October.

At the very least, a loss against the Cougars will further accentuate what USC needs to focus on. The numbers on paper are telling me that the Trojans will lose to the Cougars. USC’s defense doesn’t look like it will be able to contain the Wazzu passing game, especially while missing captain senior linebacker Porter Gustin for the first 30 minutes. Moreover, USC has failed to produce any form of offense in the second half in its last two games. If the Cougars jump on USC early, it would be safe to say that the Trojans won’t be able to bring the game back.

However, statistics are one-dimensional; they never tell the full story. Did Appalachian State look better on paper than the Michigan Wolverines? Hell no. There are so many factors other than statistics that contribute to a football game, and these innumerable areas are where I think USC will excel.

Head coach Clay Helton lit a fire under the team at practice this week. On Monday he was livid, screaming for a majority of practice. This team, this coaching staff and this fanbase are mad. My prediction is that USC will come out of the gates guns-a-blazing on Friday. If USC plays mad, like they are tired of losing, they will win this game.

As my fellow columnist Eric He wrote earlier this week, USC is too talented to play like this. We have seen what happens when the USC passing game gets going against Texas, and we have seen what happens when the “three-headed monster” of running backs get together against Stanford. Moreover, it’s known that USC’s defense has been the one keeping the offense in the game (at least for the first half). USC has the talent — now, it just needs to mesh it all together in one game. The problem is finding the X-factor that will do it for the team, and nothing unites a team more than a hatred of losing.

This week was a short week of practice for both squads, which will benefit the Trojans. Although the common mantra is to put the loss behind and move on to the next week, the Trojans will still have the Texas massacre in the back of their minds come Friday night. If the Trojans play angry and play like they can’t afford another loss, they will leave Week 4 with a .500 record.

Sam Arslanian is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs Fridays.