Extra Innings: It all comes down to discipline for USC

If the Trojans had the chance to not play their upcoming matchup against Colorado, it would be a really smart move.   Unfortunately, this is college football and not a game of poker, where you can just leave the table and come back later. I say this because unless USC routs Colorado on Saturday by at least a couple touchdowns, fans and analysts will question USC’s ability.

Let’s look at the two most probable outcomes of Saturday’s game: Either USC wins by a small margin or Colorado wins. Yes, Colorado is the leader of Pac-12 South and it does best USC in nearly every offensive and defensive statistic. But, once again, statistics are only relevant in context.

Looking at the Buffaloes’ schedule, they have only just begun to meet relevant competition. In their first three games, the Buffaloes faced Colorado State, Nebraska and New Hampshire; I wouldn’t consider any of those squads elite football programs. On the other hand, they have played against two Pac-12 foes in Arizona State and UCLA, which happen to be the two worst teams in the Pac-12 South. It’s clear that Colorado has been able to “show” its eliteness through inflated stats, including their 2,453 yards of total offense. In stark contrast, USC has seen Stanford and Texas, two very solid teams.

I don’t think Colorado deserves to be the No. 19 seed or even in the Top 25, and I don’t think USC deserves it either. If USC wants to prove it is an elite team, it needs to start putting up some serious points soon. That’s tough because the team is “incomplete” on so many fronts (hence the name of this Sports Extra). Like managing editor Eric He and columnist Trevor Denton have both said, this team has too much talent to not dominate games against weaker teams like Colorado.

Take USC’s game against Arizona, for example. The first half showcased the team USC can be, and the second half glaringly illustrated how this team needs discipline and it still incomplete. In the first half, USC put up 17 unanswered points. The offense looked extremely dynamic, completing passes all over the field — including a couple tight end receptions (what a concept for USC), and the defense was absolutely lockdown. I remember thinking to myself at halftime, “USC is back, here is where they start rolling.” I had no reason not to think that, as the team has steadily brought things together throughout each game. Freshman quarterback JT Daniels’ strokes of genius became more and more prevalent, and the running game took off at the hands of senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware.

But then came the second half.

My inner thoughts changed to, “Oh boy, here it goes.” I wouldn’t be surprised if that game was part of some conspiracy theory in which USC decided to put a completely different team on the field just to see what would happen. Arizona scored 20 unanswered points, and if it weren’t for a couple key defensive stops and the 60-minute time constraint, USC would have lost that game.  

USC must win this game against Colorado, and it must win by a large margin. It is imperative that the Trojans play as the team that fans saw in the first half of the Arizona game. Moreover, the penalties must stop. It’s difficult to win a game when a piece of yellow cloth keeps moving the ball 10 yards in the wrong direction. To provide some context, USC was penalized 169 yards against the Wildcats, and that game was on the back of its 118-yard penalization affair against Washington State. Both the penalty situation and second half performance come down to one word: discipline.

The Trojans have more than enough talent to be a solid football program. They have the capability to rout teams in at least a couple of their remaining matchups. I can only imagine what players and coaches were talking about this week behind closed doors. At the very least, the Colorado game will be a very telling gauge for USC. A win will grant them control over the Pac-12 South, but I am going to need to see some discipline out of this team before I believe that they have the ability to play up to their full potential.

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