For the second straight home game, the football team not only managed to lose, but also did so in truly embarrassing fashion.
While the concept of what is “embarrassing” has been defined and redefined countless times this season, Saturday’s 15-14 loss to Cal was truly a new low for USC.
A Week 2 loss to Stanford, in which the Trojans managed just 3 points against a Stanford defense that would go on to allow 40 points at home to Utah and Washington State, was embarrassing.
Seeing a 14-3 lead turn into a 37-14 loss to the Texas Longhorns was embarrassing.
Allowing Arizona to come back to nearly beat the Trojans after USC committed 18 penalties accounting for nearly 170 yards was embarrassing.
Dropping back-to-back divisional games to Utah and Arizona State to not only eliminate the stranglehold on the Pac-12 South but also wipe out a 19-game home winning streak was embarrassing.
This week, the Trojans lost to a Golden Bears squad that has been winless against USC in its last 14 attempts and hasn’t won in the Coliseum since 2000. The loss firmly eliminates USC from Pac-12 South contention, and also brings the team to a point where they will more than likely fail to qualify for bowl season if they cannot handle business in the Rose Bowl against UCLA. It would be the first time since 2011 and the third time this century that the Trojans would fail to make it to postseason play.
Put lightly, this is extremely disappointing for a team that has made it to two consecutive New Years’ Six bowls, won the conference a year ago and has had recruiting classes ranked no lower than 10th over the past four years.
Put harshly, yet realistically, this is completely unacceptable from any USC team — and heads need to roll.
While head coach Clay Helton may not be the single cause for USC’s failures, Saturday’s defeat made it clear that the team’s problems may be much more deep-rooted than an ineffective offense. In the waning moments of the weekend’s contest, a season defining moment for the Trojans came when senior cornerback Iman Marshall took a 15-yard penalty for taunting the Golden Bears bench, allowing Cal to ice the win.
On one hand, Marshall certainly has to be more concentrated on the game at hand. As a senior leader and the best player on the Trojan defense by most metrics, he must set a better example for the rest of the unit. At the same time, just as much of the blame falls on Helton and the tone of the program.
At this point, it is clear that USC is not entirely focused on winning or even being a competitive team. This version of USC football is essentially a professional development program for players to make their name known, gain scouts’ attention and get drafted. In some ways, that is alright.
If players will continue to be left without proper compensation for their work here in college, then what should prevent them from doing all they can to get paid as handsomely as professionals?
The problem, however, lies in Helton’s desire to do both. When a leader like Marshall makes a selfish decision, it becomes clear that this team simply isn’t focused on winning. When Helton pleads to officials, “please don’t call that penalty” with a look of pure desperation and terror in his eyes, it becomes clear he hasn’t prepared himself or his players to compete.
With every passing moment, the fanbase becomes more impatient, recruits become more indecisive and veteran players continue to wonder why they would stick around a program that will not help them win or get paid like they can in the NFL.
Again, it is up to Athletic Director Lynn Swann to make the tough decisions. Again, USC looks like a team that is directionless, leaderless and simply waiting on the next miracle player (see: Sam Darnold) to come around and save it. This team must perform better than it has all season. This program must have higher expectations. If this isn’t enough of a catalyst for change, then it’s possible that nothing will be.
Jimmy Goodman is a junior majoring in communication. His column, “The Point After,” runs every other Tuesday.