Keith’s Keys: USC needs to utilize its playmakers for success

A great man once said, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”

In the post-game press conference after an embarrassing 17-3 defeat at the hands of Stanford, USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin pulled out his best Vince Vaughn impression, dodging questions and shirking responsibility regarding USC’s offensive impotency.

When asked why sophomore running back Stephen Carr and freshman wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown didn’t get more touches, Martin — after claiming that both Carr and St. Brown played a lot of snaps — responded with an at-fault coach’s all-time classic and sports version of the Fifth Amendment: “Next question.”

Pleading the Fifth protects those in the court of law from self-incrimination. But, in the court of the Trojan football, “next question” is as useful as a third-down screenplay to redshirt sophomore Vavae Malepeai — two things Martin is quite familiar with.

Anyone could tell that Martin knew his lackluster play-calling cost the Trojans the game but was masking his guilt by avoiding the question.

Trojan football will most likely fall short of the 2018 Pac-12 title, but it’s not because of a lack of talent.

It is because of a lack of coaching.

For St. Brown, who caught seven passes for 98 yards and a touchdown just a week ago against UNLV, to go an entire half without a single target is simply ridiculous.

For Martin to ignore arguably the best USC receiver in years for a full half would be a fireable offense at other programs.

USC has the talent at every single position to light up opposing defenses, yet the Trojans turned the ball over three times and failed to execute on third down.

Martin claimed that it was a lack of execution that lost the Trojans the game, when, in fact, it was a complete lack of preparation and inconsistent offensive strategy that did the Trojans in.

It seemed that sophomore wide receiver Tyler Vaughns was the only reliable receiver on USC’s roster because he ran the easiest routes possible.

Vaughns is talented, but he should not be the be-all and end-all for the Trojan offense when there’s such a plethora of other talented receivers available.

On multiple occasions, Martin ran poor plays when the Trojans needed big ones.

While the Vaughns curl route was working for short yardage gains, Martin refused to dial up enough long routes to stretch the field vertically.

Stanford demolished USC’s secondary by throwing all over the middle of the field to their physical tight ends.

And although a couple of drops by senior tight end Tyler Petite and underthrown passes from freshman quarterback JT Daniels were not in Martin’s control, the lack of consistent strategy from the Trojan coaching staff is concerning.

There’s not much you can do when your quarterback injures his throwing hand. But, when the offensive line — which came into that game with multiple guys not at their peaks — opened up holes left and right for ’SC running backs, there has to be questions regarding the decisions behind these plays.

Aside from a poor first-quarter drive where the defense allowed 39 yards to Bryce Love, including a seven-yard touchdown scamper, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast kept a dangerous Cardinal offense at bay for a majority of the game. The defense did its job and more on Saturday, and was rewarded with the worst offensive performance by a USC team in over 20 years.

Some may argue that the road environment at Stanford Stadium makes it hard for any team to pull out a victory. And while that may be true, it’s still unacceptable that a Trojan defense could hold a Cardinal offense to just 3 second-half points and still lose the game because of an offense that didn’t know what it was doing.

This week’s game against Texas will be yet another tough road test that will reveal whether or not this USC ballclub is ready for the postseason.

Martin, who assumed full control of the play calling from Helton this season, will have to change everything from this past week or risk yet another lost USC season.

If you asked me on the stand whether or not Martin deserves to be USC’s offensive coordinator after last week’s performance, I’d plead the Fifth.

Keith Demolder is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. His column, “Keith’s Keys,” runs every other Tuesday.