Extra Innings: Football needs to find its focus now

I can’t even begin to comprehend the amount of times I have said “Oh boy!” while watching USC football this year.

Watching the Trojans this year has done nothing but stress me out, especially as of late. The first half gives me so much hope, so much faith that head coach Clay Helton has finally banded this team together and it will get back to its top-tier status, but then the second-half performance slams all of my hopes and beliefs back to reality.

This should not fall on one person. It’s not a coaching problem. It’s not a talent problem. And it sure isn’t a matchup problem. It comes down to mental mistakes born out of frustration.

I am going to use cornerback Iman Marshall as an example, but by no means should all of the blame for the Cal loss fall on him. Marshall is a senior. He is supposed to be a leader. One of his responsibilities is to lead by example, and fighting with Cal’s sideline to give them a first down with minutes left in a 1-point game is not a good example.

Anyone that has played a sport or has a competitive streak can attest that frustration brings out the worst in an athlete; all judgment goes out the window. But you have to ground yourself and embrace the age-old phrase, “Beat them on the scoreboard.” It’s cheesy, but whoever he was fighting isn’t going to remember taking a shove or two from Marshall. On the contrary, he is going to remember the scoreboard reading Cal 15, USC 14.

Moreover, the penalties have to stop. Yellow laundry has plagued the Trojans this season. It is really hard to win a football game when you constantly give the opposing team free yards. The Trojans are averaging 74.9 penalty yards per game, 121st worst out of the 130-team FBS. That is unacceptable, especially considering the fact that a hefty amount of the penalties could have been easily prevented.

If the Trojans want to have a shot at winning this crosstown rivalry against UCLA on Saturday and keep the Victory Bell at USC, it is imperative the team keeps its emotions in check.

The Trojans are a far more talented team than the Bruins. UCLA has two wins on the season. They are struggling with a lot of fresh talent and a new head coach in Chip Kelly. But UCLA’s shortcomings won’t be the deciding factor.

USC can win this game if it wants to.  But if UCLA edges a lead and the USC players and coaches continue to demonstrate their frustration, the game is lost. Look at the Cal game. USC’s first-half performance was a solid showing, a 14-point shutout lead and domination in both passing and rushing yards with just one penalty. Then, the second half rolled around. Oh boy! A 22-yard botched snap safety and an ensuing touchdown was enough to frustrate the Trojans to the point that they laid down. Cal proceeded to walk all over the Trojans and pulled off an embarrassing upset on USC’s homecoming night.

To avoid a losing season, someone has to speak up. It doesn’t matter if it’s Helton, Marshall, freshman quarterback JT Daniels or sidelined senior linebacker Porter Gustin. But someone has to serve as a voice of reason on the sideline. Someone has to ground this team and help it play to its full potential because playing frustrated is not working.

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