How can you quantify a lack of depth, especially when many of USC's top flight players are some of the best in the balanced Pac-12 Conference?
The USC Trojans have consistently dressed less than 60 scholarship players per week, and the slew of nagging injuries and signs of attrition has taken a tole on USC's fourth quarter output.
You can blame coaching, you can blame execution, heck you can even blame Pac-12 refs, but what others teams are really capitalizing on is an undermanned, unprepared unit.
Take the closing drive against Arizona on Saturday night, one we all know USC's coaching staff nailed into the players' minds all week long. Due to nagging injuries that caused Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour to miss large portions of the game, USC was stretched thin in the secondary.
The lack of bodies forced the hands of the coaching staff, and all of a sudden guys stepped up and showed ability that was present during Fall Camp but has been underutilized so far in the regular season.
Jonathan Lockett looked great in coverage and John Plattenburg made some solid tackles in space. These weren't the only guys to make impact plays, but the manner to which they stepped up -- facing a pass-happy attack ready to capitalize -- was both promising and mind blowing.
When Soma Vainuku left the game early in the second half, Jahleel Pinner entered the game. Although he is a somewhat known commodity, Pinner also had to step up. He was immediately targeted in the passing game. Both Trojan tight ends were challenged to make plays and the Trojans rotated in an eight-man rotation on the offensive line to ensure Kessler had healthy protection.
Quite honestly, I'm not highly concerned with the overall outcome of the game. What I want to see is how many of these younger players, or walk-ons like kicker Alex Wood and long snappers Zach Smith and Nick Schlossberg, will respond when their number is called.
This won't be the last time an opponent tries to run USC out of the building with an incredible tempo, so the coaching staff needs to continue incorporating this next group of players. The staff pulled it off rather well in Fall Camp, and it would be foolish to overlook those efforts in the season.
Sure these players may be less *talented*, but what's not to say USC will need these players to perform. As we've seen the past two weeks, no position is prone from injury. And if the Trojans' want to be better prepared to embrace an all-out attack from the many pass-happy teams of this conference, USC must be willing to get everyone involved.
Take Buck Allen for example, a player who was recruited out of Florida but never got his chance to shine under the previous coaching regime. All it took was one hit of the reset button (when Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron took over as interim head coach). Suddenly, someone who never got hurt and was never fazed by the adversity of a long season was rewarded with much-deserved playing time.
The Trojans' are certainly limited at a few positions, but as we saw last night, a rotation of defensive lineman and a herd of wideouts were hustling on and off the field. It may take that type of all-out mixing and matching of talent to overcome a brutal schedule. Every team can do something at a high level, so USC must have the assortment of pieces in both the starting lineup and reserves to be able to battle all 60 minutes.
This will not be the last time USC is faced with an uphill battle in the depth department but that doesn't mean a talented team with some viable strengths and visible weaknesses should avoid being versatile with the players they do have.