Well, that's not quite what we hoped would happen.
USC was not ready for the Crosstown Showdown game on any level. In a game I thought would resemble anything but last year's 35-14 Bruin victory, this year's matchup turned out to be almost exactly that.
USC was outperformed in every facet, most notably up front. When Cody Kessler wasn't feeling immediate pressure, UCLA's coverage was so good downfield that Kessler had nowhere to go.
Here are some other observations for USC's 38-20 loss to its rivals:
- Safety Leon McQuay III had a conspicuously terrible game. He played a significant part in allowing a touchdown three different times, and simply has to play better. The secondary as a whole looked out-of-sorts, which has been a theme throughout the year. Guys looked like they didn't know their assignments, whether it was through blown coverages or overcommitting on running plays. They simply have to be coached up better than that.
- I don't feel like I can comfortably comment on the defensive scheme during this game as a whole since I haven't seen the coaching tape and the broadcast version offers so little, but I do feel that USC should have thrown more blitzes at Brett Hundley. One of the few times they did blitz, they brought Kevon Seymour on a corner blitz, and Hundley threw a pick-six. Hundley still seems to struggle going through progressions, and blitzing him would theoretically force him to speed up this process.
On the other hand, blitzing leaves the defense susceptible to big plays, especially if Hundley breaks containment, so I understand defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's hesitancy. Who knows what the score is if the secondary just executes their assignments like they're supposed to? But like I've been saying all year, if you aren't going to blitz, you sure as hell better play good coverage. And USC didn't do that.
As USC accumulates more talent and depth in coming years with more scholarships available to them, I think this defensive scheme will fit better. They'll have a deeper supply of pass rushers, and will hopefully get better and learn from their mistakes on the back end. This is only the first year of this regime, and there have definitely been flashes of brilliance. It will only get better from here.
- On offense, a heavier commitment to the run earlier in the game certainly couldn't have hurt. Pounding Buck Allen and not letting the UCLA pass rush cut loose would have been smart.
- The offensive line got torched in both the run and pass games. Those dudes are supposed to be maulers, but failing to generate any push on that fourth-and-short early in the game was huge. And their feet simply weren't good enough to account for UCLA's quick interior defensive linemen, who seemingly got into the backfield on every play.
- All in all, USC had opportunities and UCLA simply beat them. The missed tackle on UCLA's punter early in the game that would have resulted in a safety, Nelson Agholor's punt drop, and Leon McQuay slipping and allowing a wide-open touchdown come to mind, and I'm sure there were more. But the bottom line is, when you make mistakes against a good team, the odds of you winning aren't good.