The plane arrived back from Tempe as the USC Trojans traveled home in utter disgrace following a horrendous 62-41 loss against Arizona State. On the LAX Tarmac during the wee hours of the morning, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden finally pulled the plug on the slim lifeline that was Lane Kiffin's tenure as USC head coach.
That was then and this is now, but the striking notes between the first bye weeks in each of the past two seasons make for an interesting discussion. Both teams searching for big wins, both coaching staffs put under heavy scrutiny and the fate of Pac-12 play still hanging in the balance, decisive action would be of utmost importance.
Taylor Kelly, the eventual First-Team All-Pac-12 quarterback, slung the football up and down the field against the Trojans' defense for 351 yards and three touchdown dropping USC to 3-2 overall. Starting quarterback Cody Kessler's third quarter pick-six and the eye-popping ankle injury suffered by Marqise Lee left the program in dire circumstances at that juncture.
Dropping to 0-2 in Pac-12 play, something both rare and slightly horrifying for USC football, change was highly appreciated from a near-furious fan base. Inspired by the magnanimous assortment of boos directed at Kiffin following the Washington State loss combined with the lackluster effort against eventual Pac-12 South Champion Arizona State, Pat Haden quickly promoted Ed Orgeron to the interim head coach.
But during the bye week, the Trojans really got their first taste (I mean that literally) of what Coach O brought to the table. It may have been an acquired taste, but USC football took pleasure to all the added perks on Howard Jones Field.
"I want us to have some fun over these next eight games and let the chips fall where they may," Orgeron said during his introductory press conference.
It was been well documented that USC shined under coach Orgeron and the rest of the staff, but that first initial week, which parallels this year's bye week, was filled with plenty of questions and excitement. The coaches have, for the most part, departed but the environment around the program is once again recovering from a mind-boggling loss.
Obviously the loss to Boston College was much more forgivable and arguably less of a coaching induced problem, but the current fury of questions flying around head coach Steve Sarkisian and his playcalling have dominated the headlines.
Last season, USC was searching for an identity, needing a leader to emerge amongst a talented team filled with early disappointment. This time around, the Trojans are equally challenged in the scholarship department but have identified a leader and an approach on both sides of the ball that could consistently keep them in the national rankings.
As the bye week heads toward the actual Game Day, as many Pac-12 schools will open conference play themselves, the Trojans are coming off an important week of practice emphasizing the development of the rushing attack and the formation of read-option principles on defense. Last season, the Trojans used the Bye Week to change the entire philosophy of practice. Focused on having fun, enhancing competition and emphasizing the "Okie Drills" that always inspire some team camaraderie.
The Trojans (2-1), as currently constituted, are in the midst of their first on-field controversy of the season. Funny to imagine since all the off-field distractions have seemingly been put on the back burners -- for the moment at least. As the team focuses back to the field, following what looked to be a distracted performance against Boston College, the defense has had tons of film to breakdown these past three days.
Three days off over the weekend will come as a good relief heading into the Oregon State week, facing a Beavers squad that should enter the contest undefeated but certainly not unblemished in overall production through the first few weeks.
The mantra of competition-centered practices has manifested itself into a unit much more prepared to handle injury and that will be put on full display in the weeks to come. But much like last year, production in the win/loss column is all that will really matter.
USC has overcome quite a deal while still staying nationally relevant, ranking No. 17 in the recent AP Poll. What will make or break this particular bye week is whether players can come out motivated against Oregon State. Where the Trojans strived last season was emotionally responding after the bye, beating Arizona 38-31 and sparking a much-revived environment at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Coach Sarkisian could make a resounding statement for his (so far short) tenure as head football coach by proving he can make the necessary adjustments to put his team in the right position to pound the football and by the same token, stop opposing teams on a given week from executing what they do best.
If nothing else than a teaching tool, last season's drastic change from Arizona State to the bye week signified the changing of the guard, right from the top on down. Steve Sarkisian is by no means the Ed Orgeron savior for a despondent team, but the response following a few days off this upcoming weekend could speak volumes about his ability to translate the emotions of a tough loss into an inspired effort.