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USC drops to Utah 31-27: What We Learned

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A tough loss and lessons learned.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC had a hard fought game against Utah Friday night, however it wasn’t enough to propel them to a win. USC are now in unfamiliar territory with 1-3 record. We learned a lot more about the Trojans in their 31-27 loss against the Utes. Some of which is positive going forward while others start to become a real concern.

Sam Darnold is pretty darn good: Redshirt freshman making his first start in a hostile environment, in the rain, against a pretty good Utah defense is a tall task. Sam Darnold went out there and really impressed everyone watching, going 18/26 with 253 yards passing and showing his mobility by rushing for 41 yards. He was letting the game come to him by showing patience in the pocket and getting the ball out quick. He also displayed his throwing ability by making a few deep passes. There’s a reason why the coaching staff was so high on Darnold before the season started. Maybe he should’ve started all along.

The Offense Is Alive and Well: USC’s offense showed it’s potential and it was a beautiful thing to see. Justin Davis had a big day, completely gashing the Utes defense on the ground. Davis rushed for 126 yards on only 10 carries. Another positive was the passing game. The running game allowed for Darnold to pick apart the Utes secondary. The downside to all of this were the three first quarter fumbles which played a hand in USC’s defeat, but USC finally found a jolt to wake their offense up.

Defensive Line Needs work: The USC defensive line couldn’t generate constant pressure on the Utes at all Friday night. This was the second straight game where the Trojans defensive line was beat at the line of scrimmage. Clancy Pendergast is known for his aggressive defensive style but if USC can’t generate any type of pressure to make life easy for the secondary or stop the 3rd and 4th and short opportunities then it could be a very rough season for the line.

Coaching in question again: If USC is going to make any type of improvement, then it’ll have to start with the staff themselves. Defensively down the stretch USC stayed in a nickel package where Utah gashed the Trojans through the air. It appeared that Pendergast made no type of adjustment to stop the Utes late in the 4th. Another problem was the lack of carries Justin Davis saw during the 4th quarter. Davis was clearly the hot hand, averaging close to 13 yards a carry, only to receive 0 in the fourth. The biggest lies with Clay Helton who once again made questionable decision late in the game. With a 3 point lead late in the 4th quarter, Helton opted to punt the ball on 4th and short at the Utah 37 instead of going for it and putting the game away or kicking the field goal to put them up by 6. The decision would ultimately bite USC as Utah converted four 4th down conversions which lead to a game winning touchdown. After the game Helton would say they he would make the same call if he had to do it again. Once again Helton’s inexperience played a factor in a USC loss.

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