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USC vs. Utah State: Time to Regroup

Trojans must ‘wake up’ for an early start on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Alabama vs Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On an opening weekend that was billed as ‘the best ever’ in the history of college football, it was supposed to be the game of week. USC and Alabama. The Pac-12 versus the SEC. Two blue blood programs going toe-to-toe in the main event. For USC, it was an opportunity to show they deserved a place on the national stage. Instead, it was a national embarrassment.

USC failed to score a touchdown, failed to move the ball, failed to tackle, and failed to match the physical play of a superior team. The beat down at the hands of Alabama was so bad, so much worse than anyone expected, Trojans fans were left with a feeling of ‘what now?’

There were plenty of questions going into the opener, but afterwards there were, well, just more questions. Does Clay Helton really have this team moving in the right direction? Is the offensive line as good as advertised? Is Max Browne the guy?

Alabama v USC
USC must bounce back after getting thumped by Alabama.
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Much has been made about the difficulty of USC’s schedule. Week Two was supposed to be a light snack sandwiched in between two heavy dishes - Alabama and Stanford. Now, however, USC is caught trying to digest what happened last week. And if they were hoping for a cupcake, they’re not going to get it with Utah State.

On the same day the Trojans were getting their hides tanned in Texas, the Aggies were quietly taking care of business against Weber State, in an impressive 45-6 romp. In their home debut, Utah State running back Devante Mays scored a touchdown on each of the Aggies first three possessions, racking up 208 yards on 18 carries. USC may present a bigger challenge this week, but Utah State has already shown they have the ability to put points on the board and play defense.

They also come in with plenty of confidence. In a press conference earlier this week, Senior Defensive End Rick Ali’ifua spoke about what he observed in USC’s loss to Alabama, saying, “we always feel (we can win) against any team, but seeing it first-hand I feel that there are some areas we can possibly expose against their offense.” It doesn’t sound like they’re paying much attention to their status as a 16-point underdog.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Air Force
Utah State’s Devante Mays racked up 208 rushing yards against Weber State on Saturday.
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

While Utah State appears poised and ready for a fight with USC, the Trojans are fighting with themselves. Tuesday’s practice was disrupted when ‘a scuffle’ broke out between JuJu Smith-Schuster and safety Ykili Ross. Coach Clay Helton downplayed the incident, saying ‘scuffles happen,’ and that in the end ‘everyone hugged up and went on.’ This, however, is not a good sign for a team that needs to rebound in a hurry.

Following the loss in Arlington, Helton pointed out that mistakes will need to be ‘corrected extremely fast,’ and that there is ‘no time to feel sorry for themselves.’ Factor in the unusually early start time (11 a.m.) for this week’s game, and this becomes even more apparent. USC’s first priority will be to come out and show they are, in fact, ready to play.

NCAA Football:  Arizona at Southern California
Trojans will need to get the ball in JuJu’s hands.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It sets up for a game in which style points will count. The Trojans must control the tempo and run the offense as it’s been designed. That means Max Browne having time to make his throws and JuJu Smith-Shuster getting the ball. It means that we’ll need to see the running game working through the two-headed monster of Justin Davis and Ronald Jones.

USC must also dictate play on the defensive side of the ball. The main task here will be slowing down a team that’s coming off a game in which they scored 45 points. Getting pushed around by Utah State is simply not an option.

Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff is the earliest for a Trojan home game ‘since the early 1950’s.’ Before the season, this looked like the one date on the schedule in which the Trojans could work out a few kinks, catch their breath, and if things went well enough, maybe even rest their starters in the second half. How quickly things change in college football. This game suddenly looks as big as any other, and Utah State isn’t the team that needs a wake-up call.

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