Friday night was a tough pill to swallow for not only the USC Trojans, but the entire Trojan community. A tight game full of mistakes but still within reach. While the Trojans are talented, their grades don’t resemble it:
Sam Darnold once again had some Heisman moments, followed by some cringeworthy moments, finishing 15 of 29 for 164 yards. That seems to be the pattern so far this season, and while majority of the blame has been placed on his offensive line and receivers, he has still played far below his potential. He was dazzling for the two of the three most important drives for the SC offense (opening drive on big road game settling team, and final drive to tie the game late fourth quarter) but looked out of rhythm for majority of snaps in between. His interception was late and behind his intended target, he failed to recognize several blitz (which would’ve really helped a young, injured Oline) and missed open receivers. His fumble on the last drive was off a delayed blitz right up the middle, something he should’ve picked up easily and at the least dumped it off to his checkdown or Vaughns over the middle, if not thrown it away. If USC had an average QB this performance wouldn’t be heavily critiqued. But, Darnold is not average, his game will have to improve if USC has big aspirations for this season.
When given some room to work with, Ronald Jones II delivered big time with 14 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown. The problem was, he just didn’t have much room to work with. Take away his two big early carries and his stats now show 12 carries for 22 yards (1.83 ypc). Stephen Carr was tripped up a couple times right before breaking thru holes, give him half a second more each time and they’re 15+ yard runs. It’s tough to try to run with a young, injured Oline, which is why Tee Martin strayed from it in the second half. Give Jones his credit, he found a way to still gain over 120 yards while showing great pass protection all night.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A-
Hello Tyler Vaughns. Vaughns flashed great speed and elusiveness all night, finishing with six catches for 89 yards. If you got him the ball in open space, the man wasn’t going down for at least another ten yards. Not to mention his ridiculous 4th and 13 catch late fourth quarter in traffic. Deontay Burnett had a solid game, respectable six catches for 45 yards. Receiving numbers would have been better had Darnold not overthrown his targets. I counted several overthrows on open targets or just open targets on progressions Darnold never read. Martin tried to get the tight ends involved like he did last week against Cal, but to WSU’s credit they studied up and made it an emphasis to not over pursue and took away those bootlegs. Solid job blocking, got good separation all night, another good performance as this unit continues to improve.
Offensive Line: C-
This is a tough grade to give. I want to be fair to the Oline knowing how many injuries it had to deal with last Friday. But, they’re also big boys and can handle a fair amount of criticism. For about two and a half quarters, they got pushed around by a smaller defensive front. Even if you’re depleted, there’s no reason to be dominated like that (remember 12 carries, 22 yards, 1.83 ypc). At least Darnold was only sacked twice, but that’s only because he was running for his life on too many plays to count throughout the night. Hopefully they can get healthy and work out the kinks against Oregon State this weekend.
Defensive Line: B
Josh Fatu and Rasheem Green were great, combining for three total sacks for the night. Luke Falk saw pressure all night, credit the line for a large majority of it. However, they were gashed a little too much in the run game. Take the sacks and weak scramble runs away from the run game, and they surrendered over 135 yards, averaging 6.75 ypc. If you’re hoping to make an offense like WSUs one dimensional, your defensive front must be able to stuff the run for majority of the night, which they failed to do. Their performance took a dip during the fourth quarter, but that’s to be expected after your offense leaves you out to dry for majority of the night. Some good things done but definitely have room for improvement.
Can Uchenna Nwosu continue his streak of goal line interceptions? Seriously, the OLB is balling out this season. He showed up again Friday with six tackles and half a sack. We saw multiple linebackers get to the quarterback, eventually finishing with two sacks, including John Houston Jrs mammoth hit on Falk. Cameron Smith had a “quiet” night based on his expectations, but was a good leader on the field and had a great TFL on a key third and short. Despite their solid rush and good tackling against the run, they struggled to lock down the RBs in passing situations. They combined for 71 yards on eight catches including a touchdown. That is something that was highlighted before the game, and the linebackers lost that battle. Aside from that, it was a great game from the core of the Trojan defense.
The Trojans secondary was torched all night, giving up over 340 yards to WSU. Now there is some leeway with those numbers though, as the Cougars run a passing offense that gains majority of its yards through the air. But, the Trojans blew coverages and got beat one on one way too many times. And I mean, waaaay too many. Blown coverages and misreads lead to big Cougar plays through the air and eventual touchdowns. USC actually got lucky throughout the night, as Cougar receivers dropped several passes on key downs bailing out SC. They also failed to create any turnovers after a plethora against Cal last week. Going into the game, it was understood WSU would put up decent passing numbers, but it seemed too easy Friday night against the Trojans.
I think the goal line play calling after the Nwosu INT was what really set off fans. I mean, you’re trying to run, but choose to reach block their best defensive end who has “the fastest step in college football”, like really, how’d you think that’d end up? Then, you got way too cute with a back-shoulder throw that should have resulted in an INT. C’mon man. I see the coaches perspective to stray away from the run game, as the Oline was losing at the point of attack. But that’s no excuse to completely abandon it, especially when your QB is out of rhythm all night. There are so many ways to get talented backs like Jones and Carr the ball in open space, at least give them some plays second half that give them a chance to create a big run on the outside. They found early success in quick passes and pass/run options but for some reason never went back. I get expanding your gameplan, but why continue to stay away from something that was working for you? More quick passes to Vaughns, swing passes to Jones/Carr, or any type of screen would have really helped Friday night. Defensively, I think Clancy Pendergast had his defensive backs too far off the line, bringing them up would have helped eliminate several quick throws that hurt the Trojans all night. I get it, you don’t want to beat by the deep ball, but you have better, faster, stronger athletes and the only deep ball you gave up was off a blown coverage. It makes sense too when your defensive front is getting a good pass rush, giving the secondary less time to cover. Tighten those windows for Falk, and have more close to the LOS to limit quick throws and occasional runs.
Might as well make me the head coach.