USC managed to come away with a 49-31 victory over defending MAC Champion Western Michigan to begin their 2017-18 season. The Trojans had to fight hard for the victory, going back and forth with the Broncos. This week the Trojans host the Stanford Cardinal which will be an early test for USC. Before we get into their matchup with Stanford, let’s look back and see what we learned from USC’s win over Western Michigan.
Cam Smith’s Presence Is Key: If you’re wondering how much the All-American Linebacker means to USC’s defense then look no further than the first half. While Smith had to serve a one half suspension for his targeting penalty during the third quarter of the Rose Bowl, USC’s run defense looked close to non-existent and was gashed by Bronco running backs LeVante Bellamy and Jamuri Bogan. When Smith made his appearance in the second half, the Trojans held the Broncos to 104 yards on the ground. Keep in mind majority of those 104 yards came from a huge 48 yard gain on the ground.
Run Defense and Tackling Need Work: Instead of making these two separate, I’m going to include them together because they’re both related to one another. The lack of Cam Smith’s presence wasn’t the only thing that hurt the run game. USC lacked a true presence at nose tackle during the game. While it’s only week one, many people weren’t happy with Clancy Pendergast’s 2-4-5 scheme that Saturday. Another issue that hurt the run defense was the inability to tackle. After the game USC linebacker Cam Smith stated the tackling as “horrible”. Who could blame him? The missed tackles led to big gains on the ground. The Trojans will need to really work as Stanford comes to town, starting with the defensive line.
Receiver Situation is Still a Question: USC knew they had to replace the production of Juju Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers and this game showed how much the passing game missed them. Outside of Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell, the Trojans receiving core is still a huge question mark. As the passing game opened up, drops and poor routes were the story. Jalen Greene, who got the starting nod, had a couple of key drops, including a tough jump ball that led to Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold’s second interception of the day. Tyler Vaughns also had a key drop on third down that was pretty catchable. We know Sam Darnold is used to throwing to receivers who can win the jump ball battle, however the one receiver that’s capable of doing that is Michael Pittman, and he was out with a high ankle sprain. Darnold will have to build more chemistry with the receiving core if they’re truly going to have a balanced offense.
Running Game Is There: The running game was a huge force against Western Michigan. Trojans Junior Running Back Ronald Jones II added some weight in the off-season and it showed big time. Jones ran through tackles while averaging 9.3 yards per carry on the ground during his 178 total offensive day. He also had three touchdowns on the day. Jones wasn’t the only running back that had a huge day against the Broncos as freshman running back Stephan Carr made his presence known in his debut. Carr had two touchdowns on the ground, including a 52 yard rush late in the 4th quarter. USC also had some promising performances from Aca’Cedric Ware and Vavae Malepeai although they had very few carries. The running game is indeed there, however it’ll have a challenge against the Cardinal.
Team Has A Fighting Attitude: One key thing that we can take from the Trojans win over Western Michigan is that this team will indeed fight for a win. Let’s keep in mind that Western Michigan returned 18 starters from a team that was 13-1, won the MAC, and played in a New Years Six bowl. They gave USC everything they got, but USC didn’t look shell shocked or struggled to respond after getting punched in the mouth. The Trojans battled to win the game and finished pretty strong in the fourth quarter. If anything, this USC team will be hard to really put away.