1. Every time a problem is fixed, a new one arises
In Week 1 against UNLV, USC’s problem was stopping the run. The offense also played poorly as a whole considering the opponent. In Week 2, the run defense was able to contain Bryce Love, but a lack of big plays on both sides of the ball led to a 17-3 loss against Stanford as the passing game really struggled. In Week 3, JT Daniels went 30-48 for 322 yards, seemingly fixing the passing game, but the run game had a shocking negative five yards and the special teams could not have played worse. Against Washington State, the run game was decent and mostly not needed as the passing game seemed completely fixed. The special teams played very well, blocking a field goal. But the defense looked overmatched, creating no pressure on the quarterback and giving up 36 points while forcing zero turnovers, as they remained one of five teams in college football without an interception.
This week against Arizona, the run game went off for 253 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. The special teams was solid. They got their first interception. Yet shockingly, they had more penalties (18) than completions (16) and had 169 penalty yards to 197 passing yards. Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr., two wide receivers who seem NFL ready, combined for three receptions for 43 yards. Is the passing game the problem? Or is it the run game? The lack of big plays? The defense? The special teams? Every week, it’s something different.
2. Who’s the running back?
Last week, Vavae Malepeai shined as he had 13 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Aca’Cedric Ware carried the ball once for negative five yards, as he did not get a chance in the game. This week, the roles flipped, as Ware ran for 173 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries while Malepeai ran for eight yards and one touchdown on three carries. Since getting healthy, Stephen Carr has been the only player consistently getting touches each game, but Ware and Malepeai seem to flip roles each week. Using Ware and Carr as the primary backs and Malepeai as the short yardage option is the conventional wisdom, as Malepeai has consistently been used in goal line situations, but that does not seem to always be the case. Even though the run game was successful this week, not having the right rotation could be a factor as to why the run game has struggled this season.
3. Special teams is finally playing well
This could once again become a problem considering USC’s trend, but punter Reid Budrovich has his best game of the season against Arizona, punting five times for an average of 45.6 yards. Kicker Michael Brown has been perfect in his two games since replacing the injured Chase McGrath. Brown is 2-2 on field goals and 7-7 on extra points. For the second straight week, USC also blocked a field goal, which turned out to be crucial as the game was decided by a final score of 24-20, with the Arizona kicker missing an extra point at the end.