Coming off a loss on the road to Stanford in which the USC Trojan offense scored just three points, USC will face a Texas team that has struggled mightily to start the season, but in a very hostile environment in front of a sellout crowd of 100,000 fans. The Trojans clearly need to fix their offense, and the way they can do that is by creating big plays on both sides of the ball.
USC’s offensive struggles did not have to do with an inability to move the football. USC had just 10 yards less total offense than Stanford and had seven more first downs. USC ran 16 more plays and time of possession was nearly even despite being negative three in the turnover battle. Six drives went inside the Stanford 40-yard line. The problem was the lack of big plays. The Trojans’ longest plays of the game were 45, 35, and 28 yards. But shockingly, the 35-yard and 28-yard gain came on the second to last drive of the game when Stanford was playing a prevent defense, and that drive ended with an interception. Excluding those plays, USC’s next longest play aside from the 45-yard pass that set up the field goal was a 14-yard run by Stephen Carr.
This explains why USC was eight of seventeen on third downs and had 20 first downs, yet still finished with just three points. No offense against an elite defense like Stanford’s can continue to barely get first downs for an entire drive and expect it to end with a touchdown. Big plays are necessary to move the ball down the field. So, who can step up to fill that role to help USC beat Texas?
Well, in the run game, Stephen Carr is the most explosive player. USC’s longest run so far this season is a 40-yard run by Carr, followed by a 22-yard run by Aca’Cedric Ware and a 20-yard run by Vavae Malepeai. USC has no other 20 yard runs. Yes, just three runs of 20 yards or more, and all of them came against UNLV.
In the passing game, Tyler Vaughns, Michael Pittman Jr., Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Trevon Sidney have all proved that they can be deep ball threats. But they must perform better than they did against Stanford if USC wants to beat Texas. Sidney caught no passes against Stanford while St. Brown was a non-factor for most of the game. Vaughns failed to make big plays until the end when it was too late and Pittman Jr. made the one relevant catch of the game, the one that set up USC’s field goal, but was otherwise rarely targeted.
Although the defense has been solid, the lack of turnovers forced has been a big issue. After forcing a fumble on the first play of the season, the defense has failed to force another turnover. Getting a defensive score or a turnover that sets up JT Daniels and the offense with good field position will be important against Texas.
Daniels is a true freshman, and while he has showed just how talented he can be, he has also showed that he may not be quite ready to mount a momentous comeback and still needs time to develop. The rest of the team is really going to have to carry him through this first half of the season, and it will start with the run game taking the pressure off of Daniels with more explosive plays, as well as the defense and special teams giving him shorter fields to work with.