Against an unranked Texas team that had lost to Maryland, USC lost a game that was closer than the score indicated. From kickoff, USC looked dominant, going up 14-3 after two dominant touchdown runs from Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr. However, the game’s momentum changed on a safety no-call and a penalty on roughing the punter.
From there, Texas scored 24 unanswered the close the game. Here are the takeaways from the disaster at DKR Memorial Stadium:
1. Horrible Special Teams
USC punted six times for a total of 186 yards. That’s 31 yards per punt. In many situations, the yards per punt stat is overused, as it fails to take in account how far each punt had to go to pin the opponent back. At the 40 yard line, a 30 yard punt is a win.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday. The USC offense was consistantly stopped in minus field position, and the combination of Reid Budrovich and Chris Tilbey failed to flip field position, or help at all.
This reaction from Tilbey shows it all.
Beyond punting, a key roughing the kicker penalty by Talanoa Hufunga allowed Texas to begin a stretch of 24 unanswered points. USC’s field goal unit allowed a blocked kick, and then allowed that kick to be returned for a touchdown.
Chase McGrath did go two for two on extra points, but he exited the game for what may very much be an ACL tear.
2. Nonexistent Rushing
No, Vavae Malepeai and Aca’Cedric Ware do not make up for the loss of Ronald Jones. This has been evident since the start of the season, but most expected a more consistent offensive line and the emergence of Stephen Carr to make up for most of the difference.
Sadly, that was not the case. USC ended the game with a total of negative five yards rushing. USC’s offensive line, though inconsistent, is laden with talented seniors in Chris Brown and Toa Lobendahn. There should be no reason why the Trojans aren’t able to impose their will on a Texas team that gave up 143 yards rushing to unranked Maryland.
After finishing with minus-5 rushing yards at Texas, USC ranks 117th in the FBS in rush offense.— Joey Kaufman (@joeyrkaufman) September 16, 2018
Now USC’s running game wasn’t was bad as many make it out to be. Their only two scores came from runs, and those runs in the red zone are much more meaningful than losses on early downs in the middle of the field.
3. The JT Daniels to Amon-Ra St. Brown Connection is Real
In the first half, it was hard to notice the negative runs that USC had. It was because of the heroics of Amon-Ra St. Brown on third down. Time and time again, USC was faced with third and medium to long after failed rushes on early downs, and time and time again, JT Daniels relied on St. Brown to bail him out.
Amon-Ra St. Brown says GIVE ME THAT pic.twitter.com/UfsndpjTTj— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 16, 2018
St. Brown had nine receptions for 167 yards, for almost 20 yards per reception. On a team laden with upperclassmen and multiple five-star receivers, St. Brown made up more than half of USC’s receiving yards.
He is easily USC’s most talented player, and he may be USC’s best player. He’ll need more receiving help if USC is to bounce back.