USC dropped it’s second game of the season with a frustrating 28-14 loss to No. 17 Washington. Despite a hard fought effort against the Huskies, they couldn’t overcome the offensive struggles and drive killing penalties to pull off the win in Seattle. Here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s game.
No brainer at Quarterback
Following Saturday’s game, it’s a no brainer who should continue the season at quarterback. Matt Fink had a less than stellar game against the Huskies. The redshirt junior took a huge step back as he threw for only 163 yards and averaged 5.3 yards against a pretty young but very good Washington secondary. He was picked off three times and threw his lone touchdown pass in the fourth quarter which was a 44 yard pass to Michael Pittman Jr. Fink also made poor reads on the options and threw a lot of passes into triple coverage. Yes Slovis probably wouldn’t have fared any better against Washington’s defense, but at this rate it’s safe to say that Slovis will hold the starting quarterback job moving forward.
Where’s the Air Raid?
Graham Harrell was supposed to help the USC offense get better by taking advantage of their talent. Through five games we’ve seen most of the same stuff from the 2018 season. The lack of adjustments has been very frustrating to watch. Washington done the exact something BYU did to ground their offense and that was an 8 man coverage and only rushing three. USC had close to three weeks to adjust to that and while they did in a way, it wasn’t consistent enough. There’s has been no moving receiver around and lining them up in different spots to create matchup problems in the pass game, lack of screens for receivers when defensive backs play off, the lack of adjustments have hurt the offense. Credit goes to Washington’s defense, but we were told the offense would be better with the talent at wide receiver. If you want to see where the game was lost then look no further than number amount of times USC failed to capitalize in the red zone. Now the numbers are telling us a different story, but numbers do lie. Will Harrell self evaluate himself as a play caller and make the necessary adjustments to make the offense much more effective?
Defense remained solid and strong
Let’s call it what it is. The Trojans defense was the reason why they were in the game moving forward. Missing two defensive starters and facing one of the best offenses in the Pac-12, the USC defense had a solid outing. They held Jacob Eason to 180 yards passing and no touchdowns. The defensive line managed to get pressure on Eason and moved him out the pocket. One thing to mention is Chris Steele’s recovered fumble to give the Trojans a shot at cutting the lead in half. They also done a solid job with the interior run, however the 89 yard rush by running back Salvon Ahmed was the difference maker. Once safety Talanoa Hufanga and cornerback Olaijah Griffin get healthy, then the defense could continue to be something to reckon with.
Discipline is still an issue
During the off-season, Head coach Clay Helton mentioned how discipline would be a focus in camp. He also said it before last season, and the season before that. Point being that the Trojans just can’t get out of their own way. They committed 8 penalties for 80 yards and while it may not seem like much, it was when they took place that made it look worse. One example was following the Chris Steele fumble recovery. USC lost yards for unsportsmanlike conduct after Talanoa Hufanga barley jumped on the field to celebrate with teammates. Two plays later Amon-Ra St. Brown was called for offensive pass interference which negated decent gain for Tyler Vaughns. Two of those penalties killed a potential drive that would’ve cut the lead in half for the Trojans and killed off some momentum.
Running backs stepping up
USC has found a running back by committee situation and for good reason. Vavae Malepeai, Markese Stepp, and Stephen Carr all rebounded from a less than productive Utah game and helped the USC offense move the ball on the ground. Carr provided a burst of speed and took advantage of the three man Huskies front that exposed wide gaps for the Trojans offensive line to create running lanes. Stepp and Malepeai broke tackles and gained a little bit of more yardage. The trio managed to rush for over 200 yards. Yes the air raid was supposed to be the key to the USC offense, however the running backs has shined a bit more for this team.
The road woes continue
If there’s anything we learned about USC right now it’s that their road woes continue to haunt them under Clay Helton. The Trojans are now 0-2 away from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and it doesn’t get any easier for them. After the bye week they travel to South Bend to face Notre Dame. USC has not defeated the Irish in South Bend since 2011. What’s worse is that the Trojans will likely be an underdog to Notre Dame in two weeks. How will Clay Helton help this team dispel the road game problems? That remains to be seen.