By “they” I mean the Trojan Offense, and by “it” I mean didn’t put nearly as many points on the board as they should’ve.
For the second week in a row USC narrowly escaped a nail-biter, beating Pac-12 newbie Utah 17-14. The Trojans so far have won both games by a combined margin of five points, but I suppose that is better than losing by the same amount.
USC came out in the inaugural Pac-12 South match-up anticipating a tough, competitive match until the final whistle. And they got it, but not for the reasons that were expected. The two biggest stories coming into this game were USC running back Marc Tyler returning, and Utah’s big, physical Defensive Line. One of these showed up for their team, in full force. The other…not so much.
Marc Tyler reminded us all why he should be our go-to tailback. He rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown, using his size and speed to beast through holes and charge on for extra yards. Tyler looked dominant and Utah’s defense had a challenge in containing him. Not only that, but Coach Kiffin delivered on his word to have a more balanced offense: ‘SC established a running presence led by Tyler and backed up by the other three tailbacks, three receivers shared air time, and even kicker Andre Heidari got to show off his leg.
Though his 47-yard field goal narrowly made it through the uprights, Heidari still showed that he is now capable of making field goals that would’ve been guaranteed misses last season. The consistency of this play is still unknown, but for now in Heidari we trust.
Utah’s D-Line, though certainly showing its strength at times—they swallowed up our running backs at times, sacked Barkley once, and forced two fumbles in the redzone—they did not look nearly as menacing as was predicted. The USC offensive line, which is inarguably young and inexperienced in relation to the Utes, put up a fight of their own. They looked much better this week, creating holes and giving Barkley time to sling the rock.
However, as was the case in more games than not over the last two years, the Trojan offense stood back to take aim, and calmly shot itself in the foot repeatedly. The Trojans very easily could’ve had at least 21 more points had they not fumbled twice in the redzone, nor received a 15-yard penalty in the 3rd quarter that overturned a very crucial first down gained by wide receiver Marquis Lee.
The offense, when it plays not to lose as opposed to playing to win, becomes stagnant and predictable, as well as being prone to mistake. Rather than take a foot off the gas, it would make more sense for the Trojans to utilize some of the depth that they’ve painstakingly recruited for.
The defensive line in particular—anchored by Defensive Ends Nick Perry, Devon Kennard, and Wes Horton—got after Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn like their lives depended on it. They only registered two sacks, but they forced Wynn out of the pocked 20 of 45 times, and effectively shut down John White IV and the Utah running game. Prior to the Utes’ reverse play, White had only amassed 38 rush yards in the game, and after that 18-yard gain, ended with 56. The Utes only had 81 rushing yards total in the game.
The Trojan defense bailed the offense out yet again, giving one of their best performances in recent years. The secondary looked much better, but cornerback Torin Harris is still struggling a little bit in long yard situations. However, he again redeemed himself for blown assignments, when he recovered the blocked field goal at the end of the game and returned it for a touchdown, bringing the final—and controversial—score to 23-14.
With so many offensive weapons, it is baffling to all that the Trojans can steadily move the ball, but repeatedly come up short when it counts. The defensive front seven continues to prove that they can win and account for the mistakes of the offense AND the youth of the secondary as they continue to adjust to Monte Kiffin’s system, something that definitely did not happen last season.
Two weeks into the season, it seems as if the biggest threat to the Trojan offense is going to be itself. Hopefully they get it together, because the defense will not be able to bail us out forever.