The Trojans are the worst third quarter team in the nation, and if they’re not statistically the worst, they ought to be. Through the first six games of the season, Lane Kiffin’s team is being outscored 43-14 in the third quarter, with half of that being a 100-yard kickoff return my Marqise Lee, meaning that the offense has just one third quarter touchdown all season. Kiffin blames a lack of halftime adjustments from the coaching staff, but for a team with title hopes, that’s not exactly something you want to be known for.
For as terrible as the Trojans are in the third quarter, there’s something to be said for the way USC has been able to bounce back in the fourth quarter. Saturday’s fourth quarter was scoreless for both teams, but the Trojans have bested their opponents by a 52-27 mark to end games, a sign that awful third quarters are getting to the Trojans but not forcing them to completely implode.
The Trojans have now had three games in which they have had double-digit leads at halftime, only to sputter in the third quarter and allow their opponent to get back into the game before shutting them down in the fourth quarter.
Against Syracuse, the Trojans had to overcome a test that saw the Orange prove they weren’t intimidated by the Trojans. Against Cal, the Trojans dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the game, yet a third quarter full of poor play calling and bad execution let the Bears hang around before a fourth quarter score iced it. Last night against Washington, the Huskies came out firing in the third quarter and USC needed three turnovers in the fourth quarter from prevent Steve Sarkisian’s squad from erasing a 17-point halftime lead.
In all three cases, a belief of ‘the Trojans could easily lose this game’ mantra has turned into an opportunity for the defense to finish off games and they’ve answered the bell three times.
Now, the anomaly was the game at Stanford, and understandably so. The Trojans were held scoreless throughout the second half and the Cardinal absolutely wore them down.
Three weeks later however, it’s obvious that the Trojans now have a fear in the back of their mind of committing the same mistake.
Lane Kiffin spoke to it with the media after the game, when he emphasized how important it was to win games by killing them off on the ground and not necessarily look pretty doing it.
“I continue to remind myself of the one goal, and that’s to win the game.” said Kiffin. “Yeah, we got conservative once we got a lead like that, but we said it all along, this wasn’t about anybody’s numbers or Heisman or any of that. This is about winning games and we did the best thing to win the game today.”
It’s ugly and it’s not earning any style points, but tell that to the USC defense who forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter alone.
They are finding a way to get out of games defensively, something that this team couldn’t do in 2010 when they were playing with Oregon for about 35 minutes or losing late to Notre Dame.
Nonetheless, if the Trojans want to improve enough to get serious hype for the national championship again, they’ll have to stop putting themselves in situations to need a bailout when they shouldn’t be in a bind to begin with. But who knows, maybe this time next month if the Trojans are in a tight game with a highly-touted opponent, they’ll be a little more confident since they now theoretically know how to kill off a ‘W’.