USC Football: Second Month Of 2016 Season Is Second Chance

Oct 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; USC Trojans head coach Clay Helton leads players onto the field during a NCAA football game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; USC Trojans head coach Clay Helton leads players onto the field during a NCAA football game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

USC football has a second chance to shape the 2016 season by continuing to take advantage of opportunities in October.

The navigation of any college football season can be described as tumultuous at best. Programs jockey weekly for positioning with league championships and the chance to win a conference title in the not too distant horizon. It rarely goes smoothly.

Who understands this better than the 2016 USC football Trojans, a team that was essentially written off prior to the season even beginning, by virtue of having the most difficult schedule in the nation?

A 1-3 record after the first month of the season did nothing to quell the notion that USC was not quite back to prominence, while speculation ran rampant surrounding the future of the program.

Despite that one must not overlook what the Trojans were able to accomplish in each of those contests. An aggressively eager Trojan team took a 3-0 lead against the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide late into the first quarter, prior to the onslaught that has become common in the Nick Saban era.

Untimely penalties and missed assignments have been the Achilles heel of the Trojans thus far, and as the great teams tend to do, Alabama made the Trojans pay dearly, to the tune of a 52-6 victory.

The second weekend of the season saw the Men of Troy humble a very good Utah State team, which came in with the top-ranked rushing attack in the nation. Overcoming early game woes in the form of a player ejection, the Trojan faithful watched their team bounce back in taking a 21-0 lead into intermission with freshman quarterback Sam Darnold completing his first touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster in a prelude of more things to come.

With a chance to redeem itself, while maintaining an outside chance at a run for a college football playoff spot despite the season opening defeat suffered at the hands of the Crimson Tide, the Trojans faced a well-rested Stanford Cardinal team coming off its bye week in a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 title game.

The lack of an offensive identity, coupled with an inability to corral one of the most dynamic players in college football in Christian McCaffrey, who had 260 all-purpose yards, gave little chance for a Trojans upset, as the Men of Troy suffered a second defeat in falling 27-10.

With a 1-2 record the Trojans were in unfamiliar territory and in desperate need of a spark as they faced an undefeated Utah team and the third ranked opponent in the first four weeks of the year.

That prompted head coach Clay Helton to make the switch behind center, with redshirt freshman Sam Darnold making his first career start in hopes of reviving a stagnant offense.

For the second consecutive week the Trojans scored via special teams, and for the second consecutive week the most explosive junior in the nation, Adoree’ Jackson, brought the crowd to its feet, this time in the form of a 100-yard kickoff return to knot the game up at seven following an earlier USC fumble.

Jackson continued to quietly put together a campaign that has executives at the next level salivating and fans hoping for another year, but the prospects for the Trojans were not so bright.

While controlling the tempo for much of the game on both sides of the ball, three costly fumbles by the Men of Troy in the first half kept the Utes within striking range, as they were able to erase a ten-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

Punting was the topic of discussion following the game, as Utah repeatedly went for it on fourth down in the final frame, converting each time while Helton chose to punt on fourth and short from within the Ute 40 yard line.

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For those on the outside looking in the USC Trojans resembled anything but the USC Trojans, yet the match up against an undefeated and hot Arizona State team signified a turning point for the Men of Troy.

In the first of consecutive performances of at least 350 yards and three touchdowns, Darnold propelled the Trojans to win in emphatic fashion as USC raced away to a 41-20 victory, in a game which was never in doubt.

JuJu Smith-Schuster was unstoppable for seven catches,123 yards and three scores, while Justin Davis continued to impress, rumbling for 123 and a score on just 14 carries.

In an all around impressive effort the Trojans notched their first conference victory of the season, at one stretch scoring 34 consecutive points.

As the 4-1 Colorado Buffaloes came into town it was apparent that the margin for error was zero, as the Trojans had a huge test before them in facing another ranked opponent at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.

Turnover problems, which have continued to plague the Men of Troy, resurfaced. A fumble on the opening drive resulted in turnover and subsequent touch back instead of the six points the Trojans were seeking.

With Colorado unable to capitalize on the USC turnover, the Trojans took the early 7-0 lead after the Buffaloes were forced to punt in what would shape up to be a pivotal conference battle.

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And with just under four minutes to go in the first half, Darnold showed why USC will be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future as he picked up a fumbled snap, improvising to scramble and find a wide open Tyler Petite who did the rest for the score and a 14-0 advantage.

Holding on for the 21-17 victory against the Colorado, whose only other loss was to the fourth-ranked Michigan Wolverines, the Trojans now sit at .500 with three wins and three loses setting the stage for what should be an exciting finish.

Next up for the Trojans are the Arizona Wildcats, who are reeling but always dangerous as they tend to recruit heavily in the Southern California region.

A third consecutive win could put the Trojans in the driver’s seat to repeat as South Division champs, though help will be needed with Utah owning the tiebreaker.

As the Trojans continue to gel under Coach Helton and with six more games to be played, the chance to salvage the season remains within reach for a team primed to do so.