Good, Bad and Ugly: Scondi’s take on USC vs. Western Michigan

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC Football’s 49-31 win over Western Michigan had it all. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of the season opener.

My breakdown of the season opener against Western Michigan shows there’s a lot to like, a lot to hate and a lot of question marks for USC Football coming out of Week 1.

Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly:

The Good

Running Game

After the first drive, Ronald Jones confirmed my beliefs that he is, in fact, a modern-day Samson.

Hopefully, the coaching staff keeps him away from Delilah and the Philistines…

…or, you know, an electric razor.

Usually when you hear about a player gaining weight, it leads to some less than flattering photos of them during Fall Camp.

Too much see food, not enough seafood.

Luckily, the Texas Tesla didn’t make too many drive-thru trips to Whataburger this offseason, and the compact convertible got a full-size upgrade.

None of this should come as a surprise from a player who has been consistently gaining weight since he came to USC.

“The year is 2028, a 300 pound Ronald Jones averages 2,500 yards as he leads the New England Patriots to their 12th straight Super Bowl.”

The only thing stopping Ronald Jones last Saturday was Tee Martin’s running back rotations.

But the Texas Tesla wasn’t the only Carr who was burning rubber through Western Michigan’s defense this past Saturday.

Fitting he was wearing a shade of red since he made the defender go “Ole!”.

As a true freshman, Stephen Carr posted the numbers of a seasoned veteran. He says he having a tough time adjust to the pace of the game, but it’s obvious he’s aware of the speed limits on the field.

Cam Smith

In a perfect world, Cameron Smith (and the rest of the Trojans) are getting paid (not just in tuition), and immediately after the game last Saturday he would have held out for more money because of how much he matters to the defense’s success.

Since our world is far from perfect, hopefully USC gives him early enrollment for his spring classes or a gift certificate to the bookstore as compensation instead.

A lot of people don’t think one player can make a difference, which is weird, because they watch a sport where success is directly correlated to the talent of the team’s quarterback. Sure, they are some exceptions, but I haven’t seen a scenario in recent memory that doesn’t involve Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.

Once Smith stepped onto the field, the Broncos needed a kickoff return and a trick play to reach the end zone.

That trick play could have easily been stopped if Porter Gustin spent more of his childhood playing three flies up instead of in the gym doing dumbbell flies.

Reid Budrovich

Solid first start for our new punter, Reid Budrovich. Budrovich pinned Western Michigan as far back as he could given that it seemed like he was punting from the end zone on every fourth down in the first half.

I don’t think he kicked a returnable ball either, but that’s hard to confirm since I’m usually halfway to the bathroom once I see the ball hit the ground.

Jake Olson

What an awesome moment.

If you told me the blind kid that Pete Carroll welcomed into the Trojan football family in the early 2000s was going to be playing for the team he idolized in his youth, I would have told you “PETE CARROL IS STILL COACHING USC IN 2017?”

To be honest, I never thought I would see Olson get on the field, and if he did, no way this early in the season. Maybe during the senior game, up a couple touchdowns on UCLA. Not up 17 in the season opener.

Olson has gained national attention this week, so there are definitely better voices than myself to articulate this moment. Voices like Jake Olson himself:

The Bad

Running Defense

Who thought losing a seventh-round pick at defensive tackle and a linebacker-turned-real-estate-agent over the offseason would have impact it did on USC’s run defense?

Most Trojan fans hoped the returning veterans and talented young freshman would help ease the loss of Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and Michael Hutchings. It didn’t seem to be the case during the first half last Saturday, as Western Michigan’s running backs were blowing past the Trojans’ front seven like they were used tissues.

You can toss-up the lack of physicality up to a lot of factors. Smith was out for the first half. Coach Helton limited the amount of full contact during fall camp to reduce injuries so the defense wasn’t completely ready. Western Michigan was a stronger opponent than expected. I mean, they did win 13 games last year, and even with PJ Fleck gone, there was still a little bit of “Row the Boat” in them, despite what any cease and desist letter can say to stop it.

These and many more excuses will make you feel better about the uncertainty of the run defense for the next couple days, but the concern will be in the back of your head until you see them goes against Stanford on Saturday.

Then USC will find out if it was just a fluke warm up game or an issue that will plague the rest of the season.

Wide Receivers

When you drink enough of the “reload not rebuild” Kool-Aid, it can convince you that it will take less than a game to replace almost half of last year’s catches.

It was a little unreasonable to hope for, but it doesn’t seem like anyone besides Deontay Burnett will be able to replicate the talent of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers.

Steven Mitchell had his moments but is a superfluous slot receiver if Burnett is also in the game. Jalen Greene shouldn’t see the field again unless Tee Martin calls a double reverse or wide receiver pass.

Daniel Imatorbhebhe seemed slowed and limited by his hip flexor and I’m starting to wonder if he can borrow one of Josh’s for a couple of games. Tyler Petite and Cary Angeline run so upright and stiff you think they are trying out for the schools’ rendition of “Frankenstein”.

Young guys like Velus Jones Jr. and Tyler Vaughns showed some promise, but they aren’t the type of receiver that can go up and come down on a contested jump ball.

Michael Pittman Jr. is that type of receiver but is still recovering from a high ankle sprain. As someone who’s had his ankles buckle on him like he like a belt, I can tell you he won’t be 100% for a while.

*Puts on doctor’s lab coat and grabs patient’s chart* He may not even be fully healthy until next season.

There’s other talented receivers down the depth chart getting increased practice reps. I don’t remember their names because they sound like they were randomly generated after a few too many years playing Madden on Franchise mode.

Either the Trojans find the talent on our roster, or Darnold will have to start throwing into smaller openings. With targets no longer the size of bay windows, the USC offense might have a lot less natural lighting.

Jack Jones

After seeing this stat, I’m a little less critical of Jack Jones since this significantly brought down his mistake per play ratio, but he dangerously close to becoming the scapegoat of the season.

A pass interference on the first drive and fielding the kickoff on one knee at a crucial point in the second half will put a magnifying glass on his play for the rest of the season. Last year, many fans were critical of Iman Marshall playing cornerback since every time you saw a yellow flag get thrown down the field, you knew it was pass inference on No. 8.

A couple more games like this past Saturday, and the Reign of Troy Rant Line will be filled with voicemails calling for Jamel Cook to start and Jones to move to Free Safety.

Other scapegoat of the season candidates: John Houston Jr., Jalen Greene, and Josh Fatu.

The Uncertain

Special Teams

Fans didn’t get to see a field goal atttempt so no one can be certain that Chase McGrath is capable of kicking farther than the extra point distance.

The kickoff team allowed a touchdown return, which could have been expected from someone who Helton called the “Adoree’ Jackson of Western Michigan.” If only fans didn’t constantly underestimate our opponent.

On the return side, Ajene Harris looks like a solid punt returner, but there’s no clear front-runner on kickoffs. Velus Jones Jr. was solid but his counterpart, Jack Jones, fielded the ball like he wanted a touchback at the 15-yard line. USC may use Ronald Jones or Stephen Carr this Saturday, but I don’t think it’s the greatest strategy for the Trojans to have their running backs winded before the first play of the drive. Especially when it may be the only reliable part of our offense.

Sam Darnold

When you look at his stat line, and re-watch the highlights, his play wasn’t as bad as everyone is making it out to be.

Then again, this whole summer was spent selling him as the greatest quarterback USC has ever seen.

He was more John David Booty than Matt Leinart.

Things could be worse: He could be Josh Allen.

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt because this was on par with some of his performances last year. It’s his first time starting in a season opener, after appearing on the cover of every sports publication. The moment can get to you on the field.

Hopefully Darnold can handle the hype sooner rather than later, or else there’s going to be a lot of sad Jets fans with customized jerseys this season.

Sadder than the normal amount that is.


The stadium was one of the lowest in attendance in years which can be validated by the fact that it was hotter than

Jim Mora’s

Kevin Sumlin’s seat after the UCLA-Texas A&M game. With Stanford and Texas as the following home games, I can understand not wanting to attend a game against Western Michigan being played on the surface of the sun. Still, this is the No.

4th 5th

6th ranked team in the nation. They should be able to fill a stadium.

Those who were attending didn’t seem to want to scream or cheer for the team. I was honestly shocked when the Broncos had two false starts in the fourth quarter. There’s no way the fans were loud of enough to drown out a quarterback’s cadence.

Here’s hoping the fans step up, but knowing Los Angeles, they started this article a fourth of the way down and left halfway thru.


When USC lost Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster to the draft, they didn’t lose two of the most dynamic players in the past decade, they also lost a majority of their swagger. On Saturday, it didn’t seem like anyone on the team was ready to replace it.

Miami has turnover chains.

The Aggies have a pimp cane.

Even Tennessee slapped a couple of stickers on a trash can!

USC doesn’t have anything remotely close to this. The team need a shot in the arm. I did my best by petitioning to have team run out to Kendrick Lamar. They sort of listened:

Someone to step up and give the team their swagger back. It’s not going to be Sam Darnold, who’s so mild-mannered he makes Clark Kent seem adventurous.

Hell, Max Browne even gave an emphatic first down gesture after his one scramble against Alabama last year.

My nomination: Deland McCullough and his running backs. His twitter is fantastic, giving out weekly awards with brand new nicknames like “Playa Playa”, “Mother Trucker”, and “Y.A.C. Daddy”. Here’s one example:

Need these tweets to translate in some celebrations and taunting on the field.

No penalties, please.