USC vs. Oregon State: Trojan Groundhog Day performances continue

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images /

USC vs. Oregon State ended more positively than last week’s loss to Washington State, but it felt like Groundhog Day for the Trojan offense all the same.

As far as 28-point victories go, USC vs. Oregon State was as unsatisfying as they come.

It was unsatisfying because despite the 38-10 scoreline, the Trojans confirmed that they exist in a time loop on offense. USC’s 2017 season is a reboot of the movie Groundhog Day.

The Trojans have now played six games this season and, with one exception, each has followed the same script. The endings have been different—Western Michigan and Cal were put away with the defense forcing turnovers, Texas was downed in overtime after a Sam Darnold miracle drive, while Washington State didn’t let the same happen to them, forcing a fumble and upsetting the Trojans in Pullman—but the story hasn’t changed.

USC’s 2017 season is a reboot of the movie Groundhog Day.

USC is still playing far below their capacity.

On Saturday, Oregon State never really had a chance. The Trojans outmatched them in nearly every department. That showed in the disparity on the scoreboard. But the disparity should have been greater.

USC scored touchdowns on just four out of 10 drives with the first team offense on the field despite averaging five yards per carry and 9.1 yards per pass. That’s not including a muffed punt which handed the Beavers back the ball at the 29-yard line.

Darnold was at the heart of the struggles. The quarterback was careless with possession, fumbling twice. The first was recovered by the defense while the second was wrangled by Toa Lobendahn, but set the Trojans in a second-and-31 hole at their own goal line resulting in a punt. He also tossed an egregious interception.

The Oregon State pass rush was not a major factor in the game, yet Darnold rushed throws, bailed clean pockets and missed open opportunities downfield.

It’s unfair to pin the offense’s troubles all on Darnold. He salvaged his day by throwing for 316 yards and three touchdowns, including a perfect strike over the top to Tyler Vaughns for the opening score.

More from Reign of Troy

Still, the performance highlighted a recurring theme, with offensive coordinator Tee Martin putting the game in Darnold’s hit-or-miss hands instead of riding a running attack which appears far more capable of stabilizing the offense.

By the end of the third quarter, Ronald Jones II had gained 69 yards and a touchdown. Unlike the rushing performance against Washington State, which was bolstered by an 86-yard touchdown run, Jones II posted a long of 13 yards on the day. His 6.6-yard per carry average was a true reflection of his outing. His worst carry netted four yards.

Yet through three quarters, the Trojans ran the ball 17 times—10 of those carries going to Jones II—compared to 31 passes.

USC’s offensive coaches continue to preach an identity of balance, but that identity has been continually been found lacking. Even on a day when the Trojans scored 38 points, it was clear that imbalance in favor of the pass was a problem. A more-run heavy philosophy would have yielded a stronger offensive showing. Or at least a more satisfying one.

Even with those offensive deficiencies, USC was never on upset alert, mostly because the Trojan defense never let it get that far.

That’s the positive to once again take from this Groundhog Day of a season.

Oregon State started two offensive possessions in USC territory because of fumbles. Another two began at the 47-yard line. Those accounted for four of the Beavers’ seven possessions in the first half. The Trojans limited them to a single field goal.

TRENDING: Studs and Duds from USC vs. Oregon State

“We’re nowhere near a finished product,” head coach Clay Helton admitted after the game. But that’s something USC coaches and players have been saying for six weeks.

It’s time for Groundhog Day to end. And it starts with embracing the ground game.