USC Football: Three takeaways from Trojans’ win over UCLA

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Sam Darnold /

It wasn’t pretty, but the 2017 USC football team ran their win total to 10 after beating UCLA 28-23 at the Coliseum. Here’s the takeaways.

Yet again, Clay Helton’s USC football team played an incomplete game against UCLA, full of the good Trojans, the bad Trojans and the ever-frustrating Trojans.

Overall, the 28-23 win wasn’t the best representative their abilities. But yet again they found a way to get a win, as they’ve now done in 16-straight home games.

Let’s walk through the three biggest takeaways…

1. USC wins 10 games for first time since 2011

When the season started, USC had aspirations of a Pac-12 championship and a College Football Playoff berth. Now at seasons end, they still have a chance to win the conference in two weeks, but are simply not a playoff team.

They have been undisciplined and inconsistent almost the entire season —except for the Stanford and Arizona St. games— and Saturday’s game against UCLA was no exception. The Trojans went away from what was working, were penalized for over 100 yards for the umpteenth time, and somehow managed to rush for just 153 against a defense that was giving up 300 rushing yards per game.

Yet, the last time that the Trojans won 10 games in the regular season, Lane Kiffin was the head coach and offensive coordinator. While the regular season had many frustrating moments, winning 10 games is a notable feat, and Men of Troy can push that total to 12 if they can win the Pac-12 Championship and their bowl game.

The season has not gone the way the players or fans envisioned, but it would be hard to say that the season was not a success, even if the team had to rely on luck and raw talent far too many times.

2. The defense needs work

When Clancy Pendergast was hired back by Clay Helton in 2016, it was in part because of his aggressive schemes. And on cue, the defensive coordinator has done a lot of blitzing during his two seasons back at USC.

However, due to the fact he refuses to rotate players and does not mix in healthy doses of zone coverage to go along with his man-coverage, players are often quickly fatigued in games. This leads to blown coverages and long touchdown passes, which were evident against UCLA.

Josh Rosen threw for 421 yards despite not having his two prized weapons healthy, wide receiver Darren Andrews and tight end Caleb Wilson. Jordan Lasley was able to find soft spots in the defense and get behind defensive backs seemingly at will.

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And despite UCLA not being a strong running team and having a suspect offensive line, they still managed to run decently against USC at times, while being able to pick up key third downs on short runs and screen passes. It kept them in the game until the end.

If USC wants to beat Washington State or Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game, they will need to rotate and disguise coverages better, because Luke Falk and K.J. Costello are not pushovers at quarterback. Stanford, in particular, has a strong offensive line and an elite running back in Heisman candidate Bryce Love.

The Trojans have been inconsistent, but they at least have two weeks to figure it out.

3. Bye week comes at an opportune time

When asked when he would have liked a bye week, Coach Clay Helton mentioned he would have preferred to have one after the Washington State game due to the attrition from injuries.

Luckily for him, he and the Trojans get a bye week before the Pac-12 Championship Game, while the North division champion will be playing on a short week two Fridays from now.

USC needs this bye week badly, having lost several starters during the season and being depleted on the defensive line during the UCLA game. They hope to be able to get everyone back —especially outside linebacker Porter Gustin— and come up with a solid game plan.

The season is not over, and now is the opportune time to rest and then prepare.