USC Football’s ugly wins yield a beautiful Pac-12 Championship

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images /

USC Football’s “ugly” 2017 conference season ended on a beautiful note, finishing with a Pac-12 Championship to savor.

It was put up or shut up time for USC Football on Friday night at Levi’s Stadium. The Trojans put up, telling their critics to shut up by winning their first Pac-12 Championship since 2008.

This wasn’t some grand coming out party for USC. They didn’t suddenly play picture perfect football. They were the same old 2017 Trojans, the ones who can never seem to make it easy, but still find a way to make it difficult for the opposition.

USC settled for a field goal at the goal line. They fumbled. They didn’t recover fumbles. They committed penalties. They gave up third down conversions. They made all the familiar mistakes.

But they also generated the familiar triumphs.

Sam Darnold hit key passes downfield, totally 325 yards and two touchdowns. Ronald Jones II found the endzone twice. Chris Hawkins, who led USC with 13 tackles, and Uchenna Nwosu, who had a sack and the key fourth down stop, made plays in the backfield.

The game, and the season, was summed up in the final minutes. Darnold was sacked on the first play of the fourth quarter, forcing a punt from the three-yard line. Then USC’s special teams gave the Cardinal a short field and the defense let Stanford drive down to the one-yard line in a three-point game.

But the resilient Trojans had an answer.

“These kids stood up on the goal line stand and decided to go 99 yards to finish the game. That defines who they are,” head coach Clay Helton said. “They are the definition of Fight On.”

Game after game in 2017, USC put in less-than-satisfying performances, but 10 times before Friday they came out saying, “a win’s a win.”

On Friday night, the outcome could not have been more satisfying. In Santa Clara, a win’s a championship.

“Nobody will remember the scores 10 years from now, but they will remember that these kids were Pac-12 Champions,” Helton said.

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That’s what matters for USC. The ends did indeed justify the means.

From here, the Trojans can give the season an even sweeter end by winning their bowl game, surely a New Year’s Six affair. Then, the normal end-of-season evaluations can begin, looking closer at why it was so difficult to put together a complete performance, looking at what or who needs changing.

But Helton’s Trojans already know one thing: They’re finishers.

“You go all the way through the season, how they just finish games is amazing to me,” Helton said. “They’re the best finishing bunch I’ve been associated with in my 23 years of college coaching. They just find ways to win. That’s the name of the game.”

It’s easy to linger on the negative. Many have done so for most of the fall when it comes to USC, but with a Pac-12 title in the bag, it’s time to tip your cap to Helton and company.

The long wait for a Pac-12 Championship is over. And that’s worth savoring.