USC vs. UNLV: The good, bad and what stood out for the Trojans

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

USC Football notched it’s first win of the 2018 season with a 43-21 victory over the UNLV Rebels. What was good? What was bad? And what else stood out?

Studs & Duds. USC vs. UNLV

I’m just going to come out and say it. Thank goodness for that second half showing from JT Daniels and the USC offense.

As cool calm and collected as I normally am on Week 1 of the college football season, the Trojans’ first-half performance was downright triggering. I was ready to make travel arrangements to get embarrassed in the Cotton Bowl again.

The first play of the game was a fumble forced by redshirt freshman Isaiah Pola-Mao, which was a dream start. Though, like a program that preaches balance, the USC offense had to even it out.

They did do by blowing away the over, for drives into a season before we see a USC Special. You could practically taste the hot takes being fired off every time place kicker Chase McGrath trotted out onto the field.

The Bad

Now, it is important to understand that USC did win, and won by more than 20 points. But, USC started slowly in the first half, so we’re going to go negative a bit more before we get positive. And that starts with the offensive line.

Look, we know Toa Lobendahn was out with an injury. His replacement, Brett Neilon, did an admirable job for a redshirt freshman.

The issue was a lot of USC’s most successful runs were the result of the backs making people miss. At least pass protection wasn’t too bad, giving up two sacks.

RELATED: USC’s Week 1 Win Revealed Areas to Work On

Moving on, tight end play was big for USC last season. But they need to be more involved going forward.

The majority on the roster are really good at both blocking and receiving, and the Trojans surely need a little extra help runblocking. That, and they need a little more pro personnel packages to force the opposing defense to decide if they’re going to sub or not, which will help with their run/pass reads.

The Good

USC’s defense looked about as good as expected in Week 1. In fact, the one play that killed USC the most last year, the reverse, was well defended. The problem was they defended it so well, when it turned out to be a fake reverse, no one stayed play side to help.

The rest of the hiccups were just first game issues. Tackling will get better, and there were no major blown assignments. UNLV’s biggest plays were when defenders were in a position to make a play.

Another good thing about Saturday was JT Daniels and his second half of football.

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As a died-in-the-wool member of Matt Fink Hive since, well, since he took that zone read against Oregon State to the house…I have always thought fondly of what this offense could look like with him at the helm. So I was moderately disappointed when Daniels won the job.

Then he played like a true freshman early on, and I was ready to get USC Twitter rabble-roused. I may or may not have fired off a warm take, asking to see a flash of all this talent that has garnered Daniels so much hype.

Then he proceeded to hit his BFF Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 43-yard touchdown. Then followed that up with a couple more bombs to Trevon Sidney and Michael Pittman.

Not bad Mr. Daniels. Not bad at all.

What stood out?

Firstly, defensive line play. If USC is going to win the conference again, and/or make a run at the College Football Playoff, the defensive line is going to be why.

Watching Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu in there eating blocks and making plays in the backfield, while also keeping Cameron Smith clean to run sideline to sideline is exciting.

Though, watching Brandon Pili, who appears to be on the precipice of a major second-year leap, has me the most excited. Three legitimate monsters to rotate up front is how you blow these spread offenses up.

It was reassuring that either Pendergast has eased his stance, or the group he trusts is a lot larger than last season.

Secondly,  defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s willingness to rotate and move people around was noticeable.

He has a bit of a reputation for having a group he trusts and riding with them until the wheels fall off, which is why USC looked so abysmal in the 2017 season when injuries mounted.

Aagainst UNLV, it was reassuring that either Pendergast has eased his stance, or the group he trusts is a lot larger than last season.  Seeing a rotation of defensive linemen and outside linebackers before the game was in hand is a good thing.

It was a solid start to the season, though they’ll have to be much better to beat Stanford next week.