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USC Trojans

Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhh: USC vs. Washington State 2018 game preview

William Mancebo/Getty Images
William Mancebo/Getty Images
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After a shameful performance in Austin, the USC Trojans head back home in hopes of savaging their season against the Washington State Cougars.

This week’s preview will be a little different for a variety of reasons that include, but our not excluded to:

  1. It’s hard to motivate yourself to write about a 1-2 team. Especially one coming off the 37-14 whooping USC took against Texas last Saturday.
  2. After traveling to Austin for the weekend, I ate enough BBQ and Tex-Mex to have queso and pieces of brisket lodged in my brain, thus reducing my capacity to write 3,000 words about this week’s game.
  3. The Trojans play this Friday, eliminating one day to write, as well as one day for people to actually read this. Given the state of USC Football, I’m anticipating readership to be as low as the stadium attendance this week.
  4. If USC doesn’t try during the week, why should I?

If you really need a breakdown of Washington State’s team, go back to my preview from last year. The names have changed, but the team stays the same. They are an air raid offense coached by someone who is a couple of steps away from becoming the next Alex Jones.

It really doesn’t matter what Cougars team comes into the Coliseum, if the Trojans don’t figure out what is wrong. Some things can be fixed in season, while some will need to be worked out in Lynn Swann’s office in January.

Short Term Problems

Tailback U Is Now Tailback Who

Despite having three returning running backs that averaged five yards per carry last year, USC couldn’t even accumulate positive numbers on the ground against Texas. The offensive line is the main culprit, but only choosing the run the ball 16 times is also a factor. Hard to have the balance Clay Helton preaches when the offense is run by a coaching staff full of former quarterbacks.

We’re Talking About Practice

After the Stanford game, the lack of a veteran leader was tossed around as the reason for the offense’s struggles. This week, practice is to blame. For a team that finishes in the Top 10 in recruiting every year, this isn’t an acceptable excuse.

Glad this issue is getting fixed in *sarcastically looks at watch*  Week 4 of the season. No wonder so many Trojans make it into the NFL. They are already acclimated to using the first four games as preseason before playing to their best abilities.

More Like The Woe-Line

“Tremendous football coach”? Honestly, every word of that seems like a lie at this point in the season. If you rewatched the game —please don’t— or follow a reporter who did, you’d notice on several of the run plays, the offensive linemen weren’t doing anything. Again, offensive line has three returning seniors and everyone has had some sort of starting experience from the previous year. There should be no excuse for such dismal play in the trenches.

It doesn’t do the offensive line any favors that every single practice, at least one of them is held out due to injury or sickness. It’s like they take turns sitting out.

Not Even Close To Special Teams

At this point, the special teams for USC are special like when your mom tells you your special. You may think it’s true, but the fact is you’re just as ordinary as everyone else.

Actually, saying the special teams this year is ordinary might actually be a huge compliment for the Trojans.

What have been the results of this time commitment?

  • Two scholarship punters that can’t kick the ball more than thirty yards
  • A punt return team that annihilates the opposing team’s punter without blocking the ball
  • A field goal team that scores touchdowns…for their opponent

Not only did the blocked field goal lead to a touchdown for Texas, it also knocked kicker Chase McGarth out for the season with a torn ACL. USC’s special teams are so bad it literally hurts.

Numbers Don’t Lie

In case you weren’t already extremely depressed about this team, here are some statistics to validate your feelings:

If you’ve been thinking things could be worse, you’re right. You could be a UCLA fan.

It’s pretty awesome that in the past two games, USC has only scored 17 points in two quarters. By awesome, I mean extremely infuriating.

Again, this is inexcusable for a team that return a majority of its offensive line, running backs and wide receivers from last year. The drop off from Sam Darnold to JT Daniels is steep but it’s not so drastic that the whole offense should be this bad.

JT Daniels has played decent so far, and did you know he’s only 18 years old? Cut him some slack, he’s probably going through pledging right now.

If USC had a defense that allowed 1,000+ yards and over 50 points a game, I probably wouldn’t be as mad of a fan that I am today. Watching teams score is fun, even if it is at your expense. But watching this defense keep forcing third and longs, only to give up the first down on the ensuing play, is so frustrating to watch.

Long Term Problems

Coaching

Besides Clancy Pendergast, the whole coaching staff at this point is expendable. Tee Martin can’t call plays. Neil Callaway can’t seem to teach his offensive line how to block. John Baxter can’t seem to teach his punters how to kick the ball straight. I’ve seen pre-teens at a Punt, Pass, and Kick competitions get more hang time than some of the kicks I saw against Texas.

And then there’s the dozen of assistants that this is their first coaching job ever. It’s hard to judge their performance on an individual level, but seeing as the team is 1-2, I’d can’t say that they are doing well.

Why hasn’t USC been able to hire anyone with experience in the last couple of years? It’s like you have to know Clay Helton personally to get hired by him. Can we start posting these coaching openings on LinkedIn? Because seems like the hiring process is just hanging flyers around campus.

Culture

All week fans have complained about the officiating from last week’s game whether it was the uncalled safety or Porter Gustin’s ejection. Those calls were completely unfair, but they didn’t cost USC the game. How the team reacted to them did. They seemingly gave up after the ejection instead of fighting to the end and this is the sort of thing that has become the norm for USC football in the last decade. When the going gets tough, the Trojans get going.

I’d say the missed calls only cost the Trojans around nine points —a safety for them and a touchdown for Texas. They lost by 23. Neither call affected the offense, which didn’t score a point after the first quarter.

It doesn’t seem like this USC team or ones in the past have the work ethic and resiliency as some of the top programs like Alabama and Clemson.

They have bounced back the last two years, but those teams had strong veteran leaders on both sides of the ball to push them back to winning form.

USC always gets made fun of for being a rich private school for ditzy trust fund babies who haven’t earned anything in their life to attend for four years before getting a job working at their dad’s accounting firm. It’s weird that the football team is living up to that name now too.

I don’t think I’m off base on this. Just look at all the reports this week about how lazy practices were this season.

Completely unrelated, it would be nice to see criticism from a former alumni not named LenDale White. Maybe a former player that’s still in the NFL?

Clay Helton

I’ve long been the Clay Helton defender, mostly because in his first two years as head coach, he’s led the team to a Rose Bowl victory and the first Pac-12 Championship in about a decade. But it’s growing apparent that those were more because of Sam Darnold than himself.

In Year 3, nothing looks like it’s getting better. In fact, it is getting much worse.

A 1-2 record would be fine if the team showed any sort of life in the first three games, but this has been the most uninspiring football I’ve watched in my lifetime. A carpenter doesn’t blame his tools, so I’m blaming the carpenter.

I’ve given Helton the benefit of the doubt because he seems like a nice guy. Well, it looks like the old adage is true. Nice guys finish last, or at least second or third in the Pac-12 South.

It’s always been told he was hired because he was the adult in the room during the chaos of the Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkissian sagas, but just because the preschool teacher is doing well with her class doesn’t mean you should promote them to Secretary of Education.

What will eventually doom Helton is how much he continues to stick up for the failures of his coaching staff. I don’t know if it is because of his pride, or because he’s such a good guy he doesn’t want to throw anyone under the bus.

By anyone, I mean anyone on the actual payroll for the Trojans.

When Brian Kelly went 4-8, he gutted his coaching staff to save his job, and it worked. I don’t see Clay Helton doing that. I see him sticking to his guns, sticking with his guys, and it eventually being his downfall.

I think fans hope to see changes in-season, but given most of the upperclassmen on the roster have more experience with the team than the majority of coaches, I don’t think that decision is wise.

Unless you enjoy chaos.

Prediction

Good news! USC is favored to win!

Bad news! This spread is way too small to give you even the sliver of confidence that USC will actually win.

The best case scenario is USC struggles to edge out a victory against Washington State. The worst case scenario is that the wheels have already fallen off the Trojan horse before they enter the Coliseum on Friday, there’s nothing that can be done to salvage this season, and the Cougars win by more than two touchdowns.

Clay Helton is undefeated at home, but before last week, Clay Helton was also undefeated against unranked opponents.

Is it sad that I still expect USC to win, even though they’ve given me literally no reason to?

USC 28 Washington State 24

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