USC football had new positives to cling to on Friday night against Washington State, but negatives are still limiting the Trojans’ ceiling.
After a humbling loss at the hands of the Texas Longhorns, USC football came into the Washington State game knowing that it was a must-win. The Trojans were playing to keep the Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl a live option, and to keep head coach Clay Helton off the hot seat.
They were predicted to win the game by 4.5 points, so we knew the game would be close.
Like the UNLV game, it was a mixture of good and bad, and while USC did get the win, in many ways there are still just as many questions as there answers.
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Let’s start with the positives. First and foremost, USC won the game and extended their Coliseum win streak to18-straight under Clay Helton. For all of his faults (and those will be addressed later) Helton seems to have a monopoly on the Coliseum.
Continuing with the good news, it seems as though JT Daniels now has a real connection with the other two starting receivers not named Amon-Ra St. Brown (and that connection still appears to be thriving). Prior to this game, both Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman had been in a rut after having had strong seasons last year. We saw them return to form in this game, with Vaughns making several clutch catches for 64 yards and one touchdown and Pittman making two catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Plus, the running game was much improved from the Texas game and the Trojans were able to run the ball at the end of the game in order to seal the win.
All of those things are improvements over the first three games, and if they continue then perhaps USC can salvage the season and repeat as Pac-12 Champions.
While there were improvements and good things to highlight in this game, some of the same problems continued to rear their ugly heads.
USC received 65 yards in penalties, which stalled several drives.
With the exception of Iman Marshall, USC was destroyed all night by the passing game, and failed to tackle (an outcome that should be expected since the Trojans do not tackle in practice).
One glaring problem that was noticeable all night, even when Porter Gustin returned, was that USC lacked a consistent pass rush. Washington State gave their quarterback, Gardner Minshew, all the time he needed to make plays, while Daniels often was running for his life.
The bottom line is this: We knew coming into this season that USC was a very talented team. There was never any doubt about that; you can’t have that many consecutive Top 4 recruiting classes and fail to be talented. The question was whether USC would be disciplined, have an identity, and be consistent.
Through the first four games, the answer is no.
That does not mean that the Trojans cannot or will not become those things. Two-thirds of the season still remain. There is time for USC to become the team they are supposed to be. But after watching this game and the previous three, it does not seem likely.
It seems that to win, USC will have to rely on luck and talent.