Eighteen penalties. One hundred and sixty-nine yards. 18. 169. The most in 19 years, when the Trojans committed 21 in their longest game in school history, the infamous triple-overtime loss to Oregon that cost Carson Palmer his true sophomore season. Yes, USC has been a penalty machine for the better part of 30 years. Yes, a lack of discipline isn’t a problem when you’re winning games comfortably. But in an era when the Trojans struggle to string together competent performances and decisive wins, 18 penalties become a major hinderance. Nonstop false starts and holding calls had USC averaging 8.4 yards needed on third down attempts, leading to a obviously woeful 31.3 percent conversion rate. And then there’s the untimed down at the end of the first half which would’ve resulted in three free points to Arizona if not for a blocked field goal. And a game-sealing interception called back for pass interference. The list goes on and on and until USC shows they can play strong enough to endure shooting themselves in the foot, a trait Pete Carroll’s undisciplined teams mastered, then it’s always going to limit their potential and give opponents Get Out Of Blowout Free cards.
The offense’s ability to kill off a game
Arizona came back on Saturday night by scoring three touchdowns in the game’s final 23 minutes. But it didn’t have to be that way. Those scores didn’t have to be what made the game close. USC’s offense opened up a 24-point lead by relying on the running game, taking what the defense gave them in the passing game and being as efficient as they could, when not for drive-killing penalties. Had they continued to that run of form after Arizona ended the shutout, the game never would’ve been in doubt. Yet they didn’t. The Trojan offense imploded on their last six games, punting three times, fumbling twice and getting stuffed on a 4th and short. It set the stage for Arizona to have a chance, instead of eating clock, extending drives and finding any way possible to get some sort of points on the board to pick up the defense. It didn’t cost them a win against a
Tyler Vaughns as a punt returner
It’s not easy registering negative-1 return yards on four returned punts, but it’s what Tyler Vaughns walked away with on Saturday night. He made a habit of retreating to try and avoid gunners, took punts he could’ve let go and took precarious routes that resulted in minimal gains. Despite showing flashes as a returner in Week 1 against UNLV, it might be time to re-open the punt return competition, especially considering how important of a player Vaughns is on offense.
Clay Helton’s use of timeouts
Lost in the hubbub of USC gift-wrapping the game for Arizona was the Trojans’ inability to be prepared for the worst, and instead ridding themselves of timeouts early. All plays in college football are reviewed, especially scoring plays, making challenges a risk. Yet, Clay Helton opted to challenge Arizona’s 32-yard touchdown pass from Khalil Tate to a driving Cedric Peterson with 9:34 left in the game, just 15 seconds of game clock removed from his first timeout of the second half. With 6:28 left, he burned his final timeout after forcing Arizona into a 3rd-and-17. It left USC unable to regroup defensive during a wild final drive for the Wildcats that saw them run eight plays from inside the five-yard line.
Not one. Not two. But three lost fumbles, including a botched snap and a tight end, Josh Falo, trying to make a play after the catch. Fumbles happen. But when they shouldn’t become a pattern, which they’ve started to for USC, despite not losing four a week ago against Washington State. If not for the turnovers, the Trojans could’ve prevented their near-epic faceplant.
Long been considered a natural center, Toa Lobendahn is supposed to be the Trojans’ veteran leader on the offensive line, and their most reliable player. Yet his continued struggles with snaps have started to cost them. They led to a lost fumble against Arizona in the red zone, a week removed from costing USC’s offense 24 yards on three botched snaps with JT Daniels.