Where to begin. USC’s offense was worse than abysmal against Utah. You could highlight the 205 total yards, the 3.8 yard per play average or the 2.4 yards per rush. You could point to the 3-of-14 mark on third down conversions or the fact that USC didn’t convert a third down until Matt Fink’s touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. You could look through the stats and find dozens of horrifically bad examples of ineptitude. And it still wouldn’t do the severity of the performance justice. It started with…
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Regression isn’t the right word. He’s just 18 and a true freshman, and he doesn’t have a body of work to stand on in the first place. But Daniels isn’t getting better from week to week. If anything, it feels like he’s going backwards, as evidenced by a series of disastrous pass attempts into double and triple coverage against Utah. He wasn’t making those throws earlier this season. His brightest moment on Saturday, a 34-yard touchdown pass to Michael Pittman, should’ve been his worst. He avoided a sack by recklessly no-look tossing the ball up to a triple-covered receiver. That’s a preventable interception 99 percent of the time. Pittman just bailed him out. It was much like the desperate heave on his final pass of the night, a panic throw under duress to a wide open Utah defender short of the goal line. Those are freshman mistakes Daniels should’ve been getting out of his system by mid-October, not delivering with more frequency.
The offensive line
After the game, head coach Clay Helton bemoaned the lack of a running game, crediting Utah’s defensive front with controlling the line of scrimmage. They did all that while unexpectedly deploying Cover 2 for most of the night. That means the Utes shut down the Trojan rushing attack without stacking the box. They did it straight up, by dominating USC’s offensive line head-to-head. Oof.
Sometimes a team will come up against a defense that has the bodies and the gameplan to give it fits. That’s what Utah did to USC. A good offensive coordinator finds ways to adjust and plays to his teams strengths where he can. Tee Martin isn’t a good offensive coordinator though, and it showed ever more brightly on Saturday. He had no answers for the USC offense except banging his head up against a brick wall that wouldn’t budge.
Helton himself said the offense put the defense in a bad spot with three-and-out after three-and-out on the night. So there is some sympathy to be had for the plight of the Trojan defenders, who were missing their two best players, Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin, and were beat up mentally as much as physically. However, that doesn’t excuse giving up 41 points to the Utes, certainly not in the fashion they did it. The scores came via big plays and demoralizing drives. They came in all the ways the defense has struggled in the past, with missed tackles gifting Utah new life. USC needed the defense to carry them, unfair as that expectation may be. They dropped the ball.