USC Football: Studs and duds from the Trojans’ loss to Washington

USC football QB coach Graham Harrell. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
USC football QB coach Graham Harrell. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /
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Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /


John Baxter

USC special teams have been pretty bad since the first game of the season, where they negated a huge return because they couldn’t figure out who had which numbers on. Saturday against Washington USC struggled even more.

There were multiple bad punts, including a line-drive that then resulted in a good return. There was a kickoff Washington had a chance to recover an inadvertent onside kick because they kicked the ball straight up in the air. Then there was the weird punt on Washington’s side of the field where Ben Griffiths held the ball, almost got his punt blocked, and barely got inside the 20.

It was another day on a long list of days where the special teams for USC just leave you scratching your head.

Graham Harrell

USC’s talent at its skill positions have been making poor playcalling look decent since 2017, and I was under the impression Graham Harrell was here to change that. This was supposed to be a season where superior talents were going to be placed in an offensive scheme designed to utilize them to their fullest.

Frankly five games in, and yes, I do mean all five games, there has been very little evidence that Harrell is capable of scheming USC’s playmakers open, or that he even has a solid handle on USC’s offensive personnel and their strengths and weaknesses.

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Saturday afternoon against Washington you could make the argument to have Harrell “tarmac-ed” right then and there.

Harrell, since the end of the quarterback battle, has liked to say that they can run the entire playbook no matter who is back there. And after seeing all three scholarship quarterbacks at USC play this season, that is a flat out lie. Saturday proved if anything, that Harrell lacks the flexibility in his offense and his play-calling to adjust to what his available players do best.

There was no cutting down on the RPOs which led to an interception. The emphasis on the run wasn’t made until it felt like the game was already slipping away. You’re not allowing for zone reads, outside of the goal line, but you’re calling quarterback draws on third-and-five? None of it made any sense.

More importantly, if you can’t crosstrain upperclass wide receivers like Pittman and Tyler Vaughns at both outside and inside receiver so that opposing teams can’t just line two people up over the top of them to take them away, or change the formation enough so that it is Vaughns or Pittman running the smash corner route combination to try and save the game, then what exactly are you doing to help put the offense in a position to win?

If the only differences Harrell is going to bring to this offense is tempo, the offensive line splits and positional rigidity, then, I’ve seen enough. Hopefully anyone who is thinking about accepting the athletic director position has as well.

Pac-12 Officials

The Pac 12 has had god-awful officiating for years. Whether they are reviewing every play in a three-minute span or not knowing what targeting is, there always seems to be something. Saturday was no different.

The unsportsmanlike conduct on Fink for the spike after his rushing touchdown was ridiculous. That was only matched by the horrific, and possibly game-changing, celebration penalty called on Talanoa Hufanga. He was called for being on the field, but replay showed he was barely off of the sideline. A few plays later, Washington celebrated in the same way and was hit only with a sideline warning.

I know the Pac-12 recently investigated their officiating department in order to make them better, but there hasn’t been any evidence of that this season.

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