USC vs. Iowa: What went wrong and what went worse in the Holiday Bowl

Michael Castillo/Reign of Troy
Michael Castillo/Reign of Troy /

USC embarrassed itself in San Diego on Friday night, losing to the 16th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, 49-24, in the Holiday Bowl.

Recap. Iowa Humbles USC

Since the news broke that USC was going to retain head coach Clay Helton, there has been a miasma over the fan base. Many have been lamenting the clear and present apathy that new president Carol Folt and new athletic director Mike Bohn have shown for the football program.

Unfortunately, this feeling of frustration and total apathy from anyone with any sort of say is the new normal. What is even sadder for USC fans as a whole is that what USC showed on the field Friday night might also be the new normal for this program going forward.

CHECK OUT: Studs and duds vs. Iowa

Let’s take a look at what went wrong, and what went worse, for USC Friday night in the Holiday Bowl, as they lost 49-24 to the Iowa Hawkeyes.

What went wrong

The Defense

For what feels like 24 years, but has probably just been 24 months, I have vehemently defended USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and his performance. And if we’re being honest, I have been right about him and his ability for 20 of those months.It is now clear that the wheels have come all the way off for USC and its defense.

The secondary has been a weakness for this team all season.

The edge defending has been a weakness for this team all season.

To lose so many games the same way is a fireable offense. It shows that there has been little to no growth in those areas all year.

Pendergast may have been coaching for his job in the Holiday Bowl, and after that performance by the USC defense, I can’t defend it any longer. It’s time to move on, the question is does anyone even care to move on?

Special Teams

John Baxter must make the best adobada in the world, because that is the only explanation I can think of how he has been USC’s special teams coach for so long.

It has been at minimum two years of absolutely dreadful special teams play, and potentially game-losing mistakes.

So, of course, the best way to cement the legacy of bad USC special teams is to allow a kickoff return for a touchdown to a man who has been a clear return threat since Iowa played Nebraska.

The only way that someone can be this bad at their job and not be fired is if no one really cares, and it seems like USC just does not care.

The Offense

USC’s offense losing Kedon Slovis was a huge blow. However, it is not an excuse for how this offense looked in the second half against Iowa.

Since Day 1, Graham Harrell and Helton have told us that the QB doesn’t matter and that this offense would produce no matter who was at the helm. And frankly, with the talent that USC has at its skill position, it shouldn’t matter. However, it is clear after seeing a glimpse of JT Daniels early in the year and Matt Fink (even Fink in the Utah game) that this offense isn’t good enough for anyone to play QB. It is an offense that needs Kedon Slovis and these talented wide receivers to elevate it.

It’s a complete scam to call an offense an “execution offense.” All offenses are execution offenses. If everyone does everything perfectly, every single offense in football is unstoppable.

The coaches are supposed to use their scheme to make it easier for the players to make plays. Harrell did not establishing the run, or mix in any type of screen game to slow Iowa’s pass rush, or make the game easier for Fink. That’s just more of the same from USC.

What I can’t understand is why a Tee Martin offense that put up numbers, while only looking decent in spurts, wasn’t ok, but USC brass and the fan base is fine with a Harrell offense that has worked the exact same way. Numbers look great, but offense rarely looks good for all four quarters.

What went worse

USC caught a glimpse of its future

I think what makes all of this worse for USC and Trojan fans is that this isn’t just the new normal for the program. It is that this might be the new high for this program.

Before this year we were able to at least console ourselves with the fact that USC will always be able to recruit, so there will always be talent on the field, thus making sure USC will never be abjectly terrible…just terrible by USC standards.

After bringing in the 78th-ranked recruiting class and having top California prospects choosing schools like Oregon State over USC, we might be begging for an 8-5 season in a couple of years.

And the only thing worse than 8-5 seasons being seen as a positive for USC is the fact that no one on the board of trustees, none of the boosters, and no one in the president’s office or the athletic department really seems to care.

The only hope is that the returning talent, which everyone is so sure is capable of producing a 10-win season, does just that. Because it sounds like that could be the last 10-win season for a long time unless Carol Folt and Mike Bohn decide they care enough to make a change.

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