After One Of The Most Hyped-Up Offseasons In Recent Memory, The Trojans Had A Lackluster Opener, But Hey At Least They Won Right?
There’s always a ton of information to dissect after the first weekend. Here are the five biggest takeaways from USC’s season opener.
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Best thing you can do when you make mistakes is to learn from them.
After eight long months of waiting and waiting, the college football season is finally here. USC was one of the trendiest picks for a CFP spot this year, but they certainly didn’t look the part last Saturday.
However, they did win and it was eye-opening for the fans as they realized that their Trojans are not as invulnerable as the media made them out to be. Every week provides a learning experience and there are many lessons that can be learned before the marquee matchup vs the Stanford Cardinal. Read on to figure out what went wrong, what went right and what needs to be fixed before Saturday.
1. Forget Everything You Thought You Knew From Training Camp Takeaways
All fall camp long, we heard the same stories. The Sam Darnold hype train was in full swing. He was appearing on every major sports news outlet, each article detailing a similar story about his upbringing and what created the supernova sensation. Saturday, the Heisman hopeful lost his streak of consecutive games with 2+ touchdown passes as he finished 23-33 for 289 yards and 2 interceptions. His QBR was a pedestrian 71.
He did admit to having jitters and Darnold will almost assuredly be better moving forward. However, his subpar showing wasn’t due to the O-line’s performance. Questions persisted at the start of the spring, throughout the summer and into fall camp about how the big boys in the trenches would perform after losing three starters.
If the opener was any indication, the Trojan offensive line should be just fine. They only allowed two sacks and two other TFL the entire game while opening up holes throughout the game for the dynamic rushing attack. They will face a much stiffer test against a dominant Stanford front four, but should they survive next Saturday with another solid performance, their confidence should be soaring and could provide the X-factor boost that the men of Troy need to make a playoff push this season.
2. Western Michigan Has A Good Chance To End Up Being A Quality Win For The Trojans
If you are trying to remember who represented the Group of Five in the New Year’s Six bowl games last year and you’re thinking of a certain team from Kalamazoo, you’re absolutely right. Western Michigan went 13-0 in the regular season last year before losing in a very competitive Cotton Bowl to Wisconsin.
However, after losing All-American WR Corey Davis, starting QB Zach Terrell and OG boat-rower/coach P.J. Fleck, the Broncos were expected to have a big rebuilding project on their hands this year. Instead, WM gave the Trojans all they could handle for 3-plus quarters, leaning on a strong run game which returned 4 starters alone the O-line as well as their top two tailbacks. If Saturday is any indication, Western Michigan could be poised to be the Group of 5 mainstay in the elite bowl games.
I’d be surprised if they DON’T run the table the rest of the season. There will be other G5 teams in their path such as Boise State, SDSU and USF, but eventually, they should be able to work their way up the polls and surpass all of them. The CFP has set a precedent that they highly value strength of schedule and this win could end up being a huge boon to USC. The Broncos are certainly better than teams like Akron, Kent State, Rutgers, and UTEP, so down the stretch, this win could be appear quite shiny to the committee, especially if Western Michigan makes it back to back years at a New Year’s Six game.
3. Which Run D Will Show Up Vs. Stanford? First Half Or Second?
The run D on Saturday was……..not good. For a half. It’s complicated. For the first two quarters, the defense seemed to constantly be reeling. Every time you looked up at the TV, Western Michigan seemed to have a fresh set of downs. The run game gashed the front seven as the experience of the Western Michigan O-linemen consistently got great pushes off the snap.
At the end of the first half, the Broncos had 161 rushing yards. 161! With those kind of rushing numbers, you’d think they were playing Georgia Tech. Then, the halftime show finished and the defense everyone expected showed up. Maybe it was the cloud cover, maybe it was the return of captain Cameron Smith from a ½ game suspension via the Rose Bowl, maybe it was a stirring halftime speech.
Whatever the case, the defense got the message as they only allowed 102 yards on the ground in the second half, 48 of which came on a single play. With the two headed monster of Bryce Love and Cam Scarlett headed towards the Colosseum on Saturday, Clancy Pendergast must have the defense in top shape if they hope to survive the weekend.
4. No One Got Hurt………Luckily
Everyone and their mama knows football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. Even with all the advancements in technology and medicine, injuries can still decimate a team’s season outlook and are a key factor that can really end up being overlooked over the course of a season. Just ask Florida State.
After exchanging blows all game with Alabama, Deondre Francois was on his last legs as he rolled to his right to make a throw. Or rather, leg. The sack (and Francois’ eminent collapse) that had a Theismann-level of awkwardness to it caught his leg at a weird angle and just like that his season is over. Diagnosis: ruptured patella tendon and Florida State’s playoff hopes probably went down with him. It isn’t like Bama escaped unscathed either as starting linebackers Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis were both lost for the season with a torn bicep and elbow ligament, respectively.
While they are probably two of the best teams in the nation to deal with season-altering injuries, they still lost valuable starters. Compared to that, USC can call their day quite a success. Only three key players were injured and all injuries were relatively minor. OT Chuma Edoga suffered a knee bruise but is being considered probable for the game against Stanford, while reserve safety Bubba Bolden is also dealing with a bone bruise and while he’s considered doubtful, he did say on Twitter that he will be on the field.
Chris Hawkins has a sprained elbow, but is only listed day-to day and given the magnitude of the impending matchup, you can expect him to be on the field as well. While injuries don’t make it onto the stat sheet, given USC’s recent luck with maladies, surviving Week 1 without any huge blows should allow the Trojan faithful to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
5. DON’T OVERREACT! IT’S ONLY WEEK 1!
One word, five letters. R-E-L-A-X. It was only Week 1 and after a preseason full of hype and the promise of accolades, each Trojan probably had a butterfly farm in their stomachs. A variety of factors contributed to the shoddy play that we saw last Saturday and yet, there are positives to take from each of them, At kickoff, it was supposedly 98 degrees, but in reality, it was easily in triple digits.
It is almost a guarantee that they won’t play in that type of extreme heat again. A rushing defense that was abused by the Broncos only ceded 102 yards in the second half, 48 of which came on a single run. Preseason All-American Cam Smith only played in the second half. Coincidence, I think not. Darnold had his struggles, but if you know anything about him, you know he will shake it off and probably rattle off elite performances the rest of the season.
If Porter Gustin actually picks off the double pass, he’s taking that one back to the house for 6. If SC doesn’t allow the kickoff return TD, that’s another 7 points that could’ve been prevented. Instead, the Broncos got away with an offensive holding penalty and the Trojans couldn’t fill in the gaps on the return coverage.
The score could’ve easily been 56-17, covering the spread and probably keeping them in the fourth spot in the AP poll. Overall, they did what matters and they got the W. Like Coach Helton said, “We are just trying to go 1-0 every week.” On to Stanford. Fight On.
P.S. Big shoutout to long-snapper Jake Olson for playing his first collegiate snap!