Weekly Musings – Utah Blowout Edition

It is never more enjoyable to draft weekly musings than ever a win, let alone a win against the #3 team in the country. The talk of the entire week was the “crazy” line which had unranked and three-loss USC favored against undefeated #3 Utah, and on paper that controversy was plenty warranted. But money talks and everything else walks, and the reality is that USC is way better than a three-loss team, and Utah is nowhere near as good as the #3 team. The rankings are what they are, but money gets to better express those two aforementioned realities than the subjectivity of polls do. If I were a betting man, and I am only if the thing being bet on is NOT sports, I would have taken USC with 6 points too. The other thing I will say about this game: If the guy sitting next to you is bathing in pessimism and negativity, and you are losing 14-7, and you kindly correct him and reverse his mood and vocabulary, you will then be up 42-17 really quickly. (Love ya BM)

Fundamentally, USC has some of the best skill position players in the country. You will not name a single team in the Division 1 football that JuJu Smith and Adoree Jackson would not start for, and more or less Ronald Jones, Justin Davis, and Tre Madden would be in a cabal of playing time running backs at almost all schools (you just wait and see how true that is for RJ). Our quarterback is very good, and though not a “star” who will win games for you, he almost never will lose one for you (he was awful against Washington, which is one of the only times I would say that in Cody’s long career). Skill players and a reliable quarterback is enough to win in college football when you have an acceptable defense. When you have an exceptional defense you don’t even need all the skill position studs to win, but when you have an acceptable one, combined with athletic weaponry, you can win. We have had an unacceptable defense basically since 2008. I really believe that. Chris Gallipo once started for USC – and while meaning no offense to him, he was not a USC starting level type of player, on his best day. The few guys we put in the NFL post-2008 from the defense (Robey, Bailey, Jackson, Kennard) were outliers. Across an 11-man squad we have had a gap at talent, and a much larger gap at cohesion. Blame Monte. Blame Lane. Blame Wilcox. But don’t deny it. We have had no ability to put fear in the hearts of the other team on the defensive side of the ball. The front seven has been particularly undaunting, and that has only added to the distress in the secondary (where Josh Shaw missed last year and still was only an average player, etc.). On Saturday against Utah and one of the best running backs in the country, the defense simply shined. We avoided the big plays against us (with one and maybe two exceptions), and we pressured the quarterback, and we stopped their Heisman candidate tailback from being a factor, AND most importantly – we TOOK THE BALL.

THIS is the point I want to make about life after Pete Carroll, for he taught this to me as much as anything else: It’s all about the ball. A team that gives up the ball will lose; a team that goes and gets the ball will win. In 2000 USC had the worst giveaway/takeaway ratio in the conference (may have been worst in the country). After Carroll got here, it became the BEST. That ratio is so important to us as Trojans. Big physical defensive lines with nasty linebackers and pass rush defenses create turnovers. Darrell Rideaux couldn’t catch a cold in a waiting room but he had a few picks in the Carroll era. The reality is that our desires with time of possession, with offensive balance, with momentum, with field position – they ALL come down to getting the ball. And on Saturday we saw the two things that matter come to for us to win this game:

(1) Offensive stars playing like offensive stars
(2) We went and got the ball on defense

Cameron Smith’s game was every bit as legendary as we as biased Trojans are saying. An athletic and cerebral linebacker, those plays were the game. Period. I am more than willing to say that Whittingham’s decision to go for it from the fifty yard line on 4th and 2 was one of the dumbest things I have ever seen (it’s a risk-reward skew, my friends), but to then turn that into points like that was really remarkable. I can’t say enough good stuff about what Cameron did on Saturday.

The offensive line deserves kudos too. Beaten up and diminished to second and third string guys, they got it done. I still think Cody relies on his spin move out of pressure too much, but it generally works for him, and we don’t seem to get him that eternal pocket he’d prefer to have. Quick strikes out of a shotgun or play action work better for this offense. Cody is tough enough that he has overcome some of the poor pass protection. Saturday, we were good enough.

Clay Helton is doing what he should be doing – firing up the kids, keeping them in unity with one another, and leaving it on the field. That Notre Dame loss was a nuanced story. It was not a moral victory, because there is no such thing. However, it was a really promising second and third quarter, and showed some life. We just didn’t finish. This week, we did. That nine-minute drive in the third quarter was one of the best things I have seen from USC’s offense and their coaching in five years. Clay is acting like a man of class and coaching ambition, as it should be. I actually wonder if the new head coach may make his first recruit an Offensive Coordinator who the kids love playing for.

I want to go up and beat Cal this weekend for the 1,753rd time in a row (I think they last beat us during the French and Indian War), and I want to do that because I loathe Kal, and because I love this team. I believe this team deserves the chance to play for the Pac-12 title. I want a rematch against the other NorCal Marxist team, and even though Stanford looks to me like a top five team in the country (wow was that week #1 a lesson in appearances being deceiving), I want to play them again. I am not thinking about any other game right now but Cal. Beat the Bears, and fight on …

The coaching search thing is interesting. I am confident the administration will not to capitulate to a loud part of the fan base’s desire for a “headline” name at the expense of a quality coach who is driven, compatible, and ready. Getting a celebrity means NOTHING to me; getting a top shelf first class defensive minded talented recruiter who can and will win means EVERYTHING. I am glad Kevin Sumlin beat Alabama four years ago. Since then? Yikes. Remember when Charlie Strong was the instant savior we missed? Ask Texas. A NFL name who has never coached in college and will be repelled by the dog fight of recruiting? PLEASE NO. We have a great list of candidates, but the desire for a big name must be suppressed for the desire for a good name.

Around the country, it is really tough to find a truly “dominant” team (in terms of that historical #1 and #2 that arte generally heads and shoulders above everyone else). Baylor HAS to win out to get in the playoff (fair enough). I wouldn’t bet on it. Ohio State is very likely going to split with the Michigans, and Urban Meyer may decide he wants to go coach in the Sun Belt conference (after taking time off for his health and family) if Harbaugh keeps this thing going (I am not kidding – that contemptible little chicken will not sit there and face Harbaugh every year if Michigan gets back to parity with Ohio State; just ask Nick Saban if I am right about Meyer). Alabama is really good, but really unreliable (a near loss to TENNESSEE??? At HOME???). LSU is good, but Alabama and LSU play each other. I actually would just love to see Ole Miss win the SEC and ensure that no SEC team is in the playoff. I think they would put a two-loss Alabama who didn’t win their conference in the playoff before they let that thing go without a SEC team. Ay yi yi. I think Stanford could be there but I also want them NOT to be because I want USC to beat them in the Pac-12 championship. So much to watch. So much to root for.

And THAT is why this is the greatest sport on God’s green earth.