Weekly Musings – USC Pac 12 South Champs UCLA Edition

What an incredible week for Thanksgiving.  After a disheartening performance in Eugene, the Trojans bounced back to pummel their crosstown rival, Bruins, reasserting who really owns Los Angeles, and reinforcing the two most fundamental realities of football: (1) Defense wins championships; (2) When you can run the ball, you can win.  

I will say that I disagree with some who thought the Trojans showed no heart in Eugene.  One of the best offensive teams in the country got up by 24 early in the second half, and USC pulled it to within 10 AND had the ball before a Cody sack/turnover pushed it the other way.  The team kept fighting despite not having a great chance of winning the game, and the two defensive realities some appear to be in denial about are that (a) The secondary features severa players who would not be starting at many schools in our conference, and (b) The pummeling of injuries to our starting linebackers left the defensive scheme in disarray.  With that said, we didn’t do what we had to do to win the game, and yet somehow had ourselves in a position to play for the Pac12 South Title in yesterday’s game against UCLA.

What can I say about the UCLA Bruins?  I am being objective, literal, sincere, charitable, and honest when I say that they do not care about any game all year besides USC.  Period.  It is the strangest envy-obsession I have ever witnessed amongst grown-ups in my adult life.  This is a program that literally talks of Jim Mora like he is Big Bear Bryant, surely aware that he has NEVER WON A MEANINGFUL GAME, EVER, EVER, EVER – besides the last three years against USC (where we were sanction-plagued and rebuilding).  They lose every game they play to a top team (Oregon, Stanford, etc.), and NO ONE BLINKS.  Why?  ALL that matters is USC – period.  As a Trojan, I am flattered, but still a little creeped out and certainly confused.  

Their freshman QB, Rosen, is a good ball thrower, and UCLA could very well have extended their streak against our injury-plagued offensive line and linebacking corps (not to mention the secondary that has been dubious throughout the last five years).  UCLA plays physically, and the close betting line probably had this right – it could have gone either way.

The reason it went OUR way was because we ran the ball down their freaking throats.  Smash mouth physical football led by a courageous performance from our fourth string center (literally) and each guard and tackle.  Diligent, patient, elusive, targeted running from Justin Davis and Ronald Jones.  A sight to behold.  I will watch that fourth quarter clock eating heart grabbing drive once a week for the rest of my life.  A literal thing of beauty.  But we did other things well in this game too.  We protected the football.  We got big plays on special teams (Adoree punt return for a TD, bruin missed FG, good kickoff coverage besides one play, etc.).  And then the thing that matters most – our defense played the best they have all year.  Great coverage, great containment, and incredible pass rush effort on their quarterback.  Their running backs had one big run apiece, but they never got in a rhythm and we didn’t let them dictate how things were going to go.  Wilcox critics should give him his due for yesterday’s efforts.   I have been critical of Iman Marshall and his two picks yesterday were HUGE.  The backside hit on Rosen that led to the fumble recovery for a TD was HUGE.  It was one of those days where the big plays in the game were OUR big plays.  We earned it.

So that leads me to a quick comment on Clay Helton.  I do not believe the kids should pick the next head coach and I do not believe the internet fans should either.  Haden needs to do what is best for the program.  The players love their coach and want him because he is their advocate, and I get that.  The internet chat board fans want Chip Kelly or Bill Bellichek or Jon Gruden or whoever it is they want because their football IQ does not exceed the trash they can talk  in their cubicles with their Bruin coworkers.  The right thing to do is objectively and exhaustively evaluate the entire landscape for which option best fits the university and her needs.  I personally prefer a defensive minded coach or at least one who doesn’t seem to almost loathe defense (Kelly).  With that said, I recognize that he would be exciting and if successful in recruiting, could create a dynamite offensive power.  The bulk of the other names being thrown around are not going to happen or not exciting to me.  And that is where I just wonder – is Clay Helton perhaps the man for this job?  He has clearly gotten the players to believe in him, he has creatd buy-in, he is a philosophically cogent coach (run first, eliminate mistakes, play defense).  I think the idea that it comes down to how this weekend’s game against Stanford goes is silly, but that is what I think will happen.  Win, he’s in.  Lose, he’s out.  I could be wrong.  But that’s my prediction.  

The Stanford game will be a bear.  They are good.  They have the best player in the country if you ask me.  And that win over Notre Dame was for the ages Saturday night.  (Incidentally, the play that won the game for them is one NO ONE is talking about; it wasn’t the 30-yard pass across the idiotic zone defense of Dame or the winning field goal; it was the fact that the instant replay booth inexplicably GAVE Notre Dame the go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds left; had they ruled the QB down, which he was, it woould’ve HELPED Notre Dame to lose that TD, who would have had first down on the one inch line, still scored, and left Stanford almost no time; but I digress; an ironic game sometimes).  I believe USC can win, and I know the players will come ready to play.  It is, as it always is, a wonderful day and time to be a Trojan.  Fight on indeed.

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Around the country  …

Florida’s 2 points against Florida State sounds worse than zero.  I don’t know why; it just does.

Oklahoma looks lethal good.  If I had a gun to my head, they’d be my prediction to win it all

Clemson’s win was sloppy and I really think this North Carolina came could bust things up

Wow was Michigan ever manhandled at the line of scrimmage.  Manhandled.

I am worried about our secondary against the Stanford Tight Ends who have a foot on them!

LSU should fire their AD and all of his advisors

We need an eight-team playoff.  This is better than BCS, but it’s not perfect.