Weekly Musings – Utah Edition

 

I brought my youngest kiddo to the game Friday night and he had the time of his life, but really his dad loved it even more. Not just the game, but the whole experience with my baby boy. A truly special and unforgettable night.

I don’t want to get carried away on the game. The thing that matters is – we won, we won with a third string QB, and we made some really remarkable plays to get it done. We beat the #10 team in the country after a tough loss on a tough Friday night setting. Kudos to everyone – coaches, players, Matt Fink, the whole deal. But I also will say what many won’t want to hear: The win looked an awful lot like 2018, in that offensively we (a) Couldn’t run the football, and (b) Relied on 40-yard pass after 40-yard pass to move the football and score. Now, we completed those 40-yard passes, and we scored out of them, and we, you know, won the game. But the thrill of the victory must be tempered by the ambiguity over the sustainability of our offensive solidity. A 38-minute time of possession for Utah vs. our 22-minutes is not the kind of thing you want to see, or frankly expect to believe you have a chance of winning when you do see it.

That said, Fight on – we did it!

The first two drives Fink scored with were just highlight reel fun. The Eli Manning impression on the TD to ARSB was unforgettable. The second quarter was more frustrating. An incredible defensive stop, followed by us going three and out. Another incredible defensive stop, followed by a great USC drive, resulting in a brutal fumble. But then we get them pinned down all the way to the 5 yard line, only to give up a 30-yard run up the middle. I then saw the worst unnecessary roughness call I’ve seen since the Sinbad movie, and all of a sudden they’re on our side of the field. We did keep them to a field goal, but it was a 10-point swing nonetheless.

I’m not always impressed with Harrell as a play-caller in important situations. Key third down plays have featured some really weird calls, and don’t get me started on overtime last week. But there are times the offense finds a rhythm and he calls some good drives downfield.

The interception with five minutes left in the third quarter followed by a taunting call, on us, when we threw a pick, leading to their touchdown, was as big of a momentum swing as you could imagine. Had we gone up 28-10, I really think we go on to curb-stomp them. 21-17 didn’t have the same ring to it.

I don’t know how critical I’d be of our defense against this quarterback (especially since we pulled it together so much in the second half). But I know Trojans felt angst over those times he and the RB slipped through our fingers, and their ability to squeak out run plays (especially the third down conversions). I feel the same frustration when pass rushers get their hands on a ball carrier and can’t get him down. But this kid was good, and their various offensive sets and looks were tough.

The unnecessary roughness call to extend their drive near the end of the third quarter was utter nonsense, but I already used my Sinbad movie joke. That said, the lack of discipline in the team is striking. The face mask penalty on Houston was but one case where we just made bad situations worse all night. And then Stepp’s penalty after his own touchdown was making a great situation not as great. It has to stop. (Now, is handing the ball to Reggie Bush “excessive celebration”? More on #5 later)

A huge difference this week that helped us was that the refs called holding on Utah repeatedly, who, by the way, held repeatedly. The refs did make some insane calls against USC, but we can’t forget that Utah had 16 penalties called on them (all of which were good calls). Net-net the refs still hurt USC, but this was hardly a hack job against us like that BYU debacle.

Along with the forced fumble and recovery when Utah was approaching a touchdown at the end of the first half, the safety play when Drake sacked their QB in the end zone was just a big time football play. And it really won the game for us.

Matt Fink was remarkable, and the whole narrative of a third string kid who has been waiting for his chance coming in and winning a big time game against an ascendant team deserves all the hype it will get. That said, Michael Pittman’s 10 catches and 232 yards and constantly stepping up with big plays all represented the MVP performance of the night …

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Let’s talk Reggie …
The indomitable #5 came into the Coliseum for the first time since the “scandal” that led to sanctions and all the things I barely talk about any more for the sake of my moral and emotional well-being. I don’t believe there has ever been a really thorough download in the musings of how I feel about Reggie, let alone how I think others ought to feel. The ass-clownishness around the NCAA’s rule that he not be associated with USC any longer, to a point where freshmen students who were in Kindergarten worshipping #5 when he was tearing up the Coliseum have to be physically kept from approaching him, is just intellectually unacceptable in a civilized society. I can’t even believe it is legal, but this is the power and corruption of the NCAA, an entity who has to be held in about the same regard as the DMV for competence, Planned Parenthood for honesty in objectives, and the mafia for moral tactics.

But is Reggie a victim in all of this? I believe that two camps have always gotten Reggie wrong, and I hope you won’t be confused or offended by my attempt at nuance here. I hold no ill will against Reggie that his stepdad cheated on a rent deal or that Reggie may have gotten a free suit. I just don’t care. Either do you. If you say you do, it’s because USC teeth-kicked your team when Reggie was there. No one’s natural moral impulses are aroused by a 20-year old getting a suit here or lunch money there while generating hundreds of millions of dollars for other people. You can say “rules are rules,” and that is fine, but I am talking about your natural angst and emotion over this. In the grand scheme of things, this is a nothing-burger, it has happened five million times at every school in this country, and it is a stupid joke that serious people spend no time being bothered by. Add in the NCAA’s non-existent case that USC was complicit in it, and you had the worst travesty in college sports history. Literally.

But does that mean Reggie is innocent? No, but that has nothing to do with the alleged misdemeanor acts. Paradoxically, the only thing Reggie did wrong was not pay off Lloyd Lake. I mean this. And I say this with a deep and abiding commitment to character and values. By the time he left, he had the ability to make this go away, and leverage his new-found income and balance sheet to protect the university, future classes of Trojans, and the legacy of those 2003-05 teams. A proper NDA and a few hundred grand would have made this low-life POS go away. It was all legal and do-able, and Reggie decided to call Lake’s bluff, and it blew up in Matt Barkley’s face. Total selfish nonsense.

Reggie was the greatest player I ever saw in a Trojan uniform, and no sane person would say he was anything other than top 3 or 4. He led through the most dominant offensive years in college football history, and they were a few insane calls or non-calls from three natty’s in a row, something I don’t believe will ever happen again. He made hundreds of millions of dollars for other stakeholders, and he gave many of us memories we will never forget.

No decent person should tolerate the NCAA continuing this tyrannical position forcing Reggie and USC to pretend they don’t know each other. Enough. Just. Stop. It. This is unbecoming a civilized society. Reggie should not come in wearing a Fox Sports uniform. He should come in wearing #5, and he can privately apologize to his teammates and the 2010-2012 teams if he hasn’t already. And that’s that with that. Fight on, Reggie.

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Around the country …

– Notre Dame hasn’t beaten a top 5 AP team in the last 14 years??????? And ten of their losses to top 5 teams have been by over 14 points???? Ay yi yi. Well, add another whiff to that list …
– Like pretty much everyone in the country, I didn’t watch the UCLA miracle comeback, but I don’t care if it was the Bruins or not, coming back from a 32-point deficit in the third quarter is straight up magical, and the team that let it happen is straight up pitiful. WSU’s collapse is not as big a story as UCLA’s gutty comeback, so kudos to the powder blue …
– Harbaugh is taking Michigan for a ride. He knows it. And now their fan base knows it. And one more loss to Ohio State, and the alumni who write his buyout check will really, really know it. It pays to have a good agent – literally.
– Always hire a coach before they don’t care any more. Take note, Trojans, blindly and naively wishing Urban Meyer was our coach.