Homecoming: Where Trojans find who they are

Is this the time for USC to start to become an old-time classic USC football team that pounds people and doesn't run out of gas at the end.

It's the second game in a seven-game sudden death run to the finish for USC's Trojans. One and done from now on. USC put itself here with the Arizona State loss.

And yet, here USC is, in first place in the Pac-12 South. And with no margin for error. And with admittedly the best chance to make it to Levi's Stadium the first week of December. Just check out everybody else's schedule. Advantage USC. The win at Stanford goes a long way.

Win the next two weeks and you can almost see it from where the Trojans would be then. But you can't win the next two if you don't win the first one -- Saturday's Homecoming against 2-4 (0-3 Pac-12) Colorado (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).

And you can't win both of them by looking down the road to next week and Utah's high-flying Utes and tripping up at home this week for the second straight game.

It's all setting up for USC -- if only the Trojans keep winning. Or simply do not lose. It's really that simple. The rest of this season is Red Zone defense for USC. Which may not be all that bad a place to be for this team that has done pretty well there.

Not so well against the read option at Boston College or the end-game all-out passing from Arizona State or in Tucson against the mid-range game until the very end.

But this Trojan team is tops in the Pac-12 in Red Zone defense and it's 20th in the nation defending third-down conversions and No. 25 against fourth-down conversions. Get them backed up against the wall and as long as it's not a Hail Mary or an onside kick, the Trojans have a chance.

Which is all you can ask at the midpoint of any season: that you're not eliminated. You're still in the postseason picture. Beat Colorado, Utah, Washington State and Cal and it's down to a two-game regular season against the boys in blue and gold.

Can USC pull that off? Of course. Will it be easy? Of course not. Have you been paying attention to college football -- or the Pac-12 -- this season? Nothing comes easy.

And in the Pac-12, you have to do it with Pac-12 officials. It's a rule, which of course makes it a much more iffy proposition. It's a crapshoot under the best of circumstances -- if they were fair but just incompetent. But when you're USC, you do the math.

The best advice we can offer here is this: If it ain't close, they can't cheat you.

For this young USC team, the gameplan is really to just keep getting better -- week after week.

Get rid of the bad plays, the bubble screens with no chance, the too cute inside runs with complex blocking schemes that develop too slowly, the personnel groupings and formations that tip off too much. By process of elimination, that shouldn't be too tough.

It worked for Lane in 2011 when he realized he could ride the point-of-attack blocking of Matt Kalil and Rhett Ellison to 10-2 and he didn't have anyone with close to Buck Allen's ability carrying the ball.

"Buck really established the run for us," Cody Kessler said this week. "We can't go away from that." But they could surely use it to go deep. "Absolutely," Kessler said.

That's on the coaches. We've seen it moving in the right direction the past two weeks. Both lines have come alive.

The D-line's improvement should be no surprise with transfers Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons realizing that Leonard Williams can't be the only playmaker and a second trio stepping up in Antwaun Woods, Cody Temple and Greg Townsend Jr.

The O-line was always a matter of "when" not "if." But would "when" be in 2014? That was the question. The answer seems to be that it just may be -- although getting to a 2015 game has to be the goal for these young guys.

The other goal has to be to build on what they can do but not ask them to do too much or play with too many week-to-week changes. Ask yourself "What would John McKay do?"

If USC wants to play power football, it absolutely must eliminate the busted plays and the nonsensical play-calls.

And now that USC has proved it can run the ball, it should be able to go back to playing USC football with the classic over-the-top play-action game. This team has shown it can protect Kessler. It has the receivers -- at wide receiver, tight end and running back -- who can get deep and catch it.

Has it worked at it enough? Believed in it enough? Probably not. Time to stop playing scared. Just play to win. USC has probably exhausted the "playing not to lose" card at Stanford and Arizona.

Six games in, it's time to get this USC act together.

Here's where we really agree with what Steve Sarkisian has said all season long. These games are about USC. If the Trojans show up ready to play and don't stop themselves, just give themselves a shot to make enough plays, they can forget about BC and ASU.

There's also this. As this young O-line transitions to a decently experienced group, does the uptempo game transition as well, returning to more of a classic USC power/play-action-passing offense -- only out of the shotgun?

And is that just a preview for next year when a veteran, athletic and monstrous USC O-line with 225-pound senior Tre Madden lining up behind it find themselves going opposite the trend in college football and just pound people play after play?

It's a thought. If it gets rid of the bubble screens, we say let's do it.

If it makes for a fresher football team in the fourth quarter every week, it's worth considering.

For this team, 80 plays should be more than plenty. It's not the number of plays but getting the ones you run exactly right.

Finding a personality for the rest of the season, even if it wasn't the one you thought it would be at the start, would make it all that much better for the Trojans.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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