Just between us, some thoughts on the Trojans . . . and other things that you might be interested in knowing.
WHAT WE LIKED ABOUT WEEK 1: A lot, to be honest. You know the numbers for the opener by now but unlike last fall, there's no turning back from keeping the pace up on defense and forcing the action. Too many guys have to get into the game. As for the offense, one reason the plays were down to 64 was that so many of them were big plays made by big playmakers -- home run hitters if you will. That's a two-edged sword. And that's with no Adoree' on offense.
WHY WE LIKED IT: More importantly than what USC did is the way that playing this way, at this pace and tempo with these numbers, is replicatable, duplicatable, reproducible, coachable, reinforcible, something that you get better at because it's what you do every game, every play, every day. You don't overadjust because it's UCLA week, as USC did last year. You don't overcoach it. Or think it's about you and your playsheet, although adjustments are always necessary. But the game USC played against Arkansas State made it clear that this is about USC's players making plays. Do this right and you get faster, smarter, tougher, stronger doing what you do. That's how you get better. You want to be better in January than you are in September, you do this.
WHY IT MAKES SENSE: If you're going to recruit the way USC recruits and get the kind of athletes USC can get and in the numbers that it can going forward, how great to be able to say to them that if you deserve to play, as 13 true freshmen did Saturday, you will play. Even next year, there will be a place for you. So in addition to all the other -ables attached to playing fast and platooning on both sides of the ball, that style is also recruitable. The key of course is: You play if your practice performance demands that you play. You don't play based on where or who you were when you were recruited but where you were on the practice field in game week.
ONE MORE THING: Having that direct connection between practice week play and gameday participation, since there's always a place for someone who shows he can play, makes for far better practices. All-out competition takes care of itself. Coaches become more like ringmasters here. Just turn 'em loose and don't get in their way -- and don't do anything dumb. It looks like that's the message here understood by all thus far.
WHERE THE WORK MUST COME: As much as adjusting on the fly matters, like adding fullback Jahleel Pinner to get the key block to spring Tre Madden on his 65-yard TD run and going with a quick-hitter rather then the slow-developing zone run for Ronald Jones II on his 44-yard TD dash on a quick, straight handoff, adjusting this week for the O-line may matter even more. Would like to see Toa Lobendahn get a spot and get to perfect his play there. No more moving him around now. Would also like to see much more explosiveness from this group that often looks like a heavy-legged chorus line trying to get its steps down rather than just getting an angle and busting someone -- the right someone. Looking for more of a sense of urgency -- and pride -- here, especially in short-yardage situations. Sure, some of this is scheme. Get that cleaned up. Need to be smarter in the short-run game. One point in USC's favor: That was an active, athletic Arkansas State D-front that liked to game things and not a sedentary bunch like, say the UVA crew.
ONE MORE POINT: As much as USC couldn't connect on those long balls, we thought it was as much a case of receivers under-running as Cody Kessler overthrowing. USC's speed guys just didn't show much speed going deep. Not sure why. Got to figure that out. Sure, that's the single-hardest thing to get right in practice, the timing on deep throws. But you have to have it.
IT ALWAYS WAS AND ALWAYS WILL BE ABOUT USC: Just when you thought you'd figured out the schedule and what the week-to-week challenge might be, a slow and sluggish (the double whammy) Stanford [Game 3] shot itself in the foot against a quicker, more athletic (no, really) Northwestern team. And then a ranked Arizona State [Game 4] club got buzz-sawed by unranked Texas A&M and Oregon [Game 11] gave up close to a half-a-hundred to FCS Eastern Washington and you realize that trying to handicap anybody but yourself is not the way to go. It's really about you, the best USC teams always told themselves. Take care of yourself and the rest of it will be taken care of.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ARCHRIVALS? OK, when it comes to Notre Dame and UCLA, you're allowed to take a quick look at the Blue and Gold boys. Although how much could you tell after wins over a a simply terrible Texas team and a lead-footed Virginia club that hasn't won a road game since 2012? Both should be pick'em's against Arkansas State on a neutral field. But if for nothing more than to anticipate those moments that matter so much for USC football, go ahead. We might, however, suggest holding up on those Hall of Fame predictions after one game for the Week 1 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week. Even for this message board, those seemed a bit over the top. Although for the heck of it we thought we'd take a trip to BRO-land and see how they were handling it and they didn't disappoint. Their freshman quarterback's performance was Sandy Koufax-like, he was Eli Wallach as the Mexican bandit in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," he was Sammy Davis Jr., in Las Vegas . . . well, you get the picture. Go there and you'll never be disappointed.
TROJANS ON PAC-12 TV THIS WEEK: Monday evening at 6, you can catch another 60-minute replay of USC and Arkansas State. Our favorite thing on the Pac-12 Networks. Then on Tuesday, at 9 p.m. after Inside Pac-12 Football at 8, you can catch that great 1996 USC-Cal game on Pac-12 Classics and it looks like again at 10. Then on Saturday at 5, it's USC-Idaho with Roxy Bernstein calling the game with Glenn Parker the analyst and Jill Savage the sideline reporter.
ONE FINAL UPBEAT NOTE: MCNAIR VS. NCAA For only the third time in five years since he filed his lawsuit against the NCAA, Todd McNair gets the NCAA attorneys into an actual courtroom Tuesday at the California Second District Court of Appeals in the Ronald Reagan Building downtown [at the corner of Third and Spring Streets] at 1:30 p.m. for a hearing on the merits of the NCAA's appeal to have the McNair lawsuit dismssed. The NCAA has already lost in the first go-round to dismiss in Superior Court in LA and lost the first part of its motion to have the evidence submitted sealed so the public wouldn't know why the court decided the way it did. Now the final Hail Mary play to avoid going to trial gets launched Tuesday afternoon. Be there. No cheering.
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