Just fixing things at 59-9

The goal was to get a bunch of things cleaned up after last week's 55-6 Arkansas State win -- and USC did that. But now there are a number of things to get right for Stanford next week. Will it work as well this week?

Sure, there are some things USC is going to have to fix after Saturday's 59-9 romp over Idaho at the Coliseum. Just like there were a week ago after beating Arkansas State 55-6 here.

We might mention that's an Arkansas State team that gave 21st-ranked Missouri a scare before falling 27-20 last night.

But the encouraging thing -- yeah, we know they came out after halftime and played defense a little too much like it was last year -- but the encouraging thing is that what they worked on this week, what they needed to work on after last week, they pretty much fixed.

The sacks? Not a one allowed. The deep balls? When they were there, those Cody Kessler to Juju Smith-Schuster ones especially, they were perfect. On time. In stride.

And the two guys who'd worked so hard this spring and summer to improve themselves and lead this Trojan team according to Steve Sarkisian, the two who had maybe pressed a bit in Game 1, just let it happen in Game 2.

And happen it did. Cody completed his first six passes, 11 of his first 12, 16 of his first 18 and 26 of 31 for a career-high 410 yards.

JuJu? All he did was catch 10 passes for 192 yards (his previous career-highs were six and 139) for touchdowns from 50 and 41 yards out on cuts so perfect, when he made them, before the ball had left Cody's hands, JuJu, Cody and many of the surprising crowd of 72,422 knew that it was time for the TMB to strike up "Fight On."

But as Cody noted, "It's cool to see" what made that possible -- the offensive line, much criticized after giving up five first-half sacks a week ago.

"If they're not playing well, I can't throw it to JuJu," Cody said. "And he can't catch it. And our guys can't run it."

But the preseason is over and this will probably be the last game USC will put 85 players -- "everyone eligible to play," Sark said -- in a game.

"When Stanford and USC play," Cody said, "it's always going to be won up front . . . It's going to be fun. It's going to be a great week of preparing.

But before we get to where the preparing has to focus and the improvement must come, a little more time on the good things that happened here. First there was the return of a joyous Justin Davis, back at full health and back in the USC backfield.

Not that he jumped in ahead of Tre Madden. He didn't even though Madden's 40 yards for two touchdowns seemed almost an afterthought with the way the guys behind him played. But there he is. Steady and tough. Catching the ball for another 30 yards on a 70-yard night for the senior.

And not at all that Justin made you forget about Ronald Jones II, who still led USC in rushing with 83 yards on eight carries with one 44-yarder that should have been a 45-yarder -- and a TD -- except for the double incompetence of the Pac-12 officiating and replay crew. And then the loss of a 31-yard TD scamper up the middle on a Max Tuerk late grab that negated it and deducted 29 yards from that run.

Still, RJII was spectacular, averaging 10.4 yards a carry with a TD on the final yard on the next play after the officiating malfeasance.

But Davis managed 74 yards on just five carries, a game-high 14.8 yard average with two TDs, matching Madden, and a 43-yard whirling dervish of a run that melded stop-start cutbacks with a 360-degree spin move just to show he still had it.

"I was itching the whole time to get back," said the junior from Stockton who had missed most of the fall with cartilage damage in his rib cage. "It felt so good."

And he knows that if he's not in there, one of the freshmen will be. Especially the explosive Jones. "That's why I went to USC," Davis said, "for the competition. He's giving 150 percent out there."

Dominic Davis (five carries for 37 yards) and Aca'cedric Ware (four for 14) added another 51 yards on nine attempts to give the freshman trio 17 carries for 134 yards.

"All the running backs looked really good against us," Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. "We had a hard time tackling. That also means their offensive line did a good job. But when their backs had one-on-ones, they made our guys miss and broke tackles.

"Obviously we did better," tackle Chad Wheeler said in agreement. "We didn't give up five sacks. We were more explosive. We communicated better." And one more thing from Chad: next week is Stanford.

"I can't wait," he said.

Not that it was all good. Third-down conversions have become awful. A USC team whose 114 points in the first two games are the most since the 133 the 2005 team scored, whose 737 total yards in this game the most since the 2005 Washington State game, can't convert on third down.

Last week, it was three of 10. This week, just one of six. A far cry from last year's team that prided itself on its ability to convert on third down, especially third and long.

Of course, there's this. With just 16 chances to convert on third down in two games (Idaho had 19 in this game), USC is making lots of big plays on first and second downs. But it's something that has to get fixed, Sark and Cody said.

If there was something more troubling than that, however, despite holding two opponents to just 15 points, the fewest in the first two games since the legendary 2008 defense surrendered 10, there was this. The defense seemed to take a step back.

Not statistically. They gave up just 311 yards -- 71 on the ground. But the tackling was sloppy. Whiffs were back in season. The Trojans didn't seem to set the edge very well in this game.

So there's that. And then there's this. That first scoring drive USC allowed to start the second half, 75 yards on 14 plays, had a bit of deja vu about it.

"We've just got to come out better," Delvon Simmons said. Was it a case of standing around, reading and reacting instead of attacking? ""I don't have a comment on that one," he said.

"There's no excuse for that," Antwaun Woods said. "I'd give us a C-plus . . . I did average."

And with Pelon back -- he said he's 100 percent after getting his knee scoped more than three weeks ago -- it should have been better. But it wasn't.

And now it has to be fixed.

CHECK THIS OUT: For more details and play-by-play, check out LIVE FROM THE PRESSBOX: USC VS. IDAHO.

Contact Dan Weber at weber@uscfootball.com.


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