Getting it together this week

Lots of work to do, lots to clean up but the Trojans are alive with their fate in their own hands. Win and they're in.

Once more, weekend events have a way of making you realize why maybe, if you just keep winning, if you avoid losing, if you keep posting those Ws, you have a chance.

No matter how you look doing it at the time.

Win and advance. Or at least stay alive. Lose and it's over.

So as we now know, it wasn't over Friday after USC's unfocused, at times stumbling, forced comeback -- again -- against an undermanned Colorado team trying to get a single statement win for a senior class playing its final Folsom Field game.

Turns out it was just a start for the 7-3 Trojans (5-2 in the Pac-12), now ranked 22nd and leading the way in the Pac-12 South. This week, it's a resurgent -- and favored -- Oregon, also 7-3 and ranked 23rd, in Eugene with the Ducks coming off an impressive win at a self-destructing Stanford.

And then of course, there's the finale against a UCLA team staggered at the end of the Washington State game at home even worse than USC was in the first half on the road. The difference: USC got a W, UCLA an L.

Nothing else mattered -- last weekend.

This coming weekend in Eugene, however, the Trojans' failure to focus, or lack of anticipation as to how teams might try to stop the run or the inability to execute the response, well then you can look for an unhappy afternoon (12:30 kickoff, ESPN).

But if you get the USC team that was ready for Utah, the one that showed up for half the Notre Dame and Arizona games, you have a chance. As much as who beat who doesn't exactly work as a predictor, the USC team that beat a Utah team that crushed Oregon will clearly have a chance there. As will that Oregon team that somehow escaped against a Stanford team that punked USC.

Looks like the Ducks' Vegas point spread is enlarging as the word gets out about USC's losses of linebackers Cameron Smith and Lamar Dawson. As it should.

Not that USC doesn't have players who could step up. The Trojans do. But will the newcomers make USC even more hesitant to play as aggressively as they played the second half to come back in Boulder? And as a result, will that have the entire defense hog-tied and standing in place?

It's obvious USC can't play that way -- only not always apparently so obvious to the folks doing the game plan and calling the signals. How will they handle that this week? We won't know until we know.

Maybe the obvious answer is to not let the Ducks have the ball so much although that's what Stanford thought. Wrong answer, obviously.

For despite dominating Oregon in time of possession by an outrageous 42:06 to 17:54, gaining 506 yards to the Ducks' 436, converting 12 of 17 first downs to just two of seven for Oregon, rolling up 32 first downs to 18, with an incomprehensible 86 plays to 48 advantage, Stanford fell short where it counted -- 38-36 -- on the scoreboard.

The difference, as our superscout Mark K. notes, was in the turnover category. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who played a near-perfect game at USC, imploded, dropping a pair of snaps, handing the ball over to the Ducks instead of Christian McCaffrey with the game on the line. That's all it took.

Which takes us back to that Utah game. That's what it took. Alert, ball-hawking, anticipating defense. Not one that sits back and hopes the other team screws up but one that pressures, forces and makes the other guys cough up the ball.

Do that and USC will win this game. That's USC football at its best. Just try to hang on and the Ducks will have all the edge.

But then there's this, from another of our football numbers crunchers, Bill H. who notes that since the Notre Dame game, in USC's four-game win streak, the Trojans have been outscored 56-20 in the first quarter and 48-35 in the fourth quarter.

And somehow, USC has managed to survive. That's something it didn't at Notre Dame after getting outscored 21-10 the first quarter and 17-0 in the fourth.

Is there an obvious answer here that doesn't go straight to coaching? We can't see one. Now of course, coaching has to also be credited with those second-quarter comebacks and second-half corrections for the Trojans.

But doesn't this have to be the week that USC applies the first rule of holes here: If you're in one, stop digging.

Why is it the other team -- like an Arizona or Colorado, neither of which could stop the run, can "load the box" and cause USC all sorts of problems? Not sure why there's not an anticipation there so that you hope they do just that because it will let you do something else that you want to do.

Still remember asking that question of a rookie Cris Collinsworth with the Bengals about how at a time when NFL defensive backs had all sorts of advantages with the way the rules were then and what they were allowed to do to wide receivers, how he would react when they did this -- or that.

"They can't take everything away from you," the first-team All-American and Academic All-American at Florida said with a big smile. "If they do this, I'll be able to do that." And so he did. And with a change in attitude brought about a bit by a smart rookie, the Bengals changed as well, making it to a couple of Super Bowls with a much-needed attitude adjustment.

Which is what we're looking for this week from the Trojans. Not only just "Fight On," but "Fight Smart . . . and Right from the Start." Or something like that.

No more grab-bagging on offense. No more let's try this, or that, or maybe this. That's the kind of football that has you, week after week, trying to explain the slow starts that have had USC down double digits.

Sure, it's great to be able to say how you came back from a deficit in the fourth quarter for the first time since 2011 against Arizona. Or the first time from a double-digit halftime deficit against Colorado for the first time since 2005.

Enough of the comeback stuff. Follow the first rule of holes here; Stop digging. Get it right from the get-go. Make Oregon come from behind.

Keep it simple on offense, especially with another probable backup starting in the O-line in Chris Brown for Viane Talamaivao. Make this about toughness and confident execution.

Make this the week that the ghosts of a pair of offensive coordinators who thought the game was about them and their complex and cute play cards -- Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian -- are exorcised forever.

On defense, bring back the toughness and aggressiveness of that 12-man group that throttled No. 3 Stanford two years ago.

And finally, for all those special teams groups that seem to be deconstructing before our eyes, get it together across the board. Delvon Simmons' blocked field goal was great. But how about a return for Adoree' or stopping the speedy Ducks from getting loose on one of theirs. That would be really nice.

And that should do it. Take care of the ball and take it away.

And listen to the sounds of silence at Autzen. That's how it was for most of the last game the Trojans played in Eugene in 2011.

And that is the most beautiful sound in all of college football.

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