It's really pretty simple. Today is the day USC's Trojans must stop talking and start doing what they said they were going to do this year.
There is no option. No more time to get their act together. No more "wait until next week."
No more saying it's a new staff. They have to get up to speed here. Give them time.
Sorry, as the folks who put this Utah State home opener at 11 a.m., earliest kickoff since before Frank Gifford was kicking off, your time is short. It's pretty much now or never.
And sure, this may be a shock to the system for a team that thought it was a good idea to do some gangsta' entrance on prime time ABC TV last week in a shameful example of getting it wrong, of worrying about what happens before the game instead of during the game.
At least that won't happen again. The entrance, at least. Nor will anyone be watching. After all, this game is the eye-opener on the Pac-12 Networks. Even if fans cared, they mostly couldn't watch it.
The problem is, not many care, it seems. That looked like the smallest crowd ever for a Jock Rally Friday. Shortest too, which was actually a good thing. This team doesn't need to be doing any more talking. And it hasn't done much to provide an alternative to the newly arrived Rams, either.
Or a reason for their Friday-night-staying-out-late student fans to haul themselves out of bed early for this game. Or the tailgate-deprived regular fans either. This Trojan team will have to start the trip back to respectability in the relative obscurity it so rightly deserves.
This team needs to live up to its billing. Even without center Toa Lobandahn, out for the season for a second straight year with a torn ACL, this team needs to start hitting people on offense. That's what we were told they would do after back-to-back embarrassing losses to a physical Stanford team in the Pac-12 title game and a physical Wisconsin team in the Holiday Bowl.
Starting in winter workouts in January, this team was going to toughen itself up, everyone agreed. How could it not? And at least on defense, except for the mind-boggling mental collapses that gave up a couple of touchdowns and the physical and mental fatigue brought on by 10 straight three-and-outs as well as the widening deficit, it did so -- to some extent.
New/old defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has made it simple for his guys so they can play fast, no hesitating, no thinking, Clay Helton says. That's a good thing, obviously. Football is a game to be played fast and furiously. It's not something to ponder over, to think about out there. You have to fly around. And have fun doing so.
Unfortunately, there are two sides to football. And two sides of the line of scrimmage. And much as Clancy's goal is for his guys to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage, that seemed like the goal of the USC offense. Slow, soft, wide splits and all, it seemed to invite Alabama to also play on the USC side of the LOS. And the quick, athletic Tide was only too happy to oblige.
USC's "run-first, physical" offense piled up a grand total of 64 yards on the ground in 30 rushes, despite getting 46 on one Ronald Jones run. Not sure if that one counts, however, since it was a quick-hitter up the gut. Something that clearly caught Alabama by surprise.
Although right now, anything of the kind would catch USC opponents by surprise since there's no knowing who this USC team is on offense other than a team that says its passing game is dependent on its ability to run the football after a game when it was completely unable to run the football. What's up with that?
This wouldn't seem to be an option. This team must be able to run the football, whether it takes cutting down the splits, bringing on a fullback, going with two tight ends or whatever it takes. Last week, USC not only had no ability to do whatever it took, it seemingly had no idea how to figure out what it would take.
No way to get All-American JuJu Smith-Schuster into the game. Nor Rojo, either, except for that one run. Sure, the Trojans got both quarterbacks into the game but to what purpose? Max Browne and Sam Darnold stood in there but for nothing, as it turned out. There was nowhere to go, no one to help them, no one open to catch a pass or run through one of those nonexistent seams USC was hoping might show up.
And now here we are, waiting for this team and its coaches to step up and show us who they are. Which indicates the problem. Utah State last played here in 2013. That's the only time we've seen the Aggies in person but we have a pretty good idea who they are and how they'll play on both sides of the ball with slashing quarterback Kent Myers and tailbacks Devante Mays and LaJuan Hunt and a slanting, take-chances defense. If only we could say the same about USC.
We don't know who this team is or how it's going to play after a game where the only offensive identity to emerge was one that seemed to have at least one player making a play-killing mistake per play.
Looking ahead, that's not a good thing. As Stanford sits out the bye week giving it two weeks to get ready for USC next Saturday in Palo Alto, we know exactly who the Cardinal will be -- even with a new cast of characters. Ditto for Utah in Salt Lake City six days later.
And yet for USC, this is a team with a personality, an identity, at least on offense still to be determined after 8 1/2 months talking about who they are -- or at least who they hoped they would be some day.
Well, that day is today. Enough of just calling a bunch of plays, most of which didn't work in an offense that didn't seem to have any real core, any sense of who and what it is and how it gets where it's going.
Today is the day to discover whether these Trojans, coaches and players, believe in their own preparation. Will they be able to execute under pressure, something they failed miserably at a week ago?
And finally, do they believe their own off-season and pre-season hype?
They'd better. No one else does.
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