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Just Sayin' - Back home, not back on track?

Back home at 1-3 and going against a dangerous Arizona State team, USC has run out of options. No more talk. No more explanations or excuses for the Trojans. As former USC assistant Al Davis once made clear, 'Just win, baby' is all that matters now.

Too bad unbeaten Arizona State missed by a single spot this week in the AP Poll of giving USC four ranked teams out of its first five opponents. Wonder how often that's happened?

Not that the idea of a tough schedule is any kind of surprise, it's just that no one was counting on the likes of the 4-0 Sun Devils (1-0 in the Pac-12 South, a game-and-a-half ahead of 0-2 USC) this week at the Coliseum and Colorado's Buffaloes, not to mention Cal and Arizona, all joining the ranks of Stanford and Washington as Pac-12 teams that can slap you around. We're Just Sayin'.

*** Or for a 1-3 USC to be bottoming out this week after a come-from-ahead loss at Utah Friday night in a game where the Trojans surely should not have finished on the short end of the score . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Where doing just one more thing right [a fourth-down stop, a pass knockdown, a quarterback sack, even a QB hurry]  or not doing just one more thing wrong [the three first-half fumbles, the second-half penalties, a fourth down conversion in Utah territory the last time USC touched the ball] -- any single, solitary one of those, would have had USC back on track and set for a run with four of the next five at the Coliseum starting Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on Fox . . . Just Sayin'.

*** None of that happened, of course, and now there's no alternative to racking up W's, one after another after another, against a schedule even more challenging than anyone realized in August. No nice tries, no "we improved this week" in the postgame. No "Man, that Sam Darnold is really good." None of that. It's "scoreboard" time. Look at it. Make sure USC has the bigger number. Nothing else matters . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Although another transfer or player loss (What exactly is Noah Jefferson's status, for example) won't help right now . . . Just Sayin'

*** Then there's the irony of Ed Orgeron's ascent to the interim head coaching spot at LSU this week almost exactly three years from the date, after a loss to Arizona State, when he took over at USC. It's hard not to think that had Ed returned to USC this last offseason, as some hoped, that same scenario might have played out here . . . Just Sayin'.

*** We mention that season since it's instructive that after CEO's mid-course correction, USC finished 7-2 (6-2 under Ed, 1-0 under Clay Helton in the Las Vegas Bowl with a team that went out and won one for Ed) and still neither were deemed acceptable to continue on with the ill-advised nod going to Sark and only Clay's big win in Vegas keeping him around. Which gets us to the question: Is there an acceptable number from here on out for Clay? Many say it's well past numbers now . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Although a 7-2 finish -- provided the two losses aren't UCLA and Notre Dame as they were in 2013 -- might make it more than a little bit interesting around here . . . Just Sayin'.

*** And sure, 8-5 -- including a bowl win for a team many here think will be lucky to be bowl eligible at 6-6 -- will mean there had been improvement. And some wins. But even more, it would mean that, just as in 2013, this team hadn't cashed out and mailed it in . . . Just Sayin'.

*** And yet, watching a UCLA team get out their helmet-first, hit-'em-hard-if-they-don't-call-it game Saturday to put a Stanford team that is playing more on rep and attitude than sheer talent, on the ropes, Not a good sign without a course correction for these Trojans. Too bad a hesitant, mistake-filled USC bowed to the Cardinal mystique the week before . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Nice of USC to set the tone Friday for maybe the most competitive Pac-12, or any conference's, single week of thriller finishes ever: You had Utah catching USC with 16 seconds left, Stanford doing the same to UCLA with 24 seconds to go, Washington winning at Arizona in overtime, Colorado knocking off Oregon with an end zone interception and Arizona State beating Cal, both with 48 seconds to go. You're welcome, Pac-12 . . . Just Sayin'.

*** But from a USC point of view, that finish has to be the single-most discouraging piece of this. For those of us on the sidelines, on the USC bench, on the Utah bench, in Rice-Eccles Stadium and at home watching on TV, once Iman Marshall committed that pass interference on third-and-10 to keep the Utes alive at their own 7, this one was over. Just like two years ago, USC knew it was not going to be able to make the play or plays it needed in order to win. And the Utes knew they were going to finish up in the end zone although maybe not 17 snaps (18 if you count their false start) later . . . Just Sayin'.

*** This is where you start to wonder about practices that aren't all that physical, aren't even in full pads once the last week, aren't all that much at game tempo, aren't all that competitive with the ones going against the ones now that the season has gotten here and the focus seems to be on alignment, game plan, not quite full-speed or under-pressure execution. The three first-half fumbles and second-half mistakes/penalties and the just plain wearing out physically of the defense could be a result . . . Just Sayin'.

*** But there's something else. We haven't talked to a single Trojan player from the Pete Carroll Era who didn't believe with every fabric of his football life that those USC practices, shorter but more demanding and competitive as heck for every second they were on the field, carried them throw the tough moments in games where they all said they knew, they absolutely knew, they were more prepared for those moments than the team they were playing. No chance they were going to lose those games, they believed with everything they had, they'll tell you. And they almost never did. Belief, and the confidence that comes with it, matters. It did Friday . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Sam Darnold had a bunch of that -- playing fast and competitively and with great confidence for a first-time starter and that -- along with a much-better-executed and game-planned USC offense, should have been the story from Salt Lake City . . . Just Sayin'.

*** But that fourth-down punt from the 37 and no Justin Davis in there running it at the end and those two big penalties and the inability to get a fourth-down stop were . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Winners get the write-ups their fans love to read. Losers get ridiculed for everything that ever happened to set up the loss -- and then get to wonder when the "coaching search" starts, if it hasn't already, and who should be on the "Hot Board" . . . Just Sayin'. 

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