After the first month, with USC getting pounded by three ranked teams in a four-game September start, there was little to be learned by looking at the Trojans' national rankings. They were awful. But they'd also had a hard way to go few others had faced.
Now the pendulum has swung the other way as the 5-3 Trojans (4-2 in the Pac-12) have rebounded for four straight wins against an October opponent lineup not nearly so challenging. So while a team's stat rankings nationally might not tell us exactly where they belong or how they're doing, they're a heck of a lot more relevant at this stage of the season.
Let's take a look at a USC team that is still a bit more a case of feast or famine, peaks and valleys than you'd like. But there's some really good stuff here, and some not so good at all.
But one especially important number is that USC has won its last seven straight games at the Coliseum, something it hasn't done since the 2007-2009 seasons and important here this week with an improving [on offense at least] Oregon coming in for Homecoming Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN).
Some of the numbers we can look at are only unofficial stats for ranking purposes but important nonetheless like the fact that USC with Matt Boermeester doing the booting has kicked 29 touchbacks in 2016 after eight games after having only 11 in all of 2015 in 14 games.
Or the fact that opponents have returned just four of USC’s 28 punts in 2016 (for a mere 18 yards), which does become an official stat placing John Baxter's punt return defense at No. 25 in the nation with an average give-up of just 4.5 yards a return.
And as we'll see when we get to the individual stats, this has been a Sam Darnold-Adoree' Jackson-JuJu Smith-Schuster highlight season for the Trojans. But first, let's look at the team trends. We'll begin with the good news.
*** SACKS ALLOWED-TACKLES FOR LOSS: Nowhere has an assignment-sound offense improved more than here with the lack of whiffs along the O-line that has USC 13th nationally in Sacks Allowed (1.1 a game, first in Pac-12) and 17th nationally in Tackles for Loss allowed (just 4.6 a game, second in the Pac-12) which plays into USC's No. 13 in the nation Completion Percentage of .657 (third in Pac-12) and 20th place nationally in Passing Efficiency (151.5, fourth in Pac-12).
*** SPECIAL TEAMS STUFF: USC is eighth nationally in Punt Returns (15.8 yards per return, first in Pac-12), 12th in the nation in Blocked Punts (one, first in Pac-12), 16th in Kickoff Return Defense (allowing 17.6 yards, tops in the Pac-12) and 25th in Punt Return Defense (4.5, fourth in Pac-12).
*** PASSES HAD INTERCEPTED: Despite Darnold's youth, USC is 27th here with a mere five and just out of the Top 25.
Then there are some middling numbers where USC isn't nationally ranked but in the top half of the Pac-12, at least: Third Down Conversions .427 -- fourth in the Pac-12. The Trojans are also fourth with five Passes Intercepted and fifth in First Downs Allowed (161), Scoring Defense (24.0 ppg allowed) and Red Zone Defense (.840).
Now for the not-so-good team stats/rankings:
*** PENALTIES: USC is 86th out of 128 teams with 56 penalties for 515 yards. To put that into some sort of context here for a team from the traditionally flag-happy Pac-12, five conference teams are worse -- Oregon State, Cal, Washington State, Utah and all the way down at the bottom, No. 128 Oregon. So there's that. Those 7.0 penalties a game have USC No. 88 in the nation for penalties per game and the 515 penalty yards are 95th nationally.And finally, USC's 64.38 penalty yards a game have the Trojans in triple digits at No. 100 in the nation. For additional context, the top team in the Pac-12 -- Colorado -- is No. 14 nationally with just 40.75 penalty yards a game.
*** FUMBLES LOST: With eight fumbles lost, USC is tied for 99th in that category with only a dozen teams having lost more fumbles. The season-defining Utah loss is the place that number hurts the worst. And at No. 59 in fumbles recovered with five, USC is at a deficit here.
*** NET PUNTING: As good as USC's punt return and punt coverage stats may be, the net punting numbers are not so good. USC is No. 80 nationally with a mere 36.97 yards a punt from Chris Tilbey whose big leg is clearly in check so there's no flipping the field or out-kicking the coverage in Baxter's world. Kick it high, short and cover the heck out of it is the way USC rolls.
Now for the individual stat leaders:
*** ADOREE JACKSON: With his one Kickoff Return TD, Adoree' is No 3 in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-12. His Punt Return TD has him sixth in the nation and second in the Pac-12. His Punt Return Average of 15.7 yards is No. 7 in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-12. Those are the same places -- seventh nationally and first in the league - for Adoree's 31.2-yard Kickoff Return Average. Then there's this: with his two Fumbles Recovered, Adoree' is No. 9 in the nation and No 3 in the Pac-12.
*** SAM DARNOLD: The amazing redshirt freshman after five starts is No. 7 in the nation and No. 2 in the Pac-12 in Passing Efficiency at 173.1. He's No. 13 nationally and No 3 in the Pac-12 with a .674 Completion Percentage and No. 16 in the nation and No. 4 in the Pac-12 with 18 TD Passes and also No. 4 in the Pac-12 with a 15.0 Points Responsible For average per game. One additional note in the passing category: Max Browne is No. 21 in the nation and No. 5 in the Pac-12 in Completion Percentage at .637.
*** JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER: With his eight TD catches, JuJu is No. 16 in the nation and No. 3 in the Pac-12. He's also No. 2 in the Pac-12 with 78.9 receiving yards a game and No. 3 with 5.8 receptions a game.
*** JUSTIN DAVIS: The USC senior rehabbling a high ankle sprain is No. 22 in the nation and No. 5 in the Pac-12 with his 6.43-yards-per-carry average.
*** RONALD JONES: Making an appearance this week is RoJo II with a 6.35 average good for No. 25 nationally and No. 6 in the Pac-12.
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