uscfootball.com/Tim Lutes

Don't forget the Rose Bowl, don't ever forget

We have a suggestion for how to handle the rest of the year thanks to the way the first game of 2017 went for the Trojans. This is not rocket science. It's pretty obvious.

You watched it, right?

You're never going to forget it, right?

That comeback Rose Bowl win over Penn State is imprinted on the hard drive of every Trojan fans' head -- and heart, right?

No need to answer. But there's a point here.

Not only should USC football not forget it, not that that's possible, but not forget it in every way it's possible not to forget it.

Keep that game alive every moment, practice and film session the rest of the way through next January.

Here's what we're thinking: Carry that game through next season in more than everyone's memories. Through every single game. In the one way that will say this is Trojan football and you USC opponents are going to have to deal with it.

At least when USC has the ball. We're talking offense exclusively here.

Which is how all the great and the near-great programs do it. From Alabama's defense to Stanford's old-school offense, they are who they are. And you'd better be able to deal with them. Cause they're coming after you.

Just the way USC did in putting up 52 points on maybe the second best defense the Trojans faced all last season.

Because they had to. Nothing else would have won that afternoon/evening in Pasadena.

A Penn State team giving up 23.4 points a game was gashed for nearly 30 more.

A smart, veteran, aggressive Nittany Lion team allowing just 352 yards a game, 22nd in the nation, gave up 575.

A PSU team averaging 8.6 tackles for loss a game, third in the nation, recorded one.

A team that was 15th in the nation in sacks with 3.2 a game got zero.

A Penn State defense allowing fewer than 72 plays a game had to defend 88.

A team allowing 18.5 first downs a game surrendered 33 in the face of the Sam Darnold-led onslaught.

But it wasn't all Sam. It took nine receivers led by Deontay Burnett's breakout three-TD game and a pair of running backs with Ronald Jones the workhorse there.

And an offensive line that obviously held the line against the blitzing Lions who tried everything to get to Sam.

They were sure they could. They had done it all year. Then they realized what every other USC opponent eventually realized. No can do. Sam won't let you.

No reason for that to change the rest of the year.

Those 52 points USC put up should not be the pinnacle, they should be the standard.

If USC could put up that many points on Penn State under that kind of pressure, behind 15 midway through the third quarter, and on that big a stage and under the gun still down 14 midway though the final period, why can't they do that every time out?

Indeed, why not?

RoJo returns. He'll be better, more explosive. And with dual threats Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai, along with the returning Aca'Cedric Ware and Dominic Davis, USC will have more ways to get the job done and defenses that know they cannot concentrate on stopping the run.

The receiving corps loses four seniors, an All-American in JuJu Smith-Schuster, a big-play catcher in Darreus Rogers and a pair of two-year JC guys with skills in De'Quan Hampton and Isaac Whitney along with tight end Taylor McNamara. That's a big hit.

And yet, with big-framed, soft-handed 6-foot-7 Cary Angeline coming on-line at tight end with Daniel Imatorbhebhe and Tyler Petite, that's an upgrade in the pass game that says USC will be able to throw it out of two and three tight end sets -- or run it. You guess.

And as much as there are five former freshmen, four redshirts, led by Michael Pittman and joined by Josh Imatorbhebhe, Tyler Vaughns, Trevon Sidney and Velus Jones, do not forget dual-position Jalen Greene and a post-surgical Steven Mitchell.

That's more speed, more size, more explosiveness than USC put on the field for Penn State. And we haven't even factored in incoming stars like Joseph Lewis and Randall Grimes.

So when it comes to running the ball and catching it, position group by position group, USC should be more talented, deeper and more difficult to contain.

Which is where those 88 plays, up from USC's average of 73 in 2016, with no sacks and one tackle for loss and an average of 6.5 yards a play should be the standard. With that many offensive players, you have to have the plays.

And if you run that many plays, you have an opponent's defense that no matter how good, as Penn State was, you end up with a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit.

That's where tempo comes in. You don't turn it on and off in 2017 -- unless the fourth-quarter lead is so big you just have to slow down a bit.

But those 88 plays and 52 points should be the goal . . . every game. Get 'em all in. Give 'em all the ball. Get out of the way. And see how long the opponent's defense can stay with you.

We start from the premise that if they got to Sam just five times last season, a rookie Sam just learning the game, they're not going to get to him any more this year.

But wait, you say. How about the position group you haven't talked about, the one that you can't say will be upgraded with the loss of three starters and a combined 113 career starts for Chad Wheeler, Zach Banner and Damien Mama? What about the offensive line? Doesn't it all start there?

Indeed it does. But for a team that we expect to play faster with tempo to burn, there are at least three non-starters joining Nico Falah and Viane Talamaivao who come in with starting experience -- Toa Lobendahn, Chuma Edoga and Chris Brown.

Not as big, for sure. Nobody would be as big. But big enough. And more athletic with quicker feet and more in-the-moment flexibility. Just a different look that could make more sense for an offense that will keep the pressure on every play. This may just work. But you're going to need some depth here with the numbers we're projecting.

That's where Nathan Smith, Clayton Johnston, Roy Hemsley, Frank Martin, Jordan Austin and Cole Smith plus incoming freshmen Austin Jackson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Brett Neilon and Andrew Vorhees come in. One or two need to come through and get into the rotation. Not bad odds. We think they just might.

Now of course, there's an assumption here. And that's this one simple fact: USC has Sam Darnold running the show and you, you USC opponents, do not.

He's pretty good. Quick, strong, elusive, accurate, unfazeable (is that a word?), with a sense of where he is and where they are and if the truth be told, after the Rose Bowl, despite the return of sophomore Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson at Louisville, Sam's 2017 season is the one the TV nets and the NFL scouts most want to watch.

As do we. But we'd like to see Sam get to throw it half-a-hundred times any time out and regularly dish it to nine or 10 guys who can catch it.

We're also interested in seeing whether teams keep trying to get to him although we're thinking sooner or later they're going to have to give up on that and drop everybody back and let him have all day. And that should just open it up for RoJo and the running backs.

In other words, we'd like to see the Rose Bowl -- at least on offense -- repeated over and over and over again. No reason not to shoot at doing just that.

Half-a-hundred -- points and passes. That would still leave 38 runs. Play fast and totally without fear. Leave that to the other guys.

We know they say defense wins championships. But if you were paying attention in 2017, defense didn't.

A quarterback did.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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