Make no mistake--the better team won the game tonight. If there is one single difference, he is named Ell Roberson. USC had its chances and in the end they made it very interesting, but it was not to be. Kansas State proved that it is a superior football program right now. They beat SC last year and they repeated the feat this year. It was no coincidence. USC played well on defense, but they could not solve the Roberson factor . Kansas State's "backup quarterback" was simply too much for the Trojans.
This game was not a total disaster, but several problems did surface, among which are reprehensible field goal and extra point efforts and a case of inability to catch the football, unlike I can remember in recent years. Unfortunately there was another serious problem that arguably contributed as much to this loss as any other single aspect of the game. Once again, USC could not and did not punt the ball effectively. One hates to single out a freshman, but the truth is that one, if not two scores by KSU are directly attributable to horrific punting. A punt that nets only 12 yards and then ends up in the opposing team scoring a quick touchdown is simply uncacceptable and is an absolute backbreaker. I honestly thought the punting problems of the past several years had been solved, but tonight's game showed that is not true. If the punting does not become more reliable, USC is likely destined to lose other games in similar manners.
In all the years that I have followed USC, I can't remember seeing so many catchable balls dropped. Carson was sacked twice and hurried time after time, but for the most part, he was on target. Unfortunately, the targets could not catch. What makes things worse is that on one occasion when the wideout Kelly did catch the ball, he fumbled it and that also ended up in points for the Kansas State Wildcats. To beat good teams, and there is no doubt that KSU is a very good team, the Trojans simply cannot make catches and then fumble it away. Granted, there was much pressure by KSU, but there were more than enough chances for that pressure to be broken if all the appropriate guys executed. What makes matters worse is that some drops were seemingly unforced. The receivers were not slammed and cracked. The guys just could not hold onto the ball.
Did the USC defense play well? Yes they did, but the option with a guy like Roberson is simply tough to stop. He is not a great passer but he is just efficient enough to give even a very good defense fits. Making matters worse, the KSU receivers were far better than the SC guys. They did not drop the ball and they got open. William Buchanon got thrown into the fire and his tackling looked fine, but he gave big cushions and his guy did catch many balls. Hopefully he will learn to never give a cushion in the endzone. It is essential to make them throw over the db down there and he is still learning the position. The running backs for KSU were good and the little tailback had some real moves, but to my way of thinking, the main guy for KSU was their quarterback. When he came in the game changed and for the second straight year he just killed USC. He did cough it up at the end of the first half which lead to USC's only first half score, but that is to be expected when a team has a running, option qb who also throws the ball. Roberson's positive contributions far exceeded the negatives.
So now what? This loss surely hurts and it deflates the expectations and hopes of some of the USC faithful who were already starting to think that this team is special. To be honest, I decided to wait till after this game before making any judgements about this squad. I still think this team has real potential and I do believe that SC can win the conference. USC did not give up and showed lots of moxy at the end. Carson and SC did manage to make a real comeback and even though the last fumble by Roberson appeared to be a gift, SC marched all the way down the field and was in position to tie orwin this game. For all the talk about this new runner being the best and all that, it seems to me that the best and most productive runner on this team still appears to be Sultan McCullough. He is fast, is making some cuts and he has done nothing that makes me feel he does not deserve to be the main guy. He seems to get stronger as the game goes on and he did not lose yards very often.
What can be done with the SC punting game and special teams? I imagine that Malone is disppointed with his performance, but this is bigtime college football and the only thing that counts is the final result. USC simply cannot afford to lose any more games that occur in large part due to the poor kicking game. Whether it be bad punts, or missed extra points or field goals, this has to be improved. USC is going into the Pac-10 Season with a 2-1 record which can be viewed either negatively or positively. Many were saying that we could very well go 0-3 out of the gate and caput goes the season. After going to Colorado and destroying the Buffs, many were then sure that we would beat KSU and would start out 3-0. Well the reality is that we are not as good as we had hoped but we are not as bad as SC looked on offense for much of the early part of this game. When a team plays so many true freshmen and redshirt freshmen, there will be some mistakes.
The defense is good, but they are not invincible. The Oline did not improve as much as we would have liked, but let's face it. If the recievers don't drop about 8 or more catchable passes, the the KSU D has to lighten up and the running game is going to have more success and the pressure on Carson will lighten up.
Despite the loss, there were some real positives. The kickoff to start the second half was awesome. Lua picked the ball up in stride and the Wildcats were deprived of their initial possession. We did call slants over the middle to offset their pressure and the plays were open. Carson did get the ball there. There was a grounding call, but no picks. Carlson showed that he can be counted on to catch the ball on punts and I will wonder out loud why he does not get a shot to catch the ball in the offense since so many guys we now have simply drop their chances. We did reasonably well against an option team, the likes of which we are not likely to see again in the regular season. The cornerbacks and dbacks will be challenged more and more each week from here on out, so it will be interesting to see if SC starts to blitz more. I can now say that this team is not yet special, but they play for the whole game, don't quit and I honestly feel USC has as much chance to win the PAC-10 as anyone else. We can beat any team on the schedule, but if some of the big bugaboos that showed up tonight do not get fixed, USC can lose to every remaining team as well. Now that the pre-season is over, I will go out on a limb and predict that USC wins the PAC-10 and this tough non-conference schedule will pay huge dividends.