With about eight minutes left in the USC-Arizona State game, I had my entire column planned out. USC was driving, chewing up the clock with a powerful running attack against a worn-out Arizona State defense. Maybe USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s maddening offensive calls for three quarters had a purpose, to wear down a team. It worked against OSU and was working at that point. I was planning to write about the disparity in national perception between the SEC and Pac-12.Bright spot · Junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor was outstanding in a losing effort on Saturday, picking up 147 all-purpose yards. Agholor returned a punt 53 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, his first of the season. – Tony Zhou | Daily TrojanOregon loses a close game to an underrated Arizona team and football nation clamors about the “soft” Pac-12. Meanwhile, Texas A&M gets run off the field and Alabama loses a close one, and it is all about the strength of the SEC. The respective disparity between Arizona and Oregon and Ole Miss and Alabama is about equal. Strangely enough, coming into Saturday, Arizona was unranked and Ole Miss was knocking on the door of the top 10. Yet, on the flick of one throw by USC redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler throw, that all changed.East Coast bias, upsets and everything else didn’t matter the minute USC ran a bubble screen to junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor that stalled the fourth quarter drive. After that was one of the most embarrassing collapses in recent history.Being a diehard sports fan is a funny thing. There is nothing quite like the feeling of victory. Big plays and even bigger wins elevate you to a level euphoria unreachable by anything else. That’s why we root so hard, why we spend time thinking about a game we have zero control over. We do it because we are in search of that elusive feeling of the purest joy you get from rushing the field against Stanford or pounding a hated rival 50-0.The last five minutes of Saturday’s game was as diametrically opposed to that feeling as humanly possible. Bewilderment. Frustration. Anger. Those words can’t possibly encompass or do justice to the feeling Trojan nation had as ASU wide receiver Jaelen Strong strode in untouched through a sea of red defenders to effectively end any postseason dreams this season.The saddest part about this game is that from the moment ASU quarterback Michael Bercovici and the Sun Devils crossed midfield when it was 27-18, I knew in my gut that USC was going to lose. When redshirt junior tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen broke through for his 53-yard touchdown, I didn’t celebrate. The only thing I was thinking was, “USC scored too early.”That is a testament to the absolute lack of confidence most fans had at that point. Up by 12 with less than three minutes remaining when the opposing team has zero timeouts is as close to insurmountable as you are going to get in football. Yet, there was little doubt that if anyone could blow it, it would be this defensive coaching staff on this day.This game is right up there in the hall of shame with Texas in the national championship, the “what’s your deal” Stanford blowout, and the 62-51 loss to Oregon with Lane and Monte Kiffin at the helm. At least in those games, USC lost because of an opponent’s superhuman performance or great coaching or a phenomenal offense. Tonight, USC lost because of sheer incompetence on the part of the coaching staff.On Saturday, USC basically lost to a backup quarterback and one very talented wide receiver. They played like the second coming of what I imagine Steve Young and Jerry Rice looked like back in the day. Sure, Bercovici and Strong are both talented, but they aren’t that good.I’m no defensive expert, nor do I claim to be. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is supposed to be, and he is certainly paid like one. Yet, USC rushed three or four guys on essentially every play on the last three drives. One might posit that after two touchdown drives, a blitz or even throwing in a fourth down lineman to rush might be a decent idea.A team with the talent of USC shouldn’t have fans legitimately worried when the opposing team gets the ball back with 23 seconds and 72 yards to go.Yet, with nine seconds left almost every fan in the stadium was thinking the same thing: cover Strong. Even so, he somehow remained practically invisible to the defenders on the field. The Hail Mary alone wasn’t that surprising — the last five minutes as a whole were what shocked me.Five games into the Sarkisian era, and I have no idea what the Trojans’ identity is. I don’t think any fan does. The team tries to be efficient on offense, and then shoots itself in the foot with drops, questionable play calls and untimely penalties. Promising drives are stalled in the name of slowing down the game to conserve the defense’s energy. Excitement is nonexistent, save for a few infrequent occasions. Big plays are as rare as they are fleeting. Kessler rumbling in for a score, Agholor breaking across the middle of the field, Allen waltzing into the end zone, and sophomore linebacker Su’a Cravens in the opponent’s backfield is what we got Saturday. That shouldn’t be the case with the athletes USC has at its disposal.On defense, it seems that the coaches are so concerned with stopping one facet of the game that they forget to pay attention to everything else. Against Boston College it was the pass, only to get gashed on the ground. Tonight, the Trojans sold out to stop the run, only to get burned time and time again on play action throws.Generally, I’m as optimistic as it gets when it comes to USC football. Coming into the game, I was still charting ’SC’s path to the playoff. There wasn’t much to be excited about, though, after that game.A weekend when Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma all lose should foreshadow a week of revelry. Instead it is a week of apathy. If it’s hard to even muster up a smile as Utah lays the wood on UCLA, you know something is wrong. Even so, I’ll be back next week hoping there are some answers in the Tucson desert. Jake Davidson is a sophomore majoring in economics. His column, “Davidson’s Direction,” runs Mondays. To comment on this story, email Jake at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.
Africa has started the journey to the kickoff of the 2017 Afcon qualifers with games around the continent.Friday saw the start of 26 games, with Tunisia destroying Djibouti 8-1 at home in Radès. The Group A opener means the Carthage Eagles have a great start ahead of their second game with Liberia in September while Djibouti play Togo. The most stunning result so far was recorded in Morocco, where Guinea play their home games due to the continuing fears of Ebola contagion back home.Angola lapped up the celebrations as they smashed Central African Republic 4-0 in Group B while Cape Verde in Group F got their groove on with a 7-1 demolition of Sao Tome and Principe.In the same group, it was truly a feast of goals for some, but Morocco could just manage a 1-0 win against Libya.Shocker in Morocco Swaziland stunned Guinea 2-1 in Casablanca with captain Tony Tsabedze getting both goals for a side ranked 117 places below opponents who reached the 2015 quarter-finals in Equatorial Guinea.The loss was a second straight one for new coach Luis Fernandez, who replaced French compatriot Michel Dussuyer as coach. It was a completely unexpected result in a match moved from Conakry to the Stade Mohammed V in the Moroccan commercial capital because of Ebola epidemic fears.Swaziland had never won an away Cup of Nations qualifier in 20 previous attempts stretching back to the 1986 eliminators.But they got precious recent practice in the Cosafa Cup southern Africa championship, defeating Tanzania and Lesotho and drawing with Madagascar. Bafana clutchAt the Moses Mabhida Stadium, it was a goalles draw as Gambia parked the bus against South Africa (snapshot pictured above). Gambia were gutsy, but for the hosts, it was a case of missed chances. Cranes soarUganda defeated Botswana 2-0 in their opening match of Group D at the Mandela National Stadium in Kampala on Saturday. A goal each in the second half from Geoffrey Massa and Brian Umony were enough to give Uganda the victory after having dominated the entire match. Uganda came into this match as favourites following their decent home record, having won seven out of seven fixtures. Zimbabwe late winnerSaturday saw Khama Billiat’s stunning 82nd minute goal getting Zimbabwe a 2-1 win over their hosts, Malawi, in their Group L matchup in Blantyre.The win put Zimbabwe second in the group on three points whereas Swaziland are top after the north African heroics. Despite going into the game amid financial problems and enduring a bus break-down on Friday afternoon while travelling to Blantyre, it was the cash-strapped Warriors who lived up to their name.Eagles begin wellThe Super Eagles, three-time African champions, started their quest to return to the tournament with a 2-0 win over Chad in Kaduna on Saturday. Nigeria coach, Stephen Keshi handed debuts to Anderson Esiti and Kingsley Madu while usual suspects, Vincent Enyeama, Ogenyi Onazi, Ahmed Musa and Kenneth Omeruo all got starting berths.But the two goals came in the second half within a minute of each other, with strikes from Gbolohan Salami and Odion Ighalo (penalty). Group G still has Egypt and Tanzania still to play.Fennecs return?El Arbi Soudani scored a goal in each half to help Algeria to a 4-0 win over the Seychelles at Blida’s Stade Mustapha Tchaker on Saturday evening. Eager to get their 2017 African Cup of Nations qualifying campaign off to a positive start following their disappointing exit from this year’s showpiece, head coach Christian Gourcuff named his strongest available line-up.Lions cruiseSadio Mané found the net as Senegal beat Burundi 3-1 at the Stade Léopold Sédar Senghor in Dakar as the Lions of Teranga kicked off their campaign for a place at the Gabon finals.Moussa Konaté gave Senegal the lead with a penalty on the quarter-hour mark, but Fiston Abdul Razak levelled matters on 59 minutes. Stoke striker Mame Biram Diouf restored Senegal’s lead four minutes later, with Mané wrapping up the win in the first minute of injury time. Zambia miss great chanceZambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene (above pictured) saw his stoppage-time penalty saved as Zambia drew goalless at home with Guinea Bissau.The Group E result left the two sides tied on one point apiece with the other two sides in the group, Congo and Kenya, playing each other on Sunday.Zambia coach George Lwandamina described the start to the campaign as sad.”It is a sad beginning because we wanted to win this match. Our boys did all they could but we could not get a goal to wrap up the game because our opponents decided to defend in numbers. In short, they parked the bus. But there are lessons to be learnt and we shall make changes where necessary in our next match,” Lwandamina said.–Afcon 2017 qualifying resultsFriday, June 12Tunisia 8-1 DjiboutiMorocco 1-0 LibyaGuinea 1-2 Swaziland Saturday, June 13Angola 4-0 Central African RepublicMali 2-0 South SudanUganda 2-0 BotswanaBurkina Faso 2-0 ComorosZambia 0-0 Guinea-BissauCape Verde 7-1 Sao Tome and PrincipeNigeria 2-0 ChadAlgeria 4-0 SeychellesSenegal 3-1 BurundiMalawi 1-2 ZimbabweSouth Africa 0-0 GambiaSunday. June 14Ghana v MauritiusMozambique v RwandaCameroon v MauritaniaDR Congo v MadagascarTogo v LiberiaCongo v KenyaEquatorial Guinea v BeninEthiopia v LesothoNiger v NamibiaGabon v Ivory CoastEgypt v TanzaniaSudan v Sierra Leone – Follow Gary on Twitter: @garyalsmith