Trojans lacking team identity

first_imgWith 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 jrdavids@usc.edu or visit dailytrojan.com.last_img read more