A few years ago, one of television’s big hits was a show called Extreme Makeover, where family and friends would get together to try and rescue a loved one from ugliness. The makeover subject would go through surgery, diet plans, workout plans, and wardrobe overhauls. Then, at the end, the family and friends would gather for the big reveal, and the makeover subject would appear to show off the new and improved look.
But what if the person walked in and looked exactly the same? “I don’t know Mildred, still looks like same ol’ Vicki to me.”
So, Trojans, how have you enjoyed the big reveal? Looks a little bit like the same ol’ Vicki, doesn’t it?
I know, most of us had a week-long vacation from USC-football reality with that Stanford game. Turns out, we fell for an old trick. Since the beginning of literature, writers have been dressing up one character in another’s clothes and fooling people — for a time. Homer was playing that game thousands of years ago with Patroclus dressed as Achilles. Now, in a modern adaptation, Randolph and Mortimer dressed San Jose State in Stanford’s uniforms this season and fooled everybody for a couple of weeks. Wow, look what USC did to Stanford. The Trojans must be pretty good.
Or not. USC is better than Stanford, and can score at will after almost getting blown out in the first quarter. It just turns out Stanford is deplorable. And USC, it appears, is on the same level as Fresno State and BYU, which means this team would be strong contenders for third place in the old WAC. If that doesn’t make your chests swell, Trojans, then you must all have hearts of stone.
Can it get better? Sure. It can. But it’s going to require a whole lot of improvement on both sides of the ball. This defense looks a lot like what we saw last year, doesn’t it? Little ability to get pressure from the down four, poor tackling, a lack of physicality, an inability to keep contain, and a maddening inability to get a stop on third and long. I’m not sure I understand the theory of playing tight man coverage and rushing only four mediocre pass rushers, sans stunts, so they seldom come close to the QB. Seems like a good way to put a lot of pressure on a young secondary, but what do I know? Those secondary kids did okay. And when USC did get close to that QB, the outcome tended to be even more embarrassing, as he ran around in circles like he has Michael Vick’s athleticism (he doesn’t, actually), and defensive linemen get tired and stop trying near the end of the play. Maybe no pressure really is the right way to go. I can only assume that Clay Helton is okay with what he’s seeing, since he decided to stick with the same coordinator and the same scheme even though it looked just like this in the past.
So we’ll move forward with Clancy’s Bend and Often Break defense, I guess. BYU had 430 yards. Fresno State had 462. And, in a quote that we can add to the (rapidly growing) list of strange things that come out of the mouth of Clay Helton, we turned it over twice and only gave up 10 points. Yes, Clay, only 10. Not the expected 14 or 16. And, yes, Clay, the fact that the defense held BYU to a field goal on one of those post-turnover drives is absolutely a good reason to beam for the post-game cameras, get a tear in your eye, and talk about how proud you are of these warriors you coach. Only I don’t see a whole lot of warrior-ing from that group these days. Does that look like a group that is flying around with their hair on fire, smacking people in the mouth? Yeah, I don’t see that either. So I guess the better question is whether everybody is excited to see what the good offenses on the schedule can do against this group of warriors? We don’t have to wait long now.
And the offense? If you don’t stretch the defense vertically, and if you can’t run against a five-man box, you’re going to struggle throwing into all those bodies looking to disrupt the short passing game. It would help if the top two running backs ran a little harder, I suppose. It would help if BYU couldn’t stick a single guy in the middle of their defensive front and blow up all of our interior linemen all by himself. It would help if the true freshman QB didn’t make true freshman QB mistakes. It might even help if we didn’t put all of our eggs in a single basket, that basket being the one where you hire a young, relatively inexperienced guy from a small school who has never before run his own offense and assume, because he has some connection to Mike Leach, that his offense will look like Mike Leach’s. It turns out, the reason USC could install the new offense in 25 minutes is because there isn’t much to it. (“What happens if they dare us to run and we can’t?” “I don’t know; Coach Leach never talked about that.”). But what are you going to do? If you can’t trust an early 30’s offensive coordinator from North Texas with a couple of years of O coordinator experience to single-handedly save the sinking Titanic, what can you trust?
Many of us hoped we had a Scooby Doo episode on our hands, with our kid O coordinator and our kid QB. Team after team could come into the Coliseum and leave shaking their heads. “And I would have won gotten away with that win too if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”
Those two kids should be fine, ultimately. Kedon Slovis is still a talented player who will, with experience and coaching, be a fine USC quarterback. And Graham Harrell should also be fine; after all, Clay Helton has made millions in this business, it’s hard to imagine Harrell not squeaking out a living. So, yes, the kids will be fine. It’s somebody else whose career is at stake, and later this week, we’ll get to watch him fight to salvage it. Or not fight, we just don’t know, and isn’t that why sports are so fun?
They say a team eventually takes on the personality of its coach. So Friday we’ll get to watch Biff Tannen strut into the Coliseum. Kyle Whittingham believes football is a hard game played by hard men, and his players agree. They’re not always the most talented or innovative, but they try to turn every game into a street fight, and they count on the other team folding when the bully turns aggressive. And this year, they probably do have some talent to go with that attitude.
And on the other side, we have George McFly and his squad. Can’t you imagine Clay sitting there in a Pac 12 coach’s meeting getting flicked in the ear or suffering through another noogie. “That’s real funny, Coach Cristobal. Har, har, har.” “Okay, Coach Whittingham, that’s enough. Coach Pete, that Coach Whittingham is such a kidder.” I could almost hear the BYU coach screaming across the field, “We only have five in the box, McFly! Why don’t you try running against us?” Well, Friday’s your chance, McFly. Are you going to knock out the bully or not? The story only has a happy ending for you if you do.
I had a whole section making fun of UCLA. I thought it was funny, too, but of course I’m a sucker for UCLA jokes. But it somehow doesn’t feel right now. Three weeks in, the season’s just not very funny to me. Maybe some other time.
Well, guys, big game Friday. Utah is going to turn it into a street fight. I can’t wait to see whether our guys have the heart to win a street fight. If not, just wait until November. We might have a new coach then.