The Obvious: Before the season, the O/NSO predicted the 2018 season in two parts. Part 1 was the first six games and Part 2 was the final six games. As part of our seasonal analysis, we gave a final score predictions and the Trojans’ regular season-ending record.
The Not So Obvious: This being a bye week, five games having been completed, and the Colorado game still to be played to mark the official halfway point in the season, we have come to the gridiron cardinal and gold confessional for our review of our first five game predictions sans the Buffaloes. Let’s take a look at the finals scores already played, the points differentials in the O/NSO predictions, and conclude with some brief analysis relating to game hindsight. So, in other words, here is what we said would happen and what actually did happen.
The Obvious: In the predicted season opener against UNLV, the O/NSO wrote, “Even with an inexperienced quarterback, the Trojans have too much firepower on offense and too much talent on defense for UNLV to make it much of a game. However, if the Trojans play like they did in last season’s opener against Western Michigan, things could get uncomfortable in the second half, and we’re not just talking about the weather. The O/NSO prediction: USC 42, UNLV 16
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score – USC 43, UNLV 21. The Trojans scored one point more than we predicted, and UNLV scored five more points than we forecasted. The big news at the time was the fact that Clay Helton selected true freshman quarterback JT Daniels to be the starter, and the kid gave a relatively good account of himself. Unfortunately, despite the final score, it was not an impressive victory and would be a precursor to what has turned into a season of some impressive individual performances, but not so impressive from a team perspective.
The Obvious: In game two at Stanford, the O/NSO wrote, “It’s probably asking too much to expect the Trojans with an inexperienced quarterback to come into Stanford Stadium and pull off the upset. And the Stanford offense will be plenty motivated after last season’s Pac-12 title loss. Playing their first away game and first conference game to boot will be a great challenge. In the end, it’ll be too much Stanford offensive physicality up front combined with inexperienced Trojans quarterbacking, which will spell doom for the Men of Troy early in the season.” The O/NSO prediction: Stanford 34, USC 27
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score – Stanford 17, USC 3. Stanford scored 17 points less than the O/NSO predicted, and the Trojans scored 14 less than forecasted. The final score did not reflect the dominance and performance of the Cardinal over the Trojans. Stanford was predictably disciplined and typically physical up front as predicted, and the Trojans’ offense – as the final score illustrated– was not up for the challenge of a disciplined Cardinal defense. Ah, there’s that word “discipline” again. It would not be the last time that the Trojans’ “discipline” on both sides of the ball would be called into question. It was also the Trojans’ first conference loss.
The Obvious: With a 1-1 record, the Trojans traveled to Texas, and we wrote, “It’s Longhorns payback time, and Texas will be more than capable and motivated to send the Trojans back to L.A. with an “L” early in the season. The irony will be that if J.T. Daniels survives this experience, it may be the baptism that propels the Trojans into a serious contender for the Pac-12 title down the road.” The O/NSO prediction: Texas 31, USC 20
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score – Texas 37, USC 14. Texas scored six more points than the O/NSO predicted, and the Trojans scored six less than predicted. The game started off well for the Men of Troy, jumping out to a 14-3 first quarter lead, but then the wheels fell off the Trojans’ wagon, and Texas scored 34 answered points the rest of the way. The Longhorns took it to the Trojans physically on both sides of the ball, which provided evidence after three games that the Cardinal and Gold were not a physical team against physical opponents despite early messaging that things physically would be different than 2017.
The Obvious: With a 1-2 record after three games, it was what many pundits believed it would be at this early point of the season. The Trojans returned home next to play Washington State in their second Pac-12 game. The O/NSO wrote, “The O/NSO doesn’t care how good a coach Mike Leach is; he won’t be able to pull off an upset this time around. The Trojans will be looking for revenge, but they’ll also have a great deal of respect by what Leach has done to them in the past. Daniels will now have the experience with at least a couple of games under his belt and will be playing in front of a partisan home crowd in the Coliseum and by this time true freshman wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown will be lethal catching passes from Daniels like the old days at Mater Dei High. The Trojans get the message that they can’t afford a second Pac-12 loss even if it’s against a North Division opponent. The Trojans should roll…even if the Friday night rush hour traffic doesn’t. If the Trojans don’t win this one, Clay Helton will emerge on a red-hot seat and will be taking flak from everywhere. Better win this one coach.” The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, WSU 24
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score – USC 39, WSU 36. The Trojans scored two less points than predicted and Washington State scored 12 more points than forecasted. Let’s face it, the Trojans were fortunate to win this game, as it came down to a blocked field goal attempt by the Men of Troy to preserve the victory. JT Daniels continued to improve, and it had become quite apparent that Daniels was not the reason the Trojans were sputtering. Trojan fans really got into this late Friday night affair and greatly helped in providing a homefield Coliseum advantage. The seasonal record was now 2-2, which was what most had predicted after four games.
The Obvious: In game five, the Trojans traveled to Arizona, and the O/NSO wrote, “One gets the sense that this is the trap game. The Trojans will need to control the game – both on the clock and on the scoreboard. A victory is not a given, but it would be extremely disappointing if the Trojans returned to LAX with a defeat. Hold on to your hats. It’s imperative the Men of Troy grab the lead early and play whistle to whistle and quarter to quarter. And, BTW, Helton’s lads better avoid lethal turnovers along the way.” The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, Arizona 31
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score – USC 24, Arizona 20. The Trojans scored 17 points less than predicted, and Arizona scored 11 points less than forecasted. While the Trojans seemed to be in control of the game and with star Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate still hobbled with a bum ankle, the Trojans nearly blew a comfortable 24-7 lead and were left hanging on at the end by recovering an onside kick, which finally put the Wildcats to sleep. Last weekend’s game in Tucson was headlined by the fact that the Trojans had 169 yards of penalties. The game didn’t feel like a Trojans’ victory, and the players, coaches, media, and fans were all on agreement on this talking point. The big cardinal and gold takeaway were the stunning lack of discipline the Trojans displayed in all phases of the game – which included some mind-numbing, head scratching personal foul penalties. However, after five games, a record of 3-2 was the reasonable expectation.
The Obvious: Next Saturday night, Oct.13, the Trojans host Pac-12 South rival and currently undefeated Colorado Buffaloes in the Coliseum (7:30 p.m. PDT), which will officially mark the halfway point in the season.
The Not So Obvious: So, let’s quickly review what the O/NSO predicted for next weekend’s game against the Buffaloes. We wrote, “Let’s not kid ourselves, Colorado is definitely the underdog in the Coliseum. Let’s also not kid ourselves that MacIntyre will have his team ready, especially hoping to appeal to the number of recruits that are expected to be in the Coliseum. This is an exposure shot for the Buffaloes program, but it’s the Trojans that will reap the benefits on this Saturday.” The O/NSO prediction: USC 34, Colorado 17.
It could be argued that the Buffaloes haven’t ready played anybody outside of the brand name of Nebraska. But my how the season has unfolded. No. 21 Colorado (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12 South), which hosts ASU on Saturday (1 pm PDT/Pac-12 Networks) in Boulder, has to be the surprise team at the moment in the Pac-12. The Trojans/Buffaloes game should tell exactly where each team is headed in terms of Pac-12 South title expectations. A Colorado win could place the Buffs in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South race, assuming they take care of business against ASU. A loss to Colorado by Clay Helton’s team could be lethal to the team’s hope of repeating as Pac-12 South champs.
The Obvious: And finally, this week’s welcomed bye came at a critical time of the season.
The Not So Obvious: Nobody knows what was accomplished during the bye week more than Clay Helton and his staff. Were they really able to fix all aspects of the Trojans’ issues? Can this team become more disciplined? Will the identity of the offense be addressed – especially the physicality – so that it shows on the field? Can the O-line become dominate during a bye week? Can the D-line mount a better pass rush, and can the secondary tighten up at the corners? So many questions to complete the first half of the season, but some of the answers will be forthcoming when the Buffaloes come to town.