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Roundtable: Alabama Lessons Learned

WeAreSC staffers discuss the biggest takeaways from the Alabama game, and what they are looking to see against Utah State on Saturday:

What was your biggest takeaway from the Alabama game?

Garry Paskwietz: My biggest takeaway is how the Trojans responded, or didn’t respond, when adversity hit. The first quarter and a half actually went fairly well with USC holding a 3-0 lead and the defense holding the Tide offense in check, but then the floodgates opened as Bama took the fight to USC and rolled off 38 straight points while outgaining the Trojans 313 yards to 2. Instead of facing that adversity with sound football it was a series of penalties, unforced errors and a general lack of composure that led to the Trojans getting beat in a fashion that we just don’t see too often. And certainly am in no hurry to see again.

Johnny Curren: My biggest takeaway was that this team, and really this program, might not be where a lot of people figured it was. With a roster that is nearly full for the first time in years, most people expected the Trojans to have the talent and depth to at least keep this game respectable. The gap in physicality was probably the most striking thing that stood out, particularly when looking at the performance of the USC offensive line versus Alabama’s defensive front.

Greg Katz: My takeaway after the Alabama game is there are some very large issues on this team that need to be addressed immediately – namely the overall performance of the offensive line and the defense in general. Yes, playing No. 1 Alabama can certainly distort things, but Clay Helton would be the first to tell you his team did not play up to its perceived potential, especially its physicality. The question is why? There needs to be a whole lot of soul searching by this team on what type of team they want to be in 2016. Is it the team that had Alabama on the ropes for the first quarter and a half or is it the team that totally collapsed in nearly all phases of the game with the exception of some well-executed special teams play such as field goal conversions and kick coverage? My takeaway is that there also needs to be a reassessment of the team’s heart, grit, discipline, and coaching accountability. Not a pretty takeaway, but I believe an accurate one.

HelixTrojan: My biggest take away from the Alabama game is that USC has a long way to go to get back to the top of the mountain. The perceived strengths of the team (Offensive Line and Defensive Backs) are weaker than expected. And the perceived weaknesses (Defensive Front 7 and Quarterback) are stronger than once thought. And while the overall performance was distressing, this information is also valuable information. There are no illusions about where the team stands. Now let’s move forward.

If you were the coach, how would you handle moving forward from that game? Anything you would look to change or simply stay the course knowing that you won’t see another team like that this year.

GP: I would do a full self-evaluation of the offensive side of the ball from personnel to play calling, strategy, everything. With all due respect to Alabama’s defense, it was surprising how ineffective the Trojans were on offense. It started with the offensive line, thought to be a strength of the team, but they ended up having mistakes across the board in this game. Neither QB had a day to speak of but they were also under incredible duress so you have to factor that in. And other than a 46-yard burst by Ronald Jones there was no running game to speak of, and the best receiver for the Trojans was held to one catch for nine yards. And when it was clear that the initial offensive plan wasn’t finding any rhythm, there didn’t appear to be any clear adjustments.

JC: I don’t think you can simply stay the course after a loss like that, although you do have to factor in the fact this was a very good Alabama team that USC faced, so you can’t over-react too much. The primary thing that I’d like to see is more of an emphasis placed on physical play in practice, with more live hitting in the drills and 11-on-11 periods. With a full roster I think you can afford to risk the injuries. To the team’s credit, they certainly came out with more fire under their feet on Tuesday, and they were certainly more physical. If they keep that up, perhaps they are on their way.

GK: The worst thing that could be said it that because of the destructive loss to Alabama is was an anomaly. The Trojans will face Stanford in two weeks, and that won’t be any walk in the park either. Because of the way the Alabama game played out, there should be some dramatic changes if needed. I would play only the players that showed on film that they are willing to play every down of every quarter as if it was their last. Players unwilling to “Fight On” on each play should take a seat, and the coaching staff should emphasize this by telling this group that there are no scared cows whether you are All-Pac-12 or not. Although you want to avoid pushing the panic button, I would also strongly challenge my coaches staff and their responsibilities. Players tend to reflect what the coaching staff tells them to do and the attitude in which they do it. Like the players, if the responsibility of a coaching staff member isn’t rising to the level of excellence, then a reassignment of game responsibilities should be a future viable option, as well. If Clay Helton doesn’t like the way the play-calling went, he should take over or make himself more involved in that aspect.

HT: Review of the Alabama game film, and the feeling that comes from losing badly should provide plenty of motivation for players and coaches. And there is still has a lot to play for – namely contention for a Pacific 12 championship. So the challenge during this week is to keep everyone together, and not allow any fracture take place in team unity. There were clearly some players who were overwhelmed by the game and its atmosphere, and they did not execute. Those starting positions should be up for grabs over this week, and even the next week. A spirit of competition and measured improvement needs to permeate the preparations for conference play.

What are the main things you would hope to see from the team on Saturday against Utah State?

GP: The response is everything and I don’t care who the opponent is. I’m not saying the Trojans need to beat Utah State 52-6, I just want to see them come out with the type of crisp and fundamental performance that reflects the uniform they’re wearing.

JC: The first thing is no post-Alabama hangover. They can’t afford to come out sluggish. They have to get past this loss and come out on fire from the get-go. Second, I’m hoping to see a renewed commitment from the entire team to play physical, particularly up front along the offensive line. The Trojans absolutely need to produce more of a ground attack this weekend, and in order to do that they’ll need to play physical. Third, they need to play a lot cleaner. The mental errors, missed assignments and penalties have to be cut out.

GK: I am not so sure we will learn all that much against an outmanned opponent like Utah State. On the other hand, we will learn a lot in the coming weeks at Stanford and at Utah. However, the question pertains to Utah State, and I want to see a killer attitude for four quarters that includes relentless attention to fundamentals, techniques, and effort. I want the coaching staff to rotate immediately players that are now executing to perfection. I want the players and coaching staff to treat the Utah State game like their season depends on it because if there is an upset in the Coliseum on Saturday, things could get ugly in a hurry. And most of all, I want this Trojans team to make sure that cardinal and gold fans don’t leave the Coliseum before and during the final quarter like many did with disgust at AT&T Stadium last Saturday night.

HT: I hope to see team enthusiasm and cohesion. The Alabama game is over. Time to move on and play with a purpose in the home opener. I also hope to see a rhythm develop offensively with the run and passing game, and the same aggressiveness and better focus on assignments on defense. Most of all, composure that leads to fewer penalties and self inflicted mistakes are a must moving forward . . . and it starts this Saturday against Utah State.

Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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