Scraping for positives beneath the surface of defeat

Lane Kiffin said his Trojans are five seconds away from a 6-0 start, which is one way to view back-to-back heartbreak losses to Washington and Stanford. But the reality of the situation is that USC is 4-2, victorious in only 1 of 3 conference games played, and without a signature win at the midway point.

USC jumped out of the box with a 4-0 start, but we were left without a measure. Looking back today, Hawaii (5-1) symbolizes the only Trojans victory over an opponent with a winning record, with Virginia (2-3), Minnesota (1-5), and Washington State (1-5) combining for a woeful mark of 4-13. Even more telling of the earliest opponents is that neither has recorded a victory over an automatic qualifying conference opponent (0-11). So yes, Kiffin is correct in the analogy of his football team, but we must also understand that along with those 5 seconds came four gift wrapped opponents, and just one impressive victory.

USC is not a good football team right now, but it has shown promise for the future. The two biggest questions remaining are how soon can that future arrive, and can a program with limited recruiting build on it.

On Saturday, we saw another kick sail through the uprights, securing Stanford a 37-35 victory. On the surface, it was another poor showing by a defense that couldn’t hold a lead with under two minutes to play. But underneath Stanford’s third victory in the last four games against Southern California, we got a glimpse of the future, and what can possibly be.

Matt Barkley went toe-to-toe with one of the top rated college quarterbacks by NFL scouts. Barkley equaled Andrew Luck’s 3 touchdowns and no interceptions performance, while torching the Cardinal defense for 390 yards in the defeat. Stanford may lose their star hurler in April, but USC is guaranteed at least another year of their sophomore slinger under center.

The maturity process is in fast forward, and as much as Pete Carroll was criticized for starting and sticking with Barkley as a true freshman, the impact of that decision may be more felt during the re-emergence of Trojans football. The better the quarterback, the better the offense operates. A 4-2 USC football team currently boasts the 14th most efficient passer, but come September of 2011, it may be boasting the top overall passer in the nation. And when it comes down to it, all was made possible with an early sacrifice in a rebuilding year.  Kiffin may eventually eat from the plate, but it was a table set before Carroll’s departure.

The weekend also acted as a coming out party for Robert Woods. Recruited as a wide receiver packed full of potential, it took just 6 weeks for the true freshman to jump into the limelight. Wracking up 224 receiving yards on Saturday, Woods more than lived up to early expectations, and there’s plenty more to come.

“Defense” seems to be the first word out of the mouths of supporters. That unit has been a disappointment in every week but one. But as much as Orgeron’s group is singled out, poor defensive play didn’t begin with the new coaches and players on the field. The collapse began a year ago, and you need look no further than the Stanford and Oregon games to find evidence of it. A bad defensive unit became even worse, once you factor in the new editions and inexperience. It’s a group that will take its lumps and experience growing pains, but it’s also a  group with potential for improvement in time.

Chris Galippo received a lot of flak for an ill-advised penalty that extended the game winning drive for the Cardinal, but lost in it all is the coaching staff’s acknowledgment that he belongs on the field. In my perfect world, the Trojans would revert back to a 3-4 defense, which would allow Galippo and Devon Kennard to be on the field at the same time. But in this imperfect world, I sit and watch a 4-3 formation with little blitzing and lots of “Tampa 2s”. It’s a scheme that may have more success in the future, but the current USC roster isn’t equipped with the personnel to be successful today. With limitations imposed, there should be heavy emphasis on recruiting for the system, which would make the Trojans are more balanced and competitive football team.

USC may be five seconds away from perfection on a path that leads to nowhere. But if the Trojans can continue to build upon the current foundation, they may be just two seasons away from re-entering championship contention.

Beware the fury of a patient man~John Dryden

Fight On!

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~ by Anthony on October 12, 2010.

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