Lackluster offense is no cause for alarm
You should never read too much into the annual spring game and result. It is masked by spectators, spirit leaders, and a band, but really isn’t a game at all. It’s a scrimmage, the final of the period, and is best built for individual player evaluation and not overall team assessment.
So as Saturday’s scrimmage ended with a 42-29 White victory over Cardinal, praises were sung by some, while others tuned in panic. But I prefer to keep it real, and answer most questions with “I don’t know”. To this point, I’ve witnessed nothing but the Trojan on Trojan grind, which surely doesn’t measure USC against the world. If anything, it will only gauge units, with the strongest prevailing, but even that was clouded by injuries.
What is wrong with the offense? Not much, from what I can tell. It wasn’t the high wire act that many hoped to unveil, but maybe it’s a sign of a defensive progression, and not the offensive regression being announced in print as early as Sunday morning.
In 2008, the mainstream media raised red flags at spring and fall camps, as USC struggled mightily to score with its new pilot. The season opened with the hobbling Mark Sanchez hanging 52 on the board in Virginia, and ended with an offense ranked 14th in the nation and averaging 37.5 points per game. A shadow was mistakenly cast of an offense short of weapons and lacking firepower, while early evidence of one of the best defenses ever fielded (avg. 9 ppg) was overlooked and ignored.
Not that the current ensemble is equal to the unit consisting of Matthews, Cushing, and Maualuga, but it is a group that could only get better, and not possibly be any worse than its 109th rank defending the pass in 2010. But for all the success the Trojans had on Saturday, one bad habit appeared to carry over from last season, and may be the most troubling issue to go unreported.
Three of five games were lost in 2010 because the Trojan defense failed to finish. It surrendered game winning drives to Washington, Stanford, and Notre Dame. It also dodged a bullet, when Arizona State’s possible game winning drive ended with a 42-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide right. We saw that pattern continue on Saturday, as an offense that struggled for the majority of the game was more successful in the fourth quarter, capping the scrimmage with one final touchdown before the clock reached zero. That red flag, along with the poor kicking performance, should take precedence over all, instead of applying emphasis to a depleted offense that failed to score enough points to the liking.
There’s still a lot of work to be done between now and September. Players will get healthy and the roster will increase in size to escalate competition and improve the product. Spring is but a glimpse at a small portion of the package, and never a tell-tale sign of the whole. So take it for what it is, and not the “sky is falling” premonition that is often presented.