Game 11 wrap-up: The road to mediocrity
UCLA 38, USC 28
The USC football season went from bad to worse. Not only did the Trojans fall to their crosstown rivals for the first time in 6 years, they also lost their quarterback for the regular season finale.
Beneath cloudy skies and atop a rain soaked field, UCLA defeated USC by a score of 38-28 on Saturday afternoon. The Bruins snapped a five-game losing streak to the private school, which only added to the misery of the Trojan football season. After a 6-1 start, USC has dropped three of the last four games, and Notre Dame now looms on the horizon.
The men of Troy dug themselves an early hole in Pasadena, committing two of three turnovers in the first quarter, with each resulting in UCLA points. The Bruins took an early 17-0 first quarter lead, which swelled to 24-0 early in the second. USC would score 20 unanswered points to trail its rival 24-20 in the third. But it was the Bruins outscoring the Trojans 14-8 down the stretch to seal victory and the Pac 12 South.
Southern California has traveled a short road to mediocrity, since opening as the preseason No. 1. And if you survey the path it has taken, you will find a culprit named consistency that weights the program’s descent.
The Trojans have faced double-digit first quarter deficits in three of the last four games. A 7-7 first quarter tie with Arizona State is the exception, and accounts for the team’s only win. Mishaps contributed to first quarter hills to climb, with 16 of 29 turnovers occurring over the last four weeks. Six of those turnovers have come in the first quarter, most of any period, and that’s how deficits are made.
But despite the offensive deficiencies, it’s a Southern California’s defense that is concerning. I remain a firm believer that defense wins championships, and in the three years under the current coaching staff, the unit has failed to perform at championship caliber. The Trojans have surrendered nearly 2000 total yards in the last four outings, to go along with 156 points. Those opponents all ran a variation of the spread offense, which serves as Kryptonite to the Trojan defensive scheme.
The USC defense allowed just a single 100-yard rushing performance through the first 7 games. It has allowed 3 in the last four, including a 300-yard performance by Oregon’s Kenjon Barner. In the first seven weeks, the unit also allowed just one quarterback to pass for 300 or more yards. Three of the last four have accomplished this feat, with 2 of 3 eclipsing the 400-yard mark.
The Trojans emerge 7-4, with the 12th and final regular season game left to play. Reviewing the path from there to here, we see the majority of wounds self inflicted. USC has faced two enemies on Saturdays, with one common to every game. That enemy is visible in locker room mirrors, and its damage lines post-game box scores. It is that common foe that stands between what is and what could have been. And for as long as it exists, it stifles all we can be.
- QB Matt Barkley suffered a shoulder injury against UCLA and will not play against Notre Dame. Freshman Max Wittek will receive his first start.
- Barkley threw two interceptions before he was knocked from the game by UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr. 9 of the quarterback’s 15 interceptions were thrown in the last four weeks.
- Barkley’s 15 interceptions are the most of his Trojan career. He threw 14 as a freshman in 2009. USC finished with a record of 9-4 that season.
- The Trojans scored 28 points in 4 of the last 5 crosstown rivalry games.
- UCLA’s 38 points were the most scored against USC by a Bruins team since the 48-41 UCLA victory over the Trojans in 1996.
- Curtis McNeal followed up a career-best 163 yards rushing day with 161 yards on 21 carries against UCLA.
- UCLA’s Jonathan Franklin rushed for a game-high 171 yards and 2 touchdowns.
- Marqise Lee had 9 receptions, 158 yards, 1 TD. His 3-game streak of double-digit receptions was snapped. Lee has recorded a total of 10 or more receptions in 7 games this season.