It’s our first column of the season on 10 things USC needs to fix. This week: Stanford edition.
1.) Get the defensive line to match its hype
Remember when USC quarterbacks were sacked eight times in the first scrimmage? Somehow we went from that to UNLV gaining 308 yards on the ground.
This is not a young defensive line. Porter Gustin and Malik Dorton are seniors. Christian Rector is a redshirt junior. Jordan Iosefa is a junior. Nose tackle is the only youthful spot, where redshirt freshman Marlin Tuipulotu and sophomore Brandon Pili are the stalwarts.
So whatever the problem is, it is not inexperience.
2.) Defend trick plays
How many times do Clancy Pendergast defenses get burned by trick plays? The answer is too often. The new, improved depth of the defense didn’t exactly help in this regard because some backups were on the field for UNLV’s reverse TD. Oh well.
3.) Help John Baxter
Is USC’s special teams coach capable of putting together a complete performance? The punting was shambolic vs. UNLV with a 9-yard and 20-yard kick. So was allowing a fake punt that everyone had to know was coming. It seems as soon as Baxter fixes one area, another one becomes a problem.
4.) Get a sense of urgency
It feels at times as if USC is in a malaise. It might help if the coaching staff got a little more serious about demanding effort and intensity. One problem is some coaches feel hamstrung at times about disciplining players because they don’t always feel like Helton will back them up.
5.) Make the running game dangerous
USC”s trio of tailbacks did not make anyone forget Ronald Jones. Aca’Cedric Ware was solid with 10 carries for 100 yards (against UNLV, let’s remember).
But there wasn’t much consistency behind him. Stephen Carr had a 40-yard run but only 14 yards in eight other carries. Vavae Malepeai, tipped by some as the best back of training camp, didn’t gain any yards until UNLV’s defense gave up at the end of the game. He had six carries for 10 yards when the game mattered.
6.) Discover the tight end
All summer, Tyler Petite was spotlighted as one of the nation’s top tight ends. His first game? Zero receptions. And what is going on with tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who isn’t even practicing this week because of an injury?
Neither is tight end Josh Falo. But this doesn’t excuse not throwing to Petite.
7.) Make sure the uniform is uniform
Three USC players went off the field because their uniforms did not adhere to new NCAA regulations. Clay Helton said he did not think the officials would be “serious” about enforcing it. They were.
8.) Will the offensive line ever improve?
A legitimate question is whether USC’s offensive line is even capable of making significant improvement? To think seniors like Chuma Edoga and Chris Brown will suddenly become better is unrealistic. Truthfully, the only lineman with potential is left tackle Austin Jackson and he is still learning.
USC looked awful, like last year, on a short-yardage situation in the first half.
9.) Don’t force the ball to one receiver
Early in the game, it looked like USC wanted to throw just to Tyler Vaughns. Maybe that was because JT Daniels needed a quick start? But he was locked in too much on Vaughns.
Stanford probably will not let Daniels zero in on Amon-Ra St. Brown.
10.) Don’t get cute in red zone
I can’t help but think Matt Fink was inserted at quarterback with the ball around the 10-yard line just because Helton felt sorry for him not winning the starting job. With Fink in, the odds of a pass are low, so little surprise UNLV tackled him for a loss on the play. Those are the type of things that cost you against real teams.