LOS ANGELES — You can’t expect to win a football game when you turn the ball over three times, one of those times going for a score the other way, and get absolutely taken advantage of on 3rd-down. No punches can be pulled here: in all my years of watching football, this is the worst 3rd-down defense I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
On multiple occasions, the defense allowed the Bruins to convert on 3rd and long, maybe the worst being on 3rd and 11 in the fourth quarter, when Garbers threw a passing touchdown to put the Bruins up 38-13. Let that sink in as well; in the final home game being a part of the Pac-12, the Trojans were down 38-13 against UCLA, a team that said they would fire their head coach before the game. There’s no denying that this USC team has to be the most disappointing team I’ve ever seen in any sport.
Maybe the Mets or Padres this season are on par, but they at least have some injury excuses to fall back on. If you told me this team would lose three games this season, I would’ve been borderline shocked. But losing five games? With the reigning Heisman winner suiting up in all of them? Adding players like Dorian Singer and Marshawn Lloyd to an already high-octane offense? 7-5? I have to put most of the blame on Lincoln Riley for the failure of a season. Grinch should’ve never been back, as they should’ve hired a real defensive coordinator.
There’s a lot of talent on the roster, and in hindsight, 20-20, some of it was underutilized throughout the season. Branch and (Mario) Williams could’ve been more prominent factors in the offensive scheme; maybe Robinson and McRee, too. It was nice to see Brenden Rice go out on top, as he finished his season with a 100+ yard game and his 12th touchdown, but he may have been the lone bright spot against the Bruins. Williams ended the game with a nice stat-line throwing the ball, but the passes he missed were significantly off, and the interception he threw was the worst he had all season. However, Caleb’s touchdown to Rice was an absolute thing of beauty. It was a gorgeous 74-yard strike on the hop that hit the young Rice right in the bread basket.
No Caleb Post-Game? No Problem
People were disappointed that Caleb didn’t speak to the press after the game. And while I was admittedly disappointed we didn’t see the Trojan signal-caller at the podium, I have to say why he didn’t dabble with the media makes sense. We only want to know whether he was coming back for his senior season, a decision he said he would not be making until after Thanksgiving. Based on the last time Caleb was in a press conference after a loss, I don’t think any good could’ve come from him addressing the media. I’ve been saying it for a long time: I think Caleb will/should go to the NFL, and it certainly looked that way as he departed from the field.
Lincoln Takes The Fall
On the post-game presser, I commend Lincoln for taking responsibility for what will ultimately be considered a complete season failure for the Trojans. He praised his senior players for starting something here and aiding in the rebuild of a program, which was also lovely to see, as many of the senior players who spoke to the press were emotionally defeated. At a point, I felt Lincoln could be in a position to move on from USC for the NFL, but I think he’s here to stay, as he seems to be the type of guy inclined to finish something he started. If he’s going to have a prayer in the Big 10, he will have to go from recruiting skill players and QBs to making some serious noise on the lines, especially the offensive line. To his credit, he’s brought in a 4-star Center and a 4-star Guard, but nothing on the tackle spot worth real note in these past two cycles. Caleb’s pocket wasn’t great, and if they’re going to compete in a beefier Big 10, this point of recruitment has to change for coach Riley. I digress; you felt for Riley, who’s struggled over his last 14 games, going a surprising 7-7 in those contests, as he sat there looking a bit more grey in the hair than when the season started. Coach Riley sat up there and said the season hinged on a few plays here and there, and while that may be true for some games, this UCLA showdown was not one of them.
A Somber Moment For Three Great Trojans
Jaylin Smith, Tahj Washington, and Jamil Muhammad sat up there addressing the media at the end from a player standpoint, and if you have a heart, that one stung to see. Muhammad, who had a solid season (as did the other two guys), valiantly powered through many of his answers, as the disappointment on his face was evident. Jaylin Smith spoke nicely and was the most upbeat of the trio, as Tahj Washington hoped that the crew who remained for next season would pass these lessons on “so that no one has to feel this way again.”
The longer I write, the more I realize that this was once again an example of a coaching staff failing a good group of players. You pick these guys out individually, and on more than one occasion, these players impressed, some quite often. Had this team been in the proper hands, we’d be singing a different tune in Southern California.