Sunday, October 22, 2017

5 Thoughts on USC's Loss to ND

  1. Lacking Fundamentals: Even if a player is the best athlete on the team, they can't be making multiple errors let alone repeating the same errors. These self-inflicted errors are a carry-over from last year and it comes from the coaches. You've heard it directly from the coaches, as a matter of fact: they've repeatedly told the media that they're willing to live with the errors of some players because they know how good they are. Well, those errors are blowing up, now. USC's three turnovers, badly timed penalties, dropped wide-open passes, and failed 27-yard field goal cost the team at least 24 points. This game would have been a completely different beast without all those unforced errors.
  2. Sit Sam: From the first game to this last game, Sam Darnold just hasn't performed consistently, but it's gotten a lot worse with Sam making a ton of mental errors. To me, that's a sign that he's mentally and physically exhausted and not as sharp and quick as he should be. Such poor performances from its stars make USC absolutely mediocre and in turn, results in rough games against bad teams. If you want to run, make it a true run-option game package with Matt Fink. If you really believe you have a good team, use more of your players.
  3. Stop Running: You're not fooling anyone by play-action pass, down 21 points. You're also wasting time and opportunities to get the ball moving. I mean, sure, when the defense starts playing 3 linemen and dropping 8 into zone coverage, the temptation to run is very high, but the only player who should be allowed to run is the QB -- scrambling into an empty spot on the field and slide. If you call a play to run when you're 21 points down, you look bad. The other side is laughing at your stubbornness.
  4. Diagnosing the Defense: They're exhausted and they aren't tackling. I've read that they haven't been doing live tackling during practices which, I understand that being worn down from a season without a bye week means they're exhausted, but you can't stop live tackling during the season's practices. Tackling practice with dummies isn't worth a damn when a dummy can't do a jump step or pivot on the spot. We first saw the effects show up -- being exhausted and poor tackling -- last week against Utah, where Cam Smith was attempting to save his body and bounce off hard hits rather than deliver big blows. It's time to rotate players and do live tackling, Clancy. If you'd been doing this all season long, the front 7 wouldn't be in such rough shape.
  5. Coaching Changes?: Inevitably, some schools have much higher aspirations and expectations. USC is one of those schools, and for a variety of reasons, they've fallen short of expectations. Interestingly, this is almost entirely because of Pete Carroll's success and dominance of college football during his tenure. That's why fans will, yet again, be calling for a head coaching change. But that's a mistake. Give Clay Helton some time and I really think he'll build his system and make the program successful and stable. Helton's aw shucks demeanor, as I've mentioned, drives a lot of people furious. But you might have noticed, we actually saw Angry Helton during the game, albeit directed at officials rather than players and coaches. If he learns to direct his anger at the right times and the right people, he'll be much more effective as a coach.

Friday, October 20, 2017

5 Thoughts on PAC-12 Football Week 8

  1. USC-ND: There's a lot on the line in this game as both teams have one loss and it's assumed that a second loss would keep the loser of this game out of the CFP. But that might not exactly be the case with either team. Both teams will have an opportunity to win out and end the season without a "bad" loss. But I think USC wins this one in a blowout (or a last-minute come-from-behind shocker). USC-ND is a mismatch of strengths. USC's strength on offense is the passing game (296.4 ypg) which lines up to ND's weakness on defense (231.2 ypg). ND's strength on offense is the rushing game (308.0 ypg) which is USC's stronger half of the defense (146.7 ypg). If you force a modest passing quarterback to pass a lot, he will throw a lot of interceptions and miss his receivers. If the game is tight, USC's passing offense has the ability to race down the field in under a minute. The oddsmakers have ND as a 3 1/2 point favorite, which is a fairly tight game. A tight game favors USC's passing offense.
  2. The State of Washington: Woe is the state, whose two ranked power-five teams lost to unheralded teams. Road games are harder to win than home matches, but seeing Washington lose to Arizona State is curious. They can't be accused of looking ahead -- they have a bye week this week -- yet they came out flat and stayed flat. Perhaps they're not good enough to make it to the playoffs after all. WSU was always a streaky, uneven team, and it showed at Cal. Yes, they're a good team, but they're not a great team just yet. This week, they'll get all of their frustrations out by blowing up Colorado in Pullman.
  3. What Happened to Colorado?: I'm dumbfounded at how bad Colorado is this year. They're on the razor's edge between finishing 6-6 and 5-7. Last year, they finished the regular season at 10-2 before losing in the PAC-12 Championship and the Alamo Bowl. Oh wait, I see it now. They were always pretenders, as opposed to contenders, as evidenced from last year's finish. I was fooled!
  4. Oregon's Physical Game: Is nonexistent. So much for all that talk and fall camp push for a more physical team, eh? They got manhandled by Stanford. And as I said before, their secondary is questionable, getting ripped by Keller Chryst. They're not a bad team, but they're still firmly stuck in the middle tier of the PAC-12, especially without Justin Hebert. They're favored against UCLA, but do you really pick the Ducks secondary to beat Josh Rosen on the road? When Rosen is on fire, he's tough to beat, especially when he throws to Caleb Wilson. Until the Ducks show that they can win without Hebert, I'm having trouble seeing them reach a bowl game.
  5. Power Rank: From best to worst, going into week 8, USC, UW, Stanford, WSU, Utah, Cal, ASU, Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, Colorado....

    ....Oregon State.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

5 Thoughts on USC's Win over Utah

  1. Huge Step Forward: Beating Utah was a huge step forward. This has all the hallmarks of a season-changing game, where the offense finally looked like it was ready for a run to the playoffs. Even with all of the errors and being down 21-7 at the half, this team fought back. That second half was one of the best halves of a football game USC has played this year, given the number of starters that were sidelined by injuries.
  2. Cam Smith is Worn Down: I'm sure everyone saw it, as Cam Smith got bulldozed multiple times. He may have gotten a ton of tackles but most of them weren't pretty. It also looked like he was trying to save his body by avoiding unnecessary contact and bouncing off hits rather than delivering them. Rest him during the week. You know what he can do for you and you know he's mentally prepared to play. Let this be a warning to all: Never schedule a season like USC's, where there is not a single bye week.
  3. USC is USC's Biggest Problem: If you count (3) turnovers and (3) penalties as unforced errors, USC had five unforced errors in the first half and just one in the second half -- a kickoff out of bounds. That split also showed up in how well the team performed in each half. With all of the talent USC has, USC's biggest obstacle to winning games is itself.
  4. Offense is Much Better: The offense was moving well, except of course, the mental errors that turned the ball over near or in the red zone. When they stopped the mental errors, the Trojans were scoring. 532 yards of offense and 83 plays. Had they not committed unforced errors, the game would have been a blowout with Trojans winning 45 - 28. A large part of their success against the Utes came from an offensive line that blocked well and receivers sacrificing their body to catch the ball. Aside from the turnovers, this was huge, considering the quality of the defense they were up against.
  5. Jack Jones: Before the season I stated that Adoree Jackson would not be missed nearly as much as people thought he'd be on defense. Jack Jones just showed how solid of a cornerback he is against the Utes, shutting down his side of the field. Utah's Troy Williams all but stopped throwing in his direction, instead, targeting Ajene Harris and Iman Marshall. In the secondary, Jones is the brightest star in his first year as a starter and his star will only grow brighter. Every once in a while, the video catches his face and you can see an Earl Thomas intensity in it. I'm excited about him.

Friday, October 13, 2017

5 Thoughts on PAC-12 Football Week 7

  1. Oregon State is Really Bad: As mentioned before the season started, I thought OSU would be at the very bottom of the PAC-12. So far, they haven't disappointed. They were lucky to beat Portland State -- a team that had dominated them with the exception of turnovers -- otherwise, they'd be winless this year. Having said that, I don't understand Gary Andersen resigning at the midway point. Sure, the team has reverted back to the Pettibone era, but now the team is down a paid coaching position and recruiting still takes a hit. Whatever. Maybe OSU will get lucky and Mike Riley will become available in a couple of weeks?
  2. Oregon is Still Average: It was a foregone conclusion that Oregon would lose to WSU, but it had nothing to do with the injury of Justin Herbert. Their secondary was the problem, going up against a really good passing team. And, as I mentioned two weeks ago, the reason why they had to beat Cal was that they were about to enter the hardest part of their schedule and might not win another game until they play their last two games -- Arizona and Oregon State. Now, with Herbert out 4-6 weeks (I doubt he comes back to play the final two games, though) it's even more likely that they end the season 6-6 at best. Arizona's been looking better, having barely lost to Utah and beating Colorado in Boulder, so, 5-7?
  3. Washington Will Win PAC-12: They're not quite like the dominant USC teams under Pete Carroll, but they are damn consistent and solid. I've said this the past two weeks, now, especially in light of USC's difficulties, that USC might have better talent but Washington's done a better job with what they have. I don't particularly like the Huskies, truth be told, but you have to admire the job that coach Chris Petersen has done up there in all aspects of the game. The defense is flying around and holding opponents to an average of 10 points a game, while the offense is crushing it, averaging 43 points a game. Mind you, they're still not at the level of Clemson and Alabama in terms of talent, unlike USC. This is why USC, despite their poor level of play, remains a dark horse of sorts -- you never know if their talent will show up in a game and dominate.
  4. Biggest Surprise is Colorado: I don't think anyone expected Colorado to lose their first three PAC-12 games. Sure, the loss to UW was expected, but to UCLA and Arizona? They've gone from the upper middle tier to the bottom of the middle tier (because Oregon State is in a bottom tier all by itself, so far separated from the rest of the league). It's extremely surprising because last year QB Steven Montez looked good when he was inserted to replace the injured Sefo Liufau, such that they had a mini QB controversy in the middle of the season last year. So what happened? They have two established senior wide receivers in Shay Fields and Devin Ross and senior Philip Lindsay at running back.
  5. Midway Season Ranking: Now that we're halfway through the season, here's where I think the PAC-12 teams stand, in order from best to worst: Washington, WSU, USC, Stanford, Utah, UCLA, Oregon, Cal, Arizona, Colorado, Arizona State...

    Oregon State.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

This is a Funny Story of Frustration (Repost)

TL;DR -- I spent a week searching for a solution to a discrepancy that, in the end, did not actually exist.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Five Thoughts on USC's Win Against Oregon State, Halfway Mark

  1. Good Enough, Not Great: If not for USC subbing Matt Fink for Sam Darnold with 7-1/2 minutes left in the game and Fink taking that QB option to run for 51 yards and a touchdown, it's not clear that USC would have scored again. Had the final score been 31 - 10, USC would have owned the ignoble distinction of scoring the least number of points by an OSU opponent this season. The Trojans are good enough to win most games, but they're not great enough to win the national championship, at least, not if the season ended today.
  2. Best Unit: I really like the defensive line (and more broadly the front seven). So many questions, so many difficulties, yet, the defensive line seems to answer the call and step up -- Big Kenechi Udeze (BKU) will eventually become a defensive coordinator, I'm sure. If not for the subpar offensive line play of late -- largely because of the rash of injuries -- I would have had the running backs as the best unit. Both units looked spectacular in fall camp drill videos and all that work carried over into games. If you look at special teams, aside from a ton of mistakes, they've improved the most since the first game. That's it.
  3. Getting Better?: This is the question everyone is asking. The answer, of course, is that over the first half of the season some players definitely got better -- Christian Rector, Jack Jones, Ronald Jones, Tyler Vaughns -- and yet, it doesn't feel as though this year's squad has made the big improvements over the first six games as last year's squad. The inconsistency is why it's so difficult to see where the improvements are.
  4. The Talent-Results Differential: For the past four years, OSU has at or near the bottom of the PAC-12 in recruiting while USC has been ranked #1 all that time. Yet, it wasn't clear through the entire game that the teams were separated by talent by a wide margin -- something that was hoped for and expected. All teams have lulls, but USC seems to constantly fall into them this year. Still, if USC ends up 11-3 or 12-2, wouldn't that still qualify as success? I think I understand why people are frustrated and it has less to do with results and more about the clash of culture -- see #3 below.
  5. Father Knows Best: Helton is very much like the 50s iconographic TV father who was stern but loving. Helton's soft delivery grates on so many people because we live in a completely different period in time where our caffeinated, intensely competitive world has eschewed pats on the back for chest bumps. We enjoyed the Pete Carroll - Jim Harbaugh feud because it lined up two very intense personalities against each other. With Helton, everything feels deconflicted. We miss the intensity. We miss conflict. When you listen to the players speak about the game and their opponents, they're projecting Helton. They deconflict.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Do the right things...

Do the right things...

not because you were told to;

not because it makes you look righteous;

not because everyone else is doing it;

not because it makes you feel good;

not because a religious edict demands it;

because they are right.

If you wanted to know if I had a personal credo and what it was, this is it. I'm not saying that I abide by it all the time -- I don't -- but that this is the rule I try to live by. It's something to strive for, even though I fail all the time.

Obviously, what is right is left ambiguous. This is not a credo with easy answers -- it demands that all things shall be considered carefully.