No. 5 USC loses 30-27 at No. 16 Washington State; 3 things we learned

There will be no unbeaten season for USC. The fifth-ranked Trojans had their 13-game win streak snapped with a 30-27 loss Friday night at No. 16 Washington State in Pullman, Wash.

It was USC’s first loss since falling at Utah to open Pac-12 play on Sept. 23, 2016 and the first to the Cougars on the road since 2002.

Here are 3 things we learned Friday:

1. Sam Darnold continues to be his own worst enemy

Having a patchwork offensive line to work with isn’t an excuse when you enter the season as one of the top Heisman Trophy candidates. Sam Darnold is supposed to be a good enough player to rise above such hurdles, but instead they’re just adding to the struggles he’s mostly putting on himself.

Friday night was arguably Darnold’s worst start of his young career, the redshirt sophomore was 15-of-29 for 164 yards with an interception and a lost fumble. He now has eight picks this season, tied for second-most of any quarterback in FBS.

Darnold was effective extending plays with his legs, avoiding countless pressure throughout the game and even rushing for two of USC’s three touchdowns. But needing a big play or two in the final minutes he was forced to throw away the first pass and then lost a fumble on the next.

2. Third down offense remains an issue

USC converted on third down 19 times in its first 26 tries to open this season. Since then the Trojans are 10 of 38 on third down including 2 of 11 against Washington State.

The inability for the Trojans to sustain drives was critical on Friday, contributing to wasted field position on a number of occasions. USC started three possessions in WSU territory, including on the 3-yard line after an interception by Uchenna Nwosu in the second quarter, yet came away with two field goals on those three drives.

Sam Darnold’s decision-making has been only part of the problem in this area. There’s also the fact USC doesn’t seem to want to run the ball as much as it should with Ronald Jones—who ran for 128 yards and a touchdown but had only 14 carries—and Stephen Carr ready and willing to take it.

3. USC’s lack of a bye week is going to catch up with it

USC just played its fifth game in 28 days, which isn’t that big a deal considering many other FBS teams have been just as active at this point in the season. The difference is the rest of them will get a break at some point, while the Trojans don’t.

The Trojans don’t get a bye this season, unless you count not playing on Thanksgiving weekend after having gone 12 straight weeks with games. The lack of that off week is sure to lead to fatigue as the season goes on and it also means there is no opportunity to give their many injured or banged up players some much-needed time off.

Injuries have been a notable part of USC’s season to this point and that’s going to continue. On Friday night the Trojans saw two more offensive linemen (junior Chuma Edoga and senior Viane Talamaivao) have to leave the game, this after junior Toa Lobendahn had already been held out.

Junior cornerback Iman Marshall also had to leave the game in the second half.

A saving grace for USC, although a small one, is its next two games are at home. And by playing on Friday it gets an extra day before its next contest Oct. 7 against Oregon State.

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