USC Report Card: First loss exposed Trojans’ mounting weaknesses

It was an exciting game between unbeaten teams, but in the end USC lost for the first time in more than a year when it fell 30-27 Friday night at Washington State. The Trojans’ 13-game win streak was snapped and their hopes of making the College Football Playoff might have been dashed as well.

If only that was the lone bad thing that came out of Friday’s loss.

USC didn’t look like a team that deserved be ranked fifth in the country by the Associated Press, let alone one that was capable of beating the No. 16 team.

Here is the report card for the Trojans vs. Washington State:

Offensive Grade

Did Sam Darnold’s Heisman Trophy campaign die in Pullman, Wash.? One game shouldn’t have that much impact, especially in September, but it’s not likely anyone who ends up voting for Darnold in a few months will cite this game as their reason for doing so.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback was 15 of 29 for 164 yards, failing to throw a touchdown pass for the second time this season, while turning it over twice. He threw an interception early in the second quarter and was stripped on a sack during USC’s final drive, effectively ending the game.

In between Darnold had a pair of rushing TDs, doubling his season total entering the game, but the fact he was called on to score on the ground twice in the red zone was very telling. Junior running back Ronald Jones had an 86-yard TD run, USC’s longest in 21 years, but only had 14 carries.

Overall, USC was 2 of 11 on third down. It was its fewest third-down conversions since a 17-12 home loss to Washington in 2015, the game before Steve Sarkisian was fired and Clay Helton became interim coach.

Grade: C

Defensive Grade

A Washington State offense is going to get its yards, the key is preventing the big plays and making a few key stops. USC didn’t do much of either.

The Trojans yielded 462 yards on 81 plays, allowing 5.7 yards per offensive snap despite recording five sacks. But those negative plays were offset by letting WSU convert on third down eight times (on 18 tries) and giving up six plays of 20 or more yards.

That includes a 35-yard run by Jamal Morrow on 3rd and 4 that put the Cougars in field goal position for the game-winning score.

When USC was able to force WSU quarterback Luke Falk to go through his progressions it either got the sack or forced him to throw it away, but that didn’t happen enough. And the inability to keep a team that doesn’t run much (or well) from breaking through on the ground made for too many shortcomings.

Grade: C

Special Teams Grade

Kicker Chase McGrath made both of his field goals, from 20 and 29 yards out, and was perfect on extra point attempts. Punter Reid Budrovich averaged 43.2 yards on six kicks with four downed inside the 20-yard line. Stephen Carr and Velus Jones averaged 25.3 yards on a trio of kick returns while Ajene Harris only attempted one punt return, getting tackled immediately.

USC’s special teams didn’t hurt it one bit in this game, but it didn’t do much to make things better, either. The Trojans’ best effort in that area was on punt and kickoff coverage, allowing minus-2 yards on two punt returns and no kickoff return for more than 23 yards.

Grade: B

Coaching Grade

Ronald Jones had an 86-yard touchdown run and finished with 128 yards, getting just 14 carries. He had only six in the second half, and when USC started a drive at Washington State’s 3-yard line thanks to an acrobatic interception by Uchenna Nwosu he only got one touch (while the Trojans threw on 2nd and goal from the 3). That drive resulted in only three points, one of two possessions USC began inside WSU’s 30 that only produced a field goal.

Offensive coordinator Tee Martin’s game plan was hard to follow, with USC throwing quite often when a run play seemed more suitable and running on far too many passing downs. Down 27-20 midway through the fourth quarter he called for a draw play on 3rd and 13, getting no gain, only to have receiver Tyler Vaughns bail him out with a stellar catch on fourth down to set up a game-tying TD.

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast brought a fair amount of pressure but on third down he often called off the dogs and hung back, trying to avoid allowing a big play. That just gave a veteran quarterback far too much time to operate, particularly late in the game as USC’s defense started to look gassed from being on the field for 81 snaps.

Grade: D

The post USC Report Card: First loss exposed Trojans’ mounting weaknesses appeared first on Diehards.

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