The USC Trojans’ dream season has run off the rails, but while the three-loss Trojans won’t be in the BCS title game, they still have a shot to end the year in Pasadena in the Rose Bowl.
To get there, they’ll have to put their focus back on the field and away from the hype and distractions that have turned their once-promising season into a disappointment.
The Trojans host the Arizona State Sun Devils at home this afternoon. USC lost badly in Tempe early last season, and they’ll be looking to redeem that loss, as well as the entire 2012 season.
The Trojans haven’t lost three games in a row in more than a decade, but they won’t get an easy win over the Sun Devils, who are seeking to avoid a four-game losing streak.
The biggest area in which USC needs to improve is, obviously, defense. The Trojans surrendered 1,318 yards and 97 points in their last two games, losses to Arizona and Oregon. The defensive line, which had been strong until recently, allowed the Ducks’ Kenjon Barner to rush for 321 yards last Saturday night, while the secondary continued its season-long struggles.
The Trojans also need to keep penalties to a minimum. USC was the most-penalized team in the nation heading into the Oregon game, but they drew just three flags last week. Unfortunately, it didn’t make a difference because the defense was such a mess.
The offense has gotten into a better rhythm in the last few games, accounting for more than 600 yards and 51 points last week, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Quarterback Matt Barkley must improve his decision-making. The preseason Heisman favorite has three more interceptions already this year than in all of 2011, and he’s often looked out of sorts under pressure.
Sophomore receiver Marqise Lee has been a one-man highlight reel for the Trojans in the last two games. The school, realizing that Lee, not Barkley, is their best Heisman candidate, put out a highlight video trumpeting Lee’s immense talent and accomplishments this year. He’ll have a lot of people watching to see if he really is as good as advertised, including his father, who has had an on and off relationship with the USC receiver and will be attending his first-ever Trojans game.
USC’s task in this game is to move forward, and the team has to do so by shutting off the outside noise – Heisman talk, questions about Coach Lane Kiffin’s job security, this week’s recent controversy about the school getting fined and a student manager getting fired for deflating footballs – and putting the past behind them.
It’s the only way to save their season – and it might be the only way for Coach Kiffin to fend off the critics who say he’s not the man to lead the Trojans back to the top.