Despite receiver Marqise Lee’s record-setting efforts, the USC Trojans fell to Arizona on Saturday, with their second loss ending any remaining national title aspirations.
Lee had a monster day, breaking both the USC and Pac-12 single-game records for receiving yards, with 16 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns, but he left the field in tears after failing to catch Matt Barkley’s Hail Mary pass as time expired.
He put the blame on himself for not catching the ball, but he’s the last Trojan who should be held responsible for the loss.
It starts at the top, with head coach/offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s questionable play-calling. Once the Trojans took the lead, he played not to lose, rather than to build the lead and win resoundingly.
The Wildcats had no answer – none – for Lee, yet his number was barely called in the second half of the game. The receiver reportedly received an IV at halftime, but he was still in the game; Barkley just wasn’t throwing to him.
When they did target Lee, the play calls weren’t what they needed. At one point, early in the fourth quarter, when the Trojans had fourth and two, they went with Lee on a bizarre reverse that resulted in a gain of one yard. The Trojans turned the ball over on downs and Arizona’s next possession resulted in a Ka’Deem Carey touchdown run to give the Wildcats the lead.
Many of the better play calls simply were not executed well. Though he threw for 493 yards and four touchdowns, Barkley looked off much of the game. On the Trojans’ first series, he threw two consecutive passes that were almost intercepted, and the next one, which hit off Lee’s hands, was instead snagged by Arizona’s Marquis Flowers, which ultimately put the Wildcats up, 7-0.
He also missed a wide open Robert Woods on what would have been a sure touchdown in the third quarter, the only play Kiffin admitted he’d like to have back.
There were a lot of penalty flags the Trojans would like back, though.
USC is now the most-penalized team in college football. The lack of discipline all season has been utterly appalling, and despite Kiffin’s weekly halftime declarations that they’re going to get it fixed, it’s still a huge problem that has absolutely been a factor in USC’s disappointing performances this season.
The Wildcats actually had even more penalty yards than USC this week – fourteen penalties for 129 yards, compared to the Trojans’ thirteen for 117 yards – but the flags on USC, including two personal fouls called on safety T.J. McDonald, often kept Arizona scoring drives alive.
It was clear before this weekend that the Trojans had a lot of work to do if they wanted to get back into the national title picture. One loss to Stanford wasn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but in hard-fought wins over Syracuse, Washington, and Utah, the Trojans did not impress.
They didn’t look sharp enough on offense or disciplined enough overall to pull off what would certainly be tough victories over Oregon and Notre Dame, the kinds of wins that would impress the BCS and improve their standings, but the kind of wins this year’s team is not playing well enough to get.
The Trojans can still get to a Rose Bowl, which would be a wonderful accomplishment for a team that’s been banned from the postseason for the last two years. Their last trip to a bowl game was to the Emerald Bowl, and representing the conference in the Grandaddy of Them All is always a huge honor.
If USC wants to get to Pasadena on New Year’s Day, though, they must do a better job of effectively using their ridiculously talented players, and they absolutely cannot continue to give up major yards on stupid, senseless penalties.
The Oregon Ducks travel to Los Angeles this weekend. The Trojans have entirely too much work to do to get ready for them.