Grinding Gears: USC wasn’t the team to watch on Saturday

first_imgPerhaps it was for the best that USC’s 41-28 loss to Utah was buried in the Los Angeles sports headlines on Saturday, with the Dodgers winning the pennant and a fight breaking out at LeBron James’ Lakers home debut. It deserved to be hidden on television on the Pac-12 Network and on radio — due to the Lakers game — on a country music station.It wasn’t worth watching or listening to anyway.The same, predictable things happened. The Trojans jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but not on the offense’s merits. The first touchdown, an ill-advised throw into double coverage from freshman quarterback JT Daniels to junior wide receiver Michael Pittman, should’ve been intercepted. The second was a defensive score.Despite the early lead, at no point did the offense have a rhythm. At no point did Daniels look comfortable. At no point did this team, stacked with five-star recruits, look even slightly in control against a far-less talented Utah team. We’ve been over this, time and time again.It was hardly a surprise when Utah came back, a la Texas. When USC failed to score on its final five possessions of the first half, it was already over. The halftime score read 20-14 in favor of Utah, but it felt like total domination.In the end, it was. The Utes scored 34 unanswered points and racked up 541 total yards of offense, more than doubling USC’s 205 yards. The Trojans managed 73 yards on the ground and 132 yards in the air. They started the game 0-for-10 on third down conversions and possessed the ball for more than nine fewer minutes than the Utes.Translation: not good.“We hadn’t had a night like that since Alabama in ’16,” offensive coordinator Tee Martin said.I was at AT&T Stadium two years ago for that rout, a 52-6 loss to open the 2016 season. I never thought I’d witness anything close to it again. But Saturday was, in fact, USC’s worst offensive performance since that game, when the Trojans recorded 194 yards of offense against the Crimson Tide.In that game, with USC down big in the second half, a backup redshirt freshman quarterback by the name of Sam Darnold saw his first action in garbage time. It wasn’t long before he took over the team, and we took the quarterback position at USC for granted. It didn’t matter that the playcalling was suspect, or the defense slipped up, or something happened on special teams — Darnold cleaned up the mess for the next two seasons.Now, with a true freshman at quarterback, USC no longer has that luxury. We’ve known this since the opener against UNLV, and especially after Weeks 2 and 3, when Daniels showed growing pains in losses at Texas and Stanford. It is Week 7, and he still hangs in the pocket too long, still throws off his back foot when he doesn’t need to.But the losses aren’t on Daniels. Plenty of college football teams have freshman quarterbacks who are inexperienced and make mistakes in their debut seasons. That’s fine. That’s what happens when you trust an 18-year-old to run the offense.Head coach Clay Helton said it himself in his postgame presser, so I won’t sound too accusatory: Blame the team’s shortcomings on him.“I’m going to put everything on me, as far as performance,” Helton said. “My job as head coach is to make sure we’re performing at a high level, and we didn’t do go enough to win the football game.”Step one is recognizing the problem. Helton did that.  Step two is solving it.It starts with putting the quarterback in the best situation to succeed. That means establishing the run game so Daniels is not forced to throw the ball on third-and-long. It is incredible that with three stellar running backs, USC’s rushing attack is still inconsistent and failed to hit 100 yards against a Utah defense that played a Cover 2 formation — which invites the offense to run the ball or throw for short gains — for much of the night. Not only did the Utes clamp down on Daniels’ pass attempts, but they also shut down the run.“We hit it up a couple times [on the ground], but not consistently enough to take them out of Cover 2 and we weren’t running it consistently enough [for Utah to] feel like they needed to change,” Martin said.That responsibility — calling the plays, making in-game adjustments — rests on the shoulders of the coaching staff. Week in and week out, this team has far too much talent for play-calling to drag everything down. This team is too good to not be in control of the Pac-12 South.But that’s where we are. If, for some reason, you didn’t want to watch the Dodgers or Lakers on Saturday and flipped over to USC football, you saw exactly what has plagued this team all season long. And as the mediocrity drags on for the remainder of this season, one can’t help but wonder what the tipping point is for the people in charge at Heritage Hall.  Eric He is a senior majoring in journalism. He is also the managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Mondays.last_img read more

Kobe Bryant’s late-game heroics not enough in loss to Spurs

first_imgAfter missing his first six shots and finishing with four points on a 2-of-10 clip in the first half, Bryant scored 20 of the Lakers’ 30 third-quarter points and made three consecutive 3-pointers.“I was happy I was able to get loose a little bit. I felt like the Tin Man for a while,” Bryant said, smiling. “I couldn’t find any oil anywhere to loosen up these joints.”After he made a corner 3-pointer that tied the game at 96-96 with 3:12 left, Bryant turned to the Spurs’ bench and shrugged at Duncan. He just shook his head and joked Duncan offered a “strong whisper,” which was his “version of a yell.”“They were like, ‘No way,” and I said, ‘Dude, I miss the easy ones and make some BS like that,” Bryant said. “I don’t know what to tell you.’ “And after Bryant performed all their heroics, Scott decided to keep him in for the entire third quarter.“I looked at Nick [Young] and said, ‘Maybe you want to go sit back down for a while.’” All of which explained why Spurs guard Tony Parker called Bryant “the Michael Jordan of our generation.” Popovich also compared Bryant’s third-quarter outburst toward “watching Michael.”“You knew that every time you were going to compete against him, you had to bring it,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said in the video. “If not, he was going to make you look bad,Bryant did that without Duncan (right knee) and Ginobili (groin surgery), though the Lakers’ 37-year-old star did not sound too down his final game would not include them. “I’ve played against them for so many years,” Bryant said. “It’s like, ‘Enough already.’” The Lakers experienced their own injuries. Roy Hibbert left early after spraining his left ankle and did not return. Randle also sprained his left ankle after falling on a cameramen. But x-rays for both players came out negative. Randle also appeared in the finals minutes and expressed optimism he could play in Monday’s game in Indiana.“I knew it was just an ankle sprain,” Randle said. “It wasn’t anything that scared me. I knew it was an ankle sprain. I just needed time to heal up. I’m fine.” But as it has been on his farewell tour, everything turned back to Bryant. He considered the Lakers’ matchups with the Spurs “more personal” than the Celtics because they met in the playoffs in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 2008 and 2013, a series the Spurs won 4-3. Unlike the Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings, the Spurs’ video tribute featured highlights of Bryant’s greatness even when it came at their expense.“It shows the respect and the battles that we’ve had,” Bryant said. “At times, we’ve gotten the best of them and there have been plenty of times they’ve gotten the best of us but the beauty was in the battles and the struggles between the two; the contrasting styles and personalities. I think that’s what makes this journey we’ve both been on so beautiful.”That beauty then unfolded afterwards. Bryant waved to the crowd that featured plenty of fans wearing purple and gold. He then embraced Popovich, who has gushed about his greatness earlier in the video.“It’s been a pleasure watching you all these years,” Popovich said. Your competitiveness is inspiring. I hope that you’re as successful in your next life as you’ve been in your first one. Good luck to you, man.”Then in the press conference room, Bryant sent a message to the Spurs fanbase that for once had nothing to do with hitting a clutch shot or disrupting their playoff hopes. “I wish I could do something more to express how much they meant to me throughout my career,” Bryant said. “Just thanking them for all the boos and the cheers. It’s been so many great memories here, from winning series and losing series. So sincerely, thank you thank you thank you.” Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge had an open look that gave the Spurs a 105-101 lead with 31 seconds left. Bryant failed to box out Kawhi Leonard after Danny Green missed a jumper with a 105-102 lead with eight seconds left because he “played the percentages” that any Green miss would hit off on the opposite side of the rim. No one fouled the Spurs despite their ability to run out the clock until Bryant fouled Boris Diaw with 2.1 seconds left. But Diaw made one of two foul shots, while officials only granted the Lakers with .2 seconds on the clock.All of which overshadowed the Lakers’ double-digit efforts from Jordan Clarkson (21 points), Julius Randle (15), Lou Williams (14) and D’Angelo Russell (12). Which overshadowed the Lakers trimming away a 13-point deficit and nearly handing the Spurs (43-8) their first home loss in 28 games. Which overshadowed Lakers coach Byron Scott describing the effort as “fantastic.” All of which prevented Bryant from performing something the Spurs often dreaded. “Whether you were up 20 or down 10 or whatever it may be, you knew that he was someone you had to keep an eye on,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said on the highlight video. “You had to fear because he was going to bring it.”Bryant described the video as “nostalgic.” He described himself as “extremely touched.” Bryant admitted “it’s hard to get into a competitive mindset.” Clarkson, who grew up in San Antonio, even argued the Spurs presented “the best video that I’ve seen all year.”But Bryant still brought it in what Spurs guard Tony Parker likened to “the old days in the playoffs.” SAN ANTONIO >> The highlight reel played endlessly as Kobe Bryant made countless shots. The Spurs then gushed endlessly about his greatness amid a rivalry that has accounted for 10 of the last 17 NBA championships.“He’s obviously skilled, but his professionalism and being responsible enough to do that on a nightly basis has always astounded me,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s the guy that is ready to put his foot on your throat and win at all costs every single night.”Bryant fit that job description through 20 NBA seasons. The Spurs captured it all in a tribute video that lasted two minutes and 29 seconds. And then Bryant added more footage in real time. The Lakers still lost, a 106-102 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs ended a short-lived two-game winning streak. Bryant scored 25 points, albeit on 9-of-28 shooting. The Lakers (11-42) also made some youthful mistakes. center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img read more