One week ago, in our report card on the USC-Arizona State game, we wrote the following about Alex Grinch’s Trojan defense:
“Tackling was bad. Positioning was bad. Defensive line play was bad before the undermanned ASU offensive line finally wore down in the fourth quarter and USC feasted up front.
“USC’s defensive line was smacking around ASU’s offensive line in the fourth quarter, but that didn’t happen very much in the first three quarters. ASU running back Cam Skattebo made USC look foolish for most of the night. His touchdown which made the score 35-28 in the fourth quarter was a display of great effort, but also atrocious tackling.”
Did USC make big strides from the Arizona State game? No. The first half was decent but the second half undid a lot of the good work the Trojans performed before halftime. Playing well for 30 of 60 minutes just doesn’t fly, and it definitely won’t fly against Washington or Oregon.
Let’s go to the Colorado report card. Offensive superstars and one defensive player get top grades, but everyone else can’t get graded too highly:
ALEX GRINCH: D
The first half was fine, but coaches don’t get paid to say that their unit played well for half of a game. We’re also not saying that USC should have prevented Colorado from scoring a few touchdowns in the second half. The Trojans led by 27. Colorado was bound to get a few scores.
However: Colorado pulled within seven. The game became uncomfortable. That’s what should never happen when a team leads by 27 late in the third quarter as USC did. It recalls the memories of the 20-point lead over Cal being reduced to six last year, and the Arizona lead being shaved to eight, and of course, Tulane making that frantic, late comeback in the Cotton Bowl.
It’s all too familiar.
When do we get accountability?
Players can say they’re at fault, but the coaches are supposed to coach the players better.
No one can say this project is heading in the right direction. It’s very hard to trust the coaches will figure this out.
LINCOLN RILEY: C
When the offense scores 48 and the team gets a 27-point lead in the third quarter, the coach did a lot of good things. Yet, the second half and the last 20 minutes in particular undid the good work Riley did. No coaching staff should feel it did its job well when 27-point leads get reduced to seven points.
Riley also has to be better at running the ball with a lead. One week ago against Arizona State, he threw the ball on 2nd and 3 in the second half. This weekend against Colorado, he threw on 2nd and 5. Those are running situations in which USC should be leaning on the ground game and MarShawn Lloyd.
USC should throw the ball to score and build leads, as it did against Colorado. However, when USC gets a 14- or 20-point lead in the second half, it should run the ball to grind clock. Riley doesn’t do this nearly as consistently as he should, and it’s frankly very annoying.
Riley is brilliant, but he still gets far too cute for his own good.
Oh, and he is still defending Alex Grinch.
He’s an offensive genius, but gosh, everything else is so exhausting. Giving him a “C” somehow feels generous, but the offense is his baby, and that offense continues to crank out the numbers. This is the life of Riley, as it were.
CALEB WILLIAMS: B-PLUS
The tidal wave of touchdown passes was fantastic. Caleb was better than he was against Arizona State by a good margin. However, throwing an interception to help Colorado gain second-half momentum is a ding we can’t ignore. That prevents Caleb from getting an “A” on a day when he generally played really well.
MARSHAWN LLOYD: A
This guy is doing everything right. Lincoln Riley needs to feed him more in second halves when USC needs to protect leads. We’re not handing out a lot of As, but this is one.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A
This is less about any individual receiver, more about a group which did its job really well. Mario Williams was better after dropping three passes against Arizona State. Tahj Washington made plays. Dorian Singer made plays. Brenden Rice made plays. Nine different Trojans caught passes and USC’s offense was not easy to defend. This group delivered the goods.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-PLUS
The penalties, the bad snaps from Justin Dedich, and Caleb Williams taking a very hard hit all have to be considered when we look at this unit’s grade. There are still a lot of rough edges from a group which is not playing its best football. This line needs to be great, not just good, for USC to beat Washington and Oregon. We should expect better.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C-PLUS
The defensive line is better than last year, but not better enough. It’s not better enough to smother an opposing quarterback with a 27-point lead and shut a game down. The rush defense is better, and that’s why USC should be in better position to beat Utah and Notre Dame, two teams which want to run the ball and control the clock, but on a defense which can’t close the door, the defensive line still bears some of the responsibility for not putting this Colorado game to bed earlier.
Mason Cobb is trying to get back in the flow after missing multiple games, so there’s an awareness that everyone is trying to play catch-up to a certain degree, but there’s only so much one can say when Colorado piled on the touchdowns in the second half. The linebackers aren’t helping the front four, and the defense as a whole did not handle a 27-point lead the way it should have. Linebackers knew they would have to cover Colorado receivers in the second half, and they didn’t do a good job.
Deion Sanders said after the game how fun it was to go against USC and Lincoln Riley. He was able to say this with credibility because Colorado made the game interesting and earned respect for fighting back. The narrative of this game changed significantly based on Colorado’s comeback, even though the Buffaloes didn’t win.
This is primarily because the secondary couldn’t get the job done. The defensive line is trying to rush the passer, but the secondary has to hold up in coverage and make plays on the ball. This was a bad performance — not a disaster (because a loss is what a disaster looks like), but uncomfortably close to one.
DONTE WILLIAMS: F
When do we get more accountability from the man who is coaching some of the players in the secondary? When defensive backs can’t tackle, that’s more on the defensive coordinator, who is supposed to create the right culture throughout the whole defensive unit. When defensive backs aren’t reacting to the ball and finishing pass plays, that’s more on the men coaching the defensive backs.
USC has to get more value from Williams, even though Grinch is obviously the main problem in this operation.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
The blocked punt was great, but Denis Lynch’s missed field goal — which could have put the game away — was awful. This was a mixed bag.
DE'JON BENTON: A-MINUS
Benton was an unexpected contributor against Colorado. Though it’s really hard to give As to anyone on a defense which gives up 41 points, Benton’s step-up effort was so unexpected that we want to give special recognition to that performance with an A-minus.