USC-Utah Report Card

Time for the grades from the USC-Utah thriller at the Coliseum.


The butter-fingered fumbles are becoming a weekly tradition. But who would you rather have directing the second-half comeback? You think the magic is coming from the three-headed monster (The Heltons, Tee Martin) calling plays? Sam Darnold might make mistakes but he is the reason USC is 6-1.

Grade: C+


Ronald Jones got only 17 carries but continues to be the consistent aspect of the offense. Except when he and Darnold botch a handoff and he fails to try to recover a backwards pass that becomes a fumble. I could swear after the Texas game the USC coaches said tailbacks needed to be rotated in the first quarter. But now it feels like we don’t see Vavae Malepeai until the second half.

Grade: C+


Who figured Tyler Petite would be the deep threat with a 52-yard TD? Deontay Burnett also made his usual clutch catches. It’s still not a dominant receiving corps. And did you know that freshman Randal Grimes did not play? So his redshirt got burned last week and then he doesn’t play this week.

Grade: B


It’s a tough assignment for senior Toa Lobendahn. The line is sliding to protect the freshmen on the right side and that leaves Lobendahn exposed on the left. You can’t judge them by sacks allowed because Sam Darnold makes himself hard to sack.

Grade: C-


Christian Rector had two sacks and Josh Fatu had seven tackles but remember Zack Moss gained 141 yards. What exactly have Connor Murphy and Oluwole Betiku done since Porter Gustin got hurt? Neither had a tackle against Utah.

Grade: C-


Cameron Smith had a career-high 16 tackles and an interception. The problem is Smith was forced to make that many tackles because Moss kept getting through the line.

Grade: B-


Do I need to point out Iman Marshall had a holding penalty? His pass interference didn’t look like much of a penalty. But again, the entire secondary is allowing too many receivers to get open. And again left someone totally uncovered on the 2-point conversion. Talk about lucky.

Grade: C-


What is the deal on punt returns? I don’t care if USC gains a single yard on a punt return. But it’s important to not let punts roll for 60-yard punts to the 7-yard line. Does Greig Carlson have any eligibility left?

Grade: D-


Who called the pitch play on third-and-10 that gained 1 yard in the third quarter? Do the coaches have the team ready to play? Is the team improving? Why is it that during the second-half comeback, I never felt anythng special was coming from the sideline. It was just Sam Darnold repeatedly pulling rabbits out of the hat. The playcalling process is a mess. It’s why Clay Helton would not answer my question about who calls all the plays.

You want to defend the defense? USC takes a 28-21 lead with 4:54 and the Utes promptly go down the field and score a TD. With the backup QB.

Grade: F

65 thoughts on “USC-Utah Report Card

  1. Read option is a fumble waiting to happen when a team runs it all the time and practices it all the time.SC does neither,so fumbles are no surprise; but how is it Sams fault on the dropped pass that Jones did not recover? 2ndary a B-? the whole eval is sheer nonsense.

    • It was Sam’s fault because he zipped the ball way too hard to Jones on that pass. The guy was 6 yards away and he throws a bullet. Scott’s grades are too low on LB’s and O-Line but fair otherwise.

      • Pass was too firm, but more importantly was thrown too soon. That play cannot be a backwards pass. That is on SD to make sure it is a forward pass precisely because of what happened.

        • Theoretically, yes—-Sam should hold on to the ball a split second longer on that throw ….and a lot of his throws. The problem is he’s still feeling some of the vicious hits he took in the Texas game.

        • Their defensive end got a push and drove our tackle back to far and ruined the angle of the play, making it a lateral not a forward pass.

  2. Sam Darnold should call his own plays, and USC needs to run the ball more, because it would allow Darnold to excel in so many other areas, but I guess the coaching staff are looking for personal accolades from the media. I wonder if Helton realizes, that young offensive lineman can gain valuable experience, by firing off the ball on running plays, as oppose to having too many things to think about, whenever they drop back into pass protection?

  3. It’s unclear whether you are complaining about something that is unfixable or trying to make a point. If we take these grades seriously, then we are an average team with failing coaches. That being the case how do you explain the win-loss record?
    I agree better play is needed but the coaches don’t teach fumbling to the other team for a score.

    • I suspect Scooter thinks the 6-1 is simply the result of good luck and the Raw Talent advantage. He’s not too off base on that…because the coaching staff seems to be clueless half the time…

  4. Scott it is time for you to get those Spot Bilts out of the closet and take this team to the promise land.

    • I loved my Spot Bilts. Had a couple of pairs. They were light yet solid, durable and good looking to boot. All you want in a good football shoe for a running back.

  5. I do agree we’re 6-1 because of Sam Darnold in spite of his mistakes and errors. He’s still a gamer who tends to play his role when needed. If he plays like he did in the second half of the last game, the team would be nearly unbeatable for the remainder of the season.

    • I rewatched the last 1.5 quarters of the game twice, and THAT was a Top 5 team performance for SC. There were a few miscues along the way, but the biggest problem had nothing to do with the players; it had to do with the play calling on Utah’s final drive. Obscene. SC was lucky to win this one, because the coaching seems to be asleep at the wheel.

      • It was their best half of the year. Very good observation. And thanks for being objective, something lacking on this thread.

      • I think you are right. “SC was lucky…” because the outcome could just as easily been 29-28, Utah. USC can not rely on ”luck” this Sat. in South Bend. SC better play its ‘A’ game for all 4.0 quarters, not 1.5 quarters or else it will be all Irish.


    Tyler Vaughns had a really nice game and emerging as a viable option but no mention of his clutch receptions. I get it… the problems are all coaching decisions. Line is underperforming. So are QB, RBs, LBs & secondary etc. Somehow, USC is able to win games

    Grade: D-

  7. This team is 6-1 because of San Darnold. He has taken an inordinate amount of criticism because he is not playing at last year’s level when we had a more experienced OL, a better receiving corps, and Adoree Jackson on special teams.

    Still, there is enough talent that, if properly coached and motivated, should defeat the Irish in South Bend this week. Based on the season so far, I have little reason to hope for victory against a Notre Dame team that will be superior to any team we have played so far on the schedule.

    • It’s the “…if properly coached…” bit that’s the Achille’s Heel.

      Without Darnold’s mistakes in the first 2.5 quarters of the game, and without some obvious boneheaded D schemes (eg. during Utah’s final drive), SC wins 42-21. But Sam’s head isn’t in the game until he needs to rescue the team. That’s not good. Very high risk kind of play. On the other hand, the coaches continue to force some idiotic play calling. Calls that could have (and should have) literally LOST the game (e.g. during Utah’s final drive). If these issues aren’t fixed THIS WEEK, “the luck of the trojans” disappears.

      • Biggie single handily extended that drive 2X. The worst isn’t even is consisten PI calls it is his lack of tacking. He had a WR dead to rights with the sideline for help that would have forced a 4th and long and he completely whiffs on the tackle. It wasn’t the scheme it was him not making a basic play.

        • Jack-Jack has improved…Biggie has regressed. After Biggie’s Freshman year, I had thoughts of a potential All American down the road. IMO, with his skill set. I find him having more success as a F

          • I thought he was lousy his freshman year (at least compared to the hype). I agree that he continues to regress

          • Might I add that having a corner who’s going backwards from “lousy” is not the ideal situation going forward. Time to try somebody else back there.

          • My same thoughts during the Utah game. Starting rotating him with someone hungry for playing time.

            On a side note, we need a new punt returner, I also said it a few weeks ago. Watching Adore return punts had us spoiled

          • I’ve been hoping that Clay has a Secret Plan to put Ware back there when we get to South Bend —-as kind of a surprise. Ware has good hands and nice moves.
            The quick, cheap touchdowns we got last year from Adoree are gonna have to be made up in long, sustained drives. Hope Sam’s head is in the game earlier than it was against Utah. I hate to see him keep creating bad situations for himself before he goes from Kent to Superman.

          • At South Bend, in the past, we have had problems getting the plays off due to crowd noise. Let’s start fast, score early and often. This will help take some of the air out of the crowd.

            In big rivalry games momentum shifts can be disastrous.

          • Gabby —-the 2017 Trojans LIVE off momentum shifts. They’re drama queens. They’ll be able to handle any weird crap that comes up —-they LIKE it.
            [Notre Dame has the name value —but they’re not any better team than Texas, Stanford or Utah —-I hope we treat ’em that way].

          • We’ll be fine if we take every ounce of Trojan anxiety, put it in a box, tie it with a pink ribbon and drop it off on the front lawn of UCLA.

          • I’ve never thought Grabby was strong or had a terrific skill set. He lacks talent, whiffs a lot and is easy to pick on. I hope he declares for the NFL so we can give someone else a shot.

            But you’re so right about JackJack. He’s become a real player and is truly a big effort guy who makes plays. Dude comes to play and is much quicker and instinctive than Grabby.

          • Iman HAS developed, Jack! In fact, he’s seemingly developed a whole new philosophy for the position: “I’m not gonna even try to knock balls down —I’m not gonna even try to find the ball —I’m just gonna wait til the right moment and, then, interfere with the receiver. It’s better than nothing.”

          • I always think of that overproduced and ridiculous HS signing video he put out. I hate bagging on a Trojan but watching him play is like picking a scab: nothing gets better.

          • You’re 100% right. Where is the coaching staff with this guy? Not only does he not improve, he makes the exact same mistakes every Saturday.

      • Admittedly this is all guesswork, but here’s how it looks to me. Sam is in a weird Catch 22. He starts games with a bad case of nerves. You can see it in his eyes and the way he’s licking his lips on the sideline. This leads to mistakes and the team gets into trouble as a result. But, once Sam has created a bad enough situation for himself, he stops overthinking and starts playing on instinct—-and he’s pretty much unstoppable.

        • He never got nervous last year. Never. That was part of his charm and persona. Just give me the damn ball was always written all over him.

          But this year’s team just isn’t as strong and Darnold came in as the big Heisman guy who was gonna go #1. That takes a toll. Too many distractions, hype and expectations.

          We also really miss Adoree, JuJu and Stevie T. Especially Adoree. We have lots of injuries and can’t return any punts. That takes away a lot of our explosive ability to put up points. Adoree’s a double loss as our best CB and our all-time best USC punt/kick returner.

          I just hope we somehow found an OL combination that can block! They go missing half the time or more but at least showed up against STAN and the last half of UTAH.

          Without our OL playing well, Darnold can’t and won’t get it done on his own.

          • You’re right. This one, in so many ways, is on the o-line. Sustained drives, time for Sam to get off some long throws, wearing Notre Dame down —-it’s all starts with the o-line. (Wish Time: It would be nice if Marv Goux could come back on Friday night and give his Big Man on Big Man speech to BOTH sides of our line. I don’t think we have anybody right now who takes his place —even Coach “O” couldn’t).

  8. And again left someone totally uncovered on the 2-point conversion.

    That one is on Jack-Jack.

  9. Reign of Troy has some very good articles (as opposed to Wolf’s usually short blog posts), though very few people comment there. Rick McMahan was posting in Spring, but is MIA again (Hope he is OK!)

    Conquest Chronicles has a good in-game thread, but only a few posters. CC often posts articles from East-coasters who offer such brilliance as “Jack-Jack seeing time on the OL.”

    Bleacher Report was iffy since Rick left and is horrible now that their comments are 100% Facebook. The also don’t know that USC isn’t an SEC team, posting Gamecock updates regularly. Some idiot up north (Joe Pelanka, Penkala or something like that) listed USC as an all-time scumbag team citing that we took at time-out at the end of a game with a 2-TD lead, just so we could throw a bomb for a TD against UClowns. (We all know the Ruins called the TO, begging for more great Trojan football!) When called on it, he refused to change it. That B/R. Total garbage.

    Even without the exclusively anti-Wolf comments, this is the most active free USC Football site I know of.

    • Good point. The other blogs are objective. Wolf is uber negative and hates this staff. The ucla people must love him…

      • I am not among those who think Wolf is “uber negative.” He is more negative than I am, but I think he’s more right than most posters here will admit.

        I can lay out a fact-based, referenced list of errors and opine that those issues are coachable — whether coaches coach players or someone slaps Tee and Helton and says “Wake UP!”

        I’ve done it many times and been attacked most of those times.

        Some people are happy with “win is a win.” People like me believe that baiting the tiger will get you BIT.

        Say that Clemson and USC win out, playing the same quality of ball they have been, Clemson playing well against good teams and slaughtering the weak vs USC stumbling through at least one full half and eeking out a win. If it comes down to USC or Clemson being the #4 playoff team, Clemson wins in a landslide.

        • Good (but unpopular) insights, hoohoolian. Putting aside an obvious side story (i.e., Scott grows bored with each coaching staff pretty quickly and, for his own entertainment, would like to see a new one to torture every third year), it is undeniable that Scott IS on to something (even if he tends to over-do it). His criticism of certain position coaches is a case in point. Clearly, Clay believes in putting together a staff that feels comfortable with one another. And I think he’s succeeded —there doesn’t seem to be any back biting (except what Scott impishly creates out of thin air). The problem is that, except for d-line and running backs, USC doesn’t boast the kind of coaching that makes incoming players feel comfortable. Kids want to be coached up for the NFL. They’re not primarily interested in a close knit coaching staff (although they should be). In sum, eventually what works for Clay is not going to work for recruits.

          • Interesting expansion.

            I don’t have a problem with Helton being the nice guy coach. (Remember Frank Kush? LOL!) Chemistry among the coaches is good. I am still bothered that the players seem to lack motivation. I have ranted about that since the 2015 Colorado game (The game after players announced support for helton to be hired as HC, then went out and played like they wanted him terminated immediately. Cade Apsey. I’ll never forget that name from that game.)

            I think it would be crazy to have 3 coaches calling plays, though. Helton’s non-denial is troubling.

            Winning, graduating players and putting kids into the NFL are the big priorities. We need to have more like Palmer, Boselli, Munoz, etc. and fewer like Marinovich or Mama; Being a first round insta-bust is certainly worse than being a Sanchez, but Mama and Grimbal are also mistakes that I would consider negatives if I were a recruit.

          • How would you feel if you were a recruit and you took a long, hard look at the development of Iman Marshall? NO NFL team is going to rise to that bait. And —unless Sam turns it around starting this Saturday —-he would have gotten bigger $$$ if he’d been able to leave BEFORE the extra year of “coaching.”
            Clay has done many things right —but he has to start demanding more from (or replacing) most of his position coaches.

          • I can’t disagree. Iman may have incredible talent, but he has failed to develop the discipline to be reliable as an elite CB. Coaching.

            Not having Bigelow, Daniels, Tui and Osa have hurt us defensively, but hard to blame coaches for injuries to Bigs and Tui or Osa’s character. Houston is still a non-factor and nothing from Murphy and Wole, too.

            I thought Browne’s failure was a coaching issue, 100%. Plenty of chances for him to prepare by leading a few scoring drives, but Helton never pushed him (and many people attacked me for this stance: “running up the score is not classy!”).

            Was Darnold such a surprise that they just let him “do his thing” in 2016 and then coaches got too smart and tried to hone him into super weapon, but then sharpened the wrong end of the sword?

          • The wording of that last paragraph is really smart, hoohoolian. The Achilles Heal of good—but not great —coaches is the attempt to over-rely on a talented—but not superstar –quarterback. One of the things I’ve seen happen to good—but not great— college quarterbacks coached by good—but not great– college quarterback coaches is their being asked to be more than they can EVER be —-thereby turning them from assets into liabilities.

  10. How about mentioning that the second half of that game was probably the best SC has played all year? The coaches made proper adjustments and the 3 long drives were lovely, especially with SC losing the field position battle. The defense played better too. Clearly this writer has a hard on for the coaching staff, so don’t take the grades at face. Heavy bias…

  11. I’m not signing this report card until I’ve had a conference with the teacher…..and I’m not waiting for Open House.

  12. Wasn’t he (the qb) last years starter who won 9 games and beat us last year? Hmmm, something stinky around here.

  13. Sam may be the reason we are 6-1, but he’s also the reason the games have been close.

    I also find it very interesting how when we play back-ups they are supposed to play like starters, but when the other team plays back-ups we should kill them because they’re only backups.

  14. QB—Sam has lost some confidence. He’s gradually getting it back.
    O-Line…….There’s talent there. But there are 2 freshmen and a soph playing. They will get better.
    D-Line….They are missing Gustin. But, in all fairness to Wolf, I do wonder what is the deal with Betiku. He was described as a cyborg when he came to SC. His physical talent was supposed to be off the charts. So far, that talent has not materialized on the field in real games. I expected more of him by now. Next year he’ll be a junior and assuming Gustin comes back, the 2 outside guys will be Gustin and Rector. So he’ll still be sitting on the bench. I know he hasn’t played much football in his past but I didn’t think it would take him until his senior year to get a chance to start.
    D-backs…..They haven’t recruited well on cornerbacks and there has been a lot of them from Cali(and from right here in socal) out there but those players have gone elsewhere.
    Coaching…….I’ve said many times that CH is not the one that I would have hired. But they didn’t ask me and hired him anyway. But now that he is here, I’d stick with him. As I have said before, these aren’t the keystone cops who are taking the field each week. They have won 15 out of their last 16 games. Remember, this is not a coach who has 25 years experience as a HC. This is only his 2nd year. He’s learning on the job. Who knows what kind of a coach he will turn out to be. He might become another Johnny McKay. We just don’t know. I’d give him a chance.

    • This whole post is so damn well reasoned that it gives me a knot in my stomach.

      • It’s just one mans opinion. Not everyone will agree with it but we can all agree to disagree agreeably.

  15. Totally true. I come here to read fellow USC posters, give some input and to ridicule moronic Trolls (where are you pota*rds?).

    SW is so far off base that he’s truly laughable much of the time. He’s always been substandard IMO. This is nothing new. Just part of his gig and this blog’s limitations.

  16. One of the topics on NFL live today was, The Falcons will never learn to (Run the ball) … Lmao!! And guess what Bozo is the offensive coordinator there ? That’s right.. Steve Sarkisian, who didn’t get it at USC, and he doesn’t get it, now.

  17. We are being out coached every week. Are we the only people that see it? Its a joke!! Three coaches calling plays? Who’s on first? Three blind mice! It feels like the team is really soft. Not physical!! This starts at practice. Need more contact at practice. This keeps injuries at a minimum. Strength and conditioning is key!!

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