USC escapes despite coaching miscues – Daily News


LOS ANGELES >> There are times you can argue a mannequin standing on a sideline would do less damage than a coach. Especially at USC.

It’s the best possible answer to explain how an elite Trojans team could be pushed to the limit by a Texas team forced to start a true freshman backup quarterback Saturday at the Coliseum.

There were several glaring decisions that explained why the Trojans were hamstrung by their staff and needed some good fortune to escape with a 27-24 double-overtime victory.

USC made an inexplicable substitution on the first series of the game. The Trojans faced a third-and-1 situation at the Texas 34-yard line. The coaches inserted the third-string tailback, Vavae Malepeai, into the game and he lost 3 yards. This is a team that some believe have the best 1-2 punch in the country at tailback. And USC used the the third-string back.

What possible reason could justify this? It reeked of trying to be cute or “innovative.” Instead, it backfired as the Trojans turned the ball over on downs to start the game.

That gave momentum to a Texas team using its backup quarterback, true freshman Sam Ehlinger.

The mannequin was needed again with 30 seconds left in the half. USC led 7-0 and just got the ball at its 23. The smart move would be to run the ball and go straight to the locker room.

But USC tried to pass instead. Wide receiver Jalen Greene let the ball slip through his fingers and it was intercepted by DeShon Elliott, who went 38 yards for a touchdown.

If you do not blame the coaches because Greene let the ball slip through his fingers, then they should play someone else.

Once again, hubris took precedent over logic. Fortunately for USC, it got the touchdown back on a crazy catch-and-run by tailback Ronald Jones, who went 56 yards for a touchdown on the final play. As usual, pure talent bailed out the Trojans.

But even with that exhilarating play, it just got USC back to where it started before forcing a pass with 30 seconds left.

Perhaps it is a good thing the Trojans are playing like this in September. But what happens when the other team is also playing its A game? And doesn’t have a true freshman at quarterback.

The Trojans didn’t play like the No. 4 team in the nation but it doesn’t help when you make strange decisions on the sideline.

Texas coach Tom Herman was doing whatever he could to make something happen, including a fake punt that worked but came back on a penalty. USC often seems like it is better at hindering itself despite its blue-chip players.

The special teams look as sloppy against Texas as it did two weeks ago against Western Michigan. Predictably, the Trojans’ first field goal of the season , a 46-yarder by Chase McGrath was wide left.

Last week, a publication named USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin its coordinator of the week. But in the fourth quarter, USC had wide receiver Tyler Vaughns run a 3-yard route on third-and-5. He caught the pass but was short of a first down.

A pattern of consistency for USC is that it is too talented for whoever it plays. It’s always up to Darnold’s heroics, as he led the Trojans to a last-second field goal Saturday night to force overtime. But why was USC losing, 17-14, in the first place?

However, the Trojans do not resemble the No. 4-ranked team right now. Will they get better? Because the coaches seem unable to develop a young receiver, maybe that question cannot be answered at the moment.

But it needs to be or the season might end in disappointment. Remember, the bar is higher because USC is supposed to go to the College Football Playoff.

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