USC football is 3-0 halfway through the 2020 regular season. The Trojans have just won their most convincing victory, beating Utah 33-17 on Saturday night, never behind after an initial 3-0 deficit.
But even with two steps ahead, there was still the feeling that another was being taken back by a USC team still looking for a full-on performance without reservation that underscores the full promise of this roster.
Even head coach Clay Helton, the team’s greatest cheerleader, seemed less enthusiastic than usual after winning the Utes. Maybe it was just the sheer exhaustion of playing a road race at 8:30 p.m. local time. But while Helton still maintained his signature optimism about the team, he was a little more honest in his assessment of the team.
“We are going to hit all cylinders and I look forward to that soon. And we’re close, ”Helton said after the game. “Defensively, I thought we had taken a big step forward. Offensively, we do the things to win, but we haven’t reached our full potential yet and I’m looking forward to that day. ”
As Helton pointed out, the USC’s defense was very good on Saturday. Five turnovers, three sacks, and Utah to keep 335 yards of total offense. Everyone took part in the action, from Drake Jackson’s interception to Marlon Tuipulotu’s comics bag to Ralen Goforth’s game-closing, fourth-down pass break-up.
“The amount of brutality, you could say,” linebacker Kana’i Mauga replied when asked where he saw improvement in the defense. “We really get to the ball, and we make sure that the defense is cleared as soon as the game starts.”
But for the third game in a row, the USC attack left something to be desired. The Trojans still have zero touchdowns in the third quarter this year and managed just three field goals in the second half on Saturday.
And quarterback Kedon Slovis had two turnovers that cost USC an estimated 14 points. The first was a fumble that picked up Utah and returned for a touchdown. The second was an interception in the red zone in which Slovis thought Erik Krommenhoek would break one direction, but the senior went a different direction.
“Really, I thought it should have been a 31-10 game at half time,” said Helton. “We let them stay in the second half and then we started to separate ourselves, which I am proud of the kids doing.”
After week 1, Helton wanted USC to clean up its sales. The Trojans didn’t give the ball away once, but penalties became a major problem. Against the Utes, USC raised only five flags, but sales resurfaced as the Trojans continued to fight in the red zone and third.
That was the 2020 cycle for USC, and this week the Trojans will not have the advantage of playing against a team that has not competed since last winter as Colorado comes to the Colosseum 2-0.