For many, it’s hard to see Saturday’s thrashing as anything other than a deflating punch to the gut for the Trojans.
The great 3-0 start, a bunch of young talent proving its worth early on and a group of veteran leaders showing that it is ready to take the reins — it all seemed irrelevant once USC’s game against the Sun Devils hit the books.
It’s not that a defeat this season was unexpected; rather, it’s the manner in which the Trojans went about being force-fed a tally in the loss column.
From the opening drive, Arizona State kept a stranglehold on the game’s momentum and rhythm, using a combination of shifty running and stifling defense to jump to a sizable lead.
Even when the Trojans got back on track in the third quarter, the Sun Devils stayed focused and stuck to their guns, effectively snuffing out any chance of a comeback.
The nightmares of 2010 were reimagined for USC, as the defensive play was only rivaled in ineffectiveness by junior quarterback Matt Barkley’s poor decision-making and careless passes.
By the end of the game, it was clear the young Trojans weren’t fully prepared to take their at-home success on the road.
But I am a firm believer that most losses can offer some sort of silver lining, and while the defeat certainly isn’t a “moral victory” or anything of the sort, it’s not impossible to see that routs like this might help USC in the one area it needs significant work — growing up.
The environment at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., was by no means friendly, and USC bore the brunt of some unfortunate — and downright odd — circumstances.
A 70-yard touchdown scamper by Arizona State junior running back Cameron Marshall on the fourth play of the game — made possible by some shoddy tackling on USC’s behalf — got the home crowd roaring, and put the Trojans in the worst position possible for their first road test. The team was down 7-0 headed into its opening possession.
After the impressive display of celebratory fireworks settled, a massive dust storm complete with rain and a hail of maroon pom-poms tore through the stadium just as USC started on offense.
The conditions were not only unexpected, but incredibly difficult to play in; combined with the lack of momentum, a loud crowd and an early deficit, it seemed there wasn’t much more that could go wrong for USC.
It was a trial by fire and the Trojans got burned.
It’s been said a thousand times that this isn’t the same team as last decade.
The new Trojans are good, but they are battling inexperience holding them back in every area of their game.
Though a road test — and the atmosphere that comes with it — wouldn’t have been an excuse for the old Trojans to falter, it is unreasonable to expect the same of the current team, which is one of the youngest squads in the Pac-12.
By no means can the loss be blamed on the external conditions of the game.
But to have gone through the ringer early on and still be able to come out of halftime with enough juice left in the tank to take the lead was an experience that will benefit the Trojans going forward.
The quality of USC’s play will ultimately determine its record at season’s end, but having the wherewithal to ignore other factors that can rattle a squad will improve the team’s chances of playing to its potential. Saturday’s game highlighted some gaping flaws in the USC game plan.
But it also provided an opportunity for the team to gain some experience in an incredibly difficult scenario, which is highly valuable considering it currently has very little experience.
USC can compete with any team in the Pac-12 if it plays to its strengths.
Doing that at home is a challenge, but it’s entirely different to do it on the road.
Though there is no doubt that Oregon, Notre Dame and California will come close to matching the hostility the Trojans dealt with in Tempe, Ariz., USC now has a stepping stone to use to take its game to the next level.
For now at least, after its nightmare in Tempe, Ariz., that’s all the Trojans can hope for.
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