COLUMN: Trojans put up pathetic showing
It’s only fitting for this year’s Trojan team to have heard boos rain down from the Coliseum in what was once predicted to be a cakewalk. Instead, the most unpredictable squad in recent memory turned in a dismal performance, as they got outplayed in all three phases of the game.USC’s loss to Washington was nothing but disappointing. Coming off a bye week with over 10 days since their blowout win over Arizona State, the well-rested Trojans should have come out sharp and fresh and dominated Steve Sarkisian’s former Huskies team.Contradicting the famous words of former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, the Trojans aren’t the team I thought they were. Quite frankly, they’re the most inconsistent team I’ve had the misfortune of covering.Sarkisian’s team came out slow, rusty and undisciplined — absolutely unacceptable after so much time off to fine tune areas that needed improvement and to get players healthy.It’s a shame that the Trojans can never just make it easy on themselves. Staring down a few ranked opponents in the coming weeks, USC had the opportunity to pick up where they left off against the Sun Devils. The team could have come out, strung together a few scoring drives, forced a few turnovers and taken Washington and their freshman quarterback, playing in his Pac-12 road opener, out of the game.That’s in a perfect world, though — one that USC doesn’t live in.Their redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler set a dim tone early when he threw an uncharacteristic pick on USC’s opening drive of the game. He would go on to throw another one two drives later.It doesn’t help Kessler’s cause, though, that he was sacked on the first play of the game and was later forced to extend one play with his feet by evading pass rushers in the back of his own end zone.Protection and penalties had been two of USC’s greatest issues going into the game and neither of them got any better against the Huskies.Eight penalties for a total of 62 yards allowed sacks that resulted in poor field position for the Trojans throughout the game. A pathetic one-for-13 on third down isn’t going to get it done. To add insult to injury, stalwart center Max Tuerk went down with a knee sprain, leaving a massive void in the heart of the Trojans line.All night, offensive coordinator Clay Helton appeared to be trying to force the issue to Adoree’ Jackson. Normally this wouldn’t be problematic, but the plays were exclusively focused toward the sideline, giving Jackson little room to operate. Where were the drag routes and middle screens that were so effective against Arizona State?The Washington defense had clearly scouted the Trojans, as they were prepared for the bubble screens to the edges of the field and snuffed them out on a regular basis. It’s mystifying why the team was unable to make any adjustments at halftime when this fact was readily apparent to all of the fans in the Coliseum.Not all of the blame can be placed at the feet of the coaching staff. Right from the start, Kessler appeared afraid. His penchant for perfectionism is admirable when things are going well, but the game against Washington was another example of Kessler’s mind getting in the way of his considerable talents. Though he threw downfield infrequently, when he did it looked as if he was forcing throws, aiming the ball instead of letting it flow.The loss couldn’t come at a worse time for the Trojans as they now enter the toughest three-week stretch of the season. This type of effort won’t hold up against the likes of Notre Dame, California or Utah.Maybe the loss will ignite something in this year’s Trojans squad and compel them to play with a passion that was noticeably absent for most of the Washington game.It’s five games into the season and there are more questions than answers in the second year of Sarkisian’s tenure.The next few weeks will demonstrate if Sarkisian can truly coach and lead a team that is once again facing a mountain of adversity going forward. Will he be able to rally his team to live up to preseason expectations or will this be another year in which the Trojans squander their immense potential? Only time will tell.Darian Nourian is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Persian Persuasion,” runs Fridays.