Week 6 LA CFB Recap: Only One Show in Town

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UCLA was on a bye, so the Trojans were the only LA team playing college football last weekend. USC cruised to a 38-10 win over Oregon State, but I wouldn’t blame you if you skipped out entirely on Saturday in favor of watching the Dodgers’ pennant chase.

The 28-point victory was USC’s largest winning margin this season, but it arguably came in the team’s worst performance so far this fall. Oregon State is bad, folks: The team ranks near the bottom of the FBS in numerous categories on either side of the ball, and now-former head coach Gary Andersen was axed on Monday. But the Trojans did their best to gift the Beavers a legitimate upset attempt anyway, remaining offensively inconsistent and turning the ball over deep in their own territory.

As staunch a Sam Darnold defender as I have been throughout this season, the problem does start with the Trojan quarterback: Darnold threw another bad pick on Saturday, and before that, he inexplicably fumbled the ball with no contact while dropping back to pass. Darnold’s overall stats looked fine against a cupcake opponent (23 for 35, 316 yards, three touchdowns, and one pick), but his total QBR (67.0) was lower than the mark he put up at No. 4 Washington last year (77.7). Turning the ball over twice (nearly more) against a team as unimposing as Oregon State is a legitimate concern—if the stumble at Washington State hadn’t set off alarm bells already. It’s clear that Darnold isn’t anywhere near his 2016 Heisman level right now, whether it’s due to a lack of confidence or because he was over-hyped.

It doesn’t help that no receiver has stepped up to complement Deontay Burnett in USC’s aerial attack. For now, it looks like the Trojans have settled into a top three of Burnett, Steven Mitchell Jr., and Tyler Vaughns. With the exception of Darnold’s top option, however, no other wideout feels like a reliable target just yet. Combine this issue with a patchwork offensive line that has been ravaged by injury, and USC could very well have trouble moving the ball through air for the rest of the season. Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr make for a strong one-two punch in the backfield, but this wasn’t supposed to be a Trojan team built on the run. If Darnold can’t raise this passing offense to a consistent level, you wouldn’t expect USC to make it very far.

As always, the pieces are there: The jury may still be out on Darnold long-term, but we know what he’s capable of producing at the college level. The Trojans have multiple other big-play threats on offense, from Burnett to the combination of Jones and Carr. And Clancy Pendergast’s unit is among the biggest playmaking defenses in the country (ranked fifth in the FBS with 15 forced turnovers). It’s just a matter of putting those pieces together—but as we’ve seen in the past, that’s no easy feat for USC. Clay Helton and company return to primetime this weekend when they host Utah at the Coliseum. Let’s see if they can finally convert some doubters on Saturday.

Meanwhile, UCLA will return to action with a road trip to Arizona—who is coming off a 45-42 shootout win at Colorado. The Bruins can set up a Pac-12 South title clash at the Coliseum if they win out until the final week of the season (provided USC wins out as well), but just one more loss probably sinks the season entirely. The Wildcats are still technically in the conference chase as well, so don’t expect them to roll over at home. Josh Rosen will likely be throwing plenty (as usual), as the race heats up between him and Darnold to see who will play in New York Giants blue next fall.

Enjoy the weekend!

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