You know that scene in The Godfather: Part III when Michael Corleone returns home after an attempt on his life and he says, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,”?
Yeah, that’s what being a USC fan feels like.
Just when you think all is lost and hope is gone, they dial up a boat race against the Arizona State Sun Devils and remind you that, you know what? Maybe this team has it after all.
Two weeks ago, USC got absolutely shellacked by Notre Dame in South Bend, and for the Trojan faithful, the 49-14 defeat felt like an indicator that the 2017 season was over. And it wasn’t just that USC got thrashed, it was the fact that it felt like this type of loss – where an inept Trojan offense and a stout but hobbled defense finally met their match by superior talent – was just waiting for USC all season.
At that rate, it further felt that it was a foregone conclusion that the Trojans would continue to sputter against Arizona State on the road.
Except, they didn’t. On Saturday night, the Trojans rebounded from that embarrassing loss by steamrolling ASU, winning 48-17. It was one of those performances from the Trojans where they just dominated, with the offense and defense clicking on all cylinders.
The Trojans went 75 yards on nine plays to open scoring in the first quarter, while holding ASU to four yards and a three-and-out on their first drive. Further, quarterback Sam Darnold found his favorite target, wide receiver Deontay Burnett in the end zone for a 32-yard score, recording the first passing touchdown against the Sun Devils defense since September.
Arizona State would respond with a field goal in the first quarter, but beyond that, the Trojans continued to roll – they scored on three of five possessions in the first quarter while rendering ASU scoreless after the field goal, then added a touchdown and another field goal before closing out the second half. Even a fumble from Darnold – his seventh on the season, UGH! – wasn’t enough to shake USC from its groove.
And a “successful” Hail Mary attempt from the Sun Devils – which was categorically absurd, by the way – that changed the halftime score from 31-10 to 31-17 didn’t even faze the Trojans in this game. They just kept their foot on the gas, forcing ASU to concede defeat. This is the same Arizona State defense that also held Washington to seven points and Utah to 10. So it’s not like this was some scrub defensive team.
But this week, USC didn’t beat itself. The offense didn’t sputter and the defense didn’t have to overcompensate to bail them out.
It was glorious. It was a relief. But most importantly, it was just fun.
Through the previous eight weeks of the season, “fun” is not how Trojan fans would describe the experience of watching this team flourish and flounder each week. Against ASU, though? There’s no better word to use. For once, they didn’t seem uptight and they didn’t play as if they were overthinking; they just balled out.
According to Joey Kaufman with the Orange County Register, this return to fun started in the week leading up to the tilt with ASU.
Per Kaufman’s report, the Trojans started playing music at practice last week for the first time this season, which helped to lighten the mood from the all-business tone of previous weeks. Further, Kaufman explains that before they took the field, the players watched highlights of former Trojan legends – Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and Clay Matthews, among others.
While these changes seem small and innocuous, they appear to have had a strong impact on the mindset of the players. Particularly when you consider that the embarrassing defeat at the hands of Notre Dame effectively killed the Trojans’ shot at the playoffs.
With that lofty – and probably unrealistic, given no bye week – expectation behind them, the Trojans can turn their attention to a more achievable goal: competing in the Pac-12 Championship.
Standing in Trojans’ way of that are the Arizona Wildcats, and more specifically, their video-game level quarterback, Khalil Tate.
Seriously, Tate doesn’t even make any sense:
3X Pac-12 POTW
1,583 yards of offense
4-straight 100-yard rush games
Khalil Tate is Mr. October.
— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) October 30, 2017
The kid has rushed for 100-plus yards FOUR TIMES IN A ROW in the month of October. As a quarterback!
— Stephen Nelson (@Stephen__Nelson) October 29, 2017
He’s just playing out of his mind, and he can without a doubt give the Trojan defense fits when he and the Wildcats enter the Coliseum on Saturday night.
But with a great rebound win over Arizona State, the Trojans can enter their tilt with Arizona feeling confident and as unstoppable as they have shown they can be. They can take control of their destiny, as a win over the Wildcats all but guarantees the Trojans a shot at a Pac-12 title.
Taking their queues from Cyndi Lauper, this Trojan team now just wants to have fun. With that back in the mix, we just might be poised to see great things from USC after all.