Well, here we are, at the end of the fourth week of college football, and it's been an interesting ride to say the least. We've seen a few upsets so far, the most notable being Texas, coming 22 points short of UCLA this past Saturday.
Luckily, the Men of Troy have yet to be the focal point of any criticism, as they remain unbeaten through the month of September. There were people, myself included, who expected the Trojans to be the doormat of the Pac-10 because they had nothing to play for, such as a postseason. So far, they have shown they're determined not to let a lack of any postseason slow them down or dampen their spirits.
This is the beginning of something new I want to do, looking back at the Trojans' monthly schedule and seeing what went wrong and where.
So, I begin with the 49-36 win over Hawaii on Sept. 2.
USC's offense was terrific that game, as the Trojans collected 524 yards of total offense, including 246 yards on the ground. Sophomore QB Matt Barkley looked like a Heisman hopeful, completing 18-of-23 passes for 257 yards, five TDs, and no INTs. Yeah, I said five TDs and no INTs. The kid was amazing.
There were a few low points of the win, and one of them was the number 588. The USC defense gave up 588 total yards of offense to Hawaii, and they had a ton of issues tackling. Another low point was USC's penalties. The Trojans had 11 penalties for 100 yards, compared to Hawaii's five penalties for 42 yards.
The lack of defense looked like it would be the weak spot in the Trojans armor all season, until the matchup against the Virginia Cavaliers.
In the narrow 17-14 Trojan win, it appeared as though the defense had begun to solve its problems, and the offense lost its identity from a week before.
USC's offense produced a mere 329 yards of total offense, a far cry from the 524 yards against Hawaii. Barkley had a good game, completing 20-of-35 passes for 202 yards, two TDs, and with no INTs. But the ground game struggled immensely, gaining only 127 rushing yards.
Despite the offense's struggles, the defense improved slightly, giving up 340 yards of total offense, with only 190 passing yards and 150 rushing yards. USC's defense only allowed the Cavaliers to convert four out of 15 third-down attempts, but also gave up two out of three fourth-down attempts.
One area that got exponentially worse for the Trojans was penalties. USC gave up 140 yards on 13 penalties to Virginia. Even though USC got the W, they still had a lot of holes to fill as a team.
On to the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Sept. 18. USC ended up winning that game 32-21, but it was hard to see any real improvement for the Trojans on either side of the ball.
USC's offense gained 408 total yards, with an astounding 216 of those yards coming on the ground. Barkley struggled a bit, completing 17-of-26 passes for 192 yards, two TDs, and two INTs.
The defense struggled a bit too, giving up 224 passing yards, but only allowing 83 rushing yards, and forcing two INTs.
Easily the biggest improvement for USC from the previous weeks was the yards given up by penalties. USC improved greatly, giving up 71 yards on seven penalties. While 71 yards is still way too much, it's a huge improvement from the 140 yards against Virginia.
And finally on to Lane Kiffin's "closest we have played to a complete game" matchup; the 50-13 spanking the Trojans laid on the Washington St. Cougars this past Saturday.
The Trojans gained a whopping 613 total yards of offense, including 328 yards through the air and 285 on the ground. The only downside of Saturday's performance was the three turnovers the Trojans committed, two of which came from Barkley.
The defense stuffed the run, only giving up 67 yards, but the pass defense still resembles Swiss cheese as the Trojans gave up 256 yards through the air.
Easily the biggest accomplishment of the game was the penalties. USC only had five penalties for 39 yards, which is pretty good, considering their previous numbers.
Kiffin's right; this is the closest his team has played to a perfect game all season, but it was against Washington St. Still, progress has to begin somewhere, and you got to start at the bottom.
Overall, September was a good month for the Men of Troy. There were some weaknesses that showed up early, and still haven't been totally fixed, but the team is definitely headed in the right direction. September was extremely easy considering October's schedule, with three huge tests coming in games against Washington, Stanford, and Oregon.
With the mountain looming ever closer, these games were stepping-stones for the Trojans, and they showed a lot of potential. However, October's tests will really show what kind of team USC is.