For eight weeks, the "Ed Orgeron for Head Coach" bandwagon got more and more crowded with each USC win.
On Saturday, that wagon got abandoned, dismantled and all but burned to the ground when USC lost 35-14 to crosstown rivals UCLA, its second straight defeat in the series. It also marked the first time USC lost at home to UCLA in 16 years.
It wasn't just that USC lost—the Bruins had the Trojans' number from the opening snap, getting ample pressure on Cody Kessler and stifling all offensive productivity. When UCLA had the ball, swing passes and screens had the Trojans bamboozled all night, and the mobile threat of quarterback Brett Hundley proved to be USC's kryptonite once again.
For a team that has claimed to be motivated to win for Coach Orgeron, in two of USC's most important games—against its rivals, Notre Dame and UCLA—that motivation was nowhere to be found.
We all know that USC fans are a proud, demanding and fickle bunch. With this crushing loss (prior to Saturday night, UCLA had only beaten USC twice since 1999), can Orgeron still be considered "the guy" for the job with losses to USC's two biggest rivals?
|USC Performance vs. Notre Dame and UCLA|
|vs. Notre Dame||vs. UCLA|
|Yards per rush||4.2||3.9|
Again, it's not that USC lost to its rivals; it's how the Trojans lost. No offensive productivity. No third-down conversions. No push of any kind. Those are not the things USC fans and boosters want to pay to see against teams like Notre Dame and UCLA.
USC is 0-4 against Notre Dame and UCLA in the past two years (and for the first time since the 1992-93 season), and though Lane Kiffin is gone, all the position coaches remained. Despite playing essentially the same team in back-to-back seasons, none of USC's coaches could come up with anything to produce a win.
Even beyond its performances in rivalries, Orgeron's Trojans have been a shadow of their former selves in the second half of games. The Trojans have put up only 78 points in the second half since his midseason promotion, averaging only 9.8 second-half points per game. That's surely not the effort USC fans, boosters or athletic director Pat Haden want from the future of the program.
It was easy to blame Kiffin for USC's struggles, and even easier to praise Orgeron for the success USC had in his wake. But when the dust settles and reality comes into focus, USC just did not show up when it needed to—despite being led by the same coaches save for one—over the past two seasons. The win against Stanford was undoubtedly huge for USC, but losses to Notre Dame and UCLA weigh even more.
USC still has a bowl game to look forward to and a respectable 9-4 record in what has been a remarkably salvaged season for the Trojans. But once it's all over, Haden will have a decision to make about the future of USC football.
And if we are being honest, it begins with cleaning house.