LOS ANGELES — USC performed below expectations against Western Michigan, but there was a silver lining heading into Saturday’s Stanford game.
The seventh-ranked Trojans have a relatively easy fix-it list before facing the 14th-ranked Cardinal. So here is a list of things to correct against Stanford:
1. Do not get a delay of game on a kickoff. This is such an outlandish penalty it should never happen again. Special teams coach John Baxter said Wednesday the officials started the play clock early. “I think the crew would rethink it,” he said. So should USC.
2. Don’t have 10 men on the field for an extra point. So USC is ahead 28-21, gives up a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and then has 10 men on the field for the extra point. At least that is better than last season when the Trojans had eight men on the field for at least two extra points against Stanford.
3. Don’t kick to the star return specialist. Again, USC was ahead, 28-21. Western Michigan kick returner Darius Phillips entered the game with three kick returns for touchdowns and two of 100 yards. So what does USC do at a key moment in the game? It kicks down the middle to Phillips, who promptly returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.
Did we mention USC probably practices special teams more than any program in the nation?
4. Remember nose tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu graduated. The Rose Bowl defensive most valuable player is no longer on defense but USC insisted on playing a nickel defense with JC transfer Josh Fatu and true freshman Marlon Tuipulotu at nose tackle. That put too much pressure on the duo.
Western Michigan ran the ball first and exposed the formation’s weak spots. Why the nickel? There is no way the Trojans will face Stanford’s rugged offensive line and running game with the same defensive formation.
5. Substitute more often. Cornerback Jack Jones was in for 97 plays at cornerback and special teams. Remember, the Coliseum temperature gauge soared above 105 degrees. “He never seems to get tired,” USC coach Clay Helton said. What the iron-man effort demonstrated is how reluctant the Trojans are to use their reserve cornerbacks. That needs to change or some of the defense might wilt.
6. Coach up the linebackers. It was the first start for sophomore linebacker John Houston, who was caught out of place on some running plays, when he was watching instead of plugging gaps. That’s OK in Week 1. It could be disastrous in Week 2.
7. If the run works, stick…