LOS ANGELES — USC could easily be 2-1 or worse with sub-par performances in two of its first three games. So as the Trojans face their first road test of the season at Cal, there are plenty of items on the latest fix-it list.
Here are 10 things USC needs to improve on against Cal:
1. Make some adjustments: Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson had 191 yards receiving against USC. Did the Trojans ever double-team him? Here’s another one: Texas started a true freshman quarterback (Sam Ehlinger) who played much better in the second half after a rough start. When a freshman is getting that comfortable, it’s often because the defense is doing the same thing for four quarters.
2. Don’t repeat mistakes: The past two games USC allowed a 3-yard touchdown pass to the same corner of the end zone. And the receiver was uncovered. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said a safety was the culprit both times. What play do you think Cal will run if it gets to the 3-yard line?
3. Save some timeouts: College football is not the NFL, with the clock stopping on first downs. But wouldn’t it be a good idea to leave Sam Darnold with at least one timeout when he takes USC on one of those last-minute drives?
4. Less celebrating, more playing: It can sometimes be exhausting to watch the defense between plays. Cornerback Jack Jones is often celebrating or talking to an opponent when a play is over. He is hardly the only one. This might not matter if the defense didn’t surrender a late touchdown that nearly allowed Texas to pull off an upset. If you make a nice play, act like you’ve done it before.
5. Less penalties, please: USC averages more than eight penalties per game. That ranks No. 105 in the nation. Do you think there will be less at Cal, where the offensive line will undoubtedly have a false start? It had several false starts against Texas at the Coliseum, which is almost inexcusable. Again, this is a coaching issue.
6. Don’t let special teams off hook: Chase McGrath became a star with two field goals. But that masked some mistakes, like a bounced snap on a punt, a delay of game before another punt and a kickoff that was returned despite being 5 yards deep in the end zone. This remains a work in progress.
7. Don’t be greedy: USC had a 7-0 lead with 30 seconds left in the first half. Instead of just running out the clock and keeping the lead, Darnold threw a tipped pass that Texas returned for a touchdown. Only an extremely unlikely 56-yard…