Fortuna Files: What's going on with USC?
Was the Trojans' big loss at Notre Dame a blip on the radar or a sign of things to come with a backloaded schedule? Plus, we look ahead to a Big Ten showdown and more entering a sneaky-good Week 8.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — “California Love” blasted over the Notre Dame Stadium speakers as Lincoln Riley safely exited the field, as Caleb Williams fortunately avoided an overly aggressive fan and as USC hurriedly began its way back to its home state.
What awaits these Trojans back West, and across these final five games of the regular season, is really anyone’s guess.
The Trojans’ 48-20 loss to rival Notre Dame was a long time coming. Anyone who watched this previously undefeated program struggle to put away the likes of Arizona State, Colorado and Arizona knew that a bill past due was imminent. Everyone just thought that it would arrive as a result of USC’s struggling defense.
But the defense was actually stellar in limiting the Irish to 251 yards of offense. It turns out, however, that Williams, the defending Heisman Trophy winner, is human like the rest of us, as he had the worst game of his life in throwing three first-half picks and as USC committed five turnovers. With Williams off-kilter, the entire operation collapsed, and it has further sharpened the focus on the Trojans amid a murderer’s row stretch that features five ranked teams across the final six games.
What’s more, Riley can’t seem to keep himself out of the headlines, a mistake entirely of his own doing. From filming a series of summer YouTube interviews that aired in-season and included comments about his exit from Oklahoma, to his misguided banning of a beat reporter, to a story in the L.A. Times last week in which he said the quiet part out loud about life in the NFL vs. college, the second-year USC coach hasn’t exactly followed his distraction-free orders, which will only heighten if Saturday’s game at Notre Dame is a harbinger of things to come.
Is it? In the short-term, USC has to rebound quickly against a one-loss Utah team that, while not quite itself offensively without injured quarterback Cam Rising, has a top-10 defense and, of course, has beaten the Trojans three times across the past two years. After a trip to Cal, USC closes with undefeated Washington, at one-loss Oregon and against rival UCLA. The Trojans, who kicked their season off in Week Zero, have two open dates, but the second open date comes in the last week of the regular season, so it will be useless unless they make the Pac-12 title game.