Perplexing offense still holding USC back 

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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LOS ANGELES -- It shouldn’t be this difficult.

When you have a defense playing as well as USC’s is this season, it shouldn’t be losing to Washington State and having to struggle to a hang-onto-your-fingernails victory over Utah State, both at home, no less.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC quarterback Cody Kessler could have a big day against Cal's porous pass defense.
The Trojans might have the most deceiving 3-1 record in college football at the moment, considering they haven’t played a quality opponent on the road yet and two of their three victories have come against marshmallow soft Hawaii and Boston College.

What their most recent 17-14 escape proved is that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s almost unbelievably-revived defense is good enough to keep USC in every football game the rest of the way.

But will it matter if the offense can’t shake off the cobwebs that seem to have completely engulfed it?

The screams for coach Lane Kiffin’s job calmed down a bit after a semi-soothing win over BC, but they were back at full roar late Saturday. The reaction is understandable, since it is Kiffin who remains in charge of the sluggish offense, not to mention the play-calling that remains as puzzling as ever.

The undercurrent of dissatisfaction has actually reached out even dangerously deeper than to just the fan base. The Trojans’ list of early 2014 commitments is lagging far behind past seasons, with hardly any four- or five-star kids on the list.

Kiffin might still be able to turn that momentum around, of course, if he can find some way to juice up an offense that could never find its rhythm against Utah State. Tre Madden ran decently enough at tailback, but the running game was never complemented by play-action passes.

At least the Trojans throw downfield occasionally now, but almost always to Marqise Lee exclusively, which would be fine if it was the old, Biletnikoff Award-winning Marqise. The problem is, he hasn’t shown up yet this season.

The scary part is Utah State spent most of the game single-covering Lee and Nelson Agholor, and Kiffin still couldn’t figure out a way to let Cody Kessler take advantage of it. Some of it has to do with an offensive line that simply isn’t up to USC standards. But then, what do you expect from a kid like left tackle Chad Wheeler, who hadn’t played a down of college football until four weeks ago?

It’s too bad, because with just some normal offensive help, Pendergast’s defense would be getting the national recognition it so richly deserves.

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