LOS ANGELES — USC has won a lot of games this season, but it lacks a signature victory. That makes the Cotton Bowl matchup with fifth-ranked Ohio State the game of the season.
The Trojans did not fare too well in their other marquee matchup against Notre Dame, a 49-14 loss. So here are 10 things they must fix to defeat the Buckeyes.
1. What is everyone celebrating? Was it just a myth that past USC players used to score touchdowns and simply flip the ball to the referee? This USC team does not just celebrate touchdowns, however. It celebrates when it does nothing at all.
In the Pac-12 title game, Stanford threw an incomplete backward pass. That is a fumble. But USC cornerback Ajene Harris was too busy celebrating the incomplete pass to go get the ball.
Then there was the play when Stanford tailback Bryce Love fumbled. The Cardinal recovered because a group of USC players was preoccupied celebrating the tackle.
2. Finish plays: One of the problems for USC this season is its inability to finish. It is most noticeable on the offensive line, where you frequently see a failure to complete an assignment. But now this habit is more pervasive on defense, where you see celebrations take precedent.
You know why this is important for the Cotton Bowl? Because Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is the Buckeyes’ second-leading rusher. He is not going to stop on a play until he hears a whistle, no matter how many opponents are celebrating a tackle.
3. Protect the cornerbacks: Did you see Jack Jones was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press? Nevertheless, there need to be some changes made by defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who never seems to consider mixing his coverages.
He does not need to always have certain cornerbacks cover the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver. Sometimes, you switch which receiver the cornerbacks cover just to boost your secondary’s confidence.
It also might help to play some zone coverages. Instead, Pendergast leaves his…