How should USC and UCLA fans feel about their 3-0 teams?
Los Angeles Times college football writers Ben Bolch, Ryan Kartje, J. Brady McCollough and Thuc Nhi Nguyen discuss what we’ve learned from the Trojans, the Bruins, and the rest of the Pac-12 so far.
What do USC’s and UCLA’s 3-0 starts mean?
Kartje: Contentment isn’t a state USC fans are all that accustomed to, but after three consecutive comfortable victories, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be perfectly pleased by what they’ve seen. Has it been perfect? Of course not. Is the defensive front a concern? Absolutely. But the offense is as advertised, averaging more than 50 points per game, and while USC’s defense has given up a ton of yards, it still has allowed fewer than 20 points per game. The Trojans continue to trend upward and if they can come out of Corvallis with a key road victory, they’ll really be cooking with gas.
As for UCLA, well … I’d imagine there’s a decidedly different sentiment among Bruins fans.
McCollough: Yes, it very much depends on if you’re wearing blue and gold or cardinal and gold. UCLA fans can feel relieved that they didn’t suffer an embarrassing loss to South Alabama, but they also should feel wary of the Washington-Utah-Oregon stretch after another cupcake in Colorado this week. If the Bruins don’t improve quickly, they could be 4-3 before we know it. I know USC fans are elated with the team’s start, and they should be. The Trojans look like contenders for the Pac-12 title and a playoff berth. Wow.
Nguyen: I get why both fan bases are a little nervous. They’ve been hurt before. They’re not ready to trust again. We’ve all been there. If I were a USC fan though, I’d be much happier. If you can’t be happy with that offense, then there are some life priorities to sort out. The defense still warrants questions. For UCLA fans, they’re going to need a little more from the Bruins. Winning with such an easy early schedule was never going to be enough. They had to win in convincing, stylish fashion and that hasn’t been the case.
Bolch: UCLA might be the most angst-riddled 3-0 team in the country given all the blowback about low attendance and spotty play against inferior competition. Here’s the thing: If the Bruins can get to 5-0 by beating Colorado and No. 18 Washington, their bandwagon is going to be overflowing again and at least one set of tarps is going to have to come off at the Rose Bowl for the game against Utah on Oct. 8.
Nguyen: The ruthless efficiency of the offense. We knew they were going to be good — with transfers like that, it was a given — but to be this good, this quick? I didn’t see that happening.
Kartje: The Trojans’ three-headed rushing attack of Travis Dye, Austin Jones and, to a lesser extent, freshman Raleek Brown has far exceeded my expectations. Riley has insisted since his hire that he was committed to the run, and so far those three have delivered in a big way. Dye and Jones each surpassed 100 yards rushing against Fresno State. Brown has been nursing a sore ankle since Week 1, when he was the most explosive player on the field for USC. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a much bigger part of the offense, making that backfield trio even more lethal.
McCollough: I’m most surprised by how excited I am to watch every Saturday (sadly, it seems we’re going to have to keep waiting for the “After Dark” slot a bit longer). We all knew that the offense was going to be improved with Lincoln Riley and the star transfers, but I was pretty underwhelmed by Riley’s last offense at Oklahoma and was curious if he was losing a bit of his pixie dust. Guess not. USC is so fun to watch, and Riley seems fully dialed in as a play caller like he was early on with the Sooners. Sometimes, a change of scenery is all that’s needed.
And what has surprised you the most about UCLA?
Bolch: That maybe new defensive coordinator Bill McGovern really is Jerry Azzinaro 2.0. Despite all the talk about NFL passing concepts and renewed vigor brought to the Bruins’ defense, their showing against South Alabama was a throwback performance, and not in a good way. It stirred nightmarish reminders of excessive cushions surrendered by defensive backs and a failure to adjust quickly enough, in this case to the Jaguars’ screen game. It’s either going to spur needed change or be a harbinger of disappointment later in the season.
McCollough: I would say how much has been put on the shoulders of Dorian Thompson-Robinson to get this team to 3-0 against that schedule. The assumption was that Zach Charbonnet may lead the country in rushing at this point, but instead he hasn’t reached 200 yards and backup Keegan Jones has the same number of carries. Of course Charbonnet’s health has been a factor, but he’s going to need to be the guy we saw last season if UCLA is going to put itself in the Pac-12 title hunt.
Nguyen: In the category of “unwelcome surprises,” I was puzzled by some of the early mechanical errors like not ensuring that the kick returner was wearing the right jersey. With a coach that’s been with the program for five years, you would expect those things to be taken care of, even in a season opener. No wonder fans are not ready to fully believe in this team. They’re still making some old mistakes.
How worried should USC fans be about the run defense?