Trust the Mystery of USC Football

Swanson: Lincoln Riley, USC building trust – and winning while they do

The new-look Trojans’ chemistry is still a work in progress, which begs the question: How good can they be when they’re really in sync?

Mirjam Swanson (OC Register —  LOS ANGELES — Football, if you think about it, is a trust exercise. A bunch of big, strong parts that better be in sync for things to fall into place on the field successfully and safely.

Usually, you have to build trust, but you can have earned it too. And with a reputation like Lincoln Riley’s, it’s obvious why 26 talented transfers trusted their careers to USC’s new coach.

Riley churned out Heisman Trophy winners and College Football Playoff berths in his five-year run at Oklahoma. His Sooners went 55-10 before he turned a destination gig into a stepping stone for a job in sunny Southern California, reanimating a program that had cycled through five coaches in the 12 years since Pete Carroll headed back to the NFL.

Who wouldn’t want to hitch their horse to a star like Riley, a brilliant 39-year-old whose hire was praised in every corner of the college football universe (except Norman, Oklahoma)?

And now that Riley has arrived and gotten to work, he’s living up to his billing: “That guy has a wealth of knowledge for his age, it’s beyond incredible,” senior offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees said. “His wisdom out here on the football field is just surreal, so we just bind to that and what he brings to the table.”

Still, despite the hype and positive early returns, Riley doesn’t think his players are believing enough in what they’re doing.

Never mind that USC’s new-look offense is averaging 8.62 yards per play – best in the nation. Or that the Trojans are totaling 521.5 yards per game, better than all but 11 other teams in the country (and exactly as many as Fresno State, Saturday’s opponent). Doubt keeps creeping around.

Aren’t the Trojans – who finished 4-8 last season – now No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll, their highest ranking since 2017? Yes, but still the coach senses some skepticism.

Natural skepticism. And less of it than he expected in the early going.

“The buy-in has been what I hoped it would be and probably, up to this point, I would be lying if (I said) it hadn’t maybe exceeded my expectations a little bit,” Riley said Thursday during a video conference with reporters.

He said he’s more proud of that than anything so far.

And he seems to think the trust-building still to come, the chemistry and confidence that they’re trying to hurry along, will prove as crucial as talent or scheme.

“When our guys trust what we’re doing and we don’t make mental errors, we do some pretty good things,” Riley said, thinking perhaps of the crisply executed screen pass that had Jordan Addison darting 22 yards through a field full of blockers for USC’s second touchdown last Saturday.

“And when we don’t,” Riley countered, “we don’t.”

They didn’t trust it in the second half at Stanford, to hear the Trojans tell it. After taking a 35-14 lead into halftime, they managed just two field goals.

“We kind of stalled,” quarterback Caleb Williams sighed Wednesday. “And it wasn’t because necessarily of anything the defense was doing … just (not) trusting what the coach is calling, trusting your checks, trusting your blocking keys that we practiced throughout the whole week.

“And so this whole week, we’ve been preaching trust: Trust it, trust what we’re all working toward.”

Williams is more in tune with Riley than his teammates, having followed his coach from Oklahoma. Still, the quarterback described their bond as one that “has been building,” and Riley noted that even with Williams, even after “all the reps we’ve had together, it’s not 100%.” After all, “it’s hard to get to that point.”

That’s where the audacity of this exercise comes in: Riley is saying this about a 20-year-old sophomore who has completed 79.6% (39 of 49) of his passes for 590 yards, six touchdowns and no picks so far.

How productive might these guys be when they get in lockstep? How much higher than No. 7 will the new-and-improved Trojans climb when they really find a rhythm?

When those things happen, Riley’s stated goal – “to win championships, win them now and to win them for a long time,” as he put it at Pac-12 media day – starts to look increasingly feasible.

Trust and believe.

ocregister.com

________

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Rock2112
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September 17, 2022 10:20 am

The announcer in the Oklahoma/Nebraska game just said after OK scored it’s fourth touchdown on a trick play that left a guy wide open, “we’ve covered a lot of Oklahoma games, and I gotta tell you, under Brent Venables, … they look different.” Apparently, he has forgotten that Oklahoma is playing Nebraska, that lost at home last week to Clay Helton’s Sun Belt team and fired its head coach this game-week. He must think with the uniform colors that Alabama is somewhere on that field.

Last edited 9 days ago by Rock2112
Steveg
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September 16, 2022 6:36 pm

Jimbo Fisher is #1 on Coaches Hotseat after 2 games. He is even lower than Karl Dorrell who is #4.

John Weld
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September 16, 2022 4:32 pm

FINAL WAGERS FOR THE WEEKEND Rialto Trojan USC -12.5 8,500 Oklahoma -14.5 1,000 Cal +10.5 1,000 San Diego St +20.5 500 Golden Trojan USC -12.5 for 8000 Chris USC -12.5 for 3000 Nebraska +14.5 for 500 Cal +10.5 for 500 BYU +3.5 for 500 Penn St -3.5 for 500 Washington -2.5 for 500 Miami +6.5 for 500 Utah -20.5 for 500 San Diego Trojan Utah -20.5 for 3000 USC -12.5 for 4000 M/M SteveG USC -12.5 for 3000 Miami +6.5 for 3000 TrojanRJJ USC -12.5 250 USC/Fresno State Over 71.5 1,000 Miami +6.5 500 BUS83 BYU +3.5 for 2000 ND… Read more »

Steveg
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September 16, 2022 5:06 pm
Reply to  John Weld

Hi John, I thought I bet 3000 on Miami. Is 300 right or a typo?

John Weld
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September 16, 2022 5:40 pm
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Sorry, I corrected it.

Steveg
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September 16, 2022 6:25 pm
Reply to  John Weld

Whew!!

RialtoTrojan
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September 16, 2022 2:15 pm

Getting the team to buy into Riley’s program might be harder than people think. Looking at the make up of the team, you have part all star and part left overs from a rudderless ship. Winning is cool for the all stars, while the left overs are trying to retain tradition.
Someone’s asking if the NIL might kill the tradition of no names on the jerseys. I hope not. There’s no reason to change, players wear numbers.

Rock2112
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September 16, 2022 2:07 pm

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, here is a link to a nice little film breakdown of our offense operating against Stanford: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIK8itvR3wM

Most impressive to me is how well coordinated our o-line is, and how critical their assignments are not just to pass protection but also the development of plays downfield. Those o-line dudes have REALLY stepped up to help make this offense work, and who would have expected we could say that a year ago?!

Rock2112
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September 16, 2022 4:33 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Ratatouille Saturday!

Jamaica
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September 16, 2022 5:23 pm
Reply to  Rock2112

Rock, again thanks for the Coaches Caviar. The slow-mo after the scripting really shows the defense cannot easily determine where the play is headed until it’s too late to stop it. LR’s play designs actually puts the main blockers in position open the running lane for the ball carrier. I can see recruits looking at these plays are so cool and coach Riley is a genius.

Last edited 10 days ago by Jamaica
Golden Trojan
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September 16, 2022 11:07 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Well tha’ts what they said last week about the Stanford QB. INT and TFL (tackles for loss) will be what’s in store for Fresno tomorrow night.

Jamaica
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September 16, 2022 10:34 am

I’m not sure, about the 2nd half scoring, it was about the players trusting the offense. After all they scored the 1st 5-times they had the ball (who wouldn’t be impressed with that?). I think it was the old story,” hey we got this game in the bag” so we can let up and cruise Whittier Blvd the rest of the way. It was about concentration.

Golden Trojan
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September 16, 2022 11:11 am
Reply to  Jamaica

Interesting how when LR slowed the pace of the offense to work the clock, the players started executing the plays at a slower pace. Yeah, that cruise mind set. I’m sure that was a big point this week, just because you take 25 seconds to run a play instead of 10 doesn’t mean you go 20% slower.

Rock2112
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September 16, 2022 11:42 am
Reply to  Golden Trojan

Keen observation GT!

TrojanRJJ
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September 16, 2022 1:06 pm
Reply to  Golden Trojan

Golden, Thanks for the great insight. I wondered what happened. LR explained that he wanted to practice slowing the game down, pointing out that there will be game when slowing down the pace is going to be critical to a victory. He said that it failed and that both the players and the coaches will need to do a better job. Your insight explained it wonderfully. The kids had a very difficult time adjusting to the slower pace.

Last edited 10 days ago by TrojanRJJ
Steveg
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September 16, 2022 3:16 pm
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

What a difference in team culture. Last year you couldn’t get them to go at a high octane pace, now this team is like “What do you mean slow down”. These guys it appears just need to score 100 a game and the heck with the slow down, lets rock and roll for 4 quarters. I understand the concept of clock control quite well, so don’t take me wrong here. It is just the players are not used to it.

Steveg
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September 16, 2022 3:13 pm
Reply to  Jamaica

Riley admitted in the Cowherd interview that they slowed down the offense to control the clock.

Jamaica
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September 16, 2022 10:50 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Shula, Sims, to name a few….. off-spring to famous fathers, did not come up to the expectations because of their name/pedigree. All the hype, even before junior walks onto the football field, is just that, so be careful of the expectations Texas as the finger pointing will create damage if it doesn’t work out in the Rose Garden.

fast fred
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September 16, 2022 10:06 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

whats the over under for lr going to the nfl?

Golden Trojan
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September 16, 2022 10:07 am
Reply to  fast fred

Don’t even talk about that!

TrojanRJJ
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September 16, 2022 1:02 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Allen, LR is making more as the SC coach than any NFL coach. I think the highest paid is Belichick at $11 Million. LR is making, counting everything, north of $12 Million. I also think that McVey makes $3M. I really do not think that LR leaves SC. He is very much a collegiate coach paid more than an NFL coach.

San Diego Trojan
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September 16, 2022 4:41 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

The NFL is going to throw money and power his way every year, and I hope he decides to spend a decade or more here before wanting that challenge. The money college coaches make now equals and exceeds that of the NFL, and job security in college, once a program gets rolling, can mean you own the city and can stay forever if you want. I used to think Pete would never leave what he built, so nothing would surprise me. I think it will eventually come down to his ego and need for a new challenge. As young as… Read more »

San Diego Trojan
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September 16, 2022 4:31 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I was thinking the exact same thing as I was watching that Charger game last night. They have the QB and all this talent and didn’t take advantage of it like Riley does with motion, Miss direction and scheme. I really like this Charger team and want to see them do well. Their recent history is to find ways to lose one score games, and I hope this years team is different. Herbert is really special.

Chris
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September 16, 2022 8:18 am

I think this will be the week we see our defense take a leap forward. We won’t get 4 turnovers, but we will make lots of plays. I feel really good about an easy cover.

USC 45 FS 24

Golden Trojan
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September 16, 2022 10:07 am
Reply to  Chris

The schedule is looking more and more like each game allows the defense to progress from one game to the next building to the Utah game. Then they get a bye before the final 5 game run. I too have a good feeling about tomorrow. Fresno is not going to surprise LR and Grinch. Helton would be bewildered but not these guys.

Rock2112
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September 16, 2022 3:01 pm
Reply to  Chris

USC 59, FSU 48. SC “only” +2 in the turnover ratio.

Golden Trojan
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September 16, 2022 8:21 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

USC 53-35.

Jamaica
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September 16, 2022 12:13 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

This game could easily be a repeat of last week’s. Few programs will have this prolific of a USC offense to match. Yes, Jeff Tedford has an offensive mind that is probably superior to any other OC on USC ‘s regular schedule this season. But does he have the players to match what LR has on offense? NO. The only question I have is if this team gets another big lead, will the offense get lazy and then be up to the defense to protect that lead? Will LR allow the team to look at Fresno St. as a MWC… Read more »

Steveg
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September 16, 2022 3:24 pm
Reply to  Jamaica

I would bet that LR will have his foot on the accelerator full bore until the game is literally out of reach. If Haener goes down, it will be over at that point. I have more and more confidence in the defense each week. Guys are stepping up.

Steveg
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September 16, 2022 3:21 pm
Reply to  Golden Trojan

Great Golden, I have USC 52 Fresno 31. Great minds…

Steveg
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September 16, 2022 3:26 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I get a kick out of Riley and how he signals to Williams. It is like what the heck did that mean. Somehow Williams is on the same page and they just connect. Amazing.

Golden Trojan
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September 16, 2022 9:11 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Easy to see why he is the best. Both hands firmly on the ball. He knew the tackle attempt was coming after looking back. He then made a great spin move to slip out and score. Beautiful play.

Golden Trojan
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September 16, 2022 8:20 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Will USC have to do this because of NILs? I hope not.

Steveg
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September 16, 2022 3:37 pm
Reply to  Golden Trojan

I think I read that a player cannot be in a USC jersey doing NIL unless the school signs off on it. If that is the case I cannot see the advantage of breaking such an old tradition. Although it would help identify the players in the early part of the season.