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Dietlin: Torture and the Freak Show Return for USC

Posted on September 13, 2021

  By Mik Dietlin, SuperWest Sports

At what point can we officially call this torture?

San Jose State proved to be a mirage.

The stellar defensive effort, the cleanliness of play, and the absence of any freakish occurrences igniting hope for the Trojan faithful last week—it all evaporated as the disgruntled Coliseum crowd emptied the stadium during the 42-28 loss to Stanford.

Yes, the freak show has returned.

USC kicker Parker Lewis was ejected for targeting. |

• Trojan kicker Parker Lewis was ejected for targeting on the opening kickoff, drawing a sideline chuckle from The Cat.

• To be eligible to return a kickoff, Gary Bryant had to drape himself in an over-sized No. 45 jersey that would have fit Baby Yoda, the new Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon.

• Stanford coach David Shaw took three points off the board when the Trojans got penalized for lining up in the neutral zone, scoring a touchdown from the 3 yard line on fourth down.

• Yet another dismal red zone failure; SC ran six minutes off the clock on a ten play drive to start the second half, only to implode when on first down Kedon Slovis couldn’t handle a perfectly good snap, forcing a first down incompletion.

On third down Bryant couldn’t handle a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone, and once more the offense settled for a field goal.

These are typical events springing organically far too often whenever the Underachievers take the field.

But had those hasty fans stuck around to brave the finish, they would have witnessed an offensive fury unseen thus far in the young season.

Fifteen unanswered points in the final 5:54! What an explosion!

Never mind that it was 42-13 when it began, that’s not the point. We saw what this offense can do when totally relaxed, the outcome already determined after a Kyu Blu Kelly pick-six off an errant Kedon Slovis pass with 5:02 left in the third.

Stanford cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly’s pick-six against USC. | Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Let me tell you, it was as impressive as it was meaningless.

A good fireworks show ends in cascading waves of spine-tingling electricity and thunder,  leaving you totally spent and satisfied. The SC end-of-game fireworks show only leaves you asking a rather impotent question:

“Where was this passion the past 55 minutes?”

The Trojans did provide an answer to the question of who this team was going to be in 2021, however.

They’re the team destined to happily assist Stanford find the right quarterback that could deliver the offensive punch Shaw was desperately looking for.

Tanner McKee, a Corona, California native—is there any team in the country without a California quarterback on their roster?—the No. 3 pro-styled QB from the 2018 class behind Trevor Lawrence and J.T. Daniels, consistently chewed up the Trojan secondary, posting a highly efficient 16-23, 234-yard, two-touchdown performance.

Making his first collegiate start, McKee allowed himself to settle into the game slowly and comfortably.

It didn’t take long for his running game to make him feel a lot more comfortable. After an exchange of punts to open the game, running back Nathaniel Peat raced 87 yards for a 7-0 lead.

Stanfors Nathaniel Peat runs 87 yards for a touchdown against USC. | Harry How/Getty Images

Turns out Kansas State’s throttling of Stanford last week was another mirage.

Even breaking in a new quarterback, the Cardinal looked much better throwing the ball than running it, though they gained a serviceable 141 yards on the ground to nicely complement the passing game.

The same Trojan secondary that hounded San Jose State receivers were nothing but hound dogs Saturday night. When they said you were high-classed, well, that was just a lie.

Unable to pressure McKee or Cardinal receivers enough to get off the field much on third downs, there wasn’t anything preventing Stanford from building an insurmountable cushion.

usc logoWith 9:16 left in the game Stanford had a first-and-goal from the Trojan two. Cardinal running back Isaiah Sanders took the snap out of the wildcat, and was pleasantly shocked to see the Trojan defense had rolled out the red carpet for him.

A harmless side-stepping dance through the Trojan defense resulted in another touchdown, and a 42-13 lead.

At that point, the awe-inspiring cauldron sitting atop the Coliseum steps, traditionally lit to start the fourth quarter, held all the majesty of a Bic lighter.

“Let’s see at the end of the year,” The Cat said post-game. “It’s game two, and I have total faith in this staff. I have total faith in the men that are in there, players, coaches. We didn’t play our best tonight, but…”

Wait for it.

“I hope that we look up at the end of the year, and you’re asking the question, ‘Man, that team really improved from that Game two.’”

That wouldn’t be called a question we’d ask when it’s over, coach. In reality we’d be making a statement.

George Costanza and Jerry in ‘Seinfeld.’ |

Every year we’re treated to dud games and The Cat’s subsequent fantasies of improvement. It reminds me of the classic George Costanza line, “Jerry, just remember. It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

On to Pullman for more giggles and grins….Which is also a statement, by the way, and not a question.

It must be clearer now to Mike Bohn, Carol Folt, and the hierarchy hiding behind dark shadows making all the financial decisions at Heritage Hall, that this can’t continue much longer.

A few more masterpieces like what we just endured last Saturday and USC will have no choice but to clean house immediately, and really begin the process of improving the team.

—More from Mik Dietlin—