Eric He | Daily TrojanIt started with a bad snap. It only got worse from there. The final score read 49-14 in favor of Notre Dame, and it was every bit as lopsided, every bit as painful, torturous and agonizing as one might imagine. USC rolled into South Bend on Saturday night as the 11th-ranked team in the country, a fringe contender for the national championship. It departed back for Los Angeles with those hopes now dashed, the hype train completely derailed and the sense that this team — in what was supposed to be a landmark season —was vastly overrated. We could have seen it coming. The Trojans were asking for the pummeling they received. Sure, they started the season 6-1 with a respectable lone loss coming at Washington State. But — as I’ve described in this column week after week — despite piling up wins, USC was not piling up confidence, nor was it getting better week-to-week. Almost every single week, we’ve seen issues with some key facet of the game —redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold struggling, wide receivers dropping balls, the offensive line falling prey to injury, the playcalling being questioned, the secondary giving up long completions. And on Saturday, in front of a raucous sold-out crowd of 77,622 at Notre Dame Stadium in primetime, every single issue that has plagued the Trojans this season came to light. It was like a dam that could no longer hold in the water that had slowly but surely been encroaching as the season progressed, and on the big stage in a historic rivalry game, the floodwaters poured through. Darnold was asked where he would start when he looked back at the film. “Play one,” he said. “Play one,” in a sense, encapsulated the season for USC. The defense had given Darnold and the offense an ideal start to the game, forcing a three-and-out and decent field position for the Trojans. But the first snap to Darnold sailed high. He readjusted to catch it, but as he pushed to salvage some yards, coughed up the ball at the bottom of the pile. Notre Dame recovered, and three quick plays later, the Irish were in the end zone. It’s happened time and time again this season: The defense hands the offense the ball in great scoring position, only to have the offense drop the ball —literally. After that sequence, there would be no more bailing out. The offense being shut down in the first half meant the defense was consistently on the field — and it was not ready whatsoever for Notre Dame’s rushing attack. The Irish torched the Trojans on the ground for 377 yards, averaging eight yards per carry. Running back Josh Adams came six yards shy of a 200-yard night, scoring three touchdowns and, at times, sprinting right through tackles or wide open gaps like the defense didn’t exist. So did quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who looked like more of a running back the way USC parted for him. Sure, the Trojans had several key injuries. But that’s no excuse for Darnold to fumble or to throw a telegraphed interception or to somehow miss a wide-open redshirt senior wide receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. downfield, for reliable freshman placekicker Chase McGrath to miss a 27-yard field goal, for sophomore punt returner Jack Jones to fumble away a fair catch or for the entire defensive unit to forget how to tackle. There are the playoff-caliber teams who don’t make those simple mistakes, who take care of the ball and finish off the routine plays that can go a long way to winning a game. And then there are the Trojans, who have five-star talent up and down their roster and somehow look like a junior varsity squad against a team that they should match up with. Whether it’s shooting itself in the foot, bad coaching or too-lofty expectations, Saturday night’s game ended any debate: USC just isn’t very good. It was easy to overlook when the Trojans were winning. When they squeaked past Texas in double overtime, we praised Darnold for being clutch. When they only beat Utah by a point, we exulted in how stellar the defense was. The team never fixed the problems that led to games being close in the first place. They were never fully prepared for an unfamiliar opponent in Notre Dame, which may be far and away the best team USC plays this season. So, after an uplifting season last year when the Trojans had found “The Next Big Thing” at quarterback and everybody proclaimed, “USC is back” after the Rose Bowl win, it’s clear now that USC is not back, and it never was. Instead, it’s back to being underwhelming, to playing in the Holiday Bowl instead of the Rose Bowl, to continuously failing to recapture the dominance of the Pete Caroll era. In the midst of the blowout on Saturday, media members in the press box bet on whether head coach Clay Helton would mention that USC still controlled its own destiny in the Pac-12 South and was still in play for a Pac-12 championship. And Helton did exactly that in his postgame presser, almost word-for-word, as did other coaches and players. Sure, the goal articulated by both Helton and Athletic Director Lynn Swann for this season was a Pac-12 Championship. And, sitting atop the Pac-12 South, that is very much still in play. Still, it is clear that no matter how many games USC wins the rest of the way, its season will be seen as a disappointment by the fans, by the media and hopefully by the team itself. We were led to believe that the Trojans were better than this, that this would be the breakthrough season, that the return to glory was on the horizon. We were all wrong.Before the game on Saturday, there was a magnificent sunset above the stadium, glistening in the twilight. It was an idyllic sight with the picturesque Notre Dame campus in the backdrop. But as kickoff approached, it faded away and the lights took full effect as darkness enveloped Notre Dame Stadium. The sun had set on South Bend, and three hours later, it would also set on USC’s season.Eric He is a junior studying print and digital journalism. He is also the associate managing editor for the Daily Trojan. His column, Grinding Gears, runs Mondays.
MIAMI, CMC – Football administrators are expecting Central America and the Caribbean to reap major benefits from the hosting of the CONCACAF Gold Cup matches for the first time next year.There will be an increase from 12 teams to 16 in the 2019 edition of the confederation’s marquee competition, and countries in the Caribbean and Central American zones will host matches in keeping with a promise made by CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani.Costa Rica has already been announced as the Central American host, however no host has been named for the Caribbean.The upcoming tournament , the 15th edition of the competition, scheduled for June 15 to July 7. “The increase in the Gold Cup was not only a promise, but we delivered on it… obviously Central America is very happy to host, and that is basically a continuation of our One CONCACAF Vision, which is more than just a vision, but the implementation of that vision and delivering on it,” Montagliani told the Jamaica Observer.The Canadian businessman campaigned for the presidency two years ago on his One CONCACAF Vision manifesto which today shapes the foundation of the administration.