USC shakes off Alabama debacle, focuses on Utah State
LOS ANGELES (AP) Adoree Jackson thinks the only good things about a 46-point loss in a season opener are the 11 regular-season games that Southern California still has left to play.
So the Trojans returned to work this week with a determination to make sure their humiliation at Alabama's hands won't send a talented USC team into a tailspin.
''A lot of people think that it's the end of the season for us after our first game, but we just want to go out and show them that one game doesn't define you,'' said Jackson, the Trojans' speedy defensive back. ''I think we're hungry to get out there and play. We're pretty disappointed with the loss and how it happened in that fashion.''
The Trojans (0-1) get their first chance to make amends in an early-starting home opener against Utah State (1-0) on Saturday.
USC couldn't hang with the defending national champions while breaking in a new starting quarterback and two new coordinators in Clay Helton's first season opener as head coach. And while much went wrong in the final three quarters for the Trojans, they still emerged with a perversely positive outlook on their progress toward the Pac-12 season.
''I think it's just a good experience either way,'' said quarterback Max Browne, who got his first start out of the way without a serious injury. ''Obviously you want to win, but the experience moving forward, it was good to have that environment, I guess you'd say.''
USC hasn't won a football game since Nov. 28, when it beat UCLA at the Coliseum. The Trojans have lost four of five in all, and while their current three-game skid – against Stanford, Wisconsin and Alabama – isn't exactly against a bunch of chumps, USC expects to be those programs' equal, not their stepping stones.
While Tuesday's practice was a bit chippy, the Trojans finished Wednesday's workouts with their usual upbeat enthusiasm, the defense bouncing and cheering on the sidelines while competing in drills with the offense.
''I think the guys are responding fine,'' Jackson said. ''We're still out there practicing like we've been practicing. Nothing has really changed. We're still doing the same preparations. You don't want to change just because a game like that happened. We've got to do the same things coming in.''
Here are more things to watch when the Trojans open their home schedule in the stadium they now share with the Los Angeles Rams:
NO PUSHOVERS: This is USC's easiest game in a murderous September schedule on paper, but the Aggies are no free pass. Utah State has the talent and history to make the Trojans' month even worse, with nine starters returning to an offense that scored nearly 30 points per game last season. Devante Mays rushed for 208 of the Aggies' 428 yards rushing in a season-opening win over Weber State, while quarterback Kent Myers smoothly took over the starting job after filling in extensively for Chuckie Keeton in recent years.
CENTER LOSS: Browne's job got harder with the news that USC center Toa Lobendahn is out for the season after tearing two ligaments in his right knee during the Alabama game. Lobendahn, who didn't miss a play against the Tide, will redshirt this year. Nico Falah will take over the snapping duties against Utah State, while guard Chris Brown might move over at some point.
DOUBLE COVERAGE: JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC's top receiver and a second-team All-American, was noticeably frustrated by Alabama's tight coverage in the opener, where he managed only one catch for 9 yards against the cover-2 defense. He could face similar coverage all season, but Browne believes he can still get the ball in Smith-Schuster's hands. There's also another plan for those double-teams: ''If that's the case, let's make Darreus Rogers a household name,'' Browne said of the Trojans' No. 2 receiver.
TOUCHDOWN QUEST: USC didn't get into the end zone against Alabama, and Browne is determined to remedy that problem early and often. Utah State's defenses under coach Matt Wells have usually been solid, but the Trojans are determined to handle their pressure on Browne. ''They slant and angle a bunch, bring some pressure, so they'll be a little different,'' Browne said. ''I have to make sure we're sound in our protections.''