USC and UCLA played their football season openers, and neither can tackle very efficiently.
If this isn’t corrected, and fairly soon, even the 14th-ranked Trojans, 49-36 victors over Hawaii last Thursday, and the Bruins, 31-22 losers to host Kansas State two days later, will find their seasons less than prosperous.
USC is deeper and with more explosive players, but it will still need to fix this issue. UCLA plays Stanford and Houston at the Rose Bowl next, and No. 5-ranked Texas on the road. These will be grueling.
In the off season, the NCAA hammered USC after the Reggie Bush fallout. In part, the Trojans can’t play in a Bowl Championship Series game this season, and they lost numerous scholarships.
USC led 14-3 after one quarter, and 27-16 at the intermission, with sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley tossing four of his career-best five touchdown passes after two quarters.
It seemed USC was in control, which wasn’t the case, as Hawaii continued to grind out yards and points in the second half.
The Warriors finished with 459 passing yards, 129 yards on the ground, and put a scare into first-year USC Head Coach Lane Kiffin.
Barkley (18 of 23 for 257 yards and no interceptions) found tight end David Ausberry with a 46-yard scoring toss early in the opening quarter that made it 6-0, and hit wide receiver Ronald Johnson with a one-yard throw late in the same quarter to make it 14-3.
Barkley’s 13-yard pass to Johnson just before the half gave USC a 27-13 lead.
When Barkley connected with tight end Rhett Ellison on a six-yard play with 12:19 left in the second quarter, the Trojans were ahead 20-3.
Johnson caught his third touchdown pass from Barkley late in the third quarter that made it 42-23.
Johnson (59 yards and seven catches) also had an 89-yard punt return for a score in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas shredded the Bruins’ defense for a career-high 234 yards, scoring two touchdowns, including a 35-yard burst with 58 seconds left.
The Wildcats moved in front 7-0 with 9:04 showing in the first quarter on a one-yard run by Thomas.
William Powell’s 28-yard touchdown jaunt early in the third quarter put the Wildcats in front, 14-10.
Kansas State piled up 313 yards on the ground, while the Bruins, ranked 97th in rushing last season, totaled 193 yards, while using the “pistol’’ formation, which has a running back directly behind the quarterback, rather than at his side.
The Bruins tied it at 7-7 when quarterback Kevin Prince veered right and scored on an 11-yard run after linebacker Akeem Ayers recovered a fumble.
Prince got UCLA within two points after hitting wide receiver Ricky Marvray with a 29-yard scoring pass and 1:29 left in the fourth quarter, but his two-point conversion pass to Taylor Embree was off target.
Kai Forbath converted three field goals, hitting on a 44-yard attempt that gave the Bruins a 10-7 edge and 7:45 left in the second quarter, a 35-yard kick with 7:39 showing in the third quarter that trimmed the Kansas State lead to 14-13, and a 42-yard rocket to make it a one-point affair.
Prince (nine of 26 passes for 120 yards with two interceptions) ran into some bad luck, having at least five passes dropped.
As far as learning how to tackle, there’s still time.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.