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September 28, 2013

Tonight's the night

TEMPE, Ariz. -- On a weekend with so much to think about USC football, there's one thought that just won't go away.

And no, it's not whether Lane Kiffin really is the Miley Cyrus of college football, as bitter Tennessee alum Paul Finebaum said in his designed-to-be-attention-getting half-minute segment on College GameDay this morning.

Nor is it the way both Lee Corso and Kirk Hebrstreit picked the 3-1 Trojans to prevail with defense in the desert tonight (7:30, ESPN2) over a shaky-at-times and shaken-up Arizona State Sun Devils team (2-1).

The problem for the loser here, of course, is they're 0-2 in the Pac-12 and have almost surely eliminated themselves from the race for the South Division.

So what prevails in a week when the NCAA slapped down the Trojans once again. A week when USC's leadership and program direction looked weak, unfocused, timid, unprepared and with a complete lack of disciplne, toughness and determination -- in way over its head and out over its skis.

And that's Kiffin's boss.

It's like AD Pat Haden looked in the mirror and saw his coach looking back. As we all do when we ponder the double-headed void at the top of the command structure for Trojan football.

Maybe that's what it takes here -- a void. Get out of the way and let 'em play.

That's the one thought we can't get out of our heads right now. It's how Hayes Pullard, the emotional center of this USC team although he has lots of company, gets up every day with one thought in his head and heart.

One hope. One dream.

That this is the day this 2013 USC team becomes the USC team of 2011. That this is the day that these Trojans figure out who they are and how to play. Check that, not just how to play. But how to win football games. Games that matter. Games on the road.

Like they did when Pullard, Dion Bailey, Devon Kennard, George Uko, Demetrius Wright, Lamar Dawson, Marqise Lee, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, John Martinez, Marcus Martin, Kevin Graf and the rest of the USC veterans were pups in South Bend and Eugene.

Is this the moment? Is tonight the night? Does this game come at exactly the right time? With a bye week, a Thursday home game against Arizona and the trip to Notre Dame coming up, it surely does.

If, that is, USC prevails.

If it shows up and plays its game -- unlike an unprepared Haden in Indianapolis. If its coach gets out of the way and frees his players on offense to make plays. That's really what happened two years ago.

And for a team that's 102nd nationally in three-and-outs with 14 already this season, the playcaller and gameplanner does have to figure out a way to get out of the way.

His players are talented enough, together with this defense, to get the job done. If he'll only let them.

Now three of the four times out this season, he didn't. But the defense was good enough to win two of those. As it is to win any game the rest of the way.

But not if the offense plays the way Pat played in Indy. They have to go for it. Forget failure. Take your best shot. More specifically, let your players take their best shots.

Win this game and we all forget about the NCAA and Indy for a while. Keep them on two different tracks. Although it would probably be OK to break out the "Our 56 > than your %@&-ing sanctions" signs.

And while we're at it, screw the "they dropped eight" or "they brought eight up in the box" and . . . blah, blah, blah tired excuses. No more excuses.

Just stop it. This isn't about "them." This is about USC -- looking like USC. Thinking like USC. Acting like USC. Hitting people the way USC teams do. Dominating the line of scrimmage the way USC teams always have -- on both sides of the ball.

But most importantly, winning football games the way USC always has.

And the way Hayes Pullard dreams the Trojans will -- some day.

Today, or tonight, has to be that day. This chance won't come again.

It really is one game, do or die. USC will never be here again. Or have this shot.

The season Hayes Pullard hopes for is still within reach.

Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at weber@uscfootball.com.


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