Lincoln Riley thinks he knows where things unraveled for USC

USC’s season began in a promising fashion before the Trojans completely imploded to end the regular season. Second-year head coach Lincoln Riley thinks he knows where everything unraveled.

After a 6-0 start that had USC thinking about a potential spot in the College Football Playoff, the Trojans got blown out at rival Notre Dame, then lost to Utah, barely beat Cal, and then lost three in a row to end the regular season at 7-5. Few people saw their season spiraling out of control so badly. Riley certainly didn’t.

The Trojans coach spoke with The Athletic’s Antonio Morales for a story published on Wednesday that explored USC’s unraveling.

Morales asked Riley all the tough questions, and Riley answered with a lot of typical coach answers. But Riley took responsibility for the season going poorly, acknowledged his team’s defensive shortcomings, and said the team never clicked in the second half.

The moment Riley pinpointed as being where everything went sideways was the loss to Washington. The Trojans were 7-2 at that point and coming off a win over Cal, but they lost at home 52-42 to the Huskies. That defeat apparently caused the bottom to fall out for USC.

“I think the Washington game in particular, when we didn’t win that game in the end, especially in the fashion it happened, and some of the things were off the table, I did not think we handled that well after that,” Riley said.

You could see just how devastating that loss was based on how Caleb Williams reacted to the defeat. USC followed that loss by losing at Oregon and then at home to rival UCLA.

One other interesting comment from Riley is that he’s now saying USC was lucky to go 11-3 last season and the Trojans really weren’t that good. He believes last year’s lucky season set the expectations higher for this season than they should have been for USC.

“I think fair to say Year 1 we overachieved with what we had. Certainly fair to say Year 2 we didn’t reach our potential. I think there’s still holes. I think the schedule in hindsight — you wish would’ve maybe lined up a little better. It was a tough schedule to begin with, but on top of it, the way it unfolded with nine straight was challenging,” Riley said.

Are you buying Riley’s explanation?

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