The temptation, after watching that opening night showcase performance, is to start gushing about USC’s overwhelming talent and dazzling depth, its raw explosiveness and breathtaking athleticism. It would be so easy to look ahead and start projecting all those virtues into 10, 11, maybe even 12 victories.
Don’t do it. It is too early. It is way too early.
Before getting carried away by that 55-6 mauling, you have to realize that little Arkansas State was completely outmanned and outclassed. Let’s be honest here: How many Red Wolves players could even make the Trojans’ roster? Probably two, maybe three at the most.
Truth is, Saturday’s game at the Coliseum was little more than a glorified scrimmage, and even that might be a stretch. At least when USC is scrimmaging during the week, one unit of blue-chip recruits is going against another. This was more like the St. Louis Cardinals playing a Double-A team.
If you want to look for any real encouragement for the Trojans after the first week of the season, you can find it elsewhere in the league. Stanford looked terrible, failing to score a touchdown in a jarring upset loss at Northwestern. Arizona State was overpowered by a Texas A&M squad not generally ranked among the Top 10, and Washington and Chris Petersen lost to the coach’s former employers at Boise State.
Suddenly, USC’s chances to sprint out to a 5-0 start heading into an Oct. 17 potential mega-showdown at Notre Dame seem a lot better than they did a week ago.
Not that there weren’t a few disturbing moments on opening night. If Arkansas State can sack quarterback Cody Kessler five times in the first half, how many sacks could a Utah or a UCLA or a Notre Dame accumulate? And as well as everything clicked offensively, there were a couple of key third-down runs that came up flat. It is that overall lack of physicality -- something no one in the program really likes to talk about -- that could still be a problem down the road.
But then again, maybe the Trojans have so many JuJu Smith-Schusters, Steven Mitchell Jrs., Tre Maddens and Ronald Joneses that it won’t matter. Certainly, this team doesn’t appear to lack offensive weapons.
And then there is Kessler. The senior quarterback wasn’t perfect in his 2015 opener. He missed a couple of open receivers here and there. But overall, he once again demonstrated his smooth, overall command of the offense, never turning the ball over and scrambling to make more than a couple impressive throws. He now has 43 TD passes and five interceptions in his last 14 games, and it’s difficult to argue with those numbers.
Defensively, the Trojans once again struggled some against a mobile quarterback. What a surprise, huh? That has been a weakness going back to the Pete Carroll era, if not before.
But considering Arkansas State’s Fredi Knighten was all run and no pass, it really wasn’t an issue. Justin Wilcox’s defense looked quick and aggressive, and that’s never a bad thing, even against a weak opponent.
Coach Steve Sarkisian had to be encouraged not only by the regular suspects such as Su’a Cravens and Antwaun Woods, but by Kenny Bigelow Jr. and Chris Hawkins and freshmen Iman Marshall and Osa Masina, to name just a few.
It was one of those nice, relaxing opening nights. Sort of like taking the kids to a warm, safe, family movie. You know, no hiding your eyes when some evil monster suddenly appears.
There were no evil monsters in the vicinity Saturday night. Just innocent Arkansas State, happy to come to L.A., to enjoy the weather and the scenery and to walk away with a big, fat check for its trouble.
Next Saturday it is Idaho’s turn. Beware of the Vandals? Hardly. They were pummeled by Ohio University in their opener.
Expect another Trojans romp. Expect plenty of explosive plays and exciting touchdowns. Expect another happy, cozy evening at the Coliseum.
Just don’t expect it to mean anything until a few more weeks down the road.