USC Sports

USC Now mailbag: Scholarships and penalties

Steve Sarkisian, Claude Pelon
Trojans Coach Steve Sarkisian gives defensive tackle Claude Pelon a pat on the shoulder after a defensive stop in the first half against Cal.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The old saying rings true: Winning solves problems.

Or in my case, it lightens the mailbag.

Questions or comments about USC? Email me at or tweet @LindseyThiry and I will respond to select messages in a future USC Now mailbag.

Comment: It sure is maddening to read the commentary of boosters and rooters who, collectively, expect USC football to match the excellence of the past, thanks to [John] McKay, [John] Robinson, and [Pete] Carroll. I’m just mentioning those who came during my tenure as students and alum. USC is suffering because of the high-handed penalties imposed by the good ol’ boys at the NCAA. It might be nice if some of these know-it-all hot dogs would remember that we have lost, what is it, 45-50 scholarships over the last three years. Yes, I get put out with Sark at times, which is my right as a fellow know-it-all. But I am wise enough to realize ‘SC is operating under hardship. Let’s face it. We can’t run in defensive lineman whenever we wish. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, we are doing pretty damn well considering the eight ball we’ve been placed behind.


--Ron Lane

Reply: Thanks for writing, Ron.

The NCAA sanctions took away 30 scholarships from USC over three seasons.

In case you missed it this week, Gary Klein examined the scholarship numbers and put into context what USC’s scholarship numbers mean for the team this season.


We also discussed the scholarship issue in this video debate.

Interesting you use the defensive line as an example for a player rotation. Starters Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods and Delvon Simmons are often relieved by Greg Townsend Jr., Cody Temple and Claude Pelon.

There is an argument, however, about coaching expectations. The majority of fans who write to the mailbag think Sarkisian and his first-year staff are falling short of USC’s standards.

Coaching has become a “what have you done for me lately” position – and by “what have you done for me lately,” I mean – did you win or lose the last game?

For better or worse, it’s a different time than when McKay, Robinson and even Carroll were USC’s coaches.

Comment: Hope it makes you smile, [you and Gary] really do an awesome job. By the way did Gary start dressing nicer because of your pieces? I seem to remember very wrinkled pink shirt in one of your videos. Chris Foster must be jealous.

-- Art Starbuck

Reply: Hi Art. Thank you for the kind words.


What many readers probably didn’t know prior to the weekly videos is that Gary has not only been one of the sharpest-dressed reporters on the beat for years – but he is the most consistent.

Gary in pink?! Art! C’mon, that never happened. Gary is a neutral-tone man.

Comment: What we see is a coach who is not able to instill discipline in the execution of game plans leading to weak second half performances and exorbitant penalty yards. Lou Holtz warned us when Sark was picked that his record wasn’t great and he doesn’t know how to win big games. He was right! And now the defense is suffering under the UW transplant of his. Welcome to Puget Sound South!

-- Jerry Garich, USC grad during the John McKay years

Reply: The penalties have been a problem all season, but the issue was under a magnifying glass against Cal because three touchdowns were called back.

Sarkisian has said that he is OK if officials call a tight game, as long as it is called consistently for both teams.

USC has 92 penalties compared to opponents’ 64.

Last season, Washington finished with 105 penalties -- ranking 120th among 123 teams in major college football -- so the penalty problem at USC should not come as much of a surprise.


We will see in the next two weeks if Sarkisian can win the big games.

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