May 23, 2024

Last season, the fourth quarter was USC’s Achilles’ heel. Lincoln Riley tried to turn it into a rallying cry.

Hoping to turn his team into late-game closers, the USC coach adopted the mantra “the longer it goes, the better we get.” The oft-repeated saying is just empty words now after USC’s second-half tailspin hit rock bottom with a 38-20 loss to rival UCLA at the Coliseum on Saturday. The Trojans (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) will limp into the bowl season after losing five of their last six games.

“I’ve clearly not done a good enough job in the second half of the regular season getting our team ready to go,” Riley said.

USC players and coaches touted Riley’s motto after close wins against Colorado and Arizona. USC’s social media pages had it written in their biographies. But since surviving triple overtime against the Wildcats, the Trojans have been outscored 130-102 in the second half during the last six games, including a 69-54 deficit in the fourth quarters.

When asked how he can process the team’s meltdown during the second half of the season, rush end Jamil Muhammad paused for six seconds before finding the words.

“We didn’t finish well. I mean, it’s no other way to put it,” said the Georgia State transfer who had five tackles Saturday. “As a group, we did things well, but we didn’t do enough things well to win.”

Amid the slide, USC quietly updated its social media slogans. On Saturday, USC’s X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram pages boasted a new phrase.

“It’s always fight on.”

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