Maybe this is more straightforward than I’m making it out to be. Maybe USC just needs to find a head coach who will emphasize consistency and discipline. With all the talent this program has, even with its recruiting issues lately, that could be all it needs to return to its rightful place among the blue bloods. Or maybe I’m overreacting to one game. Notre Dame is a really good team capable of making other good teams look discombobulated. There’s no shame in losing by 3 points to the Irish in South Bend, no matter what Trojan fans tell you. That’s not to say it was perfect, but USC’s 24-10 scoring run over the final 12 minutes begs the question: Why couldn’t the Trojans do this all game long? Why can’t they maintain this level of performance throughout the season? Though USC ended within a field goal of Notre Dame, this is a much more annoying column to write. Did that feeling come because I wrote nearly 500 words for nothing? Of course; that annoys any journalist. I was also pretty happy with how I had written that version and was looking forward to seeing how a fanbase prone to constant complaining would react. There was the initial version I wrote at halftime, in which I absolutely pounded USC for what I thought would be an embarrassing loss to No. 9 Notre Dame. I laid into the entire program for putting forth another embarrassing effort where everything went wrong, and I used the referee mistakenly calling a USC penalty on “UCLA” as evidence that the Trojans had no identity, no respect, no path back to prominence. And then there’s this version, which comes after I saw the Trojans nearly come back and beat the Irish in South Bend before falling 30-27. We’ve already established that I have no clue how to unlock this team’s considerable potential. Head coach Clay Helton has proven he’s not the man to lead the program back to the mountaintop. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has certainly improved upon last year’s play-calling, but he’s also been without answers when faced with opposing game plans from tough defensive teams like Washington and Notre Dame. By the time Notre Dame kicked a field goal on its first second-half possession, USC was down 20-3 and looked dead in the water. And you know what? I was fine with that. I knew there was a chance that the Trojans would come into Notre Dame Stadium and get repeatedly punched in the mouth, similar to 2017’s demoralizing 49-14 defeat. What I was not prepared for, however, was USC looking like a completely different team from that point on. But that’s not how it feels right now. When you lack not only answers but any idea of how to find those answers, it’s almost worse than feeling like there’s no solution at all. And if I, a student journalist who doesn’t really have anything riding on this team, feel that way, I can only imagine how Helton and the rest of the USC football program feel. I wrote this column twice. If the Trojans were just bad, that would be one thing. It would be depressing for the fan base to watch an Oregon State-caliber team suck every week, and I’m not saying that would be a better option. But there’s something particularly infuriating about following a team that at times seems on the cusp of putting it all together and at others appears unsure how to play football. And the worst part is that no one seems to know what the missing piece is. But as much as things change with this program, they also stay the same. The pass rush was again abysmal, both in pressuring senior quarterback Ian Book and in finishing tackles on the rare occasions it had a shot at him. And once again, the special teams proved its incompetence, misplaying several excellent punts that could have been downed inside the Irish 10-yard line. Suddenly, the receivers were getting open, and freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis had more time to find them. Redshirt freshman tailback Markese Stepp was getting the carries that many fans felt he deserved, and he delivered with 82 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts, repeatedly bowling through or dragging Notre Dame defenders. The defensive backs were able to stick with their men, and the entire second level improved on pursuing ball-carriers and pulling them down before they could reach the sticks. I entered Saturday night’s game believing this team had two undeniable strengths: the receiving corps and the interior defensive line. The receivers, led by senior Michael Pittman Jr., entered as the team’s best unit but combined for just 59 yards at halftime. The interior defensive linemen — including massive redshirt sophomore defensive tackles Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu — performed well all season against the run until Notre Dame senior running back Tony Jones Jr. gashed them for 176 yards, many of which came up the middle. But mostly, I was frustrated with myself, because I have no goddamn idea what to make of this team anymore. As soon as I think I have a beat on who the 2019 Trojans are, they do something that completely changes my opinion. It’s maddening. Aidan Berg is a junior writing about sports. He is also an associate managing editor for Daily Trojan. His column, “Berg is the Word,” runs every Monday.