USC will waste big-time talent and potentially big-time teams if the defense can’t get its act together.

That was the prevailing thought after the country watched the Trojans blow a 15-point lead with less than five minutes to play in the Cotton Bowl on Monday. It was a ‘Murphy’s Law’ kind of fourth quarter for the Trojans. The exact sequence of events that Tulane needed to win happened. USC did everything it couldn’t afford to do to lose.

It was one of those endings where one play wasn’t the difference, rather a collection of mistakes. However, with quarterback Caleb Williams setting a Cotton Bowl record with 462 passing yards and five touchdowns and the offense putting 45 points on the board, precious few were placing blame for the loss at the feet of the offense.

This was largely about the defense. And it reminded many who have followed Lincoln Riley’s career closely of games that fell apart at Oklahoma in similar fashion.

247Sports’ Josh Pate had an unimaginable stat on his show on Wednesday.

As a head coach, Riley now has six losses when holding a lead of 14-plus points since 2017. No FBS coach has more, according to Pate. Riley’s reputation is that of an offensive wunderkind, but his teams have also been plagued by poor defensive play.

Riley parted ways with OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops in 2018 and later brought in Alex Grinch to serve as his new DC. Grinch then followed Riley to Los Angeles in December 2021.

In a lot of ways, the problems followed as well.

“Defense has been a chronic problem — just state it like it is — for Lincoln Riley teams,” Pate said. “Here’s my counter: I don’t think Lincoln Riley is ignorant enough to not have long ago realized this, I’m just saying that even if he does realize it, he did not walk into a situation that was ready made to turn that around overnight defensively. Even if they’re making all the right moves right now, in terms of talent acquisition and development, you are not going to see the fruits of that this year.

“If Lincoln Riley is doing the right things defensively right now, it will still take a year or two to pay off. Let’s just hope he’s doing the right things right now because if he’s not, you’re going to see big-time talent and big time teams wasted because you can’t play complementary football.”

After the Cotton Bowl, Riley was asked about Grinch’s future.

He declined to give an answer, saying the staff will take a “deep dive” into big-picture program issues in the days that followed the bowl.

“You take a deep dive of it, you assess what you’ve got and how can we make it better, and then you go to work,” Riley said. “And now we just repeat the process knowing a little bit more about this roster and a little bit more about where we’re at and what we have coming back and what we’re going to add. We made a pretty good jump in year one. And I wouldn’t bet against us to make another big jump next year.”

You can see the full Cotton Bowl episode of Late Kick with Josh Pate below: