USC’s youth is the reason it has such a special chance to build off these lessons. It will be tough for the team to make up for departing cogs like Pittman and those who could enter the draft a bit early like Vaughns and senior left tackle Austin Jackson, but so many of the players who have been on the field for this improved performance will return next year. First and foremost, Kedon Slovis is the real deal. The freshman quarterback had his third 400-yard performance in four games and has thrown 15 touchdowns in the last four weeks. Another takeaway is that USC can effectively make adjustments. The team’s inability to do so in the past can be attributed to poor coaching but also to the players’ collective mindset. Coaches can come up with all the changes they want, but they won’t matter if the players don’t execute them. In recent weeks, the Trojans have shown an increased ability to implement these adjustments. No one would have held it against the freshman if he stumbled in his first game in a crucial role or if he patted himself on the back for his performance, but London seemed completely unimpressed with his effort after the game. He expected for it to happen, and the rest of the team needs to take after his example of staying cool under pressure. Cal was a great example. The defense got bullied on Cal’s opening touchdown drive but cracked down on the run from that point on. This forced the Bears to win through the air, a strategy which only became better after redshirt sophomore starting quarterback Chase Garbers departed the game with a shoulder injury and was replaced by redshirt junior backup Devon Modster. The Bears were unable to make USC pay in the pass game. Certainly, some credit should be given to offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s scheme and massive injuries at running back forcing USC to throw the ball, but Slovis’ performance is nonetheless impressive. Cal’s secondary is strong, but Slovis had no issues carving it up despite being under constant pressure. Sophomore quarterback JT Daniels will have a chance to win his job back next season, but one takeaway is that this team can build a successful pass-heavy offense around Slovis. But the team has done a good job of holding itself to a high standard while also maintaining a positive outlook. Redshirt junior receiver Tyler Vaughns was very limited Saturday, but freshman Drake London stepped up with six receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown. But after the team’s decisive 41-17 win at Cal Saturday night, I want to address the players because they have a really cool opportunity here. A lot of things have to happen for USC to return to college football’s elite in the coming years, but perhaps none is as key as this: the players who were on the field for that dominant effort — and who have been out there the last few games of this season — need to carry the lessons from this final stretch into the rest of their Trojan careers. USC’s offense found answers, too. The Trojans could have easily entered halftime tied at 10 but got lucky when Cal junior cornerback Elijah Hicks lost his footing on senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.’s 33-yard touchdown catch. The Trojans had been able to move the ball a bit, but Cal’s previously incapable pass rush was able to get strong pressure that kept USC from lighting up the scoreboard. For the past few weeks, this column has focused on the coaching staff and administration of USC football. I made the obvious point that head coach Clay Helton will likely lose his job and provided evidence from the team’s play and the recent hiring of athletic director Mike Bohn to support my argument. The final major lesson the players need to take from this stretch of games is the importance of mental fortitude. Lots of things have gone wrong for the Trojans the last few weeks — injuries have decimated entire position groups, and there have been more than a few questionable calls made against them. In the second half, Harrell adjusted by calling for more deep balls. The offensive line adjusted to Cal’s exotic blitzes to give Slovis more time. And the freshman came through with some absolutely beautiful deep balls that gained massive chunks of yardage and bypassed the methodical drives that the offense wasn’t able to cash in through the first two quarters. The whole team needs to continue to prioritize this adaptability. USC has young players producing at virtually every position, and with the program’s worst recruiting class of the century incoming, it will be important for them to learn from the end of this season in order to thrive moving forward. Say all you want about the competition, but the fact is that if USC beats UCLA in the Coliseum this upcoming weekend, the Trojans will finish the season 8-4 and will have won five of their final six games. That stands in stark contrast to last season, when the Trojans missed a bowl game with a 5-7 record in large part because the team lost five of its final six games. Yeah, USC has beaten some pretty terrible teams recently and an 8-4 season is nothing to be satisfied with, but it’s progress. The Trojans have played better down the stretch this season; thus, there are lessons to take with them as they attempt to make use of their considerable talent. 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.