USC Trojans: USC Trojans

The Trojans came out in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Wednesday for another day of prep work for this Saturday's rivalry clash with Notre Dame. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams set the tone early for what would turn out to be an extremely physical practice session, picking up running back James Toland IV on a play during an early 11-on-11 period and body-slamming him to the ground.

"We've been competing all week, and Coach has been telling us to go hard on defense," Williams said. "When the rest of the defensive players see you go hard, everybody else reacts off of it."

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian is hoping that the brand of play that the Trojans have put on display over the last two days carries over to their game in the Coliseum this weekend.

"Our guys were really physical in yesterday's practice, and came back and did it again today, and that's what it's going to take Saturday," Sarkisian said. "It's going to take a really physical performance. Notre Dame is a very physical football team, and as we have navigated through the season we're obviously still trying to find aspects of our game to improve upon, and I think that is one aspect that we can, and I would like to think that by making it a real point of emphasis, we'll reap the benefits of it Saturday."

More on Williams

Much has been made of the fact that the Trojans' upcoming matchup with Notre Dame marks the last game at the Coliseum for a number of seniors on the team, but it might also represent the last home game for a number of draft-eligible underclassmen, most notably Williams. The talented defensive lineman is projected by some to be taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft -- if he so chooses to leave early.

On Wednesday, Williams admitted that he has thought about the possibility of heading to the NFL after this season, but he also said that no decision will be made until after USC's bowl game. He did note, however, that the fact that he has yet to defeat crosstown rival UCLA does not sit well with him.

"I might come back just to beat them," Williams said.

When asked about his star defensive performer following practice, Sarkisian said that it's Williams' work ethic that really sets him apart from most other players.

"He only knows one way to play the game," Sarkisian said. "I think in this day and age of guys reading their names in every potential mock draft and where they're supposed to go, we see so many guys maybe not go as hard all the time, maybe take themselves out and what not. Leonard Williams has not done that once this year, and he has not been 100 percent healthy, but he comes out and he works his tail off, and we're thankful for that."

Injury update
  • After sitting out practice on Tuesday, freshman tight end Bryce Dixon (concussion-like symptoms) suited up and participated in a portion of Wednesday's workout. "He is not fully cleared, but he was able to do more today," Sarkisian said. "There's a process when you have concussion symptoms, and so far he's on pace to be ready to play."
  • Leon McQuay III continued to wear a yellow non-contact jersey, but appeared to participate in the entire practice session.
News and notes
  • For the second consecutive day freshman offensive lineman Damien Mama ran with the No. 1 offense at left guard, while Khaliel Rodgers -- who has started the past three games at the position -- went with the No. 2 group.
  • Placekicker Andre Heidari had a very good day, connecting on all six of his field goal attempts.
  • Senior linebacker Hayes Pullard wore the jersey of his high school, Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw, during practice.
  • Offensive lineman Chad Wheeler, who is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, watched practice from the sideline.
  • Sarkisian said that the team will have some Thanksgiving homework on Wednesday night.
  • "We're all going to write down what we're thankful for," Sarkisian said. "We'll go through it in the team meeting tomorrow, because we need to recognize in life the things that we're thankful for, and we should be gracious that we have, and humble that we have."
Notre Dame/USCGetty ImagesNotre Dame's Brian Kelly and USC's Steve Sarkisian will each try to get something out of the regular-season finale to cap regular seasons that have fizzled.

LOS ANGELES – Multi-millionaire college football coaches Steve Sarkisian and Brian Kelly are paid the big bucks to produce the big results.

As the 2014 regular season comes to a close for two storied programs, the football teams of Sarkisian and Kelly are laboring.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:42
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On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.

WeAreSC roundtable: Looking ahead to Notre Dame at USC

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
12:19
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The USC Trojans won't have much time to recover from the loss to UCLA as the Fighting Irish come to town on Saturday. The WeAreSC staffers give three things each that the Trojans will need to do in order to beat Notre Dame.

Garry Paskwietz

1. Play to the rivalry: One of the biggest surprises from the USC-UCLA game last weekend was the fact that the Trojans were unable to match the intensity and execution level of the Bruins. In the rivalries with UCLA and Notre Dame, that has rarely been an issue for the Trojans, and with a packed Coliseum crowd on senior night it's hard to imagine that it would happen again on Saturday. Leaders of the team such as Hayes Pullard need to make sure their teammates are ready.

2. Find the missing Buck: You will still find Buck Allen near the top of the Pac-12 rushing rankings but there's been a different level of production over the past three games compared to the back who put together six straight 100-yard rushing games earlier this season. That drop certainly coincides with the injury to left tackle Chad Wheeler, who was the most consistent USC lineman before suffering a torn knee ligament against Utah. The Irish are dealing with injuries to their rush defense, as Notre Dame will be without two top defensive linemen, the middle linebacker who called the defensive signals, and a starting safety. It will be interesting to see if that means more of a reliance on the run game from the USC offense.

3. Pressure Golson: The Trojans will look to make things uncomfortable in the pocket for Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, a strategy which was used in similar fashion for UCLA's Brett Hundley, who was able to have success with the perimeter screen passing game. Golson is a veteran quarterback who led his team to a victory in the Coliseum against the Trojans two years ago, and he's not going to get rattled easy so if there are any tricks left in the bag of USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

Johnny Curren

1. Avoid a post-UCLA hangover: The Trojans can't let this past weekend's debacle carry over into their preparation for Notre Dame. They need to realize the importance of this rivalry game, and come out with energy and a positive mindset right from the first moment they hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field this week. For this to happen, veteran leaders such as Pullard, Nelson Agholor and Cody Kessler will need to help rally the team together.

2. Get after Golson: While he doesn't present quite the challenge that Hundley did, Golson is still a formidable dual-threat passer who has the ability to put up some big numbers against the Trojans if the defensive front doesn't bring the heat on a consistent basis. The defense did appear to do a decent job of getting after Hundley early on last weekend, but it was apparent the Trojans' pass rush lost some steam as the game wore on. Unless they want a repeat of last week, Wilcox & Co. need to find a way to make Golson uncomfortable throughout the game. Of course, for any of this to really work, the Trojans' safeties will need to have a better outing in coverage as well.

3. Get a better performance out of the offensive line: Tim Drevno's group struggled throughout this past weekend's contest. With USC unable to establish any kind of a rushing attack, the Bruins were able to completely rattle Kessler. There's little doubt Notre Dame will try to replicate what UCLA accomplished, so the USC offensive line better be ready. I'd like to see Drevno open up some spots up front for competition this week. In particular, I think that Damien Mama deserves a shot at earning his starting job back, and perhaps it's time to even give someone such as Aundrey Walker a serious look.

Greg Katz

1. The Trojans have to up their game and match the physical play of the Irish. Last week against UCLA, the Bruins had their way with the Trojans, and the Men of Troy were physically dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. If the Trojans don't flex some muscle and show lack of aggressiveness, it will set the tone for the game. The last thing the Trojans can allow is for an aggressive Irish defense to sack Cody Kessler six times and don't think ND won't try to copy the UCLA model for success.

2. The Trojans' offense has to attack the Irish down field with medium to deep passing routes. The Irish secondary is vulnerable. Although Notre Dame is strong up front on defense, the Trojans have to find a way to get the running game going with Javorius Allen, something that was sorely lacking against UCLA. The Irish are inexperience at middle linebacker, and it would behoove the Trojans to challenge the ND run defense to help create effective passing opportunities. If the Trojans can establish a balanced offense, it will help keep the Irish offense under wraps. Although he has had a tough season, Irish quarterback Everett Golson is due for a big game, but he can't have one if he's on the bench.

3. Playing against the Irish offense is like playing against the UCLA offense. With the Bruins, it was stopping Brett Hundley, and against Notre Dame it's stopping senior quarterback Everett Golson, a smaller version of Hundley. The Trojans, hopefully, learned from the UCLA game that you can stop a running game, but you still have to account for the bubble screens and the quick slants. Golson can execute those patterns. If the Trojans corners get physically worked like they by the blocking of the UCLA receivers, it could be a long night against the Irish, as it was with the Bruins. The Irish have good receivers and they can be dangerous, so there will have to be improved secondary play from the Trojans. If the USC secondary has a second week of blown coverages and tackles, it could be a long night in the Coliseum for the Men of Troy.

USC Trojans recruiting notebook

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
12:55
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Lining up at linebacker, tight end, running back and even on most of the special teams units, Class of 2016 star Lokeni Toailoa was impossible to miss this past Friday night during Rialto (Calif.) Carter's game against Romoland (Calif.) Heritage in the second round of the CIF-SS Inland Division playoffs.

"I love my team and I love football," Toailoa said, "so if I need to stay on the field the entire game, you better believe that I'm going to be on the field all four quarters."

[+] EnlargeLokeni Toailoa
Johnny Curren/ESPN.comESPN Junior 300 LB Lokeni Toailoa hasn't narrowed down his college choices yet, however, the Trojans are hoping to be a favorite.
But despite Toailoa's best efforts, Carter ultimately fell to Heritage by a final score of 28-19, putting an end to what has been an extremely impressive season for the ESPN Junior 300 linebacker, as well as for his entire team.

"We came out here and we battled until the end, and we came up short. That's just how it is," Toailoa said. "And this season, even though we didn't make it to the end, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I have 50-plus brothers out here."

The USC coaching staff targeted Toailoa as a priority early in the recruiting process, offering the 6-foot-1 1/2, 222-pound standout last April, and during his game on Friday he was decked out in Trojans' gloves and arm sleeves. He was quick to point out, however, that his choice of gear wasn't necessarily a reflection of anything.

"This is my away game attire," Toailoa said. "I change it up week-to-week. For home games, I typically wear UCLA or Oregon State."

In fact, Toailoa isn't anywhere close to naming a leader, or even a group of favorites, primarily because his attention has been directed elsewhere this fall.

"I'm wide open to all 18 schools that have offered so far," Toailoa said. "My main focus was to take a step back from recruiting during the season, and to help my team win some games. Now that the season is over, I'm going to take some time off, get my body right, get back into it for the 7-on-7 circuit, and see where recruiting goes."

Still, there's no denying USC is a significant player in Toailoa's recruitment. He rooted for the Trojans growing up, and he's also been spotted at a number of games at the Coliseum this season.

"The atmosphere at the Coliseum is always great," Toailoa said. "I'm just impressed with Coach [Steve] Sarkisian and the whole USC coaching staff and what they're doing so far."

Another program that Toailoa is definitely considering is UCLA, and he was at the crosstown clash between the Bruins and Trojans in the Rose Bowl this past Saturday. And while UCLA wound up winning the contest in dominating fashion, and he did re-tweet some positive Bruins messages following their victory, heading into the game Toailoa said that, ultimately, the outcome would have no bearing on his final decision.

"It doesn't matter to me who wins or loses that game," Toailoa said. "I'm looking for the education. I want to see if I would want to go there if I wasn't playing football. So, that won't play into my decision at all."

News and notes

-- A number of prospects are expected to be at USC this coming weekend on official visits for the Trojans' clash with Notre Dame, including linebacker John Houston Jr. (Gardena, Calif./Serra), linebacker Osa Masina (Salt Lake City, Utah/Brighton), defensive tackle Tim Settle (Manassas, Va./Stonewall Jackson) and linebacker Roquan Smith (Montezuma, Ga./Macon County) among others. ESPN 300 tight end Chris Clark (Avon, Conn./Avon Old Farms) was also originally scheduled to come in this weekend, but he has pushed that trip back due to a late-season knee injury. ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem Hills, Utah/Salem Hills) will be at the game on an unofficial visit.

-- ESPN 300 wide receiver Christian Kirk (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro) has announced he will commit to a school on Dec. 17. His last official visit will be taken to USC (Dec. 5), and he is also considering Texas A&M, Arizona State, UCLA, Auburn and Ohio State.

-- Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence Central standout and one-time Michigan commit Darrin Kirkland Jr. has set up an official visit to USC for the weekend of Dec. 13. The ESPN 300 linebacker is also considering Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Texas.

-- Speaking of former Wolverines pledges, ESPN 300 running back Mike Weber (Detroit, Mich./Cass Tech) has officially decommitted from Michigan. He expressed interest in taking an official visit to USC recently, and is also reportedly considering Michigan State, Ohio State, Miami (Fla.), Tennessee and Wisconsin among others. He took an unofficial visit to USC this past summer.

-- ESPN 300 defensive end Keisean Lucier-South announced Saturday via Twitter that he has committed to UCLA. The Orange (Calif.) Lutheran product was also considering Oregon, Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida as well as USC.

A look at the stats some recruits recorded in their games this past weekend:

Class of 2015

QB Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) – USC commit
-- In a 56-6 victory over Santa Ana (Calif.) Foothill, Darnold completed 15 of 22 passes for 284 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions, and he also rushed for 67 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries.

RB Aca'Cedric Ware (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill) – USC commit
-- Rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a 50-28 victory over McKinney (Texas) Boyd.

WR Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) – USC commit
-- Caught five passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns in a 56-36 victory over Lake Mary (Fla.).

LB Cameron Smith (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay) – USC commit
-- In a 28-13 victory over Napa (Calif.), Smith compiled 17 tackles (3 solo) on defense, while also hauling in a three-yard touchdown pass on offense.

ATH Langley (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill) – USC commit
-- Caught eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns, and he also returned a fumble 70 yards for a touchdown in a 54-8 victory over Antioch (Calif.).

RB Jones (McKinney, Texas/McKinney North)
-- Rush for 308 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries in a 50-44 victory over West Mesquite.

RB Weber (Detroit, Mich./Cass Tech)
-- Rushed for 131 yards and one touchdown on 40 carries in a 30-14 loss to Saline (Mich.).

WR Cordell Broadus (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- Caught two passes for 52 yards and one touchdown in a 56-6 victory over Las Vegas (Nev.) Arbor View.

WR Kirk (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro)
-- In a 49-21 victory over Queen Creek (Ariz.), Kirk caught four passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 124 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries, and he also intercepted a pass and took it back 50 yards for a touchdown.

WR DaMarkus Lodge (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill)
-- Had four receptions for 47 yards and one touchdown in the victory over Boyd.

CB Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
-- In a 44-27 victory over Encino (Calif.) Crespi, Marshall caught two passes for 60 yards and one touchdown on offense, and he also racked up nine tackles (8 solo) on the defensive side of the ball.

ATH Ykili Ross (Riverside, Calif./Poly)
-- Caught seven passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-33 victory over San Bernardino (Calif.) San Gorgonio.

Class of 2016

QB Shea Patterson (Shreveport, La./Calvary Baptist Academy)
-- Completed 10 of 20 passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-21 victory over Baton Rouge (La.) Dunham.

WR Dylan Crawford (La Canada, Calif./St. Francis)
-- Had five receptions for 147 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-35 loss to Whittier (Calif.) La Serna.

WR Jackie Jones (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
-- Caught five passes for 46 yards in the victory over Crespi.

WR Javon McKinley (Corona, Calif./Centennial)
-- Had six receptions for 187 yards and one touchdown in a 27-24 victory over Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei.

ATH Byron Murphy (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro)
-- Caught three passes for 80 yards and one touchdown in the victory over Queen Creek.

ATH Trevon Sidney (La Puente, Calif./Bishop Amat)
-- Caught a touchdown pass and came up with a key interception in a 24-17 victory over San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) JSerra.

Class of 2017

QB Tate Martell (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- In the 56-6 victory over Arbor View, Martell completed 8 of 12 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns, while also picking up 31 yards on the ground on his only carry.

DE Haskell Garrett (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- Had four tackles (3 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss and half a sack in the victory over Arbor View.

ATH Darnay Holmes (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park)
-- Had four receptions for 74 yards and one touchdown in a 42-26 victory over Santa Maria (Calif.) St. Joseph.

ATH Nathan Tilford (Upland, Calif./Upland)
-- Rushed for 111 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in a 52-21 victory over Newhall (Calif.) Hart.

JUCO

WR De'Quan Hampton (Long Beach, Calif./L.B. City College) – USC commit
-- Had six receptions for 67 yards and one touchdown 75-41 Golden West College.

WR Isaac Whitney (Riverside, Calif./Riverside City College)
-- Caught three passes for 89 yards and one touchdown in a 51-37 victory over Ventura College.
LOS ANGELES -- Like two proud but beat up former heavyweight champions, the USC Trojans (7-4, 6-3 Pac-12) and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-4) stagger into Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday in what turns out to be their final round of the 2014 regular season.

Both unranked programs are hurting from difficult Saturday losses, as the Trojans were completely humbled by rival UCLA, 38-20, in the Rose Bowl while the Irish helped beat themselves by missing a field goal at the end of a 31-28 loss against Louisville at home.

The Trojans are now 2-2 in their last four games while the Irish have lost three in the same span. The two teams have two common Pac-12 opponents -- Stanford and Arizona State. Both the Trojans and Irish beat the Cardinal but lost to the Sun Devils.

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Notes, quotes and anecdotes from the Rose Bowl after the USC Trojans (7-4, 6-3 Pac-12) were defeated 38-20 by the UCLA Bruins (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) Saturday.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian comments:

For openers: “I’m going to start by saying UCLA played a very good football game. Some of the keys to the ballgame were pretty clear -- their ability to extend drives, the third-down efficiency, 9-for-16, and then their efficiency in the red zone, 5-for-6. I felt like they did a nice job on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Over time that took a toll on us. We couldn't get off the field.”

On the perimeter game: “The perimeter screen game really hurt us. The ball got on the perimeter for them, and they really got yards and chunks in the screen game, which took its toll. It was a real swing in the game with the turnover there in the second quarter. They took advantage of it -- the score right at the end of the half. Then they came right back out and got another seven to start the second half. Then we go three-and-out and they get seven more. [That] really was the entire ball game.”

On bouncing back to face Notre Dame: “It’s going to be a unique challenge for us. We have to get back up on the horse, and when there’s this level of disappointment that’s going to take great leadership. That starts with me getting these guys prepared to play Notre Dame next Saturday night.”

UCLA head coach Jim Mora comments:

On the meaning of the victory over USC: “It just confirms what I have believed in all along. It’s not close to finished, but we are moving in the right direction.”

On the USC rivalry: “When I got here, I didn’t think much of it. I just have a lot of respect for Sark, obviously. That guy gave me an opportunity, along with [UCLA athletic director] Dan [Guerrero] and Chancellor Block. I just have a lot of respect for Sark and what he is trying to do over there. I don’t know about the rivalry. That is not how my mind works. I just work day to day.”

On defending the Trojans: “To me, it is about stopping the run first, eliminating big plays second and getting after the quarterback third. But you don’t want to let things get down the field on us. Nelson Agholor is special. I said the same thing about [Marqise] Lee two years ago. [Nelson is] a great football player. You have to tackle him and you can’t let him get loose.”

More notes and anecdotes:

Key(s) to victory: UCLA junior quarterback Brett Hundley passed for three touchdowns (326 yards through the air) and rushed for another, while the Bruins defense dominated a subdued Trojans offense in a decisive 38-20 victory that gave the Blue and Gold their third consecutive win over the Men of Troy.

Let’s get physical: On the physical aspect of the game, Mora said, “UCLA is a physical football team. I don’t think there was anything extra. We felt like if we let it get to where it was extra, we thought that it could get away from us, emotionally. We held it together emotionally, and USC did the exact same thing. That is a credit to our staff and to their staff. That is a credit to their players and to our players. It was good, hard-fought football by two teams dying to get after each other.”

The offensive implosion: The Trojans scored 20 points against the Bruins on Saturday. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were averaging 35.2 points per game.

Kessler comments: On UCLA’s defensive dominance, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler said, “They did a really good job of game-planning us. They got a lot of pressure on us and they had a great pass rush.”

Defensive leak: The Trojans defense allowed 38 points to the Bruins on Saturday. Prior to the UCLA game, the Men of Troy were allowing 23.3 points per game.

The strong safety speaks: Trojans senior strong safety Gerald Bowman had his opinion of the game and the UCLA offense. Bowman said, “We have to step it up. I think a turning point was our missed tackles. We were doing our jobs, but we just didn’t finish. We have to learn to finish. They were running their offensive tempo pretty fast.”

Quarterback pressure: Kessler was sacked six times by the UCLA defense, while the Trojans sacked Hundley just twice.

Offensive recession: The Trojans had 276 yards in total offense against the Bruins on Saturday. Prior to the UCLA game, the Men of Troy were averaging 458.0 offensive yards per game.

Fast start: Before the UCLA game, the Trojans had outscored opponents 129-22 in the first quarter. On Saturday night in the first quarter, the Men of Troy were outscored 14-7.

Getting on line: Afterward, Trojans starting sophomore offensive tackle Zach Banner said, “This one hurts. It’s our rivals. Seeing Cody get sacked, I personally feel like I let my team down.”

More defensive issues: Against the Bruins on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 461 yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were allowing 396.8 yards per game.

Through the Hayes: On his defense’s performance, Trojans senior linebacker Hayes Pullard said, “Nobody could have predicted this game before and looked into the future. I always tip my cap to Brett (Hundley). He’s a physical runner and a very skilled athlete.”

Rush-hour jam: Against the Bruins on Saturday, the Trojans rushed for 62 yards. Prior to the Bruins game, the Men of Troy were averaging 163.1 yards rushing per game.

Tough going: Trojans standout junior tailback Javorius Allen managed just 60 yards rushing with a long carry of 12 yards.

On the mark: Against the Bruins on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed 135 net yards rushing. Prior to the UCLA game, the Men of Troy were allowing 135.1 yards rushing per game.

Counting the house: The announced attendance was 82,431, which is short of a Rose Bowl sellout (91,136).

Below the passing norm: On Saturday against the Bruins, the Trojans passed for 214 yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were averaging 294.9 passing yards per game.

The evaluation: On the turning point to this season, senior tight end Randall Telfer, who didn’t catch a pass on Saturday night, said, “The tide for us turned at the start of the season when we thought we could be special. We had the hype and the expectations. It has become strange and shocking. As for UCLA, they have a lot of heart and energy and they have managed to put together a complete team.”

Air defense breakdown: On Saturday against the Bruins, the Trojans defense allowed 326 passing yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans pass defense was allowing 261.7 yards per game.

Action Jackson: Outside the Trojans locker room after the game, USC true freshman corner sensation Adoree' Jackson said, “We messed up on tackles. We made a couple of mistakes, especially on my end. I was surprised by the game, and I thought we were going to get the ‘W.’ UCLA just executed better than us.”

Flag improvement: On Saturday against the Bruins, the Trojans were penalized five times for 49 yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were averaging 83.2 yards in penalties per game.

A second opinion: Assessing the game following its conclusion, Trojans junior linebacker Anthony Sarao said, “We failed to execute. We had a great game plan coming in. It’s not about a magical defense. It’s about players. I’ll say this: We never laid down.”

Top tacklers: Pullard led the Trojans defense with nine tackles, followed by sophomore free safety Leon McQuay with seven tackles.

Injury report: There were no reported injuries.

Scouts honor: NFL scouts in attendance included reps from the Rams, Raiders, Cowboys, Dolphins, Panthers, Jaguars, Colts, Falcons, Bengals and Bears.

Bowling alley: Representatives from the Alamo, Holiday and Sun Bowls were in attendance to watch the Trojans and Bruins.

Next game: The Trojans will host the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame next Saturday afternoon in the Coliseum. Kickoff time will be 12:30 p.m. PT and the game will be televised on Fox.
LOS ANGELES -- For most Trojans football fans, Nov. 22 will be the 84th renewal of the greatest intra-city rivalry in the country, the ultimate Southern California football game between the No. 19 USC Trojans and the No. 9 UCLA Bruins in the storied Rose Bowl.

However, for Baby Boomers rapidly approaching their upper oldies, Nov. 22 will always be a haunting memory of one of the darkest days in the history of our great country: the day John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

There was already excitement in the air that November week 51 years ago, because in 1963, like today, there wasn't anything more exciting than a college football game between USC and UCLA, two universities that reside just a little more than 12 freeway miles apart.

In 1962, the Bruins gave the eventual national champions and head coach John McKay all his No. 1 and undefeated Trojans could handle, and it took a miraculous, leaping fourth-quarter catch by running back/receiver Willie Brown to help ensure the Trojans would eventually defeat the stubborn Bruins of coach Bill Barnes 14-3.

So heading into the 1963 game, there was a lot of anticipation that the Bruins could take it a step further and knock off the defending national champions.

However, all thoughts regarding the 1963 game came to a shattering moment in time the day before the game, a Friday in which the world stopped.

I remember playing basketball at recess at Fremont Elementary School in Alhambra, California, with classmates Jimmy White, Brian Salisbury, Mario Carrillo and Ronnie Brock. In football, most everybody was a Trojans fan, and in basketball, thanks to John Wooden, everybody emulated the Bruins basketball team, which featured guards Gail Goodrich and Walt Hazzard.

Fremont Elementary, which is located about eight minutes from downtown L.A., was a special place for athletes, having been the home of late baseball Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner, with whom I had something in common, the same sixth-grade teacher, the patriotic Mrs. Edith Bloomingdale, wife of a former U.S. Naval officer.

An intense blacktop basketball game with no nets on the rims stopped on that infamous November Friday when a student came running out from one of the classrooms screaming hysterically that the president had been shot. Growing up in a politically active family, I immediately stopped playing and ran into a classroom with a black-and-white TV. In those days, TV and education together were considered a no-no unless being used to teach Spanish.

Breathless, I came across a number of teachers standing by the television tuned to CBS and legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite. It all seemed so dreamlike. I had always wondered from my previous history classes what it must have been like when Abraham Lincoln was shot, and now, unfortunately, I was getting it in real time.

All that was being reported over and over again was that three shots were fired at the presidential motorcade and Kennedy had been wounded, perhaps mortally. Cronkite said Kennedy had been taken to Parkland Hospital from Dealey Plaza, where the shooting had taken place.

To be etched in my Baby Boomer generation memory forever: Dealey Plaza, the grassy knoll, Elm and Houston Street, the sixth floor of the Dallas School Depository Building, Love Field, Parkland Hospital and eventually the name Lee Harvey Oswald, a 24-year-old ex-Marine and the alleged assassin.

Instead of lasting memories of Trojans gridiron legends like Pete Beathard, Hal Bedsole and Damon Bame and UCLA's Larry Zeno, Mike Haffner and Mel Profit, thoughts concentrated on the events in Dallas.

While most of Fremont remained at recess as the news was being delivered in that classroom of 35 empty desks, the bell finally rang and everybody returned to their respective classrooms. It was so quiet walking down the halls as word quickly spread regarding the assassination attempt in Dallas. At least we all hoped it was an attempt.

Upon entering my classroom, Mr. Joseph Abraham Trumpeter Fields, my eighth-grade teacher with a thick New York accent, was mute and pale. As we all sat down in those highly uncomfortable wooden desks, Mr. Fields kept the lights off in the classroom, although it was totally sunny outside.

Nobody talked. Nobody wanted to talk. Everybody either stared or put their heads on their desk. Frankly, we were all scared. At that moment, the 1963 USC-UCLA game might as well have been played on Mars. Nobody cared.

Although in reality it was just several minutes, it seemed like hours went by with nobody saying a word. In those days, Los Angeles had only seven commercial stations, and all of them were taking the feeds either off CBS, NBC or ABC. There were no commercials -- none.

Suddenly and somberly, Mr. Hollis Stoa, another eighth-grade teacher, walked into our classroom and matter-of-factly said, "He's dead."

What had been a quiet classroom turned to quiet whimpering, then sobbing, and then just plain crying of emotional pain. Mr. Fields put both hands over his face to hide his emotions and wept. It was all too surreal.

Upon getting home that afternoon, instead of talking about the USC-UCLA football game scheduled for the next day, my UCLA dad and USC mom didn't say anything. We all gathered in front of the television and tried to make sense of it all. The country was told that Vice President Lyndon Johnson had been sworn in as president and was flying back to Washington D.C. along with the casket carrying President Kennedy.

While the country and the world were in a state of shock, suddenly the USC-UCLA football game was pointless given the circumstances. But how would it be handled?

McKay was adamant that no game be played and that it should be moved to another date. UCLA and the Coliseum Commission agreed, so the game was moved back until Nov. 30. How ironic that the Coliseum was also the same site that Kennedy accepted the Democratic party's nomination for president in 1960.

For the record, the Trojans handily defeated the Bruins a week later, 26-6, before 82,460 in the Coliseum. The game was probably a therapeutic distraction from the events in Dallas a week earlier, but the pain of Nov. 22 wasn't going away any time soon, whether you were a Trojans or a Bruins fan.

So now, a little more than two generations later, the Trojans and Bruins will have at it on a Nov. 22, and for most attending in the Rose Bowl there will be little to no hint of that dark day in Dallas so long ago.

But for those who lived it back in the day, forgive us for closing our eyes for a moment at Saturday's kickoff in the Arroyo Seco and giving pause.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
9:45
AM PT
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.

WeAreSC roundtable: It's USC vs. UCLA

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
10:01
AM PT
WeAreSC staffers discuss topics for Saturday's USC vs UCLA game (8 p.m. ET, ABC):

What are three most important keys for USC against UCLA on Saturday?

Garry Paskwietz: First is to contain Brett Hundley. This has to be one of the biggest priorities for the Trojans when you think of the success Hundley has had over the past two games against USC, and with the traditional troubles that have been found with multi-dimensional quarterbacks. USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has not shown the willingness to this point in the year to apply consistent pressure against opposing quarterbacks, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see that change in this game, with Su'a Cravens being a potential "spy" to follow Hundley around the field. Next is finding rhythm on offense: It's been a fairly common theme this year for the USC offense. Find your rhythm, spread the ball around and good things happen. There have also been times when things got out of rhythm and that's when opponents have been allowed to stay in games. Minimize those missed opportunities, those wasted possessions during the middle of the game that slow momentum. There aren't too many quarterbacks better at managing an efficient game than Cody Kessler, and he's got big-time bona-fide weapons in Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor, let him use them. Finally, turn to the leaders: This is a game for guys like Hayes Pullard, Leonard Williams, Kessler and Max Tuerk to take over. The guys who have been in this game before, the guys who know what it feels like to lose to the Bruins two years in a row. Coach Steve Sarkisian has talked all year long about how this team has superior leadership, and that will be needed in an emotional rivalry setting unlike anything the younger USC players have seen before.

Johnny Curren: One, get after Hundley. The Trojans need to apply pressure on the Bruins' dual-threat passer early and often, because if they don't, he's certain to make them pay. The USC defense has struggled in this department throughout much of the season, but the UCLA O-Line hasn't exactly done a stellar job of pass blocking either. Two, the USC offensive line needs to have a big day. They've performed solidly as of late, but they'll need to have a better outing in terms of their run blocking against the Bruins than they did against Cal. Three, the Trojans need to finish strong. If Sarkisian's squad is going to come away with a victory on Saturday, they'll need to play a complete game -- not just two or three quarters as we've all grown accustomed to seeing this season.

Greg Katz: First, the Trojans' defense needs to contain Hundley in the pocket and don't let him roam the field with his legs, especially when he is back to pass. Secondly, ball control for the Trojans will be paramount and keeping the UCLA offense off the field, superior play calling from the Trojans offensive and defensive coordinator, and greatly reducing the penalty issues, which could spell disaster -- especially in the second half. Lastly, the Trojans really have to play smart, perfect, and poised football on both sides of the ball and not fade in the fourth quarter.

Name one player who could be the unexpected hero:

Garry Paskwietz: JuJu Smith. One of the youngest players on the field Saturday will also be one of the most gifted, as Smith has shown a physical presence, solid hands, the willingness to block and the ability to embrace the big moment, not be overwhelmed by it.

Johnny Curren: J.R. Tavai. The stout rush end reportedly was suited up and back at practice on Monday after missing the last two games due to a knee sprain, so there's reason to believe he just might be available this weekend, which would be significant to say the least. In order for the Trojans to win, Hundley is going to need to feel the heat right from the get-go, and if that ultimately happens, I think that Tavai could be a reason why. He has the perfect mix of athleticism, pass-rush skills and discipline to not only apply pressure on the UCLA signal-caller, but also to help contain and track him down when he tries to pick up yards on the ground.

Greg Katz: On offense, I am going with Trojans tight end Randall Telfer. You could argue the Trojans have not gone to the tight end enough this season, and if Telfer doesn't have to be preoccupied in pass blocking, it's time for him to have a senior moment. Defensively, it will be strong safety Gerald Bowman, who will have to account for both Hundley and defend the secondary. If healthy, Bowman could make a big difference.

Which recruit will be impacted the most by this game?

Garry Paskwietz: When all is said and done, I think Rasheem Green will be a USC vs. UCLA decision, so it would be a good opportunity for the Trojans to add another reason for the star defensive lineman to end up a Trojan.

Johnny Curren: Salt Lake City (Utah) Brighton's Osa Masina. The big linebacker prospect doesn't reside in Southern California, but it's looking more and more like it's coming down to a USC-UCLA battle for his services. He already took an official visit to UCLA, and his official visit to USC is scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 29, when the Trojans host Notre Dame. It's thought to be a bit of a toss-up at this point, so it's probably safe to assume he'll be keeping close tabs on this crosstown clash on Saturday.

Greg Katz: Gardena (Calif.) Serra defensive tackle Rasheem Green, whose prep season is over due to a knee injury. Although it is said Green is a USC/UCLA recruiting battle with Oregon as a possibility, having sustained a knee injury will give Rasheem time to reflect not only about football future but life without football. The Trojans pulling the upset over the Bruins would certainly present a positive talking point for Sarkisian's program.
The 2014 season has been a big one on the field for Dylan Crawford, not only because the ESPN Junior 300 wide receiver has excelled in terms of his individual play, but also because he's played a significant role for a La Canada (Calif.) St. Francis team that has piled up victory after victory.

The Golden Knights improved their record to a perfect 11-0 this past Friday night as they took down Lakewood (Calif.) Mayfair 49-14 in the first round of the CIF-SS Southeast Division playoffs, thanks in part to another solid outing by Crawford.

[+] EnlargeDylan Crawford
Johnny Curren/ESPN.comThe Trojans are keeping close tabs on ESPN Junior 300 wide receiver Dylan Crawford.
"Getting the win tonight is huge," said Crawford, who hauled in four catches for 75 yards and one touchdown, while also seeing time at cornerback in the contest. "We just went out here and competed every snap. We just have to do whatever we have to do to get that ring at the end of the season."

Part of a Class of 2016 that is loaded at the wide receiver position, Crawford is generally regarded as being one of the very best, and the USC coaching staff obviously agrees. Steve Sarkisian & Co. offered him last April, and they've kept close tabs on him throughout the season, with the Trojans' head coach coming to see him play in person a week-and-a-half ago.

"That was huge," Crawford said. "Really, that's like a childhood dream -- to have a college head coach at your game. That was just crazy to me -- that he'd be at my game watching me play. It was great."

Holding over a dozen offers, Crawford isn't anywhere close to naming any leaders when it comes to his recruitment, but having grown up watching the Trojans, and having built a strong rapport with wide receivers coach Tee Martin and offensive coordinator Clay Helton, he admits USC will be in contention for his signature until the end.

"SC is definitely one of the top schools for me," Crawford said. "I like everything about USC. It feels like home there. Their mentality -- all of their players, they know what they have to do. They know they have to go out there and perform. And the coaching staff there is huge too, because I have a good relationship with them."

And while the Trojans have had their ups and downs this season, overall, Crawford has been encouraged by what he's seen. In particular, he's been impressed with the way the freshmen have been used, and it's safe to say that Nelson Agholor's 16-catch outing against Cal this past Thursday had a positive impact on him as well.

"That was crazy," Crawford said. "It definitely impressed me because you know that they're always going to get their playmakers the ball whenever they can, and just let them shine. And that's what you want in a program. JuJu [Smith], Adoree' [Jackson] and all of those freshmen doing the things they're doing now is ridiculous, too."

Still, while the Trojans certainly have plenty of positives working in their favor, Crawford is intent on going through the entire recruiting process, and he made it clear that distance from home won't be a factor.

"I'm wide open right now," Crawford said. "I took a lot of trips this past summer and saw a lot of programs. I went to Alabama, Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, Florida State, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State ... and it was really just an eye-opener. There aren't only programs in California. There's good football everywhere."

St. Francis will next play at Whittier (Calif.) La Serna this Friday in the second round of the playoffs, and then on Saturday, Crawford will head over to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (Calif.) to see the crosstown clash between USC and another school he's considering, UCLA.

"I'll definitely be there," Crawford said. "I'm looking forward to it. It's one of the best rivalries, without a doubt. To be able to see those players go at it with so much passion, it's going to be great to see."

News and notes

  • Class of 2015 offensive lineman and USC commit Roy Hemsley (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward) signed a financial-aid agreement with the Trojans last week. The document doesn't legally bind Hemsley to USC, but it does clear the way for the December graduate to arrive on campus and enroll in January. He is the fourth mid-year candidate to sign early enrollment papers with the Trojans, joining quarterback Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure), linebacker Cameron Smith (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay) and offensive lineman Chuma Edoga (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern)
  • Speaking of Edoga, the ESPN 300 offensive lineman took an official visit to home-state Georgia this past weekend. He signed his early enrollment papers with USC back on Sept. 17, but again, that doesn't bind him to the university.
  • ESPN Junior 300 wide receiver Mykel Jones (Patterson, La./Patterson) told ESPN's Jeremy Crabtree recently that the Trojans are in his current top five, along with LSU, Florida State, Alabama and Texas.
Thursday night visitors

A list of some of some of the prospects who were in attendance at the Coliseum last Thursday night to see USC take on Cal.

Class of 2015
RB Dominic Davis (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany) - USC commit
OL Hemsley (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward) - USC commit
OL Clayton Johnston (Anaheim, Calif./Servite) - USC commit
DE Christian Rector (Los Angeles, Calif./Loyola) - USC commit
CB Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
S/WR Octavius Spencer (Monrovia, Calif./Monrovia)
TE/QB Caleb Wilson (Gardena, Calif./Serra)

Class of 2016
DB Traveon Beck (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco)
DB C.J. Pollard (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
QB/ATH Khalil Tate (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
LB Bryce Youngquist (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Los Osos)

Class of 2017
RB Greg Johnson (Los Angeles, Calif./Augustus Hawkins)
WR Joseph Lewis (Los Angeles, Calif./Augustus Hawkins)

JUCO
WR Isaac Whitney (Riverside, Calif./Riverside CC)

A look at the stats some recruits recorded in their games this past weekend:

Class of 2015

* QB Town (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) – USC commit
-- Completed 27 of 33 passes for a school-record 370 yards and six touchdowns in a 71-70 triple-overtime loss to Norco (Calif.).

* QB Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) – USC commit
-- Completed 13 of 14 passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns in a 43-14 victory over Fullerton (Calif.).

* WR Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) – USC commit
-- Caught three passes for 40 yards in a 34-19 victory over DeLand (Fla.).

* WR Christian Kirk (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro)
-- In a 41-22 victory over Tucson (Ariz.) Canyon del Oro, Kirk rushed for 263 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, while also hauling in two passes for 15 yards.

* WR Equanimeous St. Brown (Anaheim, Calif./Servite)
-- Had four receptions for 105 yards and one touchdown in a 34-33 loss to Long Beach (Calif.) Poly.

* TE Wilson (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
-- Caught seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns in a 68-64 loss to Corona (Calif.) Centennial.

* TE T.J. Wheatley Jr. (Buffalo, N.Y./Canisius)
-- In a 62-19 victory over Athol Springs (N.Y.) St. Francis, Wheatley caught one pass for 33 yards on offense, while also compiling seven tackles (5 solo) and two tackles for loss on defense.

* LB John Houston Jr. (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
-- Racked up 16 tackles (6 solo) in the loss to Centennial.

* LB Osa Masina (Salt Lake City, Utah/Brighton)
-- In a 58-28 loss to American Fork (Utah), Masina compiled six tackles on defense, while also rushing for 16 yards and hauling in two passes for eight yards on the offensive side of the ball.

* CB Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
-- In the 34-33 victory over Servite, Marshall compiled four tackles and one tackle for loss from his cornerback spot, while also making one catch for 30 yards on offense at wide receiver.

* ATH Ykili Ross (Riverside, Calif./Poly)
-- Had four receptions for 62 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-17 victory over Hemet (Calif.) Tahquitz.

Class of 2016

* QB K.J. Costello (Coto de Caza, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic)
-- Completed 12 of 25 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in a 45-13 loss to Encino (Calif.) Crespi.

* QB/ATH Tate (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
-- Passed for 402 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions, and rushed for 119 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to Centennial.

WR Crawford (La Canada, Calif./St. Francis)
-- Had four receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown in the victory over Mayfair.

* WR Theo Howard (Westlake Village, Calif./Westlake)
-- Caught seven passes for 72 yards in a 28-7 loss to Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei.

* WR Jackie Jones (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
-- Caught five passes for 51 yards and one touchdown in the victory over Servite.

* WR Javon McKinley (Corona, Calif./Centennial)
-- Had 13 receptions for 213 yards and four touchdowns, and he also returned a kickoff 84 yards for a score in the victory over Serra.

* WR Tyler Vaughns (La Puente, Calif./Bishop Amat)
-- Had 13 receptions for 159 yards and one touchdown in a 47-18 victory over Lakewood (Calif.).

* LB Lokeni Toailoa (Rialto, Calif./Carter)
-- In a 37-22 victory over San Jacinto (Calif.), Carter racked up nine tackles (7 solo) on the defensive side of the ball, while also contributing on offense by rushing for nine yards and one touchdown.

*S/WR Brandon Burton (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
-- Made three tackles and had two interceptions in the loss to Centennial.

* S Pollard (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
-- Had eight tackles (3 solo) in the loss to Centennial.

* ATH Byron Murphy (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro)
-- Caught 10 passes for 120 yards in the victory over Canyon del Oro.

Class of 2017

* QB Tate Martell (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- Completed 9 of 12 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns, while also picking up 25 yards on the ground in a 52-7 victory over Las Vegas (Nev.) Centennial.

* WR Keyshawn Johnson Jr. (Calabasas, Calif./Calabasas)
-- Had seven catches for 113 yards in a 47-41 victory over Ventura (Calif.) Buena.

* WR Tyjon Lindsey (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- Caught three passes for 78 yards in the victory over Centennial.

* ATH Darnay Holmes (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park)
-- Had eight receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown in a 56-28 victory over Santa Maria (Calif.) Righetti.

* ATH Nathan Tilford (Upland, Calif./Upland)
-- Rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in a 42-7 victory over San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) San Juan Hills.

JUCO

* WR De'Quan Hampton (Long Beach, Calif./L.B. City College) – USC commit
-- Caught seven passes for 76 yards and one touchdown in a 53-31 victory over El Camino College.

* WR Whitney (Riverside, Calif./Riverside City College)
-- Caught one pass for 13 yards in a 20-14 victory over Citrus College.

* TE Junior Pomee (Riverside, Calif./Riverside City College)
-- Caught two passes for 26 yards in the victory over Citrus College.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
9:35
AM PT
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.

Welcome to Carmageddon ll, the sequel

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
10:46
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- If there's one thing that gets the attention of the USC Trojans faithful and manifests unanimous harmony, it's the issues of having a USC football home game on a Thursday night right smack in the middle of Los Angelese rush hour.

So welcome back Carmageddon ll -- The Sequel.

Last season, the Trojans experienced their first Thursday night game in the City of Angels, and it didn't quite turn into a complete Carmageddon. Then again, only 64,215 showed up in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and many either headed home after work or elected toremain in their communities and watch the game on national television.

If you've lived in L.A. for enough years, you know there is nothing more unpleasant than sitting in evening rush hour traffic. Some refer to it as a freeway parking lot. Think of it as a vehicle version of a root canal.

Many fans chose to skip work entirely on Thursday and/or call in sick on Friday to avoid the pain and discomfort of L.A.'s legendary freeway fiasco.

Welcome to Carmageddon ll, the sequel.

So, the USC Trojans (6-3, 5-2 Pac-12) host the California Bears (5-4, 3-4 Pac-12) this Thursday evening (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), and the question will be how many happy fans will be in the Coliseum with the game televised nationally and neither team probably headed for the Pac-12 championship game. Oregon clinched the Northern Division title with their victory over Utah on Saturday night, and the Trojans have but a mathematical chance of a South Division championship.

Last season, the Trojans hosted the Arizona Wildcats on a Thursday night in mid-October, and there was a tempered turnout of just 64,216 inhabiting the sacred grounds of the Coliseum.

Low attendance wasn't totally unexpected for last season's Thursday night game, as the Men of Troy had lost badly, 62-41, the week before at Arizona State, which cost Lane Kiffin his job.

With interim head coach Ed Orgeron taking control, Trojans fans were unsure what to expect, and many supporters of the cardinal and gold said "fuhgeddaboutit" when it came to the state of affairs of the Trojans' football program and navigating the crunch that is Southern California traffic.

As the Trojans approach this Thursday night's game against Cal, the Trojans are currently alone in second place in the Pac-12 South and, as mentioned, still mathematically alive in the division race and now also bowl eligible. A 10-win season is still a possibility. To be sure, there are positives to build upon, although three losses by a combined total of 13 points and how the Trojans lost has been greatly disappointing to their followers.

So, coming off a satisfying 44-17 demolition of Washington State at Pullman last time out, there are friendly vibes for the Trojans heading into the Cal game. There is also the aspect that Trojans fans haven't seen their heroes play in the Coliseum since that 56-28 clobbering of Colorado way back on Oct. 18.

Still the question begs: What will the Coliseum attendance be on this Thursday night and will it be a reflection of renewed enthusiasm as the season comes to a climatic conclusion with UCLA and Notre Dame on the horizon?

Or will thoughts of fighting Thursday's night rush hour traffic, national television, a Friday workday hangover, and/or the relaxation of staying in the comforts of one's residence become a rhetorical question?

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

November, 5, 2014
Nov 5
10:13
AM PT
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.

WeAreSC roundtable: Trojans' strengths

November, 4, 2014
Nov 4
8:18
AM PT
As the Trojans head into the bye week and the final stage of the regular season, USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he learned from Pete Carroll to "lean on your teams strengths" in the month of November. The WeAreSC staffers discuss their views on the offensive and defensive strengths of the team.

Offense

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
James Snook/USA TODAY SportsNelson Agholor has been a big help on offense and special teams for the Trojans this season.
Garry Paskwietz: I think the Trojans are fortunate enough to be able to establish an identity from the start of each game based on what the defense is giving them. Against Washington State, it was evident the Cougars were looking to stop Buck Allen as much as possible so the Trojans were able to get things going more through the air, yet Sarkisian kept a steady pace with Buck until the defense loosened up a little and then Buck was able to do more damage. Of course, you don't run for 100 yards in six straight games like Allen has unless the offensive line has developed a mentality of run blocking, it has been a work-in-progress for this young group but the results are promising heading into the season's final stretch. The USC offense has been at their best when Cody Kessler has spread the ball around to his weapons, and he has done a great job of keeping turnovers to a minimum.

Johnny Curren: On offense, I think Sarkisian will continue to do what he recently talked about, and that's taking what the opposing defense gives USC. Still, I think he will lean on Allen with the idea of establishing the team's rushing attack whenever possible. And with Allen rushing for over 100 yards in six consecutive games now, and the offensive line having made strides since the start of the season, it's not a bad idea. But with Kessler playing extremely efficient football, and Nelson Agholor and JuJu Smith performing at a high level as well, I think the USC head coach has realized it's also OK to lean on the passing game as well, particularly when the opposing defense makes a concerted effort to shut down the Trojans' rushing attack. I think one thing that has also been made apparent is that this offense is at it's best when Sarkisian is a little more aggressive with his play calls, particularly late in games, so I think we'll see more of that as well.

Greg Katz: The Trojans should continue to make use of an effective running game and making Allen the priority. As long as the sweeps are working, keep running them. It helps the passing game a great deal if the Trojans continue using play-action passes off of fakes to Allen. I would continue to let the "new" Kessler throw the ball down field and keep the bubble screen concept or audibles to it a bare minimum. Speaking of the passing game, I would also continue to spread the ball around and remember that Smith is a lethal option as well as Agholor. In terms of coaching, I would continue to keep the offense diversified and be bold and courageous, yet smart in the final quarter with the lead.

Defense

Garry Paskwietz: This season has been a roller-coaster ride for the USC defense and in the end you need to trust in your stars, so that means Leonard Williams, Hayes Pullard, Su'a Cravens and I'm ready to add Adoree' Jackson to that list. The Trojans will face three quarterbacks who know how to throw the football -- and a couple who know how to run it pretty well, too -- and that means familiar issues with opponents firing against the Trojans' secondary. Williams will be counted on to lead the way with pressure up front, but will he have Cravens to help create havoc in the backfield? The status of Su'a and his knee will be a critical issue over the next several weeks to gauge his readiness. You know Pullard will be there, except for a glaring absence in the first half against Boston College he has been as steady of a presence as you will find in the middle of the USC defense for the past four years. He's on pace to lead the Trojans in tackles for a third time, he was second in the other year. As for Adoree', well, he's just special.

Johnny Curren: Williams, Cravens and Pullard have all played lights-out while emerging as the leaders of an extremely opportunistic defense that has forced 17 turnovers. So long as Cravens isn't out for any extended period of time, I only foresee his role expanding, as it's become apparent he's a really unique playmaker on defense. Somewhat surprisingly, the unit that has impressed me most as of late has been the secondary -- particularly Jackson. With this group improving with seemingly each week that passes, I think we could see defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox take more chances up front in terms of blitzing and trying to get after the quarterback, because if there is one thing that this defense still needs improve upon, it's generating more of a pass rush.

Greg Katz: The Trojans need to continue being aggressive on defense, like at Washington State, and not play so much of a bend and break defense. Although Washington State was an unbalanced offense, the aggressiveness of the defense front will come in handy when playing the final three games. The Trojans need to stay aggressive (there's that word again) and not worry about giving up the big play. Many big plays are the result of defensive breakdowns relating to blown coverages and/or technique errors. Like the offense, the defense seems to be at its best when it stays assertive. I would continue to blitz and put pressure on the quarterback, a strategy that paid off in getting to WSU quarterback Connor Halliday. Like Sarkisian, Wilcox has to stay aggressive, too, and not scale it back as the game winds to its conclusion.

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