USC Trojans: USC Trojans

USC aims to learn during bye week

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
LOS ANGELES -- Still trying to figure it all out after a 37-31 upset loss at Boston College on Saturday night, the USC Trojans are now faced with picking up the pieces, and a bye week couldn’t have come at a better time.

When a team like USC gets off to such a promising start to the season (2-0) and a No. 9 national ranking, there is always the question of whether a bye week comes at a good time. With the unexpected turn of events like what happened in Chestnut Hill, the loss at Boston College basically welcomes a bye week throughout the program.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaCody Kessler said his confidence is high when it comes to USC's resiliency.
So, just how important is this week’s bye in the eyes of some of those that participated in Saturday’s Boston bummer?

“It’s very important, said sophomore wide receiver George Farmer, who score his first touchdown of the season on a 8-yard reception from quarterback Cody Kessler.

“We’re kind of glad this happened to us now that we can use this bye week to prepare for Oregon State,” Farmer added.

“We can clean up on all the areas that we didn’t do so well on this week. This bye week is really critical. We’re going to do everything we can to clean up everything we can.”

For senior co-captain and inside linebacker Hayes Pullard, emotions turn to philosophical analysis. Pullard echoes Farmer’s statement on the urgency of the bye week.

“It’s very important,” Pullard said. “We can’t look at this as a loss but as a game. When we see a quarterback run on us like that, this is what the Pac-12 is bringing to the table – this option stuff. We got a little taste of it.”

Of course, there is also ability now to sit down this week and break down where the deficiencies are and how to correct them.

Sophomore starting right tackle Zach Banner tried to put the bye week and the loss to Boston College in perspective.

“We have to get it back,” Banner said of the momentum that had been built after the opening victories over Fresno State and Stanford. “After a hard loss like this, Coach told us there are things that we could have controlled during that game. We have to look at the film and we have to never do this stuff again.”

Speaking of the head coach, Steve Sarkisian had his thoughts regarding the bye week after the loss.

“I really believe we'll bounce back and we'll do it in great fashion,” Sarkisian said. “It's back to the drawing board for the bye week, which is probably coming at a good time for us.”

Kessler couldn’t agree more.

“It's going to be a big week for us to bounce back coming into the bye week,” Kessler said. “I'm not worried. This team knows how to fight back.”

The Trojans now have two weeks to get the bitter taste of the Boston College defeat out of their system before Oregon State comes to the Coliseum on Sept. 27.

And you can be sure of one thing: Beavers coach Mike Riley will test the Trojans and see how much they have learned and corrected themselves. Indeed, this is a critical bye week for the Men of Troy.
If USC's sudden defensive breakdown after three games seems shocking, it shouldn't be.

Not if you carefully studied Steve Sarkisian's coaching resume. Not if you observe him on the practice field, where he spends almost 95 percent of his time with the offense. Not if you watched as he made little, if any, halftime adjustments as Boston College trampled through the Trojans for so many rushing yards, you'd have thought it was Oregon on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

That wasn't just another defeat in Chesnut Hill on Saturday night. It was among the more embarrassing losses in recent school history.

USC teams do not get outrushed 452 yards to 20. It just isn't supposed to happen.

But it did. It was as real as all that BC emotion flooding out from the stands. A small, unranked bunch beat all those four and five-star Trojans recruits into the ground. The same team that had been pounded for 302 yards rushing by Pittsburgh a week earlier made USC's offensive and defensive lines look thinner than your average lobster roll on the way to a 37-31 upset that was far worse then the final score indicated.

Maybe this is what happens when you hire a head coach with little or no defensive background. In 2011, in Sarkisian's third year at Washington, his team finished 105th or lower nationally in scoring defense, pass defense and total defense.

Eventually, Sark, whose entire coaching career has been on the offensive side, hired Justin Wilcox as his defensive coordinator, and things improved dramatically. But Wilcox came with him to USC, and after three games, this Trojans' defense is seriously staggering.

First, Stanford gashed it for 413 yards, failing to win the game only because it couldn't convert inside the red zone. Then this, a Trojans' performance so ragged, it couldn't be blamed solely on a post-Cardinal letdown, or a long cross-country plane ride.

You don't stink up the place like that, coughing up 506 total yards, unless you have some serious problems. And a defense that was supposed to be the best in the Pac-12 and one of the better units in the country suddenly has more holes in it than a bad summer movie script.

How could Boston College make Leonard Williams & Co. look so confused with their read-options? Where were the USC defenders on the edge? And how in the world did they turn tiny quarterback Tyler Murphy into looking like the second coming of Marcus Mariota?

Offensively, most of the problems centered on the Trojans' young blockers, who were clearly overmatched. They couldn't run block, and they couldn't pass block. Other than that, they were fine.

Not that Sarkisian helped much with his play calling. Even after it became clear Javorius Allen and Justin Davis couldn't even get to the line of scrimmage most of the time, Sark kept calling run plays, especially on first down.

Whatever happened to taking what the defense gives you? Clearly, BC was concentrating on stopping the run and giving USC the intermediate passing game, but Cody Kessler, who suffered five sacks, wasn't able to take much advantage of it when it mattered.

The Trojans finally ditched their short, horizontal passing game to rally some with 14 points in the fourth quarter, but every time you thought they had a chance to come back, the Eagles would get the ball back and the rest was history.

So just as quickly as the 2014 optimism skyrocketed a week ago, it has plummeted back to Earth. Instead of being 3-0 and looking ahead to bigger and better things, USC is a sagging 2-1 after losing to a 17-point underdog.

And if Murphy and the less-than-imposing Eagles can do this to the Trojans, what are Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame apt to do, let alone a more sophisticated read-option team such as Arizona, or a hungry Utah squad in Salt Lake City?

The road that looked so smooth and inviting after the great escape at Stanford now is filled with potential potholes again.

Longtime Trojans fans have every right to be disappointed.

But if they go back and review the new head coach's resume, they really shouldn't be surprised.

USC storylines at Boston College 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
Here are five storylines for the USC Trojans against Boston College on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

LOS ANGELES -- For USC freshman cornerback Adoree' Jackson, the introduction to big-time college football didn’t take long.

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WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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 chat, 2 p.m. PT

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
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: Stanford preview 

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
WeAreSC staffers discuss topics relating to USC's game at Stanford on Saturday.

Key to the game

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USC ready for revenge-minded Stanford

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
LOS ANGELES -- Having toyed with the Fresno State Bulldogs in their 52-13 season-opening victory in the Coliseum on Saturday, things take a dramatic upturn as the USC Trojans get ready for this weekend’s trip to Palo Alto and the revenge-minded Stanford Cardinal.

Head coach David Shaw’s Cardinal, no doubt, will be seeking retribution after last season’s gut-wrenching, 20-17 upset loss to the Trojans in Los Angeles, which sparked a stampede of Cardinal and Gold faithful onto the hollowed turf of the Coliseum upon the game’s stirring conclusion.

Fond memories of that USC triumph still resonate with returning Trojans players, especially sophomore strong safety Su'a Cravens.

Just ask the 2013 freshman All-American about his recollections of last November’s upset win and the current state of the USC/Stanford series, and Craven’s Hollywood smile quickly turns Tony Soprano serious.

“My interception, of course, the field goal, and team ball,” said Cravens, recalling his pick of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan in the fourth quarter last season, which helped set up Andre Heidari's game-winning 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining.

“In the last couple of years Stanford has made it a rivalry, not as intense as UCLA or Notre Dame, but this is a big game coming up this weekend,” Cravens said. “They are going to be on all their Ps and Qs and so will we.”

Stanford, which opened its season at home Saturday by destroying UC Davis 45-0, obviously doesn’t have pleasant memories of the last time these two private universities met, and Shaw will have his troops good and ready for payback.

Adding to the intrigue for this Saturday’s Pac-12 opener for both teams will be the Trojans' freshmen-on-the-road factor, an element that didn’t play out in a negative way against Fresno State.

You can bet Stanford will be looking to physically and mentally intimidate Steve Sarkisian’s inexperienced, wide-eyed USC freshmen, all of whom played significant roles against Fresno State.

Having been a freshman last season, Cravens has some advice for his younger teammates as it relates to the Cardinal.

“Don’t make the game bigger than what it is,” Cravens said. “It’s a long season and I understand it’s Stanford, but it’s your game and don’t let anybody else distract you.”

Junior linebacker Anthony Sarao, once a Stanford commit, added to Cravens' advice by saying, “Take every practice this week one at a time and get ready for Stanford’s physicality by being in the film room.”

And what kind of game does Cravens expect for the noon kickoff in Northern California?

“It’s going to be a physical game,” Cravens smiled. “They like to keep it in between the tackles.”

And Cravens isn’t alone in his assessment for the upcoming Cardinal confrontation.

“It’s going to be big on big,” echoed All-American defensive tackle Leonard Williams.

And somewhere legendary Trojans defensive line coach Marv Goux must be smiling.
Steve Sarkisian summed up the USC victory with the opening line of his postgame news conference.

“That was fun,” said the Trojans coach.

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Maybe we should just call them Kids-R-Us.

Everyone knew USC had some excellent freshman prospects, but nobody expected them to make this kind of impact, especially in the first game of the season.

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WeAreSC Roundtable: Week 1 

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
Who will score the 1st USC touchdown?

Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with tight end Randall Telfer. The Trojans go a long drive led by Buck Allen and when they get inside the red zone Cody Kessler will hit Telfer for the opening score.

Johnny Curren: Nelson Agholor. Kessler finds his favorite target early to get the party started.

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Five storylines: Fresno State at USC 

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
Here are 5 storylines for the USC Trojans against Fresno State (4:30 p.m. PT, Fox):

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Is anybody else ready for some football?

After one of the strangest weeks in the history of USC football, the Trojans get to put the focus back on the field Saturday, and kickoff can’t come soon enough.

The first hiccup of the week came last Saturday night when USC athletics director Pat Haden was unable to attend the annual “Salute to Troy” kickoff event on campus. The word given to the crowd that night was that Haden was dealing with family issues, but that everything was fine. As it turned out, Haden was actually in the hospital, and it was the second time in two days that he was there.

[+] EnlargeShaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIt doesn't seem likely that Josh Shaw will be playing for USC anytime soon.
No reason has been given for why Haden was hospitalized, but he was back in the office this week, just in time to deal with the ups-and-downs of the Josh Shaw situation. The hero who wasn’t, a genuinely strange drama that still hasn’t been fully explained and might never be. What we know right now is that Shaw was suspended indefinitely by USC after admitting he lied about the original story, which combined with the ankle injuries means that he won’t be lining up for the Trojans anytime soon. In his post-practice media comments on Thursday, Sarkisian did leave the door open for a potential return for Shaw, but he gave no parameters for how or when that could happen.

Sarkisian also dealt with another off-field distraction in that Thursday media session when he responded to comments made by former USC defensive back/running back Anthony Brown, who quit the team this week but not before firing off comments in social media, calling Sarkisian a racist. Brown isn’t a name familiar to many fans outside of the USC program; he made a couple starts at corner early in his career before injuries really slowed him. Brown had requested a move to tailback this year, which Sarkisian granted, and brought a speed element. He could have found a role, but something obviously went wrong from his perspective in regard to his relationship with the head coach. Sarkisian refuted Brown’s comments and many players -- past and present -- immediately came to Sarkisian’s defense and spoke out against the remarks from their former teammate.

What does all this mean to the mindset of the team as they prepare for the season opener? After all, this was supposed to be a period of new beginnings for the Trojans. The NCAA sanctions basically a thing of the past, a talented roster capable of moving forward under their new coach, one who spent the offseason charming boosters and recruits with equal success. It would be easy to look at the distractions and think they would be an issue, but the guess here is that they will have very little impact, if any.

The most tangible impact will be the loss of Shaw on the field. You don’t just snap your fingers and replace a veteran senior who is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation, one who was just elected a team captain, no matter how talented the players are who will be stepping in. But in terms of the drama influencing the emotion, preparation or focus of the team, I just don’t see it happening. The players have been waiting too long for this. The 2013 season showed this group that they can persevere through four coaching changes and still come out with 10 wins, so what happened this past week isn’t anything they can’t handle.
Josh Shaw will play football again. But it shouldn't be for the USC Trojans.

Not after this. Not after humiliating his coaches, his teammates and the program. Not after a blatant lie that grew worse when he, for some inexplicable reason, tried to make himself out a hero.

If there has ever been a more bizarre set of circumstances at USC, I can't remember it. This school has had its share of drama recently. From the Reggie Bush scandal, the ensuing NCAA sanctions, the Lane Kiffin experiment, to the bumbling coaching situation at the end of last season. This is the last thing beleaguered athletic director Pat Haden needed.

What Shaw has done is not only embarrass himself, but he has torpedoed everything Haden and coach Steve Sarkisian have been trying to do to change the culture at USC.

People were laughing and making fun of them on national television late Wednesday afternoon. "This kid said he saved his nephew from drowning, and he really did what?" Every Trojans fan watching had to grimace as the TV people carried on.

It doesn't matter how he really injured his ankles. Had he come forth immediately and told school officials what happened, he probably still would have been suspended. But it wouldn't have blown up into a national story.

Talk about your public relations nightmare.

There's also a matter of timing. Shaw's lie dropped on them like some kind of giant anvil -- providing the worst kind of late August distraction as the team prepared for the 2014 season opener against Fresno State on Saturday.

If you have to feel bad for anybody today, feel bad for the rest of the players on this USC team. They are as stunned as anyone by what Shaw did. This is a guy they named a captain just a few days ago. As much as they don't want this to affect their preparation for the season, it will.

That's why Haden and Sarkisian shouldn't delay their action. As soon as all the details of what occurred are known, they should do what they have to do.

They should tell Josh Shaw that he can no longer play football for USC.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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.