USC Trojans: USC Trojans

Five storylines for the USC Trojans as they prepare to face the Washington State Cougars on Saturday (1:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network).

LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans took part in a two-hour practice session on Wednesday in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets, following which USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said that he was pleased with the way that his players have worked this week coming off a crushing loss at Utah, where they struggled down the stretch – a common theme for the team this season that he hopes to see corrected.

“I’ve just really tried to challenge the guys on coming out here with a great attitude, with great energy, and to their credit, they did it again,” Sarkisian said. “And I’ve made it a real clear point to them about actually how well we’ve played, but we have to finish better, and we have to be confident in our ability to finish, to make the plays at the critical moments. Because we’re plenty capable of doing it.”

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesWashington State quarterback Connor Halliday has 3,833 passing yards and 32 touchdowns this season, but also has thrown 10 interceptions in eight games.
The Trojans are set to face a Washington State team this Saturday that, while sitting at the bottom of the Pac-12 North Division with a record of 1-3 in conference and 2-6 overall, features an extremely dangerous passing offense.

Directing Mike Leach’s Air Raid passing attack, quarterback Connor Halliday ranks No. 1 nationally in both passing yards (3,833) and touchdowns (32), and the Cougars throw the ball almost 65 times per game.

Sarkisian said he wouldn’t be surprised if Washington State puts the ball in the air 85 times on Saturday, and that above all else, it’s going to be important for the Trojans to be patient on defense.

“We can’t get hung up if they complete some balls – they’re going to,” Sarkisian said. “If you throw the ball 85 times – I don’t care if there’s 85 players out there – you’re going to complete some passes. We’re going to have to live with that. The key is trying to pressure the quarterback some, disguise our coverages, get our hands on footballs, create some turnovers, create short fields and just try to make it hard on them so that it’s not just pitch and catch all day long.”

Lobendahn remains at left tackle

With Chad Wheeler out for the season after tearing his ACL this past weekend, Toa Lobendahn, who has started every game this season for the Trojans at left guard, lined up with the No. 1 offense at left tackle for the second consecutive day. Aundrey Walker ran with the No. 2 offense at that spot.

Having had a chance to go over film from Tuesday’s practice session, Sarkisian said he was impressed with what he saw from Lobendahn at tackle, and he inferred that the freshman will start there Saturday.

“He looked really good,” Sarkisian said. “He looked athletic. You know, we’ve always felt like his strength was his feet at guard. And at tackle, I thought it really showcased his feet, especially on film. And not just in the team settings, but when you watch the one-on-one stuff, pass rush … he really has good feet. That, quite honestly, for his future might be more of a natural position for him. So, that looks like the direction we’re going to go in.”

Damien Mama, meanwhile, did not participate in practice after injuring his knee on Tuesday, so Khaliel Rodgers ran exclusively at left guard with the No. 1 offense. Sarkisian said that they will see if Mama will be able to do more on Thursday.

More on injuries

  • Defensive lineman Leonard Williams (shoulder) took part in some early drills and warmups, but he did not suit up, and he sat out the vast majority of practice. Sarkisian said that they expect to have him ready to go against Washington State, though.
  • Nose tackle Antwaun Woods (illness) did not practice.
  • Fullback Soma Vainuku (hamstring) did not practice, and Sarkisian said that it doesn't look like he'll play this weekend.
  • Safety Gerald Bowman (foot) practiced, and Sarkisian was encouraged by how much he was able to do.
  • Wide receiver Ajene Harris (hamstring) was limited, and Sarkisian said Harris still isn't 100 percent.
News and notes

  • With Washington State passing the ball so much, Sarkisian said this could be a game in which we see more of outside linebackers Charles Burks and Quinton Powell. “Charles, he’s a natural pass rusher, as Quinton Powell is,” Sarkisian said. “That’s what they did in high school. And this game lends itself to them being able to play to their strengths.”
  • For the second straight day there was a spirited one-on-one period featuring the wide receivers against the defensive backs. A few highlights of note:

-Cody Kessler tried to hit JuJu Smith down the sideline, but Adoree' Jackson had great coverage and the pass fell incomplete.

-Max Browne hit George Farmer deep against Jonathan Lockett.

-Nelson Agholor jumped high to snag a Browne pass out of the air over Kevon Seymour.

-Browne connected with Smith deep against Leon McQuay III.

-Browne tried to hit Steven Mitchell over the middle, but Bowman broke it up.

  • Agholor, Smith and Mitchell each hauled in long touchdown passes during service-period work.
  • Former USC wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was among those in attendance.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
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: Replacing Chad Wheeler

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
WeAreSC staffers discuss the USC offensive line with the loss of left tackle Chad Wheeler (ACL injury) and potential moves to replace him.

Garry Paskwietz: The loss of Wheeler is the biggest offensive personnel loss the Trojans have faced this season, as Wheeler was arguably the most consistent player on an inexperienced line. With him being out, it looks like Steve Sarkisian will take a look at both Toa Lobendahn and Aundrey Walker as potential replacements, and those two moves involve two distinct options. With Lobendahn, you not only are moving a new player into the left tackle spot (a position he hasn’t played in practice until now) but you also need to find a new left guard as well, and it looks like Damien Mama will get the first crack ahead of Khaliel Rodgers. With Walker at left tackle, you would have an experienced option who has started 18 games (including eight at left tackle in 2012) and you would be able to leave Lobendahn at left guard, where he has started all season.

I do think there is merit to considering the long-term move of Max Tuerk to left tackle, and possibly looking at Lobendahn at center. That would probably be the most drastic move, but it doesn’t mean it would be the wrong one. None of the options are ideal, of course, because it’s hard to lose such a steady player as Wheeler at the critical left tackle spot during the middle of the season, but it’s the reality of where the Trojans are right now.

Johnny Curren: The loss of Wheeler certainly is a blow. The Trojans were already young up front, and now they lose one of their most experienced contributors.

The placement of Walker at that left tackle spot is a no-brainer in my opinion. After all, he started eight games at the position as a sophomore, and he appears to have now returned to his prior form after having been slowed by his ankle injury earlier this season. It’s a shame, though, because I really thought Zach Banner benefited from having Walker there to give him some rest at right tackle. I’d move Nathan Guertler into that role now as a reserve who comes in for short periods of time at both right and left tackle. Nico Falah is another candidate who could potentially fill in at times, but I’m not sure he’s ready just yet, and I think Chris Brown should still probably redshirt this season.

As far as the long term goes, if Wheeler is unable to go at the beginning of next season I think the staff should consider moving Tuerk back out to left tackle this offseason, with Lobendahn likely taking his spot at center. The Trojans have three tackle candidates currently committed in the next recruiting class, but I think it’s probably too much to expect one of those guys to come right in and start as a freshman. You know you’d have a solid performer out there in Tuerk, and he’s struggled at times in the snapping department at center this season anyway, so for a number of reasons that might be a good move. Of course, if there’s a highly touted juco offensive tackle out there who the staff thinks they can haul in, perhaps that’s something we’ll see.

Greg Katz: The loss of Wheeler is not only the physical loss of an experienced player on the rise, but it’s also the loss of an offensive line leader. Wheeler was a mentor to the young linemen during summer workouts, during the season and was really coming into his own. As far as moving players around, it would be a bad idea because it would be like creating a new offensive line. Juggling linemen with four games remaining wouldn’t be worth the investment. The young offensive linemen are really getting settled, and to disturb that comfort zone would be counterproductive and perhaps catastrophic.

In terms of replacing Wheeler for the balance of the season, Walker did a nice job at Utah as a replacement. It appears Walker is mentally right for the challenge, and if he wants to be considered for an NFL career, now is the time for a stretch drive of production. Without question, Walker will be under the microscope from his teammates, coaches and NFL scouts. One could say this is the final turning point in his checkered career and a chance to perhaps be considered for the draft.

As far as next season and planning for the possibility that Wheeler might not be available, I wouldn’t worry about that until after the season. There is plenty of time in spring ball for potential auditions for the position. In fact, the idea of maybe burning a redshirt season by a true freshman lineman like Brown as a quick fix would be ill-advised.
LOS ANGELES -- There is no delicate way to sugarcoat it, the USC Trojans (5-3, 4-2 Pac-12) could be in legitimate danger of not being bowl eligible. The Trojans must get to at least six victories to become bowl eligible and the Men of Troy have four games left to win just one more, but none of the opponents could be classified as a gimme.

For Trojans first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, these are trying times and with Washington State, Cal, UCLA, and Notre Dame remaining, there is dramatic uncertainty that the Trojans or its legion of fans will be attending a major bowl game or any bowl game for that matter.

Ironically, the Trojans' next opponent, Washington State (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12) in Pullman this Saturday afternoon, must win out to become bowl eligible.

Saturday night's gut-wrenching loss at Utah, which prevented instant bowl eligibility, pretty much sums up a season that started with so much fanfare, thanks in part to the repeated message dispensed by Sarkisian.

The Sarkisian message: The 2014 Trojans are talented and of championship caliber.

Nobody argues with Sark's preseason and ongoing assessment, but as of this point in time, the record shows they are painfully fading in the championship caliber category.

Now 4-2 in the Pac-12 with two difficult South Division losses to ASU and Utah, respectively, Sarkisian will need to dig deep into his physiological playbook to make sure he his team doesn't collapse from the weight of the current "situation."

In their past six games, the Trojans are 3-3. Not what loyal fans of Tommy Trojan had in mind. In their three losses, the Trojans have been clipped by a physical rushing defeat at Boston College, a passing onslaught and last second Hail Mary from Arizona State, and, of course, Saturday night's latest losing fourth-quarter fiasco on the next-to-last play of the game in Salt Lake City.

To be honest, even in earlier Trojans' victories against challenging foes such as Stanford and Arizona, it's been hold-your-breath until the final ticks of the scoreboard clock.

Realistically, a shot at the College Football Playoff is now a distant memory, a chance to play in the Pac-12 championship game is all but mathematically extinguished, but the final coup de grace would be bowl birth elimination. It's one thing to be NCAA sanctioned out of bowling, it's quite another to play your way out of postseason play.

The Trojans finished 10-4 in 2013 and returned a number of returning players for 2014. Even with the absurd coaching drama of last season, the Trojans still managed to make it to the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl and finished with a resounding and upbeat win against Fresno State.

Now a 10-win season is also in major jeopardy. Yet, if the Trojans can produce an improbable four-game sweep of its remaining games and win a bowl game, they'll have at least equaled last season's record.

Nobody is more aware of all the current scenarios than Sarkisian, who still has some of the aforementioned carrots to entice his team. He has been telling his team lately that every game is a championship game.

Sark, however, now needs to re-word his message by saying that every game now could be a bowl eliminator, and maybe by looking at last season's enthusiastic rebound, this season's Trojans can resurrect a positive conclusion to this season.

Trojans just can't get over hump

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
There is something missing in the USC Trojans football program right now.

Whether you want to point to player execution, coaching decisions or a combination of both, it’s clear after another close loss -- this one a 24-21 defeat at Utah -- that something is preventing this team from getting over the hump and doing the little things that can often make the difference between winning and losing.

It’s not like the Trojans didn’t have a chance to win the game. They had put themselves in a very good position at the end of the fourth quarter to seal the victory, and that has been the case in several games this year. A few times the balls have bounced their way (Stanford and Arizona) but this is the third time now where the key play was not made or an in-game strategy did not work and it resulted in a loss.

Nelson Agholor had a career day in terms of pass receptions, but then narrowly stepped out of bounds on a fourth-down play that likely would have sealed the game. Darreus Rogers caught what could have been the game-winning touchdown, but earlier in the day had failed to jump on a dropped pass that was ruled a lateral, a play that allowed the Utes to take an early 7-0 lead. Cody Kessler had a a very good game for much of the game but failed to connect with an open JuJu Smith downfield for a potential score.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty ImagesCody Kessler made some nice plays against Utah, but a stalled offense in the third quarter ended up hurting the Trojans.
The Trojans were aggressive on offense early in the game and Kessler had 166 passing yards in the first half. In the third quarter, however, it seemed as if the rhythm of the USC offense changed and the Trojans had five consecutive three-and-outs, which helped Utah to hang around and stay in the game. Even with that, the Trojans had a third-and-2 situation late in the fourth quarter when a first down would have basically sealed the game. USC coach Steve Sarkisian was aggressive in trying to finish things off, but a pass play was incomplete and Agholor went out of bounds on fourth down just short of the marker. Not only did the Trojans not get the first down, the clock was stopped twice, a key factor in allowing Utah to have enough time at the end to drive down the field to win the game.

It’s easy sometimes to sit back in hindsight and point to each decision that is made, but that kind of self-evaluation is needed when these familiar patterns pop up multiple times in a season. This wasn’t the first time an opposing offense threw their way down the field with the game on the line. The decision to try to close out the game can be admired, but it can be questioned why Buck Allen was not on the field, especially for an offense that is looking to build an identity around a physical run game. If the Trojans have two opportunities to run Buck to get two yards, I think most USC fans would take their chances on that one.

Would any of these specific moments have made the difference in the game? It’s hard to tell. But the reality of the loss certainly takes away from some individual performances that put the Trojans in position for the win.

The moxie shown by Kessler on the fourth-quarter scoring drive that ended in the Rogers touchdown was simply terrific. The defensive effort from guys like Su'a Cravens, Leonard Williams and J.R. Tavai was what you need to see in a tough road environment. And that’s not even to mention Adoree' Jackson. If the Trojans had been able to win this game, it would have been highlighted as the night that Jackson broke out and showed what a special talent he can be.

Which play was more special? The 100-yard kickoff return, which Jackson actually fielded about six yards deep in the end zone, or the tackle and strip at the goal line that turned the ball over to the Trojans? Each play was an example of his unique combination of athleticism and surprising fundamentals for a freshman. In the end, however, the performance gets buried a bit in the discussion of the gut-wrenching loss in such a familiar fashion.

This is a big test for Sarkisian in terms of where he takes this team because there is plenty to point to that has gone right, but there is also something -- call it a killer instinct or sense of urgency -- that has been missing at critical times. It cost the Trojans another game on Saturday.

USC knows visiting Utah won't be easy

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
LOS ANGELES -- There are many hostile environments in the Pac-12, and certainly the most difficult venue to come away with a victory is Oregon’s Autzen Stadium, a facility legendary for its fans' proximity to the field and the incredible volume of noise.

However, there are other Pac-12 stadiums that are growing in difficulty, and one of those will be revisited by the No. 20 USC Trojans this Saturday night, as the Men of Troy return to Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, home of the No. 19 Utah Utes.

The last time the Trojans (5-2, 4-1 Pac-12) ventured into Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park at the outset. The wind in 2012 was strong, the air was cool and the Utes were hot, jumping out early to a 14-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game.

It seemed like the Trojans had barely suited up and able to catch their collective breaths in the high altitude before they had their heads in the Utes’ guillotine. The Trojans, however, gathered themselves behind quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Marquise Lee to roar back and win 38-28.

Today, the Utes (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) seem more prepared than ever to challenge the supremacy of the Pac-12 South Division-leading Trojans.

Having had a few extra days to prepare for the Trojans after playing at Oregon State a week ago on Thursday night, Utah has positioned itself, thanks to a double-overtime victory over the Beavers, to rearrange the Pac-12 South leaderboard.

Just as important as playing well, Utah will again have that crazy atmosphere of Rice-Eccles Stadium, and those Trojans familiar with Utah’s home hospitality know what awaits them Saturday evening, when the temperatures are expected to be in the 50s at kickoff time.

“We know it’s going to be a hostile environment, 8 p.m. kickoff, blackout and all that,” said Trojans sophomore linebacker Su'a Cravens, who remembers as a high school player watching his older brother, Siaki, play on Utah’s defensive line in Rice-Eccles.

“They’re crazy,” Cravens said when asked about the Utah fans and the support of their heroes. Although this will be his first time actually playing in Rice-Eccles, Cravens said he loves the challenge and expects his teammates will be ready as well.

Echoing Craven’s comments is Trojans first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, who is also confident his team is well aware of what Saturday night’s expected sellout (45,807) of Utah fandom will bring.

“We understand the environment that we are heading into,” said Sarkisian, whose record against Utah as head coach at Washington was 1-0 at Rice-Eccles and 2-0 overall.

In anticipation of a raucous and voluminous crowd for this weekend, Sarkisian covered his preparation bases by having loud, artificial crowd noise pumped into Trojans practices this week.

There are Trojans on this season’s club who clearly remember the last time the Cardinal and Gold ventured into Rice-Eccles and the effect the Utah fans' support had on the Utes team.

“We’re going to be playing in their house and they aren’t going to lay down for nobody,” said senior linebacker Hayes Pullard. “Last time we were there they had a great crowd and a great group of guys. We’ve got to raise our level to the competition that we are playing.”

One of those expecting to try to stonewall the physical Utah rushing attack is Trojans junior nose tackle Antwaun Woods, who was a young, inexperienced lineman when he joined his teammates at Utah in 2012.

“I remember the crowd being really loud and we had to play a four-quarter game,” Woods said. “We are going to have to execute on both sides of the ball, and it’s always physical when we play Utah.”

With the support of their fans, a key on Saturday is that if this Utah team gets an early lead, it might not be vulnerable enough to allow the Trojans to make the same type of victorious rally produced two seasons ago.

Buyer beware.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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.

USC notebook 

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
LOS ANGELES -- The World Series commences Tuesday in Kansas City, but the USC Trojans held a little batting practice of their own Saturday afternoon by “homering” all over the Coliseum against hapless Colorado in a very un-baseball-like score of 56-28.

The No. 20 Trojans (5-2, 4-1 Pac-12) should have their swings down, both offensively and defensive, as they come to the Pac-12 South Division plate for a gridiron confrontation with the No. 19 Utah Utes (5-1, 2-1 Pac 12) in Salt Lake City on Saturday night.

If you thought that surviving Arizona in Tucson was a turning point in the season for the Trojans, it just goes to show you that in the Pac-12 South Division every game seems to be a turning point.

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Was this finally USC's breakout game? 

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
It must be the helmets.

Attired in their shiny, new, metallic cardinal helmets and flashy chrome facemasks, USC looked like a different football team on Saturday night. Cody Kessler was throwing record-breaking touchdown passes, Nelson Agholor was sprinting free everywhere, JuJu Smith and Bryce Dixon were emerging as exciting complementary components and footballs were sailing into the far reaches of the Coliseum.

So in the aftermath of that 56-28 romp over Colorado, the question must be asked:

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There is something about the Colorado Buffaloes coming to the Coliseum that seems to bring out the best in USC quarterbacks.

Two years ago it was Matt Barkley tying a school-record with six touchdown passes against Colorado, including five in the first half, while also setting a new conference mark for most touchdown passes in a career. Cody Kessler had been on the sidelines that day as a redshirt freshman reserve and he must have been paying attention because when his opportunity came to face the Buffs defense on Saturday he took advantage with a record setting performance of his own.

Kessler and the Trojans were on fire from the start. The opening drive saw a touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor, and the same pair connected for a score on the second drive as well. Next it was JuJu Smith and then Bryce Dixon, both of the freshmen scoring touchdowns to put the Trojans ahead 28-0 at the end of the first quarter. Four drives, four touchdowns, and Kessler was 11-of-14 for 159 yards in the quarter. Kessler connected with Dixon in the second quarter as well to tie Barkley with five touchdowns in one half.

In the second half, Kessler got explosive with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Agholor, and then he closed his scoring day with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Steven Mitchell, the first of Mitchell’s career. Total numbers for the day on Kessler were 19-of-26 for 319 yards and seven touchdowns, which set a new USC single game record.

LOS ANGELES -- Notes, quotes and anecdotes from the Coliseum after the No. 22 USC Trojans (5-2 overall, 4-1 Pac-12) defeated the Colorado Buffaloes (2-5, 0-4) 56-28.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian comments:

General assessment: “I challenged them to take the field with same intensity today as they would with (University of Arizona). Obviously, a couple guys set the tone for that. Su'a (Cravens) did with the interception and Cody (Kessler) set the tone with managing the offense. I talked about Buck (Allen) last week and challenging the guys to improve certain aspects of their game. You'd like to think as a coach you are going to get results. We saw that with Cody. We wanted more explosive plays on offense and we did that from the beginning.”

On quarterback Cody Kessler: "I think he is running our offense really well. We have a lot of plays in system where he has dual reads and pass-play options. He handles everything really well. He takes our coaching well. Coach (Clay) Helton and I are not buddy buddies with him during the week. We coach this guy harder than any other guy on our team. He accepts it and comes to work every day with the mindset to get better."

On his team’s identity: "I think that we are a team that believes in running the football, and I am not going to change that. When you believe this, you have to make the D pay for loading the box. You also have to have the ability to throw. When you have those two things going for you, life is good. Then it is a cat-and-mouse game with the defense. If you are going to play safeties deep, then you have to be able to run the football. I am just not going to waver off that. I love the fact that we (almost) had two backs just over 100 yards and we threw seven touchdowns. To me, that's an awesome identity to have.”

Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre comments:

On the Trojans: “USC played a good game, to say the least, and we gave them too many opportunities in the first half on some holding calls and roughing the punter and things like that that were things we worked on. And we need to do a better job coaching them and they need to do a better job listening on what they're supposed to do.”

On Kessler’s performance: “He was too good today. He did some really good things, but we helped him out. His offensive line protected him better than they had been. I was disappointed with us on that. They were able to do the play-action and get him out of the pocket and they hit them on us.”

On the Trojans' first drive of the second half: “We worked on that stack stuff a bunch that they do and our safety kind of took his eyes off for a second and he was wide open. That's what happens when you play good athletes with good speed."

More notes and anecdotes

Key(s) to victory: Kessler established a new USC single-game school record for touchdowns (7), as the No. 22 Trojans crushed the Buffaloes 56-28 in front of a homecoming turnout of 74,756 in the Coliseum.

Breaking the record: On breaking the single-game USC touchdown passing record, Kessler said, “It’s really a cool feeling, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t just about me. It's a team thing and we are already moving on to next week. But it's awesome. I think the most meaningful thing was to watch the guy before me set the record and see Matt (Barkley) do it. He taught me so much when he was here.”

Roommate compliment: Of Kessler’s record night, WR Nelson Agholor, who caught three of Kessler’s touchdown passes, said, “I am very proud of him and the type of guy he is and the type of competitor he is.”

Inside information: Upon learning that Kessler might be approaching the touchdown passing record, a couple of his teammates started to mention to Kessler the possibility of making history, and the quarterback quickly told his informing teammates, “Don’t mention it. I just want to keep playing.”

Too many errors: Regarding the loss, Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce said, “We made too many mistakes. Obviously they're a good team and they capitalized on them. We can't put ourselves in this position or what happened today will happen every time.”

The offensive explosion: The Trojans scored 56 points against Colorado on Saturday. The Men of Troy came into the CU game averaging 32.2 points per game.

Say what?: Although USC won in a breeze, Colorado had 27 first downs compared to the Trojans' 21.

Red-zone bonanza: The Trojans offense was 5-for-5 inside the Colorado red zone.

Defensive surplus: The Trojans defense allowed 28 points to Colorado on Saturday afternoon. The Men of Troy were allowing 22.3 points per game prior to the CU game.

Quarterback talk: Reflecting on the loss, Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau said, “It goes back to the little things. I put a lot on my shoulders. You can't have two picks and expect to win and to have turnovers and win. It's the little things, execution-wise. We shot ourselves in the foot too many times today.”

Under pressure: The Trojans defense recorded four quarterback sacks.

Offensive increase: The Trojans had 532 yards of total offense against Colorado on Saturday. The Men of Troy were averaging 451.2 yards per game prior to the CU game.

Giving praise: Regarding the performance of his offensive line, Sarkisian said, “They were very good again tonight. They’re improving and really playing well together.”

The substitute: Reserve Trojans kicker Alex Wood continued to substitute for regular starter Andre Heidari. Wood not only converted all eight of his PAT attempts but also was used on all nine kickoff attempts. Four of Wood’s kickoffs were touchbacks.

Defensive average: Against Colorado on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed 403 total yards. Prior to playing CU, the Trojans were allowing 405.0 yards per game.

Rush hour: Against Colorado on Saturday, the Trojans rushed for 213 yards. Prior to the CU game, the Men of Troy were averaging 185.3 yards rushing per game.

The Buck doesn’t stop here: Trojans junior tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen, the Pac-12’s leading rusher, continued his torrid rushing pace with 128 yards, including a 49-yard dash around left end in the third quarter. It was Allen’s 10th career 100-yard rushing game.

Defending the rush: Against Colorado on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed 172 net yards rushing. Prior to the CU game, the Men of Troy were allowing 150.5 rushing yards per game.

One man’s opinion: Asked about his defense’s performance, Trojans linebacker Su'a Cravens said, “I think we did a great job tonight in the first half and second half. We did a great job containing them in the fourth quarter. They got a late touchdown, but that's football. They are all great players and they are going to get their points. But we have great athletes, too, and I am really proud of our team overall.”

Above the passing average: On Saturday against Colorado, the Trojans passed for 319 yards. Prior to the CU game, the Trojans were averaging 265.8 passing yards per game.

The revelation: Afterward, Sarkisian revealed that wide receiver JuJu Smith played with a cast underneath his glove because of a thumb injury. On the night, Smith had four receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. Smith’s first-quarter touchdown reception was the first of his career.

Air defense up: On Saturday against Colorado, the Trojans defense allowed 231 passing yards. Prior to the CU game, the Trojans pass defense was allowing 254.5 passing yards per game.

Interception analysis: On his first-quarter interception that seemed to set the pace for the Trojans defense, Cravens said, “I didn't think their quarterback was going to throw, but their quarterback looked and pumped. Luckily I caught it and I should have scored, but I got tripped up. I saw the Colorado guy chasing me from behind and I wasn't being too patient. Their running back did a great job. He got my legs before I could even cut back.”

The flag is still up: On Saturday against Colorado, the Trojans were penalized seven times for 85 yards. Prior to the CU game, the Trojans were averaging 78.3 yards in penalties per game.

Top tacklers: Trojans weakside linebacker Anthony Sarao led the defense with 12 tackles, followed by middle linebacker Hayes Pullard and corner Chris Hawkins with nine tackles each.

Injury report: CB Adoree' Jackson (hip flexor), SS Gerald Bowman (foot sprain), WR JuJu Smith (thumb), and non-participants WR George Farmer (hamstring) and FB Soma Vainuku (hamstring).

Swann song: Former Trojans All-America wide receiver and Hall of Famer Lynn Swann led the Trojans out of the Coliseum tunnel prior to kickoff.

Next game: The Trojans will travel to Salt Lake City for next Saturday’s Pac-12 South Division game against the Utah Utes (5-1, 2-1 Pac 12) in Rice-Eccles Stadium (8 p.m. MDT/7 p.m. PDT).

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
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.
As the Trojans continue their supposed search for an offensive identity, it's becoming more and more clear that the identity is being revealed in the form of Buck Allen.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriBuck Allen is turning out to be just the type of offensive playmaker the Trojans need this season.
If Steve Sarkisian wants an offense based upon run-first, physical football, why look anywhere else besides Allen, who has been the most consistent offensive performer for the Trojans this season. You want toughness? Throw on the film of his run in the fourth quarter last Saturday night where he basically carried a pair of Arizona defenders on his back for an additional 18 yards at the end of a run. You could do a lot worse as a coach than to have an identity based upon that kind of effort.

If you want to look at sheer production, Allen has rushed for over 100 yards in five of the six USC games, the only time he didn't hit the 100-yard mark was against Boston College, which also happened to be the only game he has carried the ball less than 20 times this year. His 781 rushing yards leads the Pac-12 and is No. 11 in the nation, and he has scored seven touchdowns while averaging 130.2 yards per game.

"I'm just trying to be an all-around back right now," said Allen, who set a career-high against Arizona with 205 rushing yards. "Coach Sark puts me in the right position to make plays and I'm just trying to make the best of it but it's not just me. I try to stay positive for the players around me, I want to make sure my teammates are feeding off my energy."

It's really only been a year since Allen emerged as a full-time member of the Trojans' backfield and his rise has been as quick as one of his slashing moves. In the last 12 games, Allen has surpassed the 100-yard mark nine times, and if he keeps this up it won't be long before he starts to emerge as more of a name on the national scene. Allen is on pace to rush for over 1,500 yards this season and the last time the Trojans had a running back put up those kind of numbers was Reggie Bush in 2005 with 1,740.

Allen prepared himself well for this role in the offseason by bulking up and becoming more of a vocal leader. He worked on his pass blocking and continues to be a very good receiver, he is currently No. 2 on the Trojans with 23 catches for 278 yards. He has emerged as the dependable option at a position that could have been a committee approach, but Tre Madden has been out with turf toe and Justin Davis has been steadily getting his form back after returning from a 2013 ankle injury.

"I see a very appreciative young man who has overcome a lot to get to this point," Sarkisian said of Allen. "I didn't know he was such a good receiver but I've always thought he was a guy who could hit that 1,500-yard rushing mark and head for post-season accolades. I'm thankful we have him."

An offensive identity built around Allen would also fit well with what is going on with the Trojans' offensive line, an inexperienced group that has been learning on the go, but one of the things they have improved on lately is run blocking. Over the past three games in particular there has been a commitment to running the ball in the second half that will help develop the mindset of what it takes to finish out games on the ground, and nothing is more important to that strategy than the presence of Allen in the center of those efforts.

"I think it's a case of our young kids on the line are starting to pick up the offense and Buck is trusting them more," USC running backs coach Johnny Nansen said. "Buck needs to continue building on that relationship and that will lead to more big runs from him in the future."

USC Trojans recruiting notebook 

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
Sidelined since the end of the 2013 season after injuring his knee and undergoing surgery, ESPN 300 defensive tackle and USC commit Jacob Daniel made his highly anticipated return to action this past Friday night, helping his Fresno (Calif.) Clovis North team take down Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West 32-0.

Moving well and showing no obvious lingering effects from his injury, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Daniel made his presence felt right from the get-go when he recorded a sack on his very first series.

[+] EnlargeJacob Daniel
Johnny Curren/ESPNUSC defensive line commit Jacob Daniel made his season debut last Friday and says he's "100 percent Trojan."
“It just felt good to see all of my hard work come together,” said Daniel, who was presented with his U.S. Army All-American Bowl jersey one day prior to his 2014 debut. “I’ve worked so hard coming back from surgery, and it just felt good for all of that to pay off and to actually have a pretty productive night.”

Daniel, who committed to the Trojans in May, had an opportunity to travel down to Los Angeles Oct. 4 to see USC take on Arizona State. And while Steve Sarkisian’s squad ultimately came out on the losing end in that contest, the unofficial visit still left a positive impression on him.

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