USC Trojans: USC Trojans
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).
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."
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.
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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For the second straight week, the Trojans put themselves in position to win only to be left holding on for dear life at the end. It’s not as if the host Arizona Wildcats didn’t have their chances in the 28-26 USC victory, and the only difference in the two outcomes is that Arizona State was able to convert when the game was on the line last Saturday and Arizona wasn’t, as the Wildcats missed a 36-yard field goal attempt with 12 seconds left that likely would have kept them unbeaten.
Allen set a career-high with 205 yards on 26 carries to go along with three touchdowns and was a workhorse all night, adding four catches for 28 yards. In those 26 carries, he only lost a total of three yards. Williams was second on the team in tackles with eight. He also had two sacks, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one running back knocked out of the game and one fantastic stop on a late two-point conversion. There’s no way the Trojans come out of this game with a win if not for the effort from Allen and Williams.
Notes from the sideline
The Trojans were penalized 13 times for 103 yards, Arizona had four flags for 35 yards. ….Gerald Bowman wasn’t sure if he was going to play because of a thigh bruise but he ended up tying for the team lead in tackles with nine, including eight solos. ... It was another step in the right direction in the second half effort from the USC offensive line, with touchdown drives of 11 and 13 plays in the third quarter. There were also notable blocks from Zach Banner and Toa Lobendahn on the first Allen touchdown run, and Damien Mama on the second. ... Steve Sarkisian used timeouts to “ice” the Arizona kicker at the end of both halves. On each attempt, the kicker had made the kick before knowing a timeout was called, and on both of the second attempts, the kick was missed.
- Opportunity knocked: The Wildcats were able to capitalize with 21 points off USC turnovers, but came away with only six points during four first-half trips into the Trojans red zone.
- Secondary concerns: The Trojans were already missing senior captain Josh Shaw at cornerback, and during the game both Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour left with injuries. That left redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins and a pair of true freshmen - Jonathan Lockett and John Plattenburg - as the corner rotation against Anu Solomon, who ended up throwing 72 passes in the game. Solomon had a lot of success in the fourth quarter in an attempt to bring his team back, and it brought bad memories for USC fans who had seen a similar script the week before. On the plus side, only one of those 72 passes ended with touchdowns.
- Hands team: There was a lot of discussion last week about the personnel on the field to defend the Hail Mary. The Trojans found themselves in another obvious special-teams situation at the end of the game with Arizona attempting an onside kick that ended up being successful. Among the USC defenders in the area where the ball was kicked were Anthony Sarao and Hayes Pullard, two linebackers not known for their ball skills.
Sarkisian had made it a point in practice last week to emphasize the need for someone to “make a play.” He talked about the difference that one play can make between winning and losing a game. An early dropped touchdown or a late missed tackle that results in a long touchdown catch -- each of those plays can have an equal outcome on a game.
As the Trojans prepared to play Arizona on Saturday, there was a lot of talk of Kris Richard and his game-winning interception return against the Wildcats in Pete Carroll’s first season, when USC was sitting with a 2-5 record. That play was credited with helping to turn things around for Carroll’s team, and Sark challenged his players to be the guy who makes that kind of play for this team. Only time will tell if the performances by Allen and Williams were the kind to have a long-term impact, or if they merely helped the Trojans squeak out a win in a season in which the Trojans will take them how they can get them.
For Allen, you can point to a few big-time plays. He accounted for 61 total yards on the opening touchdown drive, his 49-yard second score was a thing of beauty and his third score finished off a statement drive by the Trojans, responding to an Arizona touchdown. But his best run wasn’t a touchdown; it came at 9:50 of the fourth quarter with the Trojans backed up in their end. Allen got into the second level of the defense where he was met by a pair of defenders. He proceeded to keep his legs moving with two guys on his back to gain an additional 18 yards. It was fantastic -- pure passion and heart -- and his teammates were fired up after watching the effort.
There were two plays for Williams that stood out. The first came when the Wildcats were down 14-6 in the second quarter but were driving inside the USC red zone for a potential score. Arizona running back Terris Jones-Grigsby took a handoff and was met straight up by Williams. The ball was fumbled (it was recovered by J.R. Tavai) and Jones-Grigsby never returned to the game. The second play came on the two-point conversion attempt by Arizona with a minute left to play as they looked to tie the game. The ball-carrier tried a run play, but Williams just blew it up and preserved the Trojans lead. As it turned out, that lead proved to be the winning margin.
The value of a dollar is always in question these days, but at USC, at least, there is no denying the value of a “Buck.”
Javorius “Buck” Allen, the Trojans’ rampaging junior tailback, was not only the best player on the field in Arizona on Saturday night, he was the difference in another madcap of a Pac-12 game.
Allen was the one steady flow in an otherwise wild and crazy stream of an evening, rushing for 205 yards and three touchdowns and providing the cushion that allowed Steve Sarkisian’s team to avoid what could have been a second consecutive fourth-quarter meltdown. As it is, USC barely prevailed, 28-26.
Amazingly, Allen, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder who somehow was buried deep on former coach Lane Kiffin’s depth chart at the start of 2013, is now not only the finest running back on the team, he is the best in the Pac-12 and one of the three or four finest in the country.
Heisman Trophy consideration? It’s not entirely out of the question, especially now that Georgia tailback Todd Gurley, the early frontrunner for the award, has been suspended indefinitely.
USC’s “Buck” has proved his worth by rushing for 781 yards and seven touchdowns in the first half of this 12-game season. In the last two games alone, he has had scoring bursts of 53, 48 and 34 yards in an era when long runs by tailbacks are about as common as huddles between snaps.
Allen and his all-star counterpart on defense, Leonard Williams, were the driving forces behind an impressive bounce-back performance by Sarkisian’s team, even if it was left slightly limp by the circumstances in the final couple of minutes.
In the new, wacky Pac-12, Arizona defeats Oregon, Oregon beats up on UCLA and USC proceeds to knock off Arizona. Go figure.
What seemed obvious in Tucson was that the Trojans, 3-2 coming in, were too big and too physical for the Wildcats, who entered the game 5-0. USC controlled the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense, while Arizona offered not even a whimper of a pass rush and little, if any, running game.
The Trojans have a history of struggling against zone-read offenses, but the Wildcats, with one of their two tailbacks on the sideline in street clothes and the other knocked out of the game by Williams, didn’t have many options. Especially once freshman quarterback Anu Solomon failed to establish any kind of threat running the ball himself.
Thanks to Allen and another solid, if somewhat less-than-exciting, performance from quarterback Cody Kessler, USC seemed to have a commanding 28-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Ah, but we all know about the Trojans and fourth quarters now, don’t we?
This one turned almost as hairy as last week’s because both of Sarkisian’s starting cornerbacks were out with injuries, and fatigue from chasing down Solomon’s ridiculous total of 72 pass attempts finally appeared to set in.
It didn’t help that Justin Wilcox’s defense suffered another busted coverage, allowing Jared Baker, coming out of the backfield on a wheel route, to cruise to a wide-open 41-yard touchdown after capturing a looping sideline pass from Solomon.
Or that after another 80-yard Arizona TD drive and muffed two-point conversion attempt, the Wildcats recovered an onside kick with slightly more than a minute left to play.
USC fans had to feel they were reliving the Arizona State nightmare when Arizona’s Cayleb Jones went soaring into the air to snatch the bouncing kick, much like ASU’s Jaelen Strong soared to catch that winning Hail Mary pass a week earlier.
Solomon, who wound up with 395 yards passing, got his team into position for the winning field goal, but after making one, only to have it nullified by a Sarkisian time out, the Wildcats’ Casey Skowron pushed his next 36-yard attempt wide right, and a potential 29-28 victory turned into a 28-26 defeat for Arizona.
A jubilant Sarkisian reacted as if he had just won the Rose Bowl. You couldn’t blame him. Standing on the sidelines in those final precarious seconds, he was staring at a potential 3-3 record and two damaging losses in the conference.
Instead, with the breaks sliding his way this time, he is now 4-2 overall and USC’s 3-1 conference record puts it atop the Pac-12’s ever-evolving South Division.
Give Sark credit for sticking to a philosophy he promised upon arrival. He said he wanted to establish a strong running game first, above all else, and he has. Of course, a certain gifted young man from Tallahassee, Florida, has had a lot to do with that.
At the midpoint of an already turbulent season, nothing is more strong and sturdy for the Trojans right now than their treasured “Buck.”
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Here’s a list of some of the other prospects who were in attendance at the Coliseum on Saturday to see USC take on ASU:
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The Sun Devils, trailing by nine points with just under three minutes remaining and no timeouts left, found a way to exploit some fundamental lapses in the Trojans' defense and position themselves for a miracle 38-34 comeback win.
Even before USC's Saturday night's Pac-12 South Division meltdown against ASU, there's been a growing conspiracy theory, as it pertains to the Trojans' Pac-12 scheduling, specifically in the Pac-12 South Division.
The conspiracy issue?
The issue is that every Pac-12 South team that plays the Trojans has either a full bye week or extra days after a previous Thursday night game to prepare for the Trojans. In kind, USC hasn't been given equal scheduling treatment.
Want some evidence?
OK, the Trojans' most recent opponent, Arizona State, had more than a normal practice week to prepare. The Sun Devils played UCLA on a Thursday night on Sept. 25 and had extra time not only to prepare for the Trojans but also to regroup their self-esteem after being drilled by the Bruins, 62-27.
This week it's the Trojans at No. 10 Arizona, the same team that upset Oregon on Oct. 2. Hmmmm. It seems the Wildcats, too, will have had extra days tacked on to its regular weekly preparation to prime for the visiting Trojans.
Ya think that Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian would like a couple more extra days to get ready for the hot Wildcats? Is Larry Scott the commissioner of the Pac-12?
Lowly Colorado will come to Los Angeles on Oct. 18 for the USC Homecoming Game in the Coliseum. Seems the Buffaloes draw a bye this upcoming weekend while the Men of Troy are trying to survive their visit to Arizona Stadium.
Still have some skepticism?
And what about No. 24 Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct. 25? As shocking as this might sound, the Utes' previous game before playing the Trojans will have been played Oct. 16, a Thursday night game at Oregon State. Interesting to say the least.
And then there is the last Pac-12 South Division against crosstown rival UCLA in the Rose Bowl on Nov. 22, which just happens to be the 51th anniversary of the JFK assassination and all its multitude of conspiracy theories.
The Bruins' game before the Trojans?
UCLA will have played Saturday, Nov. 8, at Washington, giving the Trojans' hated rivals from Westwood a full two weeks to prepare for what could be the Pac-12 South title showdown.
Now for the record, the Trojans will have a little extra time before playing No. 18 UCLA, too, thanks to its Thursday night, Nov. 13, game against Cal in the Coliseum, and they draw a bye before playing the Bears. However, Cal plays in the Pac-12 North, and therein brings scheduling of divisional foes into question.
So how in the world of Larry Scott does such an imbalanced scheduling snafu like the Trojans' even get through the eyes of scrutiny?
Somebody has some explaining to do, don't ya think?
It was a game that the Trojans seemingly had in control after Buck Allen had an impressive 53-yard touchdown run with 3:02 left to play to put the Trojans ahead 34-25. It had been a back-and-forth game all night with USC getting a big-play punt return touchdown from Nelson Agholor and a surprisingly strong performance from the defense against the Sun Devils' rushing attack, which had come into the game ranked No. 1 in the conference. The Trojans held Arizona State to 31 net rush yards on 22 attempts and only one rushing first down.
When the defense can make an offense that one-sided, and when the opponent has a backup quarterback making only his second career start, that usually is going to mean good things. When Allen sprinted into the secondary for that final score, it certainly looked like the Trojans were going to win. But, as USC coach Steve Sarkisian said to open his postgame news conference, “that’s why you play 60 minutes.”
Notes from the sidelines
USC came into the game as the only team in the country to not allow a passing touchdown. Mike Bercovici threw five touchdowns to set a USC opponent record for most TDs in one game. He also threw for 510 yards and averaged 18.9 yards per completion. ... In addition to his 53-yard punt return for a touchdown, Agholor also led the Trojans with nine catches for 85 yards. ... For the second game in a row, the Trojans saw good results running the ball in the second half. USC ran the ball 23 times for 79 yards in the first half, 27 times for 141 yards in the second. ... Cody Kessler had a pair of highlight plays running the ball as well. He had a nice, 13-yard run for a first down when the Trojans were backed up at the end of the first quarter, and his 8-yard score early in the fourth showed all the toughness you need to see from him.
- Arizona State was held to 3-of-12 on third down conversions. That’s normally a positive stat for the Trojans defense, but it was offset by scoring plays of 77, 73 and 46 yards by the Sun Devils offense.
- Sarkisian had emphasized the need for the running backs to make defenders miss in one-on-one situations, and the 37-yard catch-and-run by Allen on the opening play of the fourth quarter was a good example of how that can create extra yardage.
- The Trojans were hurt by multiple drops in the first half. None caused a bigger swing than the one by Darreus Rogers on what looked to be a likely touchdown in the middle of the second quarter. The Trojans got stopped on the drive and turned the ball over on downs rather than attempt a 40-yard field goal. Arizona State got the ball and hit Jaelen Strong on the first play for a 77-yard touchdown to take a 15-7 lead.
Following the Allen score, the Trojans kicked off and ASU got the ball at their own 27. USC came out in man coverage with Kevon Seymour lined up against Cameron Smith, Bercovici rolled right and threw toward Smith and Seymour cut underneath to make a play on the ball. Unfortunately for the Trojans, he missed, and in man coverage, there was no safety help behind him and Smith ran the length of the Sun Devils sideline for the score. It wasn’t the smart play in that situation by the veteran Seymour. When the clock and scoreboard are very much on your side, there is little problem with letting him make the catch and securing the tackle.
The Trojans recovered an onside kick attempt and got the ball at the ASU 44 with 2.43 left and the Sun Devils had no timeouts. Three straight Buck Allen runs went nowhere, but the clock was winding as the Trojans prepared for a fourth-down punt, except a concussion to the regular long snapper resulted in a Kessler quick kick that hooked out-of-bounds after 18 yards to give ASU the ball at their 28 with 23 seconds left.
Bercovici hit the tight end over the middle for 26 yards to put his team in position to take a shot, and after spiking the ball, he had seven seconds left to either attempt the Hail Mary or throw a quick pass to get out of bounds for a field goa attempt. The Trojans rushed three, had four defenders off the ball and four deep. ASU lined up three receivers to the right with Strong in the slot, and when the ball was snapped, he had a free release to head downfield. Bercovici had time to wind up and heave the ball toward the end zone, where Hayes Pullard was waiting as if to field a punt. Right before the ball arrived, however, Strong flashed in front of him to grab the ball from the air and dash into the end zone.
It was a shocking moment in the Coliseum. The USC players were dazed and they got off the field as quickly as they could and headed to a very quiet locker room. In the postgame media session, Pullard and Allen sat staring straight ahead as they tried to comprehend the way the game had ended.
Naturally it didn’t take long for the questions to start being asked -- how did that happen, what wrong went wrong, who is to blame -- and the focus is being put squarely on the shoulders of Sarkisian and his staff. And when it comes to the final crucial moments, it’s not random questions that are being asked. On the Smith touchdown, a case can definitely be made for zone defense in that situation to be a little more conservative with a two-score lead and an opponent with no timeouts. On the USC drive, it does make sense to run the ball three straight times, although some might have wanted to be a little more aggressive, and in hindsight you can question the decision to have Kessler kick on fourth down rather than bring in the regular punter.
On the Hail Mary play, there seemed to be confusion from the start. USC defenders were told that there would be two possible defenses called and to look for the sideline to get the call. The original call was made and the defenders got in place, but then the call was switched and, according to players outside the locker room after the game, it didn’t look like every defender got the switch. Regardless, there are several things to look at, such as Strong getting a free release rather than having someone challenging him off the line. Adoree' Jackson and Su'a Cravens -- the two most athletic USC defenders -- were lined up on the opposite side off the ball from Strong at the time, with no receivers in front of them. And it’s doubtful that Pullard -- a middle linebacker -- was the best option to be playing the deep middle. That's just not the strength of his game, and it showed on the coverage.
The Trojans will need to move past this one quickly as another challenge awaits next Saturday with one of the hottest teams in the country, the Arizona Wildcats, who just moved into the top 10 after beating Oregon on the road.
“I saw him here,” Hemsely said of Sarkisian. “It means a lot to me. I feel like I’m one of their top recruits. They’ve made a really big effort of recruiting me and letting me know that I’m one of their guys. I just feel welcomed by the whole team.”
Hemsley, who lined up at left tackle on offense and defensive tackle on the other side of the ball, has made strides from just a year ago, and it’s noticeable from the first moment you see him. Having switched his focus from basketball to football this past offseason, he made a concerted effort to add 20 pounds to his 6-foot-6 frame so that he now weighs right around 300 pounds.
“I just feel like I’m a more physical player,” Hemsley said. “I feel like I’ve improved a lot over the last year. I’m just looking to improve and grow every game.”
Having committed to the Trojans this past May, Hemsley says that he still continues to hear from Arizona State. However, he has shut down the recruiting process for the most part recently, and that the only official visit that he plans on taking at this point is to USC -- likely in November.
“I’m cool with my decision so far,” Hemsley said. ”Great school, great program. I can get a great degree so I just decided I’m fine with where I committed.”
Hemsley will be out of town this weekend so he won’t be on hand at the Coliseum on Saturday when USC takes on ASU. But he has been at the Trojans’ other two home games this season, and he’s liked what he’s seen.
“I’m really excited,” Hemsley said. “I see they have a balanced offense. Their D-line is just absolutely spectacular. Coach [Chris] Wilson is doing a great job of coaching those guys so I’m excited to practice against them and improve every day.”
Hemsley has already gotten to know a number of other USC commits, including quarterback Ricky Town (Ventura, California/St. Bonaventure), defensive lineman Jacob Daniel (Fresno, California/Clovis North) and defensive lineman Noah Jefferson (Henderson, Nevada/Liberty). And during last weekend’s Trojans victory over Oregon State, he was able to spend time with offensive lineman Chuma Edoga (Powder Springs, Georgia/McEachern), who was in town on his official visit.
“I talked to Chuma a good amount,” Hemsley said. “He just described how his season is going and the things he’s been doing to improve, and I’ve just taken some of his tutelage and tried to improve every day.”
Hemsley has also taken on the role of a recruiter for the Trojans, particularly with tailback Soso Jamabo (Plano, Texas/Plano West), whom he knows well through basketball.
“I’m just pitching that it’s a great place to be,” Hemsley said. “I’m just like, ‘Why not sunny California? You get a great education ..."
As of right now, Hemsley is slated to graduate in the spring. Assuming he inks with the Trojans, he could arrive on campus early next summer. But as he revealed on Wednesday, there is a chance he’ll be at USC much sooner than that. He’s exploring the possibility of graduating early so that he can participate in spring drills in March and April.
“If I were presented with the opportunity, I would for sure graduate early. But I’m still working on it with administration, to see whether or not they’ll let me,” Hemsley said. “If they let me, I will.”
It could be argued that the final score in Sun Devils Stadium last Sept. 28 not only was the low point of the 2013 season, but an additional unwanted chapter in the Trojans NCAA-sanctioned era. As they say, however, for every storm there is a rainbow.
Fast-forward to last week’s 35-10 victory over previously undefeated Oregon State, and the Trojans are now 3-1 overall, and for the first time since 2007, the Men of Troy have started conference play 2-0.
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