USC Trojans: USC Trojans

LOS ANGELES -- For most Trojans football fans, Nov. 22 will be the 84th renewal of the greatest intra-city rivalry in the country, the ultimate Southern California football game between the No. 19 USC Trojans and the No. 9 UCLA Bruins in the storied Rose Bowl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

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

WeAreSC roundtable: It's USC vs. UCLA

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

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

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

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

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

Name one player who could be the unexpected hero:

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

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

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

Which recruit will be impacted the most by this game?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News and notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class of 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class of 2017

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

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

Welcome to Carmageddon ll, the sequel

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

So welcome back Carmageddon ll -- The Sequel.

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

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

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

Welcome to Carmageddon ll, the sequel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

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

WeAreSC roundtable: Trojans' strengths

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


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

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

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


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

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

Greg Katz: The Trojans need to continue being aggressive on defense, like at Washington State, and not play so much of a bend and break defense. Although Washington State was an unbalanced offense, the aggressiveness of the defense front will come in handy when playing the final three games. The Trojans need to stay aggressive (there's that word again) and not worry about giving up the big play. Many big plays are the result of defensive breakdowns relating to blown coverages and/or technique errors. Like the offense, the defense seems to be at its best when it stays assertive. I would continue to blitz and put pressure on the quarterback, a strategy that paid off in getting to WSU quarterback Connor Halliday. Like Sarkisian, Wilcox has to stay aggressive, too, and not scale it back as the game winds to its conclusion.
Providing his Mission Viejo (Calif.) team with some sturdy play up front, Class of 2015 USC center commit Cole Smith helped the Diablos come away with a league-clinching 24-17 victory over Lake Forest (Calif.) El Toro this past Thursday.

A team leader and the anchor of the Mission Viejo offensive line, Smith was dominant at times, including on the second play of the game when he drove the opposing nose guard a good 10 yards down the field.

[+] EnlargeCole Smith
Johnny CurrenUSC commit Cole Smith is a team leader at center and an anchor for the Mission Viejo (California) football team.
Standing 6-foot-3 and 272 pounds, Smith doesn't necessarily possess the prototypical size that many of the offensive linemen that have wound up at USC in recent years have, but with the Trojans forced to convert guards and tackles over to the center position with mixed results as of late, offensive line coach Tim Drevno has told him he's exactly what they need.

"I talk to Coach Drevno probably every week," said Smith, who is one of four offensive linemen currently committed to USC, but the lone center. "I'm not really their usual type size-wise, but they tell me that I'm the right guy in the middle for them."

And make no mistake, Smith is as pure a center prospect as you'll find. His father, Doug, was a former NFL All-Pro at the position, as well as an assistant coach at USC under John Robinson, and Smith says the tutelage he received growing up played a huge role in his development at the spot.

"I love it," Smith said of playing center. "It's more of a challenge, I believe. You have to touch the ball every play. My dad has helped me a ton, and it's all second nature to me now. I feel like he's been coaching me almost from birth. He breaks down film with me every week -- our team's film and the other team's film. He helps me pick up little things about the other team's nose guard, so he's in it all the way through with me. It helps me with my game tremendously."

In terms of his weight, Smith is confident he'll have no trouble bulking up to where he needs to be at the next level.

"I want to be more towards 290 when I get in," Smith said. "I've always kind of had this master plan. I came in as a freshman in high school at 180, so I'm almost 100 pounds up from that, so I think I can do it."

A regular at USC home games in the Coliseum this fall, Smith has been encouraged by what he's seen from the team, and particularly from the freshmen class.

"Their freshmen, they're killers," Smith said. "They're so young and that's what I love about USC right now. I'm going to come in a year behind these guys and they're going to be studs when they're upper-classmen, so I'm excited."

Smith has yet to schedule his official visit to USC just yet, preferring instead to focus on his senior season, but it's safe to say his verbal pledge is rock solid.

"I'm the kind of guy that once I commit somewhere, I'm fully committed," Smith said. "No matter what they do this year, I'm with SC."

News and notes

  • ESPN 300 athlete Ykili Ross (Riverside, Calif./Poly) recently released his top 12 list via Twitter, and to no surprise USC made the cut along with Arizona, Arizona State, California, Miami, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Ohio State and Utah. He was at the Coliseum recently to see USC take on Colorado, and the visit reportedly left a positive impression.
  • USC offered Class of 2016 wide receiver and UCLA commit Michael Pittman (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) early last week. Pittman, the son of former NFL running back Michael Pittman Sr., remains committed to the Bruins.
  • ESPN 300 defensive end Canton Kaumatule committed to Oregon and also signed his early enrollment financial aid paperwork with the Ducks this past weekend. USC was among the other schools under consideration for the Class of 2015 standout.

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

Class of 2015

QB Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) – USC commit
-- In a 45-28 loss to Westlake Village (Calif.) Westlake, Town completed 12 of 21 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, while also rushing for 50 yards and one touchdown on nine carries.

QB Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) – USC commit
-- Completed 14 of 18 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 62 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries in a 42-35 victory over Trabuco Hills.

RB Aca'Cedric Ware (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill) – USC commit
-- Rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries in a 49-34 loss to Mansfield (Texas).

WR Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) – USC commit
-- Had four receptions for 122 yards and one touchdown in a 34-7 victory over Jacksonville (Fla.) Sandalwood.

DL Noah Jefferson (Henderson, Nev./Liberty) – USC commit
-- In a 48-20 victory over Las Vegas (Nev.), Jefferson compiled two tackles on the defensive side of the ball, while also hauling in two passes for 35 yards and one touchdown on offense.

LB Cameron Smith (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay) – USC commit
-- Racked up 20 tackles (5 solo) in a 28-21 victory over Rocklin (Calif.).

ATH Isaiah Langley (Pleasanton, Calif/Foothill) – USC commit
-- Caught two passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-21 victory over Livermore (Calif.) Granada.

RB Ronald Jones II (McKinney, Texas/McKinney North) – Oklahoma State commit
-- Rushed for 233 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries in a 21-16 victory over Sherman (Texas).

WR Cordell Broadus (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- Caught two passes for 17 yards in a 49-0 victory over Las Vegas (Calif.) Palo Verde.

WR Christian Kirk (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro)
-- Rushed for 192 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries, and caught nine passes for 125 yards in a 61-35 victory over Tempe (Ariz.) Marcos de Niza.

WR DaMarkus Lodge (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill)
-- Caught three touchdown passes in the loss to Mansfield.

WR/TE Caleb Wilson (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
-- Wilson, the son of USC defensive line coach Chris Wilson, caught three passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-28 victory over West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade.

DL Rasheem Green (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
-- Compiled six tackles (3 solo), two tackles for loss and one sack in the victory over Chaminade.

LB John Houston Jr. (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
-- Racked up 18 tackles (7 solo) in the victory over Chaminade.

LB Osa Masina (Salt Lake City, Utah/Brighton)
-- Masina played a huge part in Brighton's 35-14 victory over Syracuse (Utah). On offense he rushed for 106 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries, and he also compiled six tackles (4 solo), one sack and one interception on defense.

CB Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
-- In a 57-0 victory over Long Beach (Calif.) Millikan, Marshall was a force in coverage as usual, deflecting two passes while also making one tackle. He also caught a five-yard touchdown pass on offense, while also making his presence felt on special teams, returning a punt 40 yards.

ATH Porter Gustin (Salem Hills, Utah/Salem Hills)
-- In a 14-7 victory over Salt Lake City (Utah) Highland, Gustin completed 24 of 30 passes for 211 yards, while also rushing for 50 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries from his quarterback spot. On the defensive side of the ball he compiled 10 tackles (5 solo), two tackles for loss and one sack.

Class of 2016

QB K.J. Costello (Coto de Caza, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic)
-- Completed 15 of 30 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in a 19-14 loss to Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei.

QB Shea Patterson (Shreveport, La./Calvary Baptist Academy)
-- In a 50-8 victory over Homer (La.), Patterson completed 6 of 7 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns, and he also he also rushed for a 10-yard touchdown.

WR Dylan Crawford (La Canada, Calif./St. Francis)
-- Had two catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns in a 60-0 victory over Pasadena (Calif.) La Salle.

WR Theo Howard (Westlake Village, Calif./Westlake)
-- Caught four passes for 70 yards in the victory over St. Bonaventure.

WR Jackie Jones (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
-- Caught two passes for 15 yards in the victory over Millikan.

LB Lokeni Toailoa (Rialto, Calif./Carter)
- In a 27-14 victory over Redlands (Calif.), Toailoa compiled nine tackles on defense, while also hauling in two passes for 39 yards, and rushing for 22 yards and one touchdown on four carries on offense.

S/WR Brandon Burton (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
-- Had three tackles (2 solo) in the victory over Chaminade.

S C.J. Pollard (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
-- Compiled four tackles (2 solo) in the victory over Chaminade.

ATH Byron Murphy (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro)
-- Had four receptions for 33 yards in the victory over Marcos de Niza.

Class of 2017

QB Tate Martell (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- Completed 8 of 12 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in the victory over Palo Verde.

WR Keyshawn Johnson Jr. (Calabasas, Calif./Calabasas)
-- Had four catches for 59 yards in a 47-13 victory over Oak Park (Calif.).

WR Tyjon Lindsey (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- Caught three passes for 103 yards and one touchdown in the victory over Palo Verde.

DE Haskell Garrett (Las Vegas, Nev. Bishop Gorman)
-- Compiled seven tackles (5 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack in the victory over Palo Verde.


WR De'Quan Hampton (Long Beach, Calif./L.B. City College) – USC commit
-- Caught four passes for 77 yards in a 27-21 loss to Riverside (Calif.) City College.

WR Isaac Whitney (Riverside, Calif./Riverside City College)
-- Caught one pass for six yards in the victory over Long Beach City College.
LOS ANGELES -- By now, you’ve probably heard the term “7-win Sark” being addressed by the large fan base of the Washington Huskies, Steve Sarkisian’s former head coaching assignment, and from devotees of the USC Trojans, Sark’s present head coaching position.

Fair or unfair, the month of November will determine whether that not-so-flattering phrase is going to be a laughable memory or a painful reminder. The personable Sarkisian would certainly prefer the former.

After this week’s bye, if the Trojans (6-3, 5-2 Pac-12) can continue their winning ways against Sonny Dykes and his offensively explosive Cal Golden Bears on Thursday night, Nov. 13, in the Coliseum, Sarkisian will become either temporarily or permanently “7-win Sark,” a moniker that refers to Washington's win total in three of five seasons under Sarkisian.

At Washington, Sarkisian was “7-win Sark” in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and all three of those seasons his teams finished 7-6. Ironically, in his first season (2009) taking over an atrocious Washington program that was winless and in complete shambles the season before, Sark finished 5-7. There is just something about the number seven that attracts itself to the former BYU quarterback, who incidentally wore No. 12 in Provo.

In fairness to Sarkisian, in his final season with the Huskies in 2013, his team produced a 9-4 record, which included a 31-16 victory over BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

The best way for Sarkisian to ease the “7-win Sark” comments is for his Trojans to defeat Cal and those next in line. Next in line means challenging games against UCLA and Notre Dame and, of course, a bowl game.

And here’s a little secret: If Sarkisian’s team can close out 2014 with a four-game winning streak, it’ll better last season’s 10-4 record by finishing 10-3. Who knew?

With so much attention paid to the seven-win mark, it would be hard for Sarkisian not to be aware of it. Not that he isn’t giving it his all, but surpassing seven wins would, in Greek terminology, affect his “ethos.” In other words, his image or perception. Is he a great coach in waiting or is he, well, “7-win Sark”?

Like all Trojans coaches before him, there are four seasons: the pre-conference season, the Pac-12 season, the rivalry season (meaning UCLA and Notre Dame) and the bowl season.

You could argue that if former Trojans interim coach Ed Orgeron would have beaten UCLA and Notre Dame last season, he might have been the permanent head coach of the Trojans. But that is still a pretty big “might.” USC athletic director Pat Haden might have been forced to allow Orgeron to continue if sweeping USC’s two bitter adversaries, the Bruins and the Irish, had happened.

As for Sarkisian, a sweep of his final games this season, especially the rivalry games with the Bruins and the Irish, would bring immediate relief to the chants of “7-win Sark.” In fact, include a bowl win over a reasonably respected opponent and some of this season’s disappointment could be Novocained.

Then again, if Sark can’t get his team off the seven-win dime, it’ll take a lot more than Novocaine to dull the Trojans' pain and end the chants of “7-win Sark.”
Not to put a damper on USC’s growing November enthusiasm or anything, but what exactly did that 44-17 bludgeoning of Washington State prove?

The honest answer is not much, other than demonstrating that the Trojans are great at beating up on Pac-12 cream puffs.

Steve Sarkisian’s team now has outscored the two worst teams in the conference by a combined 100-45.

Woo-hoo! Washington State is 1-5 and Colorado is 0-6 in Pac-12 games. So running up the score on those two is not exactly cause for a campus victory rally in front of Tommy Trojan or anything.

There is something to be said for not suffering a letdown against this type of inferior competition. UCLA, for example, barely hung on to nip Colorado in overtime, and Oregon actually had to get its flashy uniforms dirty while suffering a couple of nervous moments against the Cougars.

[+] EnlargeJuJu Smith
AP Photo/Dean HareJuJu Smith carried the sword, then caught three touchdown passes as USC rolled at Washington State.
Still, USC would gladly give up a few of those points it piled up against the cream puffs if it could just have the final two minutes back against Utah and Arizona State.

That can’t happen, of course, so the Trojans will have to settle for trying to go 3-0 through the rest of college football’s most interesting month.

Much of their chance to pull it off might rest on the tests that linebacker/safety Su'a Cravens will have on his knee this week. Before he was injured late in the second quarter in foggy Pullman on Saturday, Cravens was the best defensive player on the field.

The guy simply makes plays, whether it’s in the opposing backfield, at the line of scrimmage or in the secondary. He and Hayes Pullard are easily the surest tacklers on the team. Cravens, who started his career as a safety, is the best thing to happen to this hybrid position since Pete Carroll turned Matt Grootegoed into an All American with a similar switch.

With Cravens, the Trojans defense has a decent shot against UCLA and Notre Dame. Without him? Well, let’s just say things would be a lot more dicey.

Offensively, at least, there are indications that Sarkisian’s team might be peaking at the right time.

Is it OK now to officially describe Cody Kessler as the most underrated quarterback in the country? It’s not just that he is piling up the touchdown passes – he had five more in Pullman --- and throwing the deep ball as well as he has all year.

What is most impressive about the gritty junior is his penchant for avoiding turnovers. This kid throws interceptions about as often as Madison Bumgarner gives up runs. He treats the football as if it were some sort of precious gem, and that is a great trait to have in a quarterback at any level.

It helps, of course, to have a No. 1 target like Nelson Agholor. For a couple of years under Lane Kiffin, Agholor seemed to be almost criminally underused. Even with the brilliant Marqise Lee around, Agholor deserved to have more balls thrown his way, especially when he was always single-covered while defenses concentrated on Lee.

No such problems this year. Agholor has been Kessler’s go-to guy from Day 1, and the gifted junior from Tampa, Florida, enjoyed a breakout game in Pullman, sprinting in and out of the fog to catch eight passes for 220 yards and returning a punt 65 yards for the game’s first touchdown.

Agholor and Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong are clearly the two best receivers in the Pac-12.

Throw in Javorius Allen, who had another 100 yard-plus rushing day, and JuJu Smith, who caught three more touchdown passes, and you have as balanced an offensive group as any since the Carroll glory days.

Now all the Trojans have to do is take all that talent and show that they can beat some good teams.

Cal, the next opponent on Nov. 13, is definitely on a higher level than Colorado or Washington State, but, at 3-4 in the conference and 5-4 overall, it can hardly be described as elite. The new pass-crazy Bears can be dangerous, but USC should be able to handle them at home.

After that, it’s back-to-back nationally-rated challenges. UCLA at the Rose Bowl and Notre Dame at home.

For the Trojans, the rest of November might be better described as the end of the cream puff line.
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.