Video: USC running back Buck Allen

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Kevin Gemmell talks with USC running back Buck Allen about the new coaching staff and uptempo offense.
USC coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler his starting quarterback this week, though he noted that Kessler will have to continue to defend the position against competition from redshirt freshman Max Browne during fall camp.

It wasn't a big surprise. After all, Kessler was the 2013 starter and acquitted himself fairly well, particularly over the second half of the season with Clay Helton calling plays instead of deposed coach Lane Kiffin.

Still, Sarkisian is following in the philosophical footsteps of his mentor, Pete Carroll, who believed it was best to name a starting quarterback by the end of spring practices.

As we've noted a few times, Carroll called this "anointing." He believed that by anointing a starting quarterback in the spring, that allowed the QB to carry authority into the offseason. Teammates would recognize the crown on his head, as they might not if two or more candidates officially remained on even footing.

The anointing ended intrigue. It ended media speculation players would read. It ended an offseason rivalry that might split players into bailiwicks, based on personal preferences both on and off the field.

So Sarkisian has his way of doing it.

Then there's most other coaches. They prefer keeping their cards close to their chests. They like the intrigue. They like the prolonged competition. They want to measure offseason work and mental toughness. Who gets better from April to August? Who seems to take control of the locker room or huddle on his own, without the anointing from a coach?

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Is it better to announce a starting quarterback after spring practices or wait until the end of fall camp?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,187)

So we have the two true QB competitions in the Pac-12 this spring: Arizona and Washington, where neither Rich Rodriguez nor Chris Petersen is likely to give us a firm idea of their starter until perhaps as late as the week before the season opener.

Of course, there's not 100 percent purity of approach here. If Kessler hadn't outplayed Browne, Sarkisian almost certainly wouldn't have made an announcement. And if Rodriguez or Petersen were sitting on an Andrew Luck-type talent right now, they probably would go ahead and pull the trigger and announce him as the No. 1 guy.

Fact is, the present consensus is neither Arizona nor Washington has any clear pecking order. The Wildcats have four guys who didn't separate themselves this spring, and the Huskies still have to see where the suspended Cyler Miles, the 2013 backup, fits into their plans.

Yet there is a clear philosophical difference here.

So what do you think? Is it better to anoint a starting QB after spring practices in order to give him a leadership role over the summer, or is it better to wait as long as possible to foster uncertainty and, therefore, continued competition?
A week ago, the official trailer for When the Game Stands Tall, a movie inspired by Bay Area football powerhouse De La Salle High was released.

It stars Jim Caviezel as legendary coach Bob Ladouceur, who guided the Concord, Calif., school to a famed 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004. The movie is based on the book of the same name written by Neil Hayes, who had unrestricted access to the team in 2002 -- the senior year of future UCLA and NFL star Maurice Jones-Drew.

[+] EnlargeBob Ladouceur
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Bob Ladouceur coached De La Salle High to a 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004.
I grew up 20 minutes from De La Salle and have followed the program since elementary school, so it was an especially intriguing trailer for me, but the storyline should have mass appeal for Pac-12 fans, especially those at Oregon.

What jumped out quickly from the trailer was that the movie does not depict the year in which Hayes, then a Contra Costa Times sports columnist, spent with the team. Instead, it will focus heavily on the circumstances around the 2004 death of linebacker/running back Terrance Kelly, who was shot two days before he was set to leave to begin his college career -- along with De La Salle teammates Cameron Colvin, Jackie Bates and Willie Glasper -- at Oregon.

"It starts with the championship game in 2003 with T.K. and those guys as seniors," said Hayes, who served as an official consultant on the movie. "Then it goes into the offseason, [Ladouceur's] heart attack, T.K.'s death -- it was crushing for the community -- and then goes into the 2004 season."

For more worthwhile reading about Kelly's lasting impact, go here, here and here. His final game was the last of De La Salle's streak.

The Spartans opened the next season with a 39-20 loss to Washington state power Bellevue at CenturyLink Field. I was a sophomore at Washington State at the time, had read Hayes' book, and so had several of my friends. For them -- some from Hawaii, some from the Seattle area -- De La Salle was some sort of mythical creature, and at their urging we made the Pullman-to-Seattle road trip to see the game.

Nearly 300 miles to see a high school football game. As college students. That's the kind of allure De La Salle had.

Seven players currently on Pac-12 rosters attended De La Salle: Cal's Michael Barton and Austin Harper (freshman year only); Oregon State's Tyler Anderson, Terron Ward and Dylan Wynn; Stanford's Austin Hooper; and USC's Michael Hutchings. Three more will join the conference for fall camp: Sumner Houston (Oregon State), Kevin Griffin (Washington State) and Dasmond Tautalatasi (Arizona State).

As with any inspired-by-real-life movie, there are some creative liberties that don't follow reality.

For example, the movie will feature a game between De La Salle and Southern California's Long Beach Poly, the supposed No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, which actually took place in 2001. Jones-Drew, then sans the Jones, had a game people still talk about, and, of course, re-live on YouTube.

"It's done for dramatic purposes and there are some new characters ... not every character comes from De La Salles," Hayes said. "But those liberties that were taken were done so with pure motives."

The football scenes were orchestrated by stunt coordinator Allan Graf, a starter on the offensive line for the 1972 USC national championship team that finished 12-0. Graf is a fixture in the industry and has been a stunt coordinator on several other football films including Friday Night Lights, Any Given Sunday, Gridiron Gang, The Replacements, The Waterboy, Jerry Maguire and The Program.

"This was some of his best work," said Hayes, in terms of how realistic the football scenes are.

At one point during filming, Ladouceur and longtime defensive coordinator Terry Eidson, portrayed by Michael Chiklis, traveled to Louisiana, where the movie was shot.

"You have all these movie stars there, but when those guys got there, they were the celebs," Hayes said.

Ladouceur retired following the 2012 season after 34 seasons with a career record of 399-25-3, but remains on staff as an assistant to Justin Alumbaugh, a UCLA graduate. Before deciding to remain on staff as an assistant, Ladouceur drew interest from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to serve in a consulting role.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian and LSU coach Les Miles have cameos in the movie, which includes some shots at Isidore Newman School, which produced Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.

Sarkisian brings life back to USC

April, 18, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- By the time USC head coach Steve Sarkisian hit the big Four-Oh, he had earned two national championship rings as a Trojans assistant and pulled Washington football out of the ditch. Five years ago, the guy everyone calls Sark took over an 0-12 program in Seattle. The Huskies went 8-4 last season before USC called Sarkisian to come back.

Sarkisian won 34 games in Seattle. That's 15 more victories than John McKay won before he turned 40, not to mention 34 more than John Robinson and Pete Carroll won before they did.

McKay, Robinson and Carroll are the last three head coaches to lead USC to a national championship, and yes, that is the ultimate measuring stick for Trojan football. All of which is to say that if ever Sark was a boy wonder, he is no more.

If you ask Sark how he handled turning 40, which he did on March 8, he laughs long and loudly and says, "Not very good."

And then, standing in the middle of Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Field after practice one day last week, Sarkisian said what everyone in USC wants to hear: "I didn't change. I haven't changed. I'm having a blast out here."

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LOS ANGELES -- By the time USC head coach Steve Sarkisian hit the big Four-Oh, he had earned two national championship rings as a Trojans assistant and pulled Washington football out of the ditch. Five years ago, the guy everyone calls Sark took over an 0-12 program in Seattle. The Huskies went 8-4 last season before USC called Sarkisian to come back.

Sarkisian won 34 games in Seattle. That's 15 more victories than John McKay won before he turned 40, not to mention 34 more than John Robinson and Pete Carroll won before they did.

McKay, Robinson and Carroll are the last three head coaches to lead USC to a national championship, and yes, that is the ultimate measuring stick for Trojan football. All of which is to say that if ever Sark was a boy wonder, he is no more.

If you ask Sark how he handled turning 40, which he did March 8, he laughs long and loudly and says, "Not very good."

And then, standing in the middle of Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Field after practice one day last week, Sarkisian said what everyone at USC wants to hear: "I didn't change. I haven't changed. I'm having a blast out here."

He is older and the stakes are higher. USC hired Sarkisian not only because he brings the desired connection to the Carroll Era, but because he is every bit the people person that his predecessor and close friend, Lane Kiffin, is not.

The day before, Sarkisian wowed 1,200 Trojan boosters in Orange County. He likes people, and people like him, and if Sark hasn't changed, he represents a big change in Trojan football.

"Those people matter," he said of the boosters. "... You go into a room to speak, you go shake all their hands, because this university wouldn't be what it is without everybody. We're a private institution. We're essentially funded by donations."


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Getting to know Jashon Cornell 

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

When you attend a school as prestigious as Cretin-Derham Hall, as No. 16-ranked recruit Jashon Cornell does, you are bound to have connections. The Minnesota school has produced its share of college and NFL players over the years, including associate dean of students Marcus Freeman, who played for Notre Dame.


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LOS ANGELES -- When the day comes that USC football needs a culture change, touchdowns will be worth 10 points, swine will take to flight and I’ll win a Brad Pitt look-alike contest.

USC football is a culture unto itself. It knows what it is with its 11 national championships, 32 bowl wins and six Heisman Trophy winners. Changing coaches doesn't have to be synonymous with changing culture, especially after you won 10 games the previous season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsNew USC coach Steve Sarkisian is embracing the school's standard for winning.
Perhaps a culture restoration might be in order, however, following a tumultuous 2013 that fractured the fan base and divided the devout.

Enter Steve Sarkisian, a top lieutenant of the Pete Carroll era who left to make his mark in the Pacific Northwest and returns to Troy unfazed by the championship-or-bust mentality.

"All of these guys come here to be the best, and that reminded me why I came back here. I want to be the best," Sarkisian said. "This place breeds that environment, that culture. That jumps out at you the moment you are on campus.

"You can go back 50 years of USC football. Every decade they have gone on a run: The 2000s and the run that Pete [Carroll] had; the 90s and what Coach [John] Robinson was able to do; The 80s, the era there with Rodney Peete and everything, and the early 80s what they were doing into the 70s with Coach [John] McKay and the run that he had and into the 60s, and it goes on. I just feel like now is our time. We’re about due for another run. Here we go, and we’ve got half the decade left to do it. I have a firm belief that we can because history tells us that we should."

Of course, that run can’t start until the Trojans officially kick off the 2014 season on Aug. 30 against Fresno State. In the meantime, there is only so much the new coaching staff can do to win back the hearts and minds of skeptics still smarting the final mediocre months of the Lane Kiffin era.

Public opinion was already down following a massively disappointing 7-6 season in 2012. It crested when Kiffin was fired following a blowout loss to Arizona State in the fifth game of last season. That begat the brief Ed Orgeron era, which included a 6-2 record -- though losses to rivals Notre Dame and UCLA were contributing factors to Orgeron not getting the job. After Sarkisian was announced as coach, Orgeron stepped down and Clay Helton led the Trojans to a 45-20 win over Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. Helton was retained as offensive coordinator, and, at least for now, there is stability in the football office.

With crippling sanctions in the past, Sarkisian & Co. made a huge national statement by landing the league’s top-ranked recruiting class, which included lauded prospects Adoree' Jackson, Juju Smith and Damien Mama. Sarkisian has opened up spring ball to the public and done everything possible to reunite the fan base.

"Ultimately, it’s going on the field and performing and doing what we’re here to do and that’s win football games," Sarkisian said. "Are we going to try to win them all? There’s no doubt we are. Are we going to win them all? I don’t know. I don’t know. The football is shaped a funny way for that very reason. It bounces in funny directions sometimes. But you have to put yourself in position to be successful, and I think we’re doing that."

Helton, one of just two holdovers from the Kiffin era (along with receivers coach Tee Martin), understands the expectations from his time on campus. Even defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who was Sarkisian’s defensive coordinator at Washington, is prepared for the fact that a 10-win season might not be good enough for USC’s standards. In his mind, those expectations shouldn’t be daunting. They should be embraced.

"If that’s what you’re worried about, then you don’t come here," Wilcox said. "That’s what you sign up for. We expect to win. We should be good. We should win championships. I don’t think about like that [as daunting]. If I did, or if any of us did, we shouldn’t come here. But every one of us jumped at the opportunity to come here. The expectations are extremely high, but that doesn’t change how we operate. That wouldn’t say much about you as a coach: 'Now you’re really going to work hard because you're at USC.' It shouldn’t matter if it’s Division III or high school or USC. You coach to be the best you can be."

Video: USC OC Clay Helton

April, 17, 2014
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Kevin Gemmell talks with USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton about spring ball and position battles.

Roundtable: What to watch in spring game

April, 17, 2014
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WeAreSC staffers offer up three things USC fans should look for during the spring game on Saturday at the Coliseum.

Garry Paskwietz

1. Depending on the format, here’s hoping the fans are able to get a good look at the up-tempo offense in action. There has been a lot of work on installing the plays but few chances for the players to put those plans into scrimmage-type action so you know they would love to show off the system for the fans.

[+] EnlargeKenny Bigelow
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIKenny Bigelow and the rest of the defensive line -- which is huge and deep -- is one thing to watch at the USC spring game.
2. The sheer size of the interior of the defensive line. It’s not often that the Trojans are this big and deep in the middle, although they will be without Leonard Williams on Saturday, who has been sitting out this spring while rehabbing a shoulder injury. There is still plenty of bulk in action, however, led by Antwaun Woods, Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons, with Kenny Bigelow and Greg Townsend Jr. playing key depth roles.

3. Some players the fans may not have seen before who are now running with the first unit. Be prepared for an offensive line that features Zach Banner, Khaliel Rodgers and true freshman Toa Lobendahn in the starting lineup. Scott Starr and Jabari Ruffin have been waiting their turn and it looks like the time has come. In the secondary, keep an eye on Chris Hawkins and Gerald Bowman, both have performed well this spring.

Johnny Curren

1. A strong showing from the USC defensive front. The performance of the USC defensive front has been one of the real highlights of the spring so far, and I’d expect that trend to continue on Saturday in a live setting. Even with Williams standing on the sideline, the Trojans possess an extremely formidable group on the interior with guys like Woods, Simmons, Pelon, Bigelow and Townsend in the fold. On the outside, the development of Starr and Ruffin, in particular, has been exciting to watch. Both players are fast and physical, and you can be sure that they’ll each be looking to deliver some big hits. Expect a standout day from this entire group up at the line of scrimmage.

2. Highlight plays from Nelson Agholor. It seems like a day hasn’t been able to go by this spring without Agholor coming up with at least one highlight play that has caught everyone’s attention. Coming off a season in which he made 56 receptions, he’s performed with a greater level of consistency this spring, showcasing game-breaking speed and sure hands on a daily basis. He’s waited his turn behind Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and with what he’s shown, he just might have what it takes to make his mark as the next great USC wide receiver.

3. Cody Kessler. To no surprise, Kessler was declared the starter -- at least for now -- at quarterback on Tuesday, and he responded by putting together his best outing of the spring. Now it will be interesting to see if he can keep that level of play up. A fierce competitor and undisputed leader of the team, he’s appeared poised and comfortable while directing USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s new up-tempo offense throughout a majority of the spring, and now that he has that added boost of confidence, maybe this is when he’s able to really take a giant step forward in terms of his development.

Greg Katz

1. Aside from the fascination of the new up-tempo, no-huddle offense, fans should scrutinize the rebuilt offense line because there are a number of interesting storylines. Junior Max Tuerk will make his debut before a live audience and will be executing those critical shotgun snaps to his quarterback and roommate Kessler. Then there is sophomore starting right tackle Banner, who has begun to dominate in late spring since his hip surgery. Finally, there are the two rookie offensive guards in true freshman Lobendahn and redshirt freshman Rodgers. Both these guys will be in the mix to start when training camp begins in early August and both bring a highly competitive spirit to their craft.

2. OK, if you thought the offensive line was interesting, the defensive line provides some new wrinkles in formation, philosophy and talent. With Williams limited due to his recovery from shoulder surgery, Simmons is getting his audition and he has the makings of a dominant performer. Another D-linemen is JC transfer Pelon, who has really come on recently. A tremendous talent, Pelon (6-foot-5 and 295 pounds), like Simmons (6-6, 300 pounds), is huge, and they both have some get-up-and-go. Lastly, focus on junior nose tackle Woods and redshirt freshman Bigelow, who is pushing Woods. Their nose tackle battles with center Tuerk should be quite entertaining on Saturday.

3. For those that love competition battles, take some time and focus your binoculars on outside sophomore linebackers Quinton Powell and Ruffin. Each brings a different style of game and their competition for the starting spot has, at times, been spectacular. Powell is cat-quick with a great skill set while Ruffin is very physical and a real athletic presence. Fans can make their own judgments regarding how they see both players fitting into the grand scheme of things for 2014.

Lunch links: Any sleeper teams?

April, 17, 2014
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Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring;
Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire.

Simmons an X-factor on USC O-line 

April, 17, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans fans will be flocking to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday for not only a controlled spring game, but a first-hand look at head coach Steve Sarkisian’s breathless no-huddle offense and new multiple-scheme defense.

In addition, attendees will also have an opportunity to scrutinize the individual progress of the returning quarterbacks, the promised power-running attack, the monster-sized defensive line, and the general intrigue of a new program.

What fans of the Men of Troy won’t be seeing is a finished offensive line product due to a couple “X-factors.” One of those X-factors is returning senior starter Aundrey Walker, who is still recovering from a broken ankle and won’t play on Saturday.

However, there is a perhaps a more captivating X-factor, a young player who could have a major impact in both the offensive line’s immediate future and down the road.


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Video: USC linebacker Hayes Pullard

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
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Kevin Gemmell talks with USC linebacker Hayes Pullard about spring ball and the transition to a new coaching staff.

Getting to know DaMarkus Lodge 

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
10:00
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video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

DESOTO, Texas -- With all the multiple camps, combines and special events happening each spring, DaMarkus Lodge chooses not to be a regular on the circuit.

It’s not that Lodge is against them, or that he thinks he’s above them. The ESPN 300 receiver has simply prioritized his life as a student-athlete. The camp circuit happens to be a middle-of-the-pack priority.


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What is your team's best quarter? Worst? And what does it mean?

While it's probably a mistake to read too much into how a team does quarter by quarter -- the final score is what counts -- it might provide some tidbits of insight.

The baseline, of course, is this: Good teams are going to win most every quarter and bad teams will lose most every quarter. But what does it mean if your team starts fast or slowly? Or owns the third quarter? Or sputters in the second?

The conventional wisdom is teams that do well in the third are good at making halftime adjustments, but coaches often snort at such talk.

Former Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter once painstakingly walked reporters through the halftime process to help them understand the small window for making significant schematic changes. Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly was at his snarky best -- even as he was being flattered -- when asked about "halftime adjustments."

Kelly, however, would admit that the occasional slow start by his offense was due to a feeling out period, where he and his assistants were taking the measure of what a defense was trying to do. That's the nature of football -- punching and counterpunching, reading and reacting.

Still, you probably shouldn't read too much into these numbers. While it's interesting that UCLA and Washington were very good in the third quarter last year while Arizona State -- curiously -- was not, the salient fact is the Sun Devils beat both.

 
  • Arizona, Oregon, UCLA and Washington were the only Pac-12 teams to win every quarter.
  • California was the only Pac-12 team outscored in all four quarters. The Bears gave up 181 points in the first quarter, the worst defensive quarter in the conference.
  • The highest scoring quarter belonged to Arizona State, with 192 points in the second. Washington had 184 points in the third and Oregon 182 points in the first.
  • The best defensive quarter was USC in the first, holding foes to 37 points. Washington yielded 44 in the first and UCLA gave up 44 in the third.
  • Arizona State was dominant in every quarter, other than the third, when it was outscored 109-99.
  • Stanford was dominant in every quarter other than the fourth, which it lost 85-92, suggesting the Cardinal didn't fight for a large margin of victory.
  • Oregon was dominant in all four quarters and, despite that, posted the best fourth-quarter margin of 78 points (137-59), suggesting the Ducks enjoyed producing a large margin of victory.
  • Stanford yielded 60 or fewer points in each of the first three quarters. Oregon did so in the third and fourth (47 points and 59 points). Only three other teams produced even a single quarter with 60 or fewer points: UCLA in the third (44), USC in the first (37) and Washington in the first (44).
  • Colorado was outscored in the first three quarters but won the fourth decisively, 130-70. That suggests Mike McIntyre's team didn't quit.
  • USC won 10 games last year despite being outscored in both the third and fourth quarters. Only Cal and Washington State matched that dubious distinction.
  • Utah was outscored only in the fourth quarter. Oregon State was outscored only in the first.
  • Washington's 119-point margin (184-65) in the third was the largest for any quarter. Oregon's 109-point margin in the first quarter was second (182-73). Arizona State had the largest second-quarter margin at 77 points (192-115).

Video: USC safety Su'a Cravens

April, 16, 2014
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Kevin Gemmell talks with USC safety Su'a Cravens about the coaching transition and his improvement heading into the 2014 season.

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