With three games under his belt as the interim coach of the Trojans, Ed Orgeron is continuing to put his stamp on the USC football program.
The Trojans sit at 2-1 on Orgeron’s watch, and it has certainly been an interesting ride. There was a gut-wrenching road loss to the Irish, a pair of home wins that might have lacked style points but were celebrated nonetheless, and then there were injuries. Lots and lots of injuries.
Through it all, the defense has continued to play hard for Orgeron, and the move of Josh Shaw to corner should plug what has been the biggest hole of the year. Orgeron’s handling of a shaky placekicking situation seems to have worked with Andre Heidari responding by making 4 of 5 field goals last week. Orgeron also has shown more of a willingness to use players lower on the depth chart -- in part due to the injuries -- and it has resulted in some good production from guys such as J.R. Tavai, Demetrius Wright and De'Von Flournoy..
There are still some issues that remain. The inconsistencies on offense are puzzling with a unit that can look so good on one drive and then stumble for long periods of time. At various times you can point the finger to play-calling, penalties, specific position groups or players or the aforementioned injury bug. Orgeron has done a good job of making sure injuries are not used as an excuse, but at some point he doesn’t need to say a word. The impact is obvious when you see just how many players are out right now.
That attitude of “no excuses” helps explain the biggest success Orgeron has seen so far. It really doesn’t have anything to do with the X’s and O’s. It has more to do with keeping the program above water through a shaky transition time. It’s hard to imagine how tough it is to change coaches in the middle of the season, especially when a change is being made because things aren’t going well.
Orgeron knows all too well how low the morale of the team was because he saw it every day and he knew that any key he had to finishing the season in a strong fashion was to get that attitude turned around. He has tried to change the climate, to return the energy and fun to the program and not let any negative feelings creep back in.
Have the results been perfect? No, but they haven’t been all that bad either. The Trojans might not have always played pretty football, but they have fought to the end in every game for this coach who shows how much he cares. And that has gone a long way to endear this team to the fans. The tone is noticeable on the message boards in support of the way this undermanned team has quietly shown some grit.
There might be no better example than the way Dion Bailey changed from street clothes to uniform and played the whole second half against Utah. Bailey is a warrior so for him to be out of action in the first place meant that he was legitimately hurt. But when Su’a Cravens went down at the end of the first half, Bailey realized the team needed him. That’s not an insignificant moment. It’s the kind that should be paid attention to because it shows how the players feel about playing for this coach.
For Orgeron, nothing will serve him or the Trojans better down the stretch of this season than a team of players willing to play hard for him. There is a lot of football remaining, and, if some of the walking wounded can return, then let the chips fall where they may.