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Monday, October 14, 2013
USC gets renewed sense of hope

By Greg Katz

LOS ANGELES – Perhaps USC athletic director Pat Haden said it best after the Trojans' emotional 38-31 victory over a competitive and aggressive Arizona team on Thursday night.

Standing outside the Los Angeles Coliseum locker room entrance, Haden simply stated: “They have hope now.”

Without the return of “hope,” the Trojans' likelihood of upsetting arch-rival Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday night would have been harder than former USC head coach Lane Kiffin not calling for a bubble screen or a fade. The Irish could have been primed for one of its most satisfying poundings of this series.

Now with interim head coach Ed Orgeron, this USC team -- supported by thousands of fans making the trek back to the Midwest -- has a cardinal and golden opportunity to prove just how much that four-letter word, hope, means in this storied rivalry.

Ed Orgeron
Ed Orgeron and the Trojans get a big test this weekend when they visit Notre Dame.
What has transpired since Orgeron has taken over has been one heck of a metamorphosis. The macho but beloved Louisiana native has used every ounce of his energy, guile and zeal to recreate the Pete Carroll era.

Orgeron makes no bones about the influence Carroll had on him. Speaking on the record, Coach O admits freely the Carroll way is returning, and he’s laying the foundation for what he hopes is the elimination of the term “interim” from his current title.

So far -- and it’s still early -- everything has worked.

After Saturday night’s victory over Arizona, players said this is what it must have felt like playing for Carroll during the “glory years.” Orgeron even showed his team selected film of Carroll’s teams in their heyday and how animated they looked and how passionately they performed.

And don’t think for a moment that players won’t be reminded this week that during the Carroll era, with Orgeron as Carroll’s defensive line coach and confidant, USC was 8-1 against the Irish and 4-1 at Note Dame Stadium.

Senior starting offensive right tackle Kevin Graf can speak first-hand regarding the Carroll years.

“I played one year for Coach Carroll, but I was around the program for a long time when my brother, Derek, played here,” said Graf. “I am well aware how things used to be. Tonight was like those years.”

The fan participation on Thursday night was intense, supportive and relentless. It was almost a therapy session for everyone involved.

Aside from the previous week’s warp-drive transformation to the Carroll program model, the culmination began on Thursday night once the team arrived for its pregame Trojans Walk. They were led through the spirit tunnel by the interim head coach, who was smiling, talking and slapping hands.

Players were energetic and showed the type of joy usually reserved for the first game of the season. Simply put, this team looked resurrected, and all the credit goes to Orgeron and his staff, many who know their future could depend on their nterim head coach.

It was emotional to see the “new” Men of Troy walk down the hallowed steps of the peristyle end of the Coliseum and forming a huge circle and holding hands at midfield. Once the team got inside the gates of the Coliseum, many players were accompanied by their parents, many of whom had to suffer, too, through the Kiffin era.

And then there were music and dancing inside the locker room before the game, prompting Haden to admit after the game he was blown away by the display and turnabout of emotions. Haden said he had never seen anything like it, which is saying something since the former La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat legend, USC quarterback and NFL signal-caller has been in a lot of locker rooms in his day.

The results of the game -- the Trojans having to hang on for dear life at the end -- seemed almost irrelevant, although Haden rightfully said a defeat would have been a “buzz-kill.” The fact, however, is the Men of Troy won, and hope grew substantially.

So the timing appears right that the next opponent should be the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. The Trojans have an opportunity to make a national statement in primetime, and Orgeron knows what’s at stake.

Now empowered with a revitalized attitude, voice and hope, you can bet that Orgeron will have his Trojans pumped and primed for this showdown.