USC Trojans: Andre Williams

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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The Pac-12 plays nine bowl games and every game is important, but here are five players upon whom the spotlight will shine just a bit brighter this bowl season.

USC DT Leonard Williams

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State on Dec. 21

The skinny: Williams, an ESPN.com first-team All-American as a true sophomore, will lead the Trojans defense against QB Derek Carr and a high-flying Fresno State offense that wants to prove it can score on anyone. The Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring, but it's perhaps most impressive they've yielded just 11 sacks, which is ninth-fewest in the nation. Williams will head into the 2014 season as a preseason All-American no matter what. But he can show folks why and make a resounding statement for himself if he can get to or at least consistently harass Carr in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA healthy Marcus Mariota would boost Oregons chances against Texas.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

The skinny: This is pretty simple: Will Mariota be 100 percent against the Longhorns? If so, will he return to his midseason form, when he was the nation's best player and the leading Heisman Trophy candidate? That means using his legs to stress the Longhorns, both with designed running plays in the read option and scrambling on passing plays. If Mariota is back to his old self, he will put himself firmly in the 2014 Heisman race. And the Ducks should roll.

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

The skinny: Another simple one: Carey, the nation's No. 2 rusher, versus Andre Williams, the nation's No. 1 rusher and winner of a Doak Walker Award that should have gone to Carey if the award were truly about the nation's best running back (hush, Washington fans). Both offenses rely heavily on their workhorse running backs. Both teams have middling run defenses. The guy who leads the winning effort is probably going to be the guy with the best rushing numbers.

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

The skinny: The Hokies are almost always good on defense because coordinator Bud Foster is one of the nation's best defensive minds. This year's unit is A-list, giving up just 17.4 points per game, which ranks eighth in the nation. The Hokies are fourth in the nation in total defense, yielding a meager 4.34 yards per play, and eighth in run defense. The Hokies also have 37 sacks, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Bruins' young offensive line -- three freshmen starters! -- yielded 34 sacks, which ranked 107th in the nation. This will be a tough matchup for UCLA.

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO vs. Michigan State on Jan. 1.

The skinny: Hogan has been hot and cold this season but mostly solid. He played well in the Pac-12 championship game victory at Arizona State but threw two interceptions in November games against USC and Notre Dame. The Spartans might offer up the best defense he's seen all year, perhaps the nation's best overall unit, in fact. Most notable: Michigan State owns the nation's best run defense, yielding 80.8 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush. While the Cardinal probably will challenge the Spartans with perhaps the nation's best offensive line and RB Tyler Gaffney, it's difficult to believe the going will be easy. Hogan will need to turn in an efficient, mistake-free performance in what might be a very low-scoring game. The Spartans also rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Pac-12 should roll through bowl games

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
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The Pac-12 is favored in eight of its nine bowl games, as Oregon State is the only underdog in its matchup with Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

That's good news and bad news.

The good news is the conference has an excellent chance to post an impressive bowl record. The bad news is it has a chance to embarrass itself, too. Anything less than 6-3 would be a major disappointment.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and the Ducks struggled to the finish line, but they hope to have a strong showing against Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Of course, the Pac-12 blog has always taken a dim view of judging a conference by its bowl record, despite its annual inevitability. The college football postseason is filled with teams with varied motivation, not to mention coaching turnover -- see Washington and USC, as well as Boise State. Still, a program is responsible for itself.

The biggest reason the Pac-12 should thrive this bowl season is also the biggest negative for the conference: just one BCS bowl team, unlike the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12, and unlike the previous three seasons. Yep, the deepest Pac-12 perhaps in history ended up being a negative when it came to handing out bowl invitations.

The most aggrieved party is No. 10 Oregon, the only eligible at-large team to be passed over. The Ducks were hoping to be pitted against Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but the bowl went with Oklahoma, honoring a relationship with the Big 12 and perhaps thinking the Sooners will travel better than the Ducks.

Not to incur the wide-eyed wrath of Oregon fans, but the Sooners' case probably was stronger on merit, too. The Ducks lost two of their final four games, and they barely slipped by 6-6 Oregon State in the Civil War to conclude the season. Oklahoma is riding a three-game winning streak that was capped by impressive victory over No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday. Paired with the Sooners other quality win -- at Notre Dame -- that's more impressive than the Ducks best wins (UCLA and Washington). And the Sooners losses, to Baylor and Texas, are at least comparable to the Ducks' (Stanford and Arizona). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oregon's and Oklahoma's schedules were pretty equivalent, the Ducks ranking 50th and the Sooners 55th.

Sure, Oregon would be favored against Oklahoma, but the Sugar Bowl folks took the temperature of the respective fan bases and found more smiles in Norman than Eugene.

Finally, to be honest, the way Oregon looked over the final month of the season suggests they'd be better off allowing the Sooners to deal with Alabama and Nick Saban.

As for the conference champions, kudos to Stanford for negotiating the nation's fourth-most difficult schedule with an 11-2 record. In fact, the Cardinal is ranked No. 1 in ESPN Stats & Information "Championship Drive Rating," which measures a team's overall merit -- the "difficulty of achieving their W-L or better and how well they control games using in-game win probability; both adjusted for quality of opponent."

Of course, Stanford, which opened as a 3-point favorite against Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, is where the Pac-12's overall offseason perception will start. It figures to get a tough fight from the defensive-minded Spartans. A Cardinal loss would diminish the Pac-12's national perception as a whole -- as in trickle down from the Big Ten champion being superior to the Pac-12 champ.

Oregon's matchup with Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl is interesting. If both teams show up with their best game, Oregon wins by two or three touchdowns. But the Ducks over the final four weeks of the season would lose to Texas. The Ducks need to be motivated. They need to know, for one, that the Longhorns figure to be fired up, as they are perhaps playing their last game with Mack Brown as their coach.

The biggest mismatch of the conference's bowl season might be Arizona State against Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl. The Sun Devils have won seven of eight -- the loss coming Saturday in the Pac-12 title game -- and are among the nation's hottest teams. The Red Raiders? They've lost five in a row, the last four being blowouts.

UCLA is in a similar situation in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech. The Bruins have won four of five, while the Hokies have lost three of five. Virginia Tech's defense will challenge Bruins QB Brett Hundley, but the Hokies are horrid on offense.

USC and Washington will be the conference's biggest question marks due to coaching changes. The Trojans face a very good Fresno State team led by QB Derek Carr in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, while the Huskies face a BYU team that ran all over Texas earlier this season in the Fight Hunger Bowl. Under normal circumstances, both matchups would favor the Pac-12. But these aren't normal circumstances.

Oregon State will face a Boise State squad with the same deal in the Hawaii Bowl. While this is a down year for the Broncos, it's hard to bet against Boise State with Chris Petersen in a bowl game. But he's now in Seattle. The Beavers, by the way, really need to win this game, otherwise it's going to be a sour offseason in Corvallis.

Meanwhile, Arizona makes the longest trip to meet Boston College in Shreveport, Louisiana for the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. This is interesting just because you have the top two running backs in the country in Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Boston College's Andre Williams.

Finally, Washington State will be playing in its first bowl game since 2003 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State. The Cougars have wins over USC, Utah and Arizona. The Rams' best win is over 5-7 Wyoming. Mike Leach and the Cougs should roll.

Again, when you added it all up, 9-0 is not unreasonable and 7-2 is almost pessimistic. But bowl games are funny things, and this has been a funny season.

As we move into a four-team College Football Playoff with a selection committee weighing who's in and who's out, perception might become even more important than it was with the quintessentially subjective BCS.

The Pac-12 seemed like -- at the very least -- the nation's second best conference, no matter the BCS bowl situation. It needs to make good on that during the bowl games.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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Taking stock of the final week of the regular season in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was flawless against the Trojans, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 more.
Best game: The Civil War was tension-packed to the very end, with Oregon prevailing 36-35, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds remaining.

Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.

Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).

Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.

Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTailback Terron Ward, who rushed for 145 yards, and the Beavers couldn't pull off the upset vs. Oregon.
Special teams standout II: UCLA CB Ishmael Adams had kick returns of 37, 47 and 46 yards against USC, the last of which set up a third-quarter touchdown drive that killed USC momentum after the Trojans had closed within seven points. He also had six tackles on defense.

Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.

Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.

Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.

Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.

Three up, three down: USC 35, BC 7

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
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3 up, 3 down: USC 35, Boston College 7

LOS ANGELES -- A look at the positives and negatives from the Trojans’ bounce-back victory at home over Boston College on Saturday.

THREE UP
1. Cody Kessler
This was the Cody Kessler that everyone remembered from back in the spring. Named as the Trojans’ full-time starting quarterback this past Monday after a dismal performance by the USC passing offense against Washington State, the 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore completed 15 of 17 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Directing an offensive attack that appeared to have been opened up to a certain degree by Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin, he connected on 14 consecutive pass attempts at one point, providing hope that the Trojans could be headed in the right direction.

2. USC tailbacks
While the USC passing game took a while to get going this season, the rushing attack has been effective from the get-go thanks in large part to some stellar running by the Trojans’ tailback corps. Leading the way on Saturday, once again, was Tre Madden, who rushed for 102 yards -- his third straight game over the century mark -- and one touchdown, while also adding three receptions for 32 yards and another score. Freshman Justin Davis was just as stellar, if not more so, amassing 96 yards and one touchdown on just 10 carries. Javorius Allen and Ty Isaac impressed as well.

3. USC team defense
Led by another phenomenal effort by the front seven, the Trojans’ defense limited standout Boston College tailback Andre Williams -- who had rushed for 100-plus yards in each of the Eagles’ previous two games -- to just 38 yards on 17 carries. The USC defense also harassed Eagles quarterback Chase Rettig all day, holding him to 11-of-24 passing for 83 yards, and Boston College wasn’t able to put any points on the board until the Trojans reserves came in late.

THREE DOWN
1. Penalties
While the Trojans showed improvement in a number of areas -- most notably the passing attack -- they took a step back in the penalty department. Having committed a total of 12 penalties on the season heading into the game, USC was flagged 10 times on Saturday for 100 yards -- compared to one penalty for 5 yards for the Eagles.

2. Pass blocking
The Trojans offensive line continued to open up huge lanes for the USC running backs just as they have all season, but their pass protection was still largely inconsistent, with the group missing blocks and blowing assignments on occasion. They wound up allowing only two sacks, but Boston College pressured Kessler off and on throughout the day. If not for a few nifty scrambling efforts by the USC signal caller, that number would have been greater.

3. Home attendance in the Coliseum
Coming off a stunning upset loss a week earlier, just 62,006 showed up for the game -- the lowest attendance at the Coliseum since Oct. 19, 2002, when 52,961 showed up for a clash with Washington. Fortunately, those that were on hand on Saturday showed enthusiasm right from the outset, cheering loudly after Kiffin elected to open the game with a deep toss to Marqise Lee -- even after it fell incomplete.

USC's Kennard ready for Boston College

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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During Devon Kennard's initial four years at USC things didn’t exactly go to plan. Arriving as one of the most highly decorated members of the Trojans’ signing class of 2009, the Phoenix (Ariz.) Desert Vista product’s career had been stymied by injuries -- including a torn chest muscle that forced him to miss the entire 2012 campaign -- as well as a constant series of position changes that saw him go from defensive end, to strongside linebacker, to middle linebacker, and back again to defensive end.

But with Clancy Pendergast and his attacking 5-2 defense in place at USC, a now-healthy Kennard is finally living up to expectations after finding a home at SAM linebacker -- a hybrid end/outside linebacker position -- where his skill set has proven to be a perfect fit.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kennard
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSenior defensive end Devon Kennard has taken a vocal role in helping his fellow Trojans to move past last week's loss to Washington State.
Having amassed nine tackles, two sacks and three pass-breakups through the team’s first two games, the fifth-year senior captain has emerged as a key component in a USC defensive unit that currently ranks No. 1 nationally in sacks (11) and rushing defense (allowing 15 ypg).

“I definitely feel comfortable in this defense,” said Kennard, who has now compiled 144 tackles in his career. “It puts me, as well as all of my teammates in position to make plays, and that’s all you can ask for as a player. We’re working together. The DBs cover well. ... Josh Shaw and Dion Bailey have been making a lot of plays for us, allowing us to get pressure on the quarterback. And we’ve helped them, too.”

Possessing a 6-foot-3 and 255-pound frame to go along with strong pass rushing skills, a nose for the ball and an aggressive brand of play, Kennard is coming off an impressive outing against Washington State in which he recorded five tackles, half a sack and one pass breakup, while also setting up a Cody Kessler touchdown run with a fumble recovery and 14-yard return that he nearly took back for six himself.

“I was hoping to end up in the end zone, but there was a running back in the flat and nobody saw him,” Kennard said. “It’s OK though, we still scored on that drive.”

But that would be the extent of the points put up by the Trojans. So despite a staunch effort by a USC defense that limited the Cougars to just 7 yards on the ground while also forcing a total of three turnovers, they would fall at home in an upset, 10-7. And while it would be easy for him to point to an anemic USC passing attack as the primary cause for the defeat, according to Kennard, there was plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the ball, with the defense playing a part, in particular, with a momentary lapse in production on Washington State’s game-winning field-goal drive.

“You win and lose as a team,” Kennard said. “There’s no finger pointing going on. There are things that we could have done on defense. One thing that sticks out in my head from last week is that 49-yard run (on a pass reception) they had in the fourth quarter. If we could have found a way to stop them, they wouldn’t have been in field goal position.”

Coming off such a disheartening loss, job No. 1 for Kennard and the other veterans has been to make sure that the Trojans get back on track, starting with the approaching matchup with Boston College. And while the rumored players-only meeting that made headlines earlier this week was later revealed to be nothing more than a casual conversation amongst a few teammates during the team’s training table on Sunday, Kennard -- who has taken on more of a vocal role as a leader this season -- did voice his opinion that day to the small group, and he’s encouraged by what he’s seen from the team as a whole.

“When I talked to guys it was just like, ‘We’ve got to have a great week of practice, we can’t let this loss linger on into our Monday and Tuesday practice, and we have to move on. It’s early in the season and we have an opportunity to bounce back,’ " Kennard said. "It starts with practicing hard. You’ve got to come out and have a good day of practice. I’m really proud of my team and everybody involved because we’ve had a great week of practice so far, and we’ve really bounced back from that standpoint.”

But the Trojans will have to prove just how far they’ve come this weekend against a BC squad that has shown vast improvement under first-year head coach Steve Adazzio. Going up against a hard-nosed Eagles offensive attack featuring 227-pound tailback Andre Williams, the USC defense could be in for a real battle. But with their sights zeroed in on the task at hand, and away from last Saturday’s defeat, Kennard and Co. appear ready for whatever might come their way.

“Everybody has moved on,” Kennard said. “I like the mentality of the team coming back from a loss. Everybody came back, and our focus is on beating BC. I’ve watched a lot of film on them and they’re very physical. We know they’re going to come at us, and we’re preparing for it. It’s a great challenge.”

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