USC Trojans: Kevin Graf
UCLA's Myles Jack earned freshman of the year for both offense and defense with his 70 tackles as a linebacker and seven touchdowns as a running back. This is the first time since the awards were introduced in 2008 that the same player has won both sides.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the league's coach of the year for guiding the Sun Devils to a conference record of 8-1 and winning the South Division. The Sun Devils host Stanford this weekend in the Pac-12 championship game.
The team is selected by the Pac-12 head coaches.
Offensive player of the year: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE Arizona State
Freshman Offense and Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State
First team offense
QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (2)
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Chris Coyle, Grad., Arizona State
OL Evan Finkenberg, Grad., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon (2)
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA (2)
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford (2)
First team defense
DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DL Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DL Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (2)
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (2)
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
DB Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
DB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford (2)
First team specialists
PK Zane Gonzalez, Fr., Arizona State
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
RS Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
ST Soma Vainuku, So. USC
Second team offense
QB Taylor Kelly, Jr., Arizona State
RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr., Stanford
RB Marion Grice, Sr. Arizona State
WR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
WR Jaelen Strong, So., Arizona State
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Jamil Douglas, Jr., Arizona State
OL Cameron Fleming, Sr., Stanford
OL Andrus Peat, So., Stanford
OL Isaac Seumalo, So., Oregon State
OL Khalil Wilkes, Sr. Stanford
Second team defense
DL Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DL Taylor Hart, Sr., Oregon
DL Devon Kennard, Sr., USC
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Jr., Washington
DL Tenny Palepoi, Sr., Utah
LB Carl Bradford, Jr., Arizona State
LB Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
LB Hayes Pullard, Jr., USC
LB Chris Young, Sr., Arizona State
DB Dion Bailey, Jr., USC
DB Osahon Irabor, Grad., Arizona State
DB Marcus Peters, So., Washington
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Sr., Oregon State
Second team specialists
PK Vincenzo D'Amato, Sr., California
P Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
RS Nelson Agholor, So., USC
ST Erick Dargan, Jr., Oregon
ST Joe Hemschoot, Sr., Stanford
ST Ryan Hofmeister, Jr., UCLA
RS: Return Specialist
ST: special teams player (not a kicker or returner)
(2): Two-time first-team selection
Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.; DL Tevin Hood, Sr.; WR Nate Phillips, Fr.; DB Jared Tevis, Jr.; LB Scooby Wright, Fr.
Arizona State: DL Davon Coleman, Grad.; Gannon Conway, Sr.; ST D.J. Foster, So.; ST De'Marieya Nelson, Jr.
California: DL Deandre Coleman, Sr.; QB Jared Goff, Fr.; WR Bryce Treggs, So.
Colorado: RB Mike Adkins, Fr.; LB Addison Gillam, Fr.; PK Will Oliver, Jr.
Oregon: WR/RS Bralon Addison, So.; WR Josh Huff, Sr.; OL Tyler Johnstone, So.; DL Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; LB Derrick Malone, Jr.; RB Byron Marshall, So.; DL Tony Washington, Jr.
Oregon State: OL Grant Enger, Sr.; TE Connor Hamlett, JR.; QB Sean Mannion, Jr.; DB Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB Steven Nelson, Jr.; ST Terron Ward, Jr.
Stanford: DL Henry Anderson, Sr.; DB Alex Carter, So.; OL Kevin Danser, Sr.; DL Josh Mauro, Sr.; P Ben Rhyne, Sr.; DB Jordan Richards, Jr.; LB A.J. Tarpley, Sr.
UCLA: OL Jake Brendel, So.; ST Jayon Brown, Fr.; P Sean Covington, Fr.; TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.; WR Shaq Evans, Sr.; WR Devin Fuller, So.; DB Randall Goforth, So.; QB Brett Hundley, So.; DB Anthony Jefferson, Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Jr.; DL Cassius Marsh, Sr.; DL Ellis McCarthy, So.; DB Fabian Moreau, So.; OL Alex Redmond, Fr.; DL Eddie Vanderdoes, Fr.; LB Jordan Zumwalt, Sr.
USC: P Kris Albarado, So.; RB Javorius Allen, So.; WR Nelson Agholor, So.; DB Su'a Cravens, Fr.; OL Kevin Graf, Sr.; TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.; QB Cody Kessler, So.; WR Marqise Lee, Jr.; DB Josh Shaw, Jr.; DL J.R. Tavai, Jr.; OL Max Turek, So.; DL George Uko, Jr.
Utah: WR Dres Anderson, Jr.; OL Vyncent Jones, Sr.; DB Keith McGill, Sr.; PK Andy Phillips, Fr.; LB Jason Whittingham, So.
Washington: OL Dexter Charles, So.; PK Travis Coons, Sr.; OL Mike Criste, Jr.; OL Micah Hatchie, Jr.; DB Sean Parker, Sr.; QB Keith Price, Sr.; DL Danny Shelton, Jr.; LB Shaq Thompson, So.
Washington State: OL Elliott Bosch, Sr.; WR River Cracraft, Fr.; PK Andrew Furney, Sr.; DB Damante Horton, Sr.;
Some notes on the teams:
By School: Arizona State and Stanford placed the most players on the first team with six selections each.
By Class: Of the 27 first-team selections, two are graduate students, 11 are seniors, nine are juniors, four are sophomores and one freshman.
Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches -- RB Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona.
Two-time Selections: Ten players are repeat first-team selections from last year.
All-Academic: Two first team All-Pac-12 performers also were named to the Pac-12 All Academic second team -- RB Bishop Sankey of Washington and DB Ed Reynolds of Stanford, while Washington defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly earned second-team honors on both the Pac-12 All-Conference and All-Academic teams.
There are nine assistants whose livelihoods and potential family relocations might be at stake, pending the outcomes of the Colorado and UCLA games. It’s a tenuous position, as Trojans athletic director Pat Haden will soon make the difficult decision on the next USC head football coach, which will affect some, if not all, of the current assistants.
Be assured that Haden has empathy for Orgeron, his assistants, and their limbo status, as this coaching staff attempts to finish the regular season in spectacular fashion and state their case for further employment at USC.
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1. No let-up: The Trojans picked up an emotional victory last week on the road at Oregon State and next week will be a prime-time showdown in the Coliseum against No. 5 Stanford. Sandwiched between those two games is Cal, a team that is struggling with only a single win against FCS Portland State and seven consecutive losses. After early season issues of their own, Ed Orgeron is doing a good job of keeping the USC players focused on enjoying the day-to-day process right now, so it’s not likely they will be caught looking ahead.
2. Injuries: It’s not a USC preview piece these days unless you talk about injuries. The latest bit of bad news came this week with the announcement that Morgan Breslin will have hip surgery and is out for the remainder of the regular season. Breslin has been the best pass rusher on the team for the past two years, so he’s not a guy you want out of the lineup for the final stretch. Look for the Trojans to use J.R. Tavai and Jabari Ruffin to help fill that spot, although Tavai might need to replace Leonard Williams if the star defensive end cannot play because of a bad shoulder that held him out of two practices this week.
3. Cal passing game vs USC secondary: The Bears hang their hat on the passing game in the Bear Raid offense of Sonny Dykes. They are going with a true freshman quarterback this year in Jared Goff, who has put up some big numbers but has also made some predictable, true-freshman mistakes. Goff is No. 8 nationally in passing yards per game and has some good receivers, but the USC corner situation seems to have stabilized with the move of Josh Shaw and the healthy status of Kevon Seymour.
4. USC run game: The Trojans found a lot of success last week running the ball with both Silas Redd and Buck Allen gaining more than 133 yards behind some good blocking from the offensive line. The Bears rank last in the Pac-12 in three major categories, so it stands to reason that USC will look to get things going on the ground again this week. One area to watch on the line will be the status of right tackle Kevin Graf, who has been battling an ankle injury. Orgeron has said Graf will start if he can play. If he cannot, Max Tuerk will move to right tackle and John Martinez will start at left guard.
5. Pendergast factor: After spending the last three years as the defensive coordinator at Cal, Clancy Pendergast has a good working knowledge of many of the Bears' players. He might not know the new offense as well, but the knowledge of the players will certainly play some kind of benefit for the Trojans. Pendergast has the USC defense ranked among the national top 25 in 10 categories.
What was most impressive part of USC's victory against Oregon State?
Johnny Curren: It was a phenomenal effort by tailbacks Javorius Allen and Silas Redd, as the Trojans amassed 242 rushing yards. But it wasn’t just the ball-carriers who made an impact. In fact, the performance of the offensive line might have been what was most impressive of all. Putting together their best outing of the season, they were an incredibly aggressive and cohesive unit. The lights-out night that Aundrey Walker had, in particular, was a positive development with an eye toward the rest of the season. If the USC ground game continues to roll like it did against OSU, there’s little doubt the Trojans will be finishing the 2013 campaign very strong.
Greg Katz: The most impressive part of the Trojans' victory was the way Ed Orgeron’s team kept its poise once the Beavers tied the game at 14-14. In the past, the Men of Troy might have folded at Reser Stadium, but this group was able to rise above the crowd noise, keep its composure and come right back to win going away. It was a major maturity step and possible turning point for the 2013 Trojans.
What is the key matchup of the USC-Cal game?
Paskwietz: USC vs. themselves. Things are going in a very positive direction right now for the Trojans, and on paper it doesn’t appear Cal should present an overwhelmingly tough matchup. But, as any college football fan knows, anything can happen on any given day. Think back to last year for the Trojans at the beginning of November when they hit the road for a game they were expected to win. If they had won in Arizona, it would have set up a huge showdown the following week at the Coliseum -- a very similar scenario to this year.
Curren: With Josh Shaw moving from safety to cornerback, the USC secondary has put together two consecutive solid outings after struggling at times earlier in the season, but it faces a big test this weekend in California’s uptempo, spread offense. Freshman quarterback Jared Goff leads a Golden Bears aerial attack that generates 351.1 passing yards per game -- the No. 8 mark in the FBS -- and he has three very talented receivers at his disposal in Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler. With very little else clicking for Cal on either side of the ball, if the Trojans’ defensive backfield can keep those wideouts corralled while also taking advantage of a Goff mistake here or there -- which he’s been known to make on occasion -- USC should run away with the game.
Katz: The key matchup will not only will be the performance of the Trojans offensive line against the Bears defensive front, but the actual lineup of cardinal and gold players. The Trojans right side of the line actually looked pretty good against Oregon State with Max Tuerk at right tackle filling in for veteran Kevin Graf, and right guard Aundrey Walker having his best game as a Trojan. On the left side, senior John Martinez played a good game. Can this unit with or without Graf (ankle) continue to grow and open up big holes for the Trojans' obvious wealth of tailback riches?
What was the most memorable moment from USC vs. Cal in Memorial Stadium?
Paskwietz: It's the 2007 game when both teams came in ranked in the top 25. The game was played in a hard-driving rain, and the Trojans were only able to throw for 129 yards. But senior tailback Chauncey Washington had the game of his career with 29 carries for 220 yards and a touchdown to lead USC to a 24-17 victory. Washington had spent two years on academic probation and had to pay his own way at USC, so to see him rewarded for his patience with a performance like that was truly memorable.
Curren: It wasn’t a positive memory for the Trojans, but the 2003 USC-Cal matchup was as drama-filled as it gets. In a game featuring an incredible three overtimes marked by wild and unpredictable plays, including a Hershel Dennis fumble, as well as a field-goal block by Gregg Guenther, the No. 3 Trojans wound up losing 34-31. The difference was a Tyler Fredrickson field goal. In looking back, the most significant thing to come from the game was that it really marked a turning point of sorts under Pete Carroll, as the Trojans would go on to win an incredible 34 consecutive games following that defeat.
Katz: Unfortunately for Trojans fans it would be the 2003 triple-overtime loss to the Bears. The Dennis fumble and the game-winning 38-yard field goal by Frederickson in OT was at the time a killer. However, it seems that painful loss was inspirational the rest of the way, as former Trojans head coach Pete Carroll never again lost to Cal during his marvelous tenure.
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It was the most complete game that USC has played in years. The defense did a great job against the top statistical passing game in the nation, including three interceptions, which was the total that Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion had coming into the game. The offense had tremendous balance with 242 yards rushing and 247 yards passing. It was the best play calling yet from Clay Helton.
As important as anything, however, was the way in which the Trojans physically dominated on both sides of the ball. For a team that has struggled with injuries and has thrilled in recent weeks to take any win no matter how it happened, this game was one to enjoy for its physical beauty.
It was somewhat unexpected too.
The Trojans defensive front had been solid coming into the game but they were without leading sack-man Morgan Breslin and Mannion had proven to be tough to rattle. Not only did the Trojans get two sacks but they added nine pressures in addition to the critical interceptions -- two of them at or near the end zone -- and they also held Mannion and leading receiver Brandin Cooks well below their nation-leading averages.
The Trojans offensive line had been in a state of flux after an injury to Kevin Graf resulted in three players seeing time at new positions. USC was also limited at tight end. Regular starter Xavier Grimble tried to go but for most of the game it ended up being walk-in tackle Nathan Guertler filling in and doing a very commendable job in the blocking department.
The USC running game was coming off a net 30-yard performance the week before against Utah and it was clear early on against the Beavers that leading rusher Tre Madden was not going to be available due to injury. Not a problem for Silas Redd and Buck Allen.
Redd set the tone with his physical runs gaining big chunks of yardage. Then Allen would spring in and use his combination of speed and slashing ability to keep things going.
There was no better example of what kind of day this was going to be for the Trojans on the ground than early in the second quarter after Oregon State had pulled to a 14-14 tie. It was the kind of moment when you need to rely on the run game to settle things down. The Trojans went on a 10-play drive -- eight of them on the ground -- to score what would prove to be the game-winning points.
More importantly, it was the kind of drive where the Trojans realized they could impose their will. Momentum had been completely on the side of the Beavers at the start of the drive but the Trojans stole it right back with a physical ball-control drive.
For the second time this season, the Trojans also saw the emergence of a two-headed weapon at tailback. Early in the year it was Madden and true freshman Justin Davis but now, thanks to injuries to both, the opportunity has been presented to Redd and Allen and both took advantage on Friday night.
As the Trojans continue to ride this wave of emotion under interim coach Ed Orgeron, this latest physical performance can only offer encouragement for what is possible in the coming weeks. The next game offers an opponent that is struggling and an opportunity for USC to get back more bodies from the injured list. If the Trojans can build upon what took place in Corvallis, you never know what might be in store for this team in the final stretch of the season
1. USC defense: The USC defense put together its most complete outing in more than a month, forcing four first-half turnovers and limiting Utah to 201 yards of total offense. Outside linebacker J.R. Tavai (11 tackles) and Co. set the tone up front, holding the Utes to 71 yards on the ground and amassing six sacks. The Trojans' secondary, meanwhile, bounced back after struggling against the pass in each of the team's previous three games. Defensive backs Josh Shaw, Leon McQuay III and Su'a Cravens all came up with interceptions that led to points for USC.
2. Cody Kessler: While the performance of the USC offense, as a whole, was far from perfect, Kessler still stood out. Doing a nice job of avoiding pressure and stepping up in the pocket, the third-year sophomore quarterback spread the ball around to seven different receivers, completing 21 of 32 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown. This, despite having only three scholarship wide outs and no scholarship tight ends at his disposal.
3. Andre Heidari: One week after a connecting on just 1 of 3 field goal attempts against Notre Dame, and then having to fend off Alex Wood and Craig McMahon in an open competition to retain his starting place-kicking job, Heidari came up big for the Trojans, going 4-for-5 against the Utes. The four field goals are a single-game career-high for the junior out of Bakersfield (Calif.) Stockdale.
1. USC offensive line: Inconsistent in terms of their production throughout the season, the USC offensive line continued its streak of up-and-down play against Utah on Saturday. A fast and aggressive Utes defensive front headlined by Trevor Reilly gave the unit fits, applying pressure on Kessler all game and racking up a total of five sacks. The offensive line didn't fare any better when it came to establishing a rushing attack either -- the Trojans compiled just 30 net yards on the ground.
2. USC third-down conversions: Due in part to the less than stellar play up front, the Trojans came into the game having converted on only 26 of 90 (29 percent) third-down attempts in 2013 -- the No. 115 mark nationally. Unfortunately for USC, that number will continue to plummet after the Trojans went 3-for-15 on third down against Utah.
3. Injuries: To say USC has been bitten by the injury bug of late would be the understatement of the year. With key contributors like Marqise Lee, Lamar Dawson and Morgan Breslin all standing on the sideline in street clothes, the Trojans suited up just 52 scholarship players against Utah. And against the Utes, the trend of players going down would only continue, as offensive tackle Kevin Graf (ankle) and safety Su'a Cravens (groin) limped off the field. On top of that, walk-on Shane Sullivan -- who was filling a crucial role as a backup at the paper-thin tight end position -- also left the game with an apparent knee injury.
If these Trojans players can somehow rebound against Utah on Saturday at the Coliseum and maintain momentum the rest of the way, anything is still possible when it comes to USC’s interim head coach. If the Trojans can win the games they’re supposed to win, including obvious uphill challenges against Stanford and UCLA, the impossible can still become the possible.
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USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron comments
Painful: "Well, we have a hurt team in there. They gave it everything they had. I was really proud of our football team and our players and our coaching staff. Game two of a new season, the way we competed to the very end."
Yellow and red: "Obviously the penalties hurt us tonight in crucial situations, and we didn't punch it in the red zone when we needed to. It seemed that every time we had a first down or something like that, we had a holding call or jumped offside. We shot ourselves in the foot, and then it was second and 20."
On Notre Dame defensive success: "Pressure. A lot of pressure. That was a good front. We knew it was a good front coming in, a lot of pressure, and we just seemed that we couldn't get things going. Those are big guys to block, 300 (pounds) in the middle."
On the offensive line: "Hey, listen, we made some mistakes. We didn't do the things we would like to do at a high level, but I am proud of all my guys, just like my family. They fought as hard as they can and gave it everything that they can."
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly comments
On beating USC: "They found a way to win the game. Our defense was outstanding in the second half and gave us a chance to win the football game. Great win, one that obviously when it comes to beating USC will go a long way with our guys."
On defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt: "He got the game ball. He was all over the place. They (USC) couldn't handle him today. If you're wanting to talk about a defensive lineman that was dominating, you could throw that word out there. He was a force out there."
On defending Trojans wide receiver Nelson Agholor: "I thought we defended well. If he was going to hit us on some drive routes and some intermediate routes, we were going to rally and tackle him, and that was the extent of it."
More notes and anecdotes
Key(s) to victory: The Notre Dame defense rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter, and the Trojans' offense didn't. Twice the Trojans had excellent opportunities in Irish territory and came away empty, especially the final drive of the game. It also didn't help that the Trojans were just 2 of 13 in third down conversions for the game.
The offensive scoring average: The Trojans scored 10 points against Notre Dame. Prior to the game with the Irish, the Trojans were averaging 28.0 points per game.
Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler comments: "It really sucks that we lost, but we gave it a good effort. As a team, we wanted badly to win it for Coach O and the coaching staff. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. We just have to eliminate the mistakes we're making as a team."
Defending the rush: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans defense was allowing 107.2 yards rushing per game. Against the Irish, the Trojans allowed 129 yards rushing.
Evaluating the defense: Safety Dion Bailey said, "I'm not trying to take anything away from Notre Dame, they played a great game, and they just made a couple more plays at the end that affected the outcome."
Offensively better: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 408.0 yards per game in total offense. Against the Irish, the Trojans had 330 total yards on offense.
Kessler: "Not taking away anything from Notre Dame, we have to execute, and we missed too many assignments and were dropping balls. It's disappointing, but stuff that can be fixed, and we have to eliminate the penalties. We put ourselves in too many third and long situations."
Rush to dominance: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 200.3 yards per game rushing. Against the Irish, the Trojans rushed for 129 net yards.
Grafting an answer: On his line's offensive penalties, starting senior right tackle Kevin Graf said, "I was definitely surprised (by the penalties). Honestly, I thought a lot of our guys were pretty angry about those calls, but we'll see what the film says. It's very frustrating. Someone like me who it's their senior year and this is the last time I'll get to be in this place. It's very upsetting."
Midwest fall: Temperature at kickoff was 48 degrees.
The defensive scoring average: The Trojans defense allowed 14 points to Notre Dame. Before the Irish game, the Trojans were allowing 22.8 points per game.
Confidence builder: After the game, it was an emotional Trojans locker room and wide receiver Darreus Rogers said, "Coach O told us to stay together and keep having one heartbeat."
Defensively speaking: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were allowing an average of 340.3 total yards on defense. Against the Irish, the Cardinal and Gold allowed 295 total yards.
The infirmary: Freshman tailback Justin Davis left Notre Dame Stadium with a boot on his right ankle. Tight ends Xaiver Grimble and Randall Telfer also left with an ankle and knee problem, respectively. Marqise Lee said he tweaked his shoulder in the first half, and Orgeron wouldn't let him back in the game in the second half.
Air low: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were allowing 233.2 passing yards per game. Against the Irish, the Trojans allowed 166 passing yards.
On beating the Trojans: Irish senior receiver T.J. Jones said, "Yeah, it doesn't feel bad, that's for sure. It's definitely a fulfilling feeling, three out of four years at my time here, and my last year, last time I'll ever play them."
Top tacklers: The Trojans defense was led by defensive lineman Leonard Williams with nine tackles, followed by corner Anthony Brown and safety Josh Shaw with seven tackles each.
Passing fancy: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 207.7 passing yards per game. Against the Irish, the Trojans passed for 201 yards.
Getting worse: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 59.3 penalty yards per game. Against the Irish, the Trojans were penalized 11 times for 95 yards.
Scouting the talent: NFL scouts in attendance included those representing the Rams, Eagles, Texans, Colts and Bears.
Next Saturday: The Trojans play host to Utah in the Coliseum in a Pac-12 South Division game. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. PT.
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.
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“Our guys came back really rejuvenated today,” Orgeron said. “We had a good meeting on Friday … covered the film. They had Friday night off, yesterday off and had a Monday practice today. We gave them a little scouting report on Notre Dame … just breaking some stuff in. We had some corrections from the film from the game Thursday night, and we’re moving forward.”
The Trojans’ win over the Wildcats not only marked the team’s first over a Pac-12 opponent this season, but it was also their first under Orgeron, who was making his debut as interim coach.
“It’s been overwhelming,” said Orgeron of the support and feedback that he’s received over the last three days. “The response has been positive. It’s all about the players. I’m just excited to see the Trojans win, and obviously there’s a lot of things that need to get better, but the style in which they played and the energy and the emotion … and again, to see that locker room, it just relieved a lot of pain.”
With that said, Orgeron and Co. have now firmly turned their focus toward a Fighting Irish squad that currently sits at 4-2.
“We realize that this is a rivalry game … USC-Notre Dame, and we have a lot of respect for our opponent,” Orgeron said. “But again, we need to take care of what we can control, and that’s us, the fundamentals and the style of play. But it’s going to be an exciting game, and we know it.”
Help on the way in the secondary?
While Thursday night’s victory was filled with positives, the one glaring negative was the performance of the secondary -- a unit that was continually victimized by Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker, who threw for a career-high 363 yards and four touchdowns.
“All of the things were correctable,” Orgeron said. “We had some coverage things that we looked at, and [we] let the guys get behind us a little too much. We’ve just got to emphasize just being in the right positions … stuff like that. The coaches did a great job of illustrating what we need to get better at.”
Additionally, the Trojans defensive backfield could get a big boost in the form of Anthony Brown this week. Out of action since spraining his knee against Hawaii on Aug. 29, the fourth-year junior cornerback returned to action on Sunday and started for a majority of the practice opposite Kevon Seymour.
And while the Fontana (Calif.) Kaiser product appeared to look healthy and in command during the light workout, Orgeron said that it’s still too early to tell whether he’ll be able to go this weekend with 100 percent certainty, listing him as “probable.”
“We’ve got to see this week,” Orgeron said. “That’s a big decision on our staff. It’s hard for a guy that’s been out for as long as he’s been out to come back. We don’t know if he’s ready yet. It’s going to be very, very critical this week to find out if he’s going to be ready and if he can play.”
In addition to Brown, all eyes were on star wide receiver Marqise Lee, who has been sidelined since going down against Arizona State on Sept. 28 with a knee sprain. Wearing a brace on his left knee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner didn’t participate in drills, but he did run sprints on the sideline, and appeared to do so without a limp.
Others who sat out Sunday’s practice included Kevin Graf, Victor Blackwell (ankle heavily taped), Tre Madden, Xavier Grimble, Marquis Simmons, and Morgan Breslin.
Nathan Guertler filled in for Graf, while Darreus Rogers appeared to go full speed at wideout.
In his post-practice media scrum, Orgeron said that Brown, Graf, Rogers, Grimble, Madden and Simmons are all probable for Saturday’s game, while Lee, Blackwell and Breslin are questionable and D.J. Morgan is out.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin comments
Opening statement: "Unfortunately, a disastrous third quarter for us was a big part of the game. The first half seemed to go back and forth -- two critical turnovers for us in the first half. We had a dropped pass on the post route going out, and it ended up being an interception for them and a big play. In the third quarter we went down the field and scored, and then it went downhill from there."
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USC head coach Lane Kiffin
Opening statement: “We knew it was a really good team we were going to play. Anytime you have a great player at quarterback (Chuckie Keeton) like they do, it’s going to be hard to take him out of the game. Their defense has played really tough and really physical.”
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In fact, Martin is coming off what was arguably his best performance of the young season against Boston College -- an impressive feat considering he wasn’t 100 percent healthy in the days leading up to the matchup, and even during the game itself, suffering from flu-like symptoms.
With that selfless, team-first mentality driving him, Martin has continually shown the ability to overcome virtually every obstacle that has stood in his way, including just this past August late in fall camp when he fought through an undisclosed knee injury.
“I’ve got to grind for my family, and the Trojans are my family,” said Martin, who along with his teammates, will face a talented Utah State team this Saturday in the Coliseum. “I love these guys with all of my heart and soul, and these are the guys that I look out for. So, it doesn’t matter if I’m hurt, it doesn’t matter if I’m sick, I’ve got to play for my team. That’s just what I do.”
It’s that determined mindset, on top of the fact that he took on a visibly more active vocal presence during the offseason, that helped establish Martin as a natural selection as a team captain following fall camp -- a role he has embraced wholeheartedly. Following the Trojans’ 10-7 loss to Washington State, Martin was one of the veterans who made a concerted effort to ensure that the team regrouped and maintained focus on the task at hand. And even now, after USC’s 35-7 bounce-back victory over Boston College, Martin hasn’t let up, especially when it comes to the offensive line corps.
“I’m just trying to keep guys together, keep the cohesion there and keep the family-like atmosphere going,” said Martin, who is part of a starting group that also includes Max Tuerk at left guard, Chad Wheeler at left tackle, Aundrey Walker at right guard and Kevin Graf at right tackle. “That’s what you want on the offensive line. It has to be five guys together.”
Under the direction of Mike Summers, who was added to the Trojans coaching staff in February, and James Cregg, the offensive has begun to gel and perform at a high level, keying an offensive attack that has relied more heavily upon a physical ground game than in recent years.
“The offensive line is really starting to come together well,” Martin said. “We’re starting to get a really good push on the guys, and holes are starting to open up, and that’s really encouraging. It just makes us go harder in practice, it makes us sharpen up our technique, and it’s encouraging for the next week.”
But as Martin is well aware, the offensive line still isn’t quite where it needs to be just yet. Having allowed six sacks so far this season, the group has had its share of lapses in production on passing plays, the majority of which have been caused by communication breakdowns.
“We’re still working out the kinks in communication,” Martin said. “You can always get better when it comes to communication ... that can improve every week, and that is something that we’re trying to improve.”
Still, the USC offensive line has shown enough promise -- particularly in terms of run blocking -- to warrant more than a fair amount of optimism. And with Martin leading the way, so long as they continue to develop and build off of the strong outings they’ve already had, this could be the start of something special.
“It always starts up front,” Martin said. “As long as these five guys come together and do what we’re supposed to do, it’s going to be a beautiful year.”
That was the feeling of many coming into the season as USC coach Lane Kiffin talked about a renewed sense of wanting to control the line of scrimmage. The fact that the Trojans had five experienced starters returning, along with a deep group of running backs, fostered a feeling of optimism for success if the line could come together.
Kiffin showed how important the line was when he brought in veteran offensive line coach Mike Summers and paired him with existing position coach James Cregg to double up the duties up front. There was also some shuffling in the starting lineup during fall camp with Chad Wheeler moving into the left tackle spot and Aundrey Walker transitioning to right guard to share time with John Martinez.
Through the first three games of the season, the results have shown good progress, particularly in the run game. The Trojans have averaged 43 rushing attempts per game and are just short of 200-yards per game on the ground.
“There is some good stuff going on up there with the offensive line,” Kiffin said. “I really feel like the decisions made in January -- our staff decisions, scheme decisions and practice decisions to be more physical -- are paying off.”
While the run game has been consistently good, there is still room for improvement with pass protection and penalties but those areas would expect to be addressed in the coming weeks as the line continues to gel with the new lineup.
“Run blocking is going really well,” USC right tackle Kevin Graf said. “Pass blocking, we really haven’t gotten to do that much, it’s weird. We keep on doing so well with the run that we rarely pass it. We’ve been practicing like this since spring ball. We really put an emphasis on running the ball and it makes us look a little more nasty.”
Of course, any offensive lineman will tell you they love run blocking, especially those linemen who have been around the USC program in recent years when the ground game often took a back seat to the aerial circus of the Matt Barkley era.
“You gotta like it a lot,” Graf said. “When you run the ball as much as we have, it’s a lot of fun, especially for the O-line. We love getting off the line and we love hitting people, that’s what we like to do. We just have to keep on doing it. You can’t do it one game and then the next game not be able to do it. We just need to be consistent and make sure we’re doing it every game.”
As consistently good as the run game has been, the pass blocking has been inconsistent and there have been issues with drive-stopping penalties as well. These issues often involve breakdowns in communication, something that usually takes time to develop for a line that only came together midway through fall camp.
“Our ability to communicate is very important,” Graf said. “If you don’t have that communication, the offensive line doesn’t work. It’s the only position where you have to have five guys doing the right thing at the right time so to be able to communicate is something you need. If you mess that up, you’ll see it. You’ll see mistakes and you’ll see bad games out of us.”
So far the line has made good progress through three games and they will look to keep that up against the next opponent, Utah State, which offers a strong challenge for a Trojans team looking to end a stretch of three home games on a high note. The Aggies -- who won 11 games last season -- are known for their dynamic quarterback Chuckie Keeton and are ranked No. 13 in the nation in total defense (286-yards per game).
“They’re a good team, a really good team,” Graf said. “Their front seven is really strong, powerful guys. They are a very impressive defense, it’s not just their offense. It’s gonna be a great test for us.”