USC Trojans: Kris Albarado

Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 concludes with punters.

Arizona: Drew Riggleman is back after handling all of the punting responsibilities last season. He averaged 40.1 yards per kick, pinned 18 inside the 20 and had 12 kicks of 50-plus yards. He ranked eighth in the conference -- though the difference between first (Utah’s Tom Hackett) and Riggleman was an average of 3.4 yards.

Arizona State: Punting was one of ASU’s biggest issues last season. Matt Haack started to come on strong at the end of the season and will likely challenge Alex Garoutte, who averaged 38.8 yards per kick last season. Should Haack win the job, Garoutte is always an option with his rollout style. Quarterback Taylor Kelly has also been known to offer the occasional boot. He punted six times last season, once for 50-plus, and had three downed inside the 20.

California: Cole Leininger is back after a very solid season for the Golden Bears, where he was tied for second in the conference with an average of 42.9 yards per kick. Cal has four punters on the roster in addition to Leininger. And while he’s mostly unchallenged, there are plenty of backup options.

Colorado: Third-team all-conference punter Darragh O'Neill returns and was a midseason Ray Guy candidate last season. He averaged 40.5 yards per punt last year and pinned 22 inside the 20.

Oregon: Alejandro Maldonado handled the punting duties last season and made a couple of appearances as a kicker before the job went to Matt Wogan. Expect Wogan to handle all kicking responsibilities, though some walk-ons will also get looks.

Oregon State: Keith Kostol is back as a third-year starter. He finished last season tied for fifth in the conference with an average of 40.5 yards per punt. He also put 23 kicks inside the 20.

Stanford: Ben Rhyne returns to handle the punting duties for the Cardinal. He was one of the best in the conference last season with an average of 42.9 yards per kick -- just half a yard behind Hackett. He had 12 kicks of 50-plus yards and put 15 inside the 20.

UCLA: Sean Covington is back after having a very solid season, where he posted an average of 42.6 yards per punt. Do-it-all quarterback Brett Hundley punted once last season, but it’s safe to assume that Convington’s job is secure.

USC: Kris Albarado didn’t post an impressive yards-per-punt average (37.1), but he was very good at pinning opponents, with 27 kicks inside the 20. And of his 64 kicks, almost half were fair-caught.

Utah: Hackett was last season's first-team all-conference punter, so expect some preseason All-American hype for him. As noted earlier, he led the conference with an average of 43.4 yards per punt and buried 27 kicks inside the 20.

Washington: Travis Coons pulled double-duty last season. In addition to nailing 15 of 16 field goal attempts, he also averaged 40.4 yards per punt and had eight kicks of 50-plus yards to go with 23 inside the 20. Korey Durkee did some punting in 2012 before Coons won the job, so he’ll get the first look in 2014. Newcomer Tristan Vizcaino could also get looks at kicker and/or punter.

Washington State: Wes Concepcion was the starter in the final two games as punter last season. With Mike Bowlin gone, he should be the favorite to handle punting duties full time. Concepcion punted 12 times last season for an average of 36.2 yards. Eight of those 12 were fair catches and three were inside the 20.

Previous positions

Kicker
Safety
Cornerback
Linebacker
Defensive end
Tight end
Quarterback
Running back
Receiver
Offensive line
Defensive tackle
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues with place-kickers.

Arizona: Casey Skowron, Bret Miller and Michael Unzicker are all in the mix this spring to replace Jake Smith, who converted 12 of 19 kicks (63.2 percent) last season, including a long of 53. The 12 converted field goals were the lowest in the conference, as was the conversion percentage.

Arizona State: No team in the Pac-12 attempted more field goals in 2013 than the Sun Devils -- and Zane Gonzalez was one of the few bright spots for an otherwise dismal ASU special teams unit. The freshman All-American converted 25 of 30 attempts (83.3) and had a streak of 18 straight.

California: With Vincenzo D’Amato gone (he was 17 of 20 last season), it’s looking like James Langford, Noah Beito and Matt Anderson will all get looks. Langford might have the edge as the kickoff guy with Beito a potential early frontrunner for field goals.

Colorado: Senior Will Oliver is back after converting 17 of 24 kicks last year (70.8 percent). He was perfect inside the 30 (7 of 7) and missed just once inside of 40 yards. Three of his misses came from 50-plus (2 of 5). He’s a potential All-American candidate. Strong-legged Diego Gonzalez from Guadalupe, Mexico, is waiting in the wings.

Oregon: Oregon’s kicking adventures weren’t as interesting in 2013 as they’ve been in the past. While the Ducks attempted the fewest field goals in the conference, Matt Wogan was a solid 7 of 9, and Alejandro Maldonado was 3 of 5 for a combined 71.4 percent -- seventh in the conference. Wogan returns and should be considered the frontrunner to handle all kicking duties, including punting.

Oregon State: Trevor Romaine returns as a fourth-year starter after converting 14 of 20 attempts last season. He was mostly money inside of 40 yards, converting 11 of 13 attempts. But struggled on the longer kicks, converting just 2 of 5 between 40-49 yards and 1 of 2 beyond 50.

Stanford: Jordan Williamson is back after connecting on 18 of 22 kicks in 2013, including a long of 48. Of his four misses, two of them came from 50 yards or longer, where he was 0 for 2. He was automatic inside the 30 and 15 of 16 inside of 40 yards. Time to finally put the 2011 Fiesta Bowl to rest. He's one of the league's most consistent kickers.

UCLA: Ka’imi Fairbairn returns after a hit-and-miss year where he connected on 14 of 21 kicks with a long of 48. He had a stretch where he converted on eight in a row. But also had some inconsistent games (2 of 4 against Nebraska, 2 of 4 against ASU).

USC: Andre Heidari had an up-and-down season. He struggled greatly in the 40-49 yard range, converting on just 3 of 8 kicks. Overall, he was 15 of 22, and his 2013 will most likely be remembered for his 47-yard game-winner against Stanford. Heidari also handled almost every kickoff, though punter Kris Albarado is available if needed.

Utah: "Automatic" Andy Phillips returns after making quite the splash in his first season of football. The former skier became a household name -- well, at least a name in Pac-12 households -- after converting on the first 11 field goals of his career. He’s got a big leg, converting on 9 of 11 from 40 yards or longer.

Washington: No easy task replacing Travis Coons, who handled kicking and punting for the Huskies. He was the Pac-12’s most accurate kicker in 2013, converting on 15 of 16 attempts. Cameron Van Winkle handled some kickoffs before an injury set him back, and Tristan Vizcaino comes in this fall and should be in the mix.

Washington State: Strong-legged Andrew Furney is gone. Wes Concepcion and Erik Powell are the kickers on the roster. Powell was a walk-on, but the coaching staff is high on him. Concepcion likely will handle punting but could kick if needed.

Previous positions

Safety
Cornerback
Linebacker
Defensive end
Tight end
Quarterback
Running back
Receiver
Offensive line
Defensive tackle

Pac-12 names all-conference team

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
12:50
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The Pac-12 has announced its first- and second-team all-conference squads and postseason awards for 2013.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Ka'Deem Carey was the only unanimous first-team pick.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey has been named the league's offensive player of the year. Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton joins an elite fraternity, earning his second straight Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Washington's Steve Emtman is the only other player to win the league's defensive player of the year award in back to back years (1990-1991).

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

Honorable mention

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.
Tags:

USC Trojans, Stanford Cardinal, Pac-12, Oregon Ducks, Dion Bailey, Marqise Lee, Su'a Cravens, Xavier Grimble, Marcus Martin, Ellis McCarthy, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, California Bears, Colorado Buffaloes, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Stanford Cardinal, UCLA Bruins, USC Trojans, Utah Utes, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, Keith Price, Shaq Thompson, Andrus Peat, Byron Marshall, Isaac Seumalo, Brett Hundley, Davon Coleman, A.J. Tarpley, Ty Montgomery, Tyler Gaffney, Bryce Treggs, Paul Richardson, George Uko, J.R. Tavai, Devon Kennard, Sean Parker, Cody Kessler, Hayes Pullard, Kevin Graf, River Cracraft, Soma Vainuku, Nelson Agholor, leonard williams, Sean Mannion, Todd Graham, Josh Shaw, Marquis Flowers, Taylor Kelly, Kris Albarado, Jayon Brown, Eddie Vanderdoes, Brandin Cooks, Deandre Coleman, Marcus Mariota, Thomas Duarte, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Shayne Skov, Josh Huff, Alex Redmond, Ed Reynolds, Ben Gardner, Kevin Danser, Ka'Deem Carey, Scott Crichton, Trevor Reilly, Will Sutton, Bishop Sankey, Marcus Peters, Danny Shelton, Bralon Addison, Tyler Johnstone, Chris Coyle, Marion Grice, Chris Young, Carl Bradford, Randall Goforth, Alden Darby, Anthony Barr, Evan Finkenberg, Cassius Marsh, Eric Kendricks, Jake Brendel, Steven Nelson, Andrew Furney, Jaelen Strong, Sean Covington, Myles Jack, Javorius Allen, Anthony Jefferson, De'Marieya Nelson, Devin Fuller, Shaq Evans, Tenny Palepoi, David Yankey, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Trent Murphy, Jared Goff, Dres Anderson, Deone Bucannon, Elliott Bosch, Rashaad Reynolds, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Hroniss Grasu, Mike Criste, Jordan Richards, Ryan Murphy, Gannon Conway, Tony Washington, Derrick Malone, Keith McGill, Jordan Zumwalt, Andy Phillips, Vincenzo D'Amato, Addison Gillam, Damante Horton, Tevin Hood, Josh Mauro, Hau'oli Kikaha, Tom Hackett, Robert Nelson, Scooby Wright, Connor Hamlett, Jared Tevis, Travis Coons, Henry Anderson, Alex Carter, Ben Rhyne, Cameron Fleming, Dexter Charles, Erick Dargan, Fabian Moreau, Grant Enger, Jamil Douglas, Jason Whittingham, Joe Hemschoot, Khalil Wilkes, Max Turek, Micah Hatchie, Mike Adkins, Nate Phillips, Osahan Irabor, Ryan Hoffmeister, Taylor Hart, Terron Ward, Vyncent Jones, Wade Keliikipi, Will Oliver, Zane Gonzales

3 up, 3 down: USC 47, Colorado 29

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
5:08
AM PT
LOS ANGELES – A look at the positives and negatives from USC’s 47-29 victory over Colorado on Saturday.

Three up
1. USC first-team defense
Spearheaded by another strong effort by the front seven, the Trojans' defensive starters completely stymied the Buffaloes. In fact, Colorado’s offense failed to put up any points against USC when the entire first-team defense was on the field. Clancy Pendergast’s group was particularly impressive in the first half, allowing just 30 yards on the ground, while also limiting Sefo Liufau to 43 yards on 4-of-15 passing, a fumble and an interception. Cornerback Josh Shaw also did quite a job on Buffaloes star wide out Paul Richardson, holding him without a catch until midway through the third quarter.

2. Javorius Allen
Allen continued his string of outstanding play, running for a career-best 145 yards to go along with three touchdowns -- despite missing some time in the first half with a shoulder injury. He compiled 112 of his rushing yards in the second half, and the third-year sophomore tailback appeared to grow stronger and more determined following his fumble to open the third quarter. He deserves a ton of praise for the resiliency he showed. His three rushing touchdowns gives him a total of nine in the past four games.

3. Soma Vainuku
Another player who has really come on as of late, Vainuku had arguably his best game as a Trojan on Saturday. Making a name for himself as a special teams demon this fall, the physical fullback blocked a Darragh O’Neill punt in the first quarter, and the ball flew out of the end zone for a USC safety. It was Vainuku’s third blocked punt of the season. But it was on offense where the Eureka (Calif.) native made perhaps his biggest mark against the Buffaloes. Entering the game without a single carry to his credit in 2013, he exploded for 70 yards on 5 rushing attempts, with his 52-yard touchdown jaunt clinching the game for the Trojans.

Three down
1. USC first-half rushing offense
Amassing just 37 rushing yards in the first half, the Trojans offensive line struggled early and the USC tailbacks couldn’t do much of anything on the ground against Colorado. That was a surprise considering the Buffaloes entered the game ranked No. 103 in the FBS against the run (210.4 yards allowed per game). To the credit of the USC offensive line, however, they did come back with a much better performance in the second half, opening lanes and allowing Allen and Co. to get rolling. The Trojans finished with a more-than-respectable 243 rushing yards.

2. USC second-half defensive lapse
With the Trojans leading 37-7 late in the third quarter, interim coach Ed Orgeron opted to bring in the reserves, and Colorado's offense really got going for the first time all night. Without a significant push up front by the Trojans, Liufau had plenty of time to throw downfield and the Buffaloes offense put 22 points in the fourth quarter. Cutting the USC lead to 11 points with just over three minutes remaining in the contest, Colorado’s comeback bid ultimately ended when Will Oliver’s onside kick was recovered by Leon McQuay III.

3. USC punting
USC punter Kris Albarado has had some big outings this season, but Saturday's matchup wasn’t one of them. Averaging just 30.2 yards on six punts, he was noticeably off from the start of this game. His 17-yard boot in the fourth quarter was the low point of his night, with Colorado quickly converting the mistake into its final touchdown.

Albarado’s turn in the spotlight 

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
10:00
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Normally, if the performance of a punter winds up serving as a topic of conversation during the week following a game, it’s for something that went wrong, rather than right.

But that isn’t the case when it comes to USC’s Kris Albarado. Having played a crucial part in the Trojans’ 17-14 victory over Utah State this past Saturday by pinning five of his seven punts inside the Aggies’ 20-yard line, including two inside the five, the first-year starter found himself in unfamiliar territory on Wednesday, fielding questions from a variety media outlets after the team’s workout. This, just two days after having been named as the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week -- something that Albarado couldn’t quite believe when he initially learned that he had received the honor through, of all things, Twitter.

[+] EnlargeKris Albarado
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIUSC punter Kris Albarado was named Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week after his standout effort against Utah State.
“Honestly I was pretty shocked,” said Albarado, who on the season is averaging 40.3 yards per punt, while placing 12 of his 23 attempts inside the opponents’ 20. “It just popped up, and I was like, ‘No, this can’t be right.’ But it is pretty cool to get the attention. I kind of get to see the side of everything that Marqise [Lee] and everybody gets to see.”

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Pac-12 announces players of the week

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
3:00
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The Pac-12 has announced its players of the week. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson got the offensive honors, Oregon State cornerback Steven Nelson was named defensive player of the week and USC punter Kris Albarado got the special teams honors.

Some more details on the winners, per the Pac-12’s release:
Wilson, a sophomore from San Clemente, Calif., completed 24 of 35 passes for 273 yards and no interceptions in leading Utah to a 20-13 victory over BYU, the fourth-straight win over their in-state rival. His 74-yard second-quarter pass to Dres Anderson was his fifth pass play of more than 50 yards this season and set up a touchdown that put Utah up 13-0 just before halftime. Clinging to a 13-6 fourth-quarter lead, Wilson engineered a 12-play, 79-yard drive that concluded with a 2-yard touchdown pass and extended the Utes’ lead to 20-6.

Nelson, a junior from Atlanta, Ga., stepped in front of a San Diego State pass and returned it 16 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the Beaver’s come-from-behind 34-30 win over the Aztecs on Saturday night. The interception came with 2:31 left in the game with Oregon State down by three after they had faced deficits of 13 and nine points earlier in the second half. Nelson co-leads the nation with four picks on the year and is the first player in team history to have four interceptions in his first four career games.

Albarado, a sophomore punter from Lake Charles, La., helped stymie the Utah State offense with his precision punting in the Trojan’s 17-14 victory on Saturday at the Coliseum. Five of his seven punts pinned the Aggies within the 20-yard line, including two inside the five, leading to an average starting field position for Utah State on their own 21-yard line. The first-year punter is averaging 40.3 yards on 23 boots, with more than half (12) of those backing opponents within their own 20. He has a pair of 50-yard punts on the season, including a best of 64 yards.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Sean Mannion of Oregon State and Keith Price of Washington; running back Jordon James of UCLA; and wide receivers Jaelen Strong of Arizona State, Ty Montgomery of Stanford and Gabe Marks of Washington State. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were defensive ends Cassius Marsh of UCLA, Leonard Williams of USC and Hau’oli Kikaha of Washington; defensive back Michael Walker of Utah; and linebacker Darryl Monroe of Washington State. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors were punters Keith Kostol of Oregon State and Tom Hackett of Utah and UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn.

3 up, 3 down: USC 17, Utah State 14

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
7:00
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LOS ANGELES -- A look at the positives and negatives from USC’s 17-14 victory over Utah State on Saturday:

THREE UP

1. Team defense: For the fourth consecutive game the USC defense was flat-out stellar, limiting the Utah State offense -- which came into the game averaging 550.3 yards per game -- to 285 yards. Leonard Williams and the Trojans’ defensive line spearheaded an effort that resulted in four sacks and limited USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton -- who entered Saturday’s contest completing 78.1 percent of his passes -- to 21-of-39 passing (53.8 percent) for 179 yards and two touchdowns.

2. Kris Albarado: With the USC offense struggling, and the defense more than holding its own, punter Kris Albarado found himself playing a key role in a battle for field position, and it’s safe to say that he came through for the Trojans. The junior from Lake Charles, La., pinned five of his seven punts inside the Aggies’ 20-yard line, and he was a primary reason why Utah State’s average starting field position in the second half was at its own 16-yard line.

3. Tre Madden: This wasn’t the best outing of 2013 for Madden -- in fact, it marked the first time all season that he failed to eclipse the 100-yard plateau on the ground -- but he performed solidly nonetheless in a game where the rest of the offense was non-existent for large stretches. Carrying the ball 24 times for 93 yards and one touchdown, while also making three catches for 15 more yards, he was especially effective early on before the Aggies switched to an eight-man front on defense.

THREE DOWN

1. Offensive energy and crispness: After appearing to have made strides in the team’s win over Boston College last week, a very stale-looking USC offense took a pronounced step back against Utah State, especially in terms of the passing game. Quarterback Cody Kessler completed just 13 of 27 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown, and he received little help from those around him, including his receivers who dropped two key throws. In the second half Utah State provided every opportunity for the Trojans to run away with the game, giving the offense tremendous field position time after time, but USC could only muster one field goal as a result.

2. Offensive line: One significant contributing factor in the stagnant play of the offense was another less-than-stellar performance by the USC offensive line, particularly when it came to pass-protection -- something it has grappled with throughout the team’s first four games. Allowing three sacks on the day, the unit struggled more and more as the game wore on, and Kessler had a steady flow of pass-rushers coming at him late in the contest that made it difficult for him to get a rhythm going.

3. USC third-down conversions: With the offense failing to move the ball on a consistent basis, the Trojans continued to have a tough time on third down. Coming into the game against Utah State having successfully converted on just 29.7 percent of the team’s third-down plays -- the No. 104 mark nationally -- the Trojans were just 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) on Saturday, and 0-for-8 in the second half.

Defense bails out Trojans again

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
6:29
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video
LOS ANGELES -- USC was hoping to use the game against Utah State as a way to build some positive momentum, but the 17-14 victory over the Aggies showed that the Trojans still have a long way to go.

Make no mistake, it’s always nice to get the win but this is a game where the Trojans had a huge advantage in field position and also got the usual solid game from the defense. Unfortunately, the USC offense couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities to put the game away in the second half and, if not for some special teams miscues by Utah State, the result could have been very different.

“It was a very hard fought game today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Very much like what we anticipated. I felt like there was a rhythm early on when we were able to run the ball, but obviously we wanted to finish better in the second half.”

USC started off strong with a Tre Madden touchdown run on the second series of the game to go up 7-0. The Trojans defense put good pressure early on Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, primarily with defensive linemen Leonard Williams and George Uko as well as outside linebackers Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin. USC dodged a bullet when Utah State clanged a first-quarter field goal off the upright, a miss that would loom large.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams, Hayes Pullard
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsLeonard Williams (left) and the USC defense put the crunch on Utah State on Saturday.
Each team added a touchdown in the second quarter, and as the second half started it was clear it was anyone’s ball game.

The Trojans had their chances with the Aggies playing an eight-man front, leaving the USC receivers against man coverage. Normally, that would spell a big day for Marqise Lee and/or Nelson Agholor, but there were some dropped passes and some pressure on Cody Kessler which prevented the Trojans from capitalizing. Lee ended the day with six catches for 72 yards, while Agholor had two catches for 38 yards. Neither player reached the end zone.

“I missed some throws and we had some drops, but they are things we can fix,” Kessler said. “Thanks for the job our defense did, we were able to come away with the win.”

The USC defense is rapidly becoming known as the side of the ball which will win games for this team. Williams led the team in tackles with eight and added three tackles for loss. Uko had five tackles and a sack, Breslin had two sacks and Kennard added a sack. They did a terrific job of limiting Keeton -- who came into the game completing 78 percent of his passes -- to a rather pedestrian stat line of 21-of-39 passing for 179 yards and a pair of scores. Good numbers to be sure, but not enough to get it done against the Trojans.

“We had a good game plan from Coach O (Orgreon) the whole week,” Uko said. “We just wanted to angle in and rush tight and keep them in the box”

The battle for field position really started to impact the game in the second half, as the Trojans’ average starting field position was the Utah State 45, while Utah State started at its own 16. It didn’t help the Aggies that their punter had a shanked 12-yard kick at the end of the third quarter that led directly to a 25-yard Andre Heidari field goal, which proved to be the winning margin. There was also a strange fake punt from the Aggies on a fourth-and-11 from their own 34-yard line in the fourth quarter, resulting in an incomplete pass from tight end D.J. Tialavea.

If you’re looking for bright spots for the Trojans, look no further than punter Kris Albarado, who pinned five punts inside the Aggies’ 20-yard line to help win the field position battle. Little things like that are big on a day when the two teams are basically even in total yards (285 for USU to 282 for USC).

Madden fell short in his bid for a fourth-straight 100-yard rushing day but did run for 93 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Kessler completed 13 of 27 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown, but he was also sacked three times and took several big hits.

Now the Trojans turn their attention to a big road game next week in Tempe against Arizona State. There was hope that things would be clicking after a four-game opening stretch that included three games at home but at this point the offense can best be described as a work in progress. Thankfully the Trojans have their defense, a unit which once again put the team on their shoulders to come away with a tougher-than-expected win.

The Trojans held the second scrimmage of fall camp Friday with a lot of attention being paid to the quarterback competition.

Max Wittek got the start with the first unit today after Cody Kessler had started in the first scrimmage. Unfortunately for Max, he was going up against a fired up first unit defense today and he was never able to get things going as evidenced by the fact that the first four series for Wittek and the first unit were all three plays and out.

Among the highlight plays for the defense in those early series was a sack by Leonard Williams and a tackle for loss by Su’a Cravens who did a good job tracking down Buck Allen from the back side.

Meanwhile, Kessler led the second unit to a touchdown on his opening drive. Things got started with a first-down pass to Darreus Rogers and then a powerful run for another first down by Buck Allen, who ran over Devian Shelton. Quinton Powell slowed the momentum of the offense for a moment by getting into the backfield for a five-yard tackle for loss on Allen. The ball was eventually moved to the seven-yard line where Kessler hit Rogers for a touchdown.

“That first long drive gave us a sense of confidence,” Kessler said. “You get in a rhythm right away and start making plays so it feels good.”

On the next drive for Kessler, the most notable play was a screen attempt to the right side that was read by Chris Hawkins, who got a great jump and had two hands on the ball with nothing but green grass between him and the end zone but the ball was dropped.

Kris Albarado came on to do some punt drills. He kicked one that Nelson Agholor took deep in his end and returned for a long touchdown against a defense that was not in full tackle mode.

Devon Kennard had a pass break-up on an attempt from Wittek to De’Von Flournoy.

Kessler hit Buck Allen on the run with a pretty pass for a first down and then hit Rogers with another first down pass. Allen then caught a screen pass and weaved nicely through the defense for a 32-yard score.

The quarterbacks then switched with Kessler going with the 1’s and Wittek with the 2’s. Both went three and out on the first series, George Uko had a nice pursuit on Buck Allen to force a loss.

On the following possession for Kessler we saw just how impressive Rogers can look. Kessler launched a pass 50 yards in the air down the right sideline and Rogers was able to come down with the ball over good coverage from Kevon Seymour. Kessler then hit Agholor with a bubble screen, he shook Seymour and was able to gain additional yardage. With the ball on the three-yard line, Kessler rolled right and lofted a jump ball to Rogers against Seymour for the score.

“I just put it up there and Darreus came down with it,” Kessler said. “It’s a trust thing, I trust that he’s going to make the play if I give him a chance.”

Max Browne came on with the third unit offense that featured a lot of running from Ty Isaac. Browne ended a nice drive by hitting walk-on Aaron Minor, who made a great catch for the 29-yard score.

On the final drive of the day, Cravens had a sack on Wittek and Pullard had a big hit on Isaac.

Key stats

Kessler 19-28, 231 yards, 3 TDs; Wittek: 2-7, 15 yards; Browne: 2-2, 42 yards, 1 TD

Allen: 11 carries, 22 yards, 3 catches, 51 yards, 1 TD; Isaac: 12 carries, 38 yards

Rogers: 8 catches, 99 yards, 2 TDs; Flournoy: 6 catches, 49 yards

Bowman: 6 tackles, 1 sack; Powell: 5 tackles, 1 TFL; Cravens: 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL

68 plays; 3 penalties; 0 turnovers
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It didn’t take long for the new 5-2 defense to show itself Sunday in USC fall camp as Day 2 definitely belonged to that side of the ball.

“It was a really good day for the defense in terms of forcing turnovers,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “They did it a couple series in a row, too, which was good to see. I thought their energy was really good from the start and they carried it through the end of a long practice.”

Su’a Cravens had the first interception of the day for the defense in a throwing drill. It was an athletic, leaping play on a Cody Kessler pass intended for Marqise Lee.

“It feels good to make plays,” Cravens said. “Especially against a Biletnikoff winner, but Marqise will probably try to head-hunt me tomorrow and go deep on me, so we’ll see what happens.”

Chris Hawkins had an interception of Max Browne and Torin Harris came up with interception No. 3 for the defense in the final team drill of the day when he battled with Nelson Agholor and came down with a pass from Browne.

The defense also did a good job creating pressure on the quarterback and came away with sacks by Devon Kennard, Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods and Quinton Powell.

Safety rotation

On the first day of camp, Dion Bailey and Cravens lined up with the first unit at safety. On Sunday, it was Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright. Kiffin said there is nothing to read into who is starting now because nothing is set. This is a very good safety group that can go six deep if you include Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay. Kiffin mentioned that depth when discussing special teams; he said it will be important for the safeties and running backs to contribute there because both units have such good depth.

Speaking of special teams

The Trojans did live punt drills at the beginning of practice with Kris Albarado and Joey Krassenstein alternating as the punter. Albarado was getting some good air under his punts. Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor were alternating as the return men.

Transferring in

Incoming transfer defensive lineman Delvon Simmons practiced and was wearing No. 97. He’s got good size and looks like the kind of player who could make an immediate impact, although the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Simmons will have to sit out the 2013 season as a transfer from Texas Tech.

Flipping sides

USC
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireKevin Greene (81) lined up at tight end in Sunday's practice.
Kevin Greene came out for practice in his familiar No. 81 jersey, but he lined up at tight end, instead of his usual outside linebacker spot. It makes sense to give this a look as the Trojans are a little thin at tight end while the outside linebacker spot is looking solid right now. Kiffin said it’s not a permanent switch yet, just something the coaches will look at to see how it goes.

Recruits in attendance

Offensive lineman Jordan Austin (Claremont, Calif./Claremont) and ESPN 300 defensive end Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco).

More on-field highlights

In a team drill, Kessler had a completion to Agholor that gained roughly 15 yards. ... Leonard Williams fought off a block attempt by John Martinez in order to corral Tre Madden. ... Lamar Dawson and Michael Hutchings plugged a hole to stop Ty Isaac. ... Madden finished off the reps for the first unit with a long run up the middle. ... Browne came in and hit Buck Allen with a swing pass along the right side for 20 yards.

In the final team drill of the day, Demetrius Wright batted down a pass attempt for Lee, Kessler hit Agholor for a first down and Justin Davis had a pretty, weaving run along the left side for 20 yards.

Kiffin said after looking at film from the Saturday practice he was impressed with Madden and Davis. He called them “special players with unique skill sets.”

Quotebook

Su’a Cravens on coming out with a strong effort on Sunday, highlighted by a leaping interception over Marqise Lee on a Cody Kessler pass:

“Yesterday [Saturday] I had an all-right day. It was kind of slow for me, and I made a couple of mistakes. Today [Sunday] I feel like I was more on myself – I studied a lot with Chris Hawkins in my room before practice and I feel like I was on it.”

Marqise Lee on the interception by Cravens:

“At the end of the day, if he’s going to do it in the game, then hey, I don’t mind him doing it to me. ... But tomorrow is another day and I’m not going to let that happen.”

Leonard Williams, on the defense’s standout performance during the team period on Sunday:

“The offense got us [Saturday]. We came out kind of quiet, and I feel like the defense really responded [Sunday].”

Williams, on what has been a noticeable emphasis by the defense to attempt to force turnovers so far this fall camp:

“Day 1 of camp, the coaches just told us that the ball is the most important thing in the game, so we’ve really been emphasizing that with turnover drills with every position on the defense. We’re just really working on getting the ball. Not only are we doing it in drills, but we’re carrying it over to team when we’re going against each other. So every time that one of us is holding somebody up, another guy is coming in and going for the ball. Everyone is going for it.”

Williams, on one of the primary factors behind the defensive unit’s energetic effort on Sunday, inside linebacker Hayes Pullard:

“Hayes is the leader of our defense and he’s a really hyped guy, so we all feed off of him. I feel like everyone is really responding to it and feeding off of that energy.”

Kevin Greene, on when he found out that he would be lining up at tight end on Sunday:

“They basically told me this afternoon. Coach Kiffin said, ‘We’re going to try something different today.’ So I went out there with a smile on my face. I’m not going to come out here and pout. Whatever the coaches want me to do, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Greene, on how the first day at tight end went:

“It was basically just about getting my feet wet. Over time I’m pretty sure that I’ll feel a lot more comfortable – once I take some more snaps and understand what I’m doing out there.”

Greene on the last time that he played on the offensive side of the ball:

“Senior year of high school – when I first started. It’s been a while. I started off playing wide receiver. I did that for about a game or two, then I went strictly to defense from there. So, just playing about four or five years of straight defense, and then switching the mindset like that in one day, it could be tough, but at the same time I’m definitely willing to learn.”
The Trojans are now in the final stretch of spring ball with just over a week of practice remaining on the schedule. As injuries continue to mount and position battles rage on, here’s how a potential depth chart just might look if one were released today.

Quarterback

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USC walk-on punter Kyle Negrete may have surprised Trojans fans when he grabbed the starting position last spring and held onto it, despite a push from scholarship freshman Kris Albarado in the fall. But to those who had the best view in watching it unfold -- namely, special teams coordinator John Baxter -- earning the role was hardly a shock.

Baxter knows Negrete dating back to the redshirt junior's high school career at Fresno Clovis West, when Negrete racked up 105 tackles and eight interceptions as a senior linebacker to go along with a 46.7-yard punting average. Baxter was serving as an assistant coach at nearby Fresno State. Several years later, the two were joined at USC and clicked immediately -- Negrete buying into everything Baxter was looking for on special teams, and Baxter realizing who Negrete has become.

"He's completely taken advantage of his opportunity of being at USC," Baxter said of his punter. "The bottom line is he's productive as a player. He's a great leader. He's a great teammate. He's a great friend. He's a great example."

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