USC Trojans: Stephon Tuitt

All eyes on coaching search now for USC 

October, 20, 2013
And now, Pat Haden, USC turns its lonely eyes toward you.

The focus of the Trojans’ immediate future will be off the field, not on it. The only thing left to look forward to at this point is the athletic director’s eventual choice of a new head coach.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesEd Orgeron has done an admirable job filling in as USC's interim coach, but it's highly unlikely he will be retained as head coach after the season.
A 2013 season that began disintegrating with horrid performances against Washington State and Arizona State and the inevitable firing of Lane Kiffin somehow managed to perk up momentarily under fun-meister Ed Orgeron.

But on a chilly Saturday night in South Bend, Ind., the Trojans' season quickly plunged back into the depths of mediocrity.

The cold reality is that right now, at this sad point in its history, USC isn’t really USC anymore.

Trojans’ offensive linemen aren’t supposed to get overpowered the way they were by Stephon Tuitt and friends at Notre Dame. USC’s secondary isn’t supposed to be more leaky than your average TMZ report. And USC's overall composure isn’t supposed to wilt the way it did in a penalty-infested fourth quarter in Indiana.

The crumbling of the foundation under Kiffin cannot be immediately repaired by Orgeron’s gifts of cookies and loud music in the locker room. The cracks run too deep. The ensuing holes are about to grow too wide.

The scary part of what happened in South Bend is that Notre Dame is a decent team, but hardly a great one. The Irish already had lost to two opponents ranked outside the Top 10 in Michigan and Oklahoma. And then, with nine minutes left to play in the third quarter on Saturday, they lost starting quarterback Tommy Rees to injury.

When backup Andrew Hendrix entered the game, it was clear coach Brian Kelly’s team wouldn’t score again. All USC had to do was cobble together one touchdown drive, or two field goals, in the final 24 minutes. But the Trojans couldn’t do it and lost, 14-10.

When USC quarterback Cody Kessler wasn’t under fierce pressure, he played like the redshirt freshman he is, appearing tentative after his one interception and limiting himself to check down passes instead of confidently throwing downfield.

It didn’t help that star receiver Marqise Lee, continuing his strange, injury-marred season, dropped a potential touchdown pass in the second quarter, or that slumping kicker Andre Heidari missed two makeable field goals that would have won the game. Or that Silas Redd, the night’s most effective tailback, didn’t seem to get as many carries as he should have in the second half.

Roundtable: USC-Notre Dame

October, 17, 2013
What is the key matchup of the game?

Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with the USC defensive line against the Fighting Irish offensive line. Notre Dame has allowed a total of only four sacks this season, a mark than ranks No. 5 in the country. The Trojans, meanwhile, are averaging three sacks per game, ranking No. 13. Something has to give in this department. USC will be looking to put pressure on Tommy Rees and protect a corner spot that has proved to be vulnerable lately. Notre Dame will be hoping that Rees can improve upon his 41.7 completion percentage over the last three games.

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsWhile USC's running game has been a strength, Silas Redd and Co. will be tested by a stout Notre Dame D-line.
Johnny Curren: USC rushing offense vs. Notre Dame rushing defense. The Trojans average an impressive 200.3 yards per game on the ground, and the play of the tailbacks has been a huge bright spot. So while the passing game has made great strides as of late, I still think the key to the success of the USC offense this weekend will lie in its ability to establish a strong rushing attack. But it won’t be easy, the Fighting Irish defense ranks No. 23 nationally against the run -- allowing just 122.3 yards per game -- thanks in large part to a hulking defensive line headlined by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III. The Trojans offensive line will need to get a good push going against the talented unit, and Silas Redd and Co. will need to have another strong outing for USC to come away with a victory.

Greg Katz: The key matchup is the Trojans offensive line versus a tough Notre Dame defensive line because the Men of Troy have to establish the run to control the ball, the pace of the game, and shorten the clock, all of which will keep the Irish offense off the field and away from the vulnerable USC secondary.

Who will be the big-time player to make the key play in this rivalry game?

Garry Paskwietz: Silas Redd. I don’t know if Redd and the offensive line are getting enough credit for that final drive against Arizona. The ability to close out a game on the ground is not something that has come easy to the Trojans in recent years, but the drive showcased the kind of big-boy running that Redd brings to the table. In no game will that trait be needed more than this one, and here’s guessing that Redd makes his presence felt in a memorable way.

Johnny Curren: Nelson Agholor. While the Fighting Irish are stout against the run, they’ve been picked apart at times by capable passing attacks, allowing an average of 252.2 passing yards per game -- the No. 87 mark nationally. With that in mind, I think that there is a significant opportunity for Agholor to come up with some big plays at wide out, particularly with Clay Helton appearing to have placed a greater emphasis on having Cody Kessler throw vertically than Lane Kiffin did.

Greg Katz: Assuming they’re both healthy, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Marqise Lee should have success against the Irish secondary if the offensive line can give Cody Kessler some time to look down field. Now, if you’re looking for a hidden surprise, it wouldn’t shock me if freshman receiver Darreus Rogers had a big game.

Which was the bigger moment: Fourth-and-9 or Bush Push?

Garry Paskwietz: I have literally gone back and forth on this one. At first I wrote out an answer for fourth-and-9, then I changed it to the Bush Push, now I’m going back to fourth-and-9. The Bush Push was awesome -- it was the dramatic game-clinching play with Leinart falling backwards, with help from a friend, into the end zone. But for pure emotion, a true edge-of-your-seat moment, I don’t think you can beat fourth-and-9. That was the moment where all of a sudden everything was on the line, the win streak, the three-time national championship dream, all of it. USC needed one play amidst chaos. And the Trojans delivered.

Johnny Curren: Fourth-and-9. Without Dwayne Jarrett’s clutch catch, there is no Bush Push, period. It was a phenomenal play, not just because of the fact that it was the perfect call, or because of the tremendous athleticism and determination shown by the lanky wideout, but because it dealt a devastating blow to the psyche of the Fighting Irish defense. Meanwhile, Matt Leinart and the USC offense fed off of the energy and renewed hope created by the play, using the momentum to ultimately carry themselves into the Notre Dame end zone.

Greg Katz: The bigger moment was 4th and 9 because without the audible by quarterback Matt Leinart and the perfect pass placement and then brilliant reception by receiver Dwayne Jarrett, there would never have been a Bush Push.

First look: Notre Dame

November, 19, 2012
What: USC Trojans (7-4 overall, 5-4 in Pac-12) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-0)

When: Saturday, November 24, 5 p.m. PT

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Matt Cashore/US PresswireLinebacker Manti Te'o is the heart and soul of Notre Dame's dominant defense.

Radio: ESPNLA 710 (pregame show begins at 12 p.m.)

Scouting Notre Dame: As Notre Dame celebrates its 125th year of football, third-year coach Brian Kelly has his squad off to its best start (11-0) since 1993 following last Saturday’s 38-0 home victory over Wake Forest.

Sophomore QB Everett Golson (151-of-256, 59.0 percent, 1,918 yards, 11 TD, five INT in 2012, plus 80 carries, 258 yards, 3.2 per carry, five TD) has been directing the offense. Top rushers include senior RBs Theo Riddick (160 carries, 734 yards, 4.6 per carry, four TD, plus 32 rec for 331 yards, a 10.3 avg and one TD), a converted wide receiver, and Cierre Wood (102 carries for 720 yards, a 7.1 average and four TD, plus two receptions for nine yards) and sophomore RB George Atkinson III (49 carries for 346 tards, a 7.1 average and five TD, plus 15 kick returns for 307 yards, 20.5 avg). Senior TE Tyler Eifert (40 receptions, 555 yards, 13.9 avg, four TD), a 2011 All-American, and junior WR TJ Jones (40 receptions, 519 yards, 13.0 avg, four TD) lead the pass-catching corps.

The Irish sport one of the nation’s top defenses, as it ranks first nationally in scoring defense (10.1), fifth in rushing defense (92.2), sixth in total defense (287.8), 11th in pass-efficiency defense (104.6), 13th in sacks (2.8) and 24th in pass defense (195.6). ND has held five opponents to single digits and 10 to fewer than 20 points. Senior ILB Manti Te’o (98 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, six INT, two fumble recoveries) is the heart of the ND defense. Sophomore DE Stephon Tuitt (40 tackles, 13 for loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles) is tied for eighth nationally in sacks per game (1.0), while junior CB Bennett Jackson (55 tackles, 1.5 for loss, four INT) is tied for 19th in interceptions. -- courtesy USC sports information