USC Trojans: Utah State Aggies

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
11:00
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Taking stock of Week 4 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: While the Pac-12 blog has been hard on Stanford for giving up 21 unanswered points to Arizona State in the fourth quarter, the fact remains the Cardinal posted a two-touchdown win over a ranked team. And that first half showed folks why Stanford is a national title contender. Need to tighten some things up? Absolutely. But Stanford at its best has plenty of irresistible force and unmovable object to it.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsWill Oregon State QB Sean Mannion miss coach Danny Langsdorf, who is heading to the NFL? Sure, but it shouldn't affect his production.
Best game: Oregon State fans let out a massive, "Whew," after the Beavers overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit at San Diego State and won 34-30. While the game was far from pretty, it was a win, and the Beavers seem like a team right now that should just be grateful to collect one. Further, the weekend was otherwise devoid of nail-biters, though USC allowed Utah State to stay unnecessarily close.

Biggest play: Oregon State's defense has been mostly horrible, but it provided the winning margin against San Diego State when CB Steven Nelson returned an interception 16 yards for a TD with 2:31 remaining. The play might have saved the Beavers' season.

Offensive standout: Oregon State can't run the ball or play defense, but QB Sean Mannion can throw the rock around with WR Brandin Cooks. Mannion completed 38 of 55 passes for 367 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Beavers' comeback win over San Diego State. Cooks was his chief weapon, catching 14 passes for 141 yards.

Defensive standout: Utah State couldn't block USC DT Leonard Williams, who had eight tackles with three coming for a loss in the Trojans' 17-14 win over Chuckie Keeton and the Aggies. The Trojans held a previously potent offense to just 285 total yards.

Defensive standout II: Sure, it came against woeful Idaho, but Washington State DT Xavier Cooper dominated inside. Of his five total tackles, 3.5 came for a loss, including 1.5 sacks. He was a key part of a surging defense that held the Vandals to 253 total yards. LB Darryl Monroe, who led the Cougars with 12 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, also merits note.

Special-teams standout: Think you had a long Saturday? Utah punter Tom Hackett punted 11 times for the Utes against BYU, averaging 44.2 yards per boot with a long of 61 yards, though that one was returned 58 yards to the Utah 13. That's 486 yards of punting from the Australian! Three were downed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line. G'day to that.

Frowny face: USC and Oregon State were both ranked in the preseason but both appear to be significantly flawed. The Trojans can't do anything on offense, and the Beavers are struggling on defense. Hmm. Maybe if they combined forces we could generate another national title contender?

Smiley face: The Pac-12 is 29-4 in nonconference play, including 21-3 against FBS teams, with just three matchups with Notre Dame left to play. That is by far the most distinguished mark in the nation. Remember when the Mountain West Conference was -- rightfully -- talking smack about the Pac-12? Well, the Pac-12 is 10-0 versus the MWC this year.

Thought of the week: While the season is only hitting the quarter pole, we should learn a little about the conference's South Division contenders -- and pretenders -- this weekend. Arizona has played three overmatched foes and was off over the weekend. The visit to Washington should be revealing. We have no idea who the Wildcats really are. They seem much improved on defense and limited throwing the ball. A victory over the Huskies would thrust them into the top 25 and announce them as contenders in the South Division. Meanwhile, the Arizona State-USC game also seems to serve as a critical separation game in the South.

Questions for the week: Will Lane Kiffin's last stand be in the desert? If Kiffin and the Trojans prevail and improve to 4-1, Kiffin might buy himself some goodwill -- and top-25 votes. The season would still offer plenty of hope. If the Trojans lose, they will fall to 0-2 in the conference, a major hole in the division race. At that point, reporters covering the Trojans likely would start writing speculative articles about USC's next coach.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
9:00
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Both Ted and Kevin went 9-1 last week, with both missing with a pick of Utah over Oregon State. They picked different teams in the Colorado-Fresno State game, but it was postponed and might not be rescheduled.

So Kevin is 27-3 so far this season and it's California's fault Ted is just 26-4.

Cal! Baaaaa!

Arizona State at Stanford

Kevin Gemmel: I think ASU will come out firing -- eager to prove it belongs in the top 25 after last week’s freakish ending. But Stanford’s defense is a lot better than Wisconsin’s. This is also ASU’s first game on the road, and until we see what it can do outside of Tempe, Ariz., I’m leaning toward the home team. Stanford 31, Arizona State 24.

Ted Miller: The absences of DE Henry Anderson and CB Barry Browning are a cause for concern for Stanford, but the Cardinal's defense is pretty darn deep. Stanford might not have gone too deep into its playbooks on either side of the ball against San Jose State and Army. This is a big moment for the Cardinal to announce themselves as a national title contender. Stanford 28, Arizona State 20.

Utah State at USC

Kevin Gemmell: Say this for the Trojans, that defense is pretty good. It will be tested against an explosive Utah State offense that puts up nearly 50 points per game behind Heisman dark horse Chuckie Keeton. But it looks like the USC offense woke up last week, and the Pac-12 is a perfect 8-0 against the Mountain West this season. USC 35, Utah State 24.

Ted Miller: The Trojans looked good in all areas while stomping Boston College last week. Now can they put together strong back-to-back performances? Keeton is a great matchup for the USC defense because he'll provide plenty of practice for the mobile QBs the Trojans will see this season, but the first question is whether the offense has found its footing with QB Cody Kessler. USC 30, Utah State 17.

New Mexico State at UCLA

Kevin Gemmell: After all of the emotion of the past 10 days, the Bruins could use a game where they probably won’t get pushed too hard. Get in, get out, stay healthy and take care of their business. No reason the Bruins should have any issues. UCLA 52, New Mexico State 10.

Ted Miller: What Kevin said. Bruins should roll easily and get reserves some valuable action. UCLA 55, New Mexico State 13.

Utah at BYU

Kevin Gemmell: Despite it being only 45 minutes away, Provo, Utah, is still a tough place to play. And rivalry games are always difficult to pick -- especially when you have two very similar teams. My usual approach in this situation is to take the home team. But this Utah team is a lot more explosive than previous editions. I see points and another tight finish. Utah 38, BYU 35.

Ted Miller: BYU has three things going for it: (1) It's playing at home; (2) It's coming off a bye week; (3) Utah lost an emotional home game to Oregon State last weekend. What the Cougars have going against them is me picking them to win. You're welcome, Utes. BYU 28, Utah 24.

Oregon State at San Diego State

Kevin Gemmell: Both teams were predicted to have pretty good seasons. Both teams saw momentum come to a halt with Week 1 losses to FCS teams. The Aztecs are coming off a bye. Which should help. But not enough to overcome the play of Sean Mannion, who is playing like one of the top quarterbacks in the country right now. Oregon State 42, San Diego State 24.

Ted Miller: San Diego State's offense has been sputtering, which should help the Beavers' defense regain some mojo. The Aztecs' defense? It gave up 40 points to Eastern Illinois. The Beavers should put further distance between themselves and a bad opening game. Oregon State 45, San Diego State 17.

Idaho State at Washington

Kevin Gemmell: The Huskies overcame a huge maturity milestone by winning a competitive game on the road. Now they close out the nonconference schedule with an FCS team that is 2-0 … but won’t provide much resistance. Good tune-up game for the Huskies heading into conference play. Washington 48, Idaho State 13.

Ted Miller: The Huskies should complete a strong 3-0 start. Big test coming Sept. 28 when Arizona comes up for a visit after a bye week. Washington 42, Idaho State 17.

Idaho at Washington State

Kevin Gemmell: There is always bad blood between these schools -- which led to actual blood during the summer. The Cougs are clicking while the Vandals are in shambles. Feel pretty confident picking WSU in this rivalry game. Washington State 35, Idaho 7.

Ted Miller: Washington State will improve to 3-1. It has won three in a row since 2006. A matchup in Seattle with Stanford awaits. Washington State 44, Idaho 13.

Lane Kiffin conference call highlights

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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Here are some selected quotes from USC head coach Lane Kiffin’s Sunday night conference call following the Trojans’ 35-7 victory over Boston College.

Opening comments:

“It was just really a great day for our players and fans after the week that they’d been through. I just really was excited for them, and I really saw a lot of emotion in the players throughout the game. … As I said after the game, I really feel like the decisions made in January -- our staff decisions, schematical decisions and practice decisions -- are paying off.”

On the performance of the USC defense:

“Our first defense, they go two weeks in a row now where they’ve only given up one field goal. You really can’t play much better than that.”

On the play of the USC running backs:

“I thought all the backs ran really well. All four backs averaged over 5 1/2 yards a carry each. Justin [Davis] had two really special runs. Unfortunately, he had another long run that was called back on a penalty. Otherwise, he’s well over 100 [yards] on the day, and over 10 yards a carry. And Tre [Madden], three games in a row over one hundred yards -- you can’t start much better than that. Unfortunately, he put the ball on the ground for the first time this year toward the end of the second quarter. Luckily we got that back and we were able to not turn the ball over the entire day.”

On the improvement of the USC offense on third downs (5-of-10 on third-down conversions) against Boston College, and the play of quarterback Cody Kessler:

“We started slow again on third downs, but really had a good second half with that, and that came from the efficiency of running the ball well and completing balls. You know, when you complete … whatever that is … almost 90 percent of your passes, that’s going to help in those situations. It’s kind of amazing that [Kessler’s] first pass was incomplete, his last was incomplete, and he completed the 15 in between. … So, really a good day by him, and then Max Wittek came in and played well.”

Kiffin’s thoughts on the performance of the offensive line:

“There is some good stuff going on up there. The left tackle (Chad Wheeler) played really well in his third college game, and he’s going to be a special player. … Max Tuerk played really well. Max and Marcus [Martin] had actually been really sick the last part of the week there, including during the game. So, they kind of sucked it up and went out there and played on a hot day, and it was good to see. And Kevin Graf played well too.”

On where the offensive line is in terms of their cohesiveness and communication-- there were two instances where Boston College defenders appeared to come in untouched due to a breakdown up front:

“Both were communication issues on the right side. We’d like to play perfect, but we didn’t.”

On the strong production of the USC ground attack so far this season, particularly with last season’s leading rusher, Silas Redd, sidelined with an injury:

“I think it’s strange … if you would have said that really the only two running backs with experience, not just [Redd] but D.J. Morgan -- neither of those guys have been available to play for us. I think it speaks to those other guys working hard, stepping up and seizing the opportunity. And hopefully Silas will play this week.”

On the status of Darreus Rogers, who appeared to be injured against Boston College:

“Darreus wasn’t able to finish the game. We hope that he plays this week for us. De’Von Flournoy stepped up and had a catch in there, Victor Blackwell played a few snaps, so that’s what we got.”

On the Trojans’ 10 penalties on Saturday:

“I thought we did a really good job for the most part of not having penalties, especially the week before. We unfortunately had some yesterday … some poor decisions. We made some poor decisions sometimes there on holding penalties and then on two roughing-the-passers. Those are big penalties … we’ve got to fix that.”

On the impact that running backs coach Tommie Robinson has had in his first season at USC:

“I think he’s done a really good job with a very inexperienced group -- the two experienced guys have been down the whole season. To get those guys ready to play as well as they’re doing, and all of those guys going over 5 yards a carry in the game … he’s done a great job with them. “

When a group is playing as well as the USC defense has been as of late, is it difficult to keep them motivated at times? And what does the coaching staff do to keep them on track?

“We stay really hard on them. There is stuff to improve on. They’re going to have a cut-up film ready for them at 6:30 in the morning when they come in here to talk to them about. … We haven’t really been challenged yet that much comparable to what’s coming. Coming down the road there’s some high-octane offenses coming in, and it starts this Saturday. This is a huge test. This is a really, really good football team coming in here, and a great dynamic quarterback.”

On what Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton brings to the table:

“He does everything. I think he’s like the guy up in Seattle. You can’t tackle him, he runs around, makes every throw, doesn’t seem to get rattled, plays great in big games … he’s just a real special player.”

Pac-12 predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
9:01
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It's prediction time! Wheeee!

Last year, Kevin and Ted tied at the end of the regular season with 66-25 records. Ah, but then came the bowl season, and -- cough, cough -- by virtue of Ted going 5-3 and Kevin going 4-4, the old guy prevailed by a single game.

Let's hear it for the old guys!

And you know who won it for Ted? Texas! How about that fudge?

Thursday

UTAH STATE at UTAH

Kevin Gemmell: First game, and I’m already conflicted. This one is scary with Chuckie Keeton back at QB for Utah State and all five of his linemen back to protect him. I think Utah is going to be better than it was last season, and the Utes will be looking for revenge from last year’s loss. In close games, go with the home team. Utah 21, Utah State 17

Ted Miller: This is an interesting one. Utah State changed coaches but has a lot of guys back. The Utes have preseason injury issues -- paging Brian Blechen; your defense needs you -- and those issues have made coach Kyle Whittingham grumpy. But you know why I'm picking Utah? Because I think the Utes are angry about how folks have written them off, and angry often translates well in football. And I like the MUSS being loud. Utah 24, Utah State 21

USC at HAWAII

Kevin Gemmell: A good chance for both USC quarterbacks to get a lot of work against a nonthreatening opponent. Trojans should roll. USC 35, Hawaii 14

Ted Miller: USC is going to win this game, but it would be good for coach Lane Kiffin if the Trojans looked good doing it. Want to be goofy about your QB situation? Fine. You just better look good on offense. The biggest news in this one is which QB starts and, subsequently, who sets himself up to start against Washington State next week. USC 35, Hawaii 20

Friday

NORTHERN ARIZONA at ARIZONA

Kevin Gemmell: How many Arizona quarterbacks will we see in this game? I’m putting the over/under at three -- and I’m leaning toward the over. Arizona 42, NAU 17

Ted Miller: I actually think B.J. Denker is going to be the man for the Wildcats, even if other guys play. The issue is whether he remains that way. I think the only guy who would unseat him is Jesse Scroggins, and he has struggled to stay healthy. Arizona 40, NAU 14

Saturday

NICHOLLS STATE at OREGON

Kevin Gemmell: The only concern here is that Marcus Mariota tweaks a fingernail pulling off his shoulder pads at halftime. Oregon 48, Nicholls State 7

Ted Miller: I'm actually afraid for Nicholls State. Oregon 101, Nicholls State 3

EASTERN WASHINGTON at OREGON STATE

Kevin Gemmell: Eastern Washington is a pretty good Football Championship Subdivision team. And Oregon State fans know better than to overlook FCS teams. But I see no reason the Beavers don’t roll in this one. Oregon State 35, Eastern Washington 10

Ted Miller: The Beavers have some nagging injury issues, so they just want to win this one and get out of the game healthy. And they want Sean Mannion to justify his winning a high-profile QB competition. Oregon State 41, Eastern Washington 17

NEVADA at UCLA

Kevin Gemmell: A good tuneup game for the Bruins against a team that has some bite. I really like what Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo is capable of. But I like Brett Hundley better. Should be a decent game, but ultimately not enough to give UCLA a real scare. UCLA 35, Nevada 17

Ted Miller: Sitting here making this pick, I realize how Jim Mora has changed things at UCLA in just one year. For a decade or so previous to him, this is exactly the sort of game that you'd pause over, going, "Hmm ... UCLA is better but, man, do the Bruins know how to blow it!" Mora inspires confidence in terms of his team coming out in a businesslike fashion and playing like the superior collection of athletes that it is. UCLA 40, Nevada 24

BOISE STATE at WASHINGTON

Kevin Gemmell: Should be one of the closest, most competitive games in the country in Week 1. And in close games, sticking with my personal doctrine, I’ll go with the home team. Washington 24, Boise State 21

Ted Miller: These teams were tightly contested in the Las Vegas Bowl, and the Huskies look like a better team than they were last season, while the Broncos have a lot of guys to replace. Still, it comes down to Huskies QB Keith Price. If he's his 2011 self again, Washington will roll. Washington 30, Boise State 21

NORTHWESTERN at CALIFORNIA

Kevin Gemmell: I think the Bears will show a little backbone and Jared Goff will gain some confidence. But probably not enough to beat a ranked team in his first career start. However, it’ll be closer than people think. Northwestern 35, California 28

Ted Miller: Hello, Cal fans. It's me again. I've got bad news. I think you're going to win this game. Of course, that probably means you're going to lose, because the Bears never do what I think they'll do. Or was that just a Jeff Tedford thing? I'm so conflicted. Maybe if someone brought me a calabrese from Top Dog I could make sense of it all? California 27, Northwestern 24

WASHINGTON STATE at AUBURN

Kevin Gemmell: I got burned by the Cougs in the season opener last year when they were two-touchdown dogs on the road, and it haunts me to this day. Lesson learned. Auburn 28, Washington State 21

Ted Miller: Both teams went 3-9 last season, but the Tigers have a lot more size and athletes. I think the Cougars are going to put a scare into Auburn and its fans, but the Tigers' athleticism and, perhaps, the Southeastern humidity will wear WSU down in the fourth quarter. Auburn 33, Washington State 24

COLORADO STATE vs. COLORADO

Kevin Gemmell: The Rams bring back nine starters on offense. But Paul Richardson is due for a multitouchdown game. Colorado will get a little vengeance from last season. Bring on the Mac attack. Colorado 27, Colorado State 17

Ted Miller: I stared at the Colorado depth chart Tuesday and had an interesting reaction that surprised me: maybe. The Buffs should have won this game last season, and I think they're better than in 2012. Colorado 30, Colorado State 27
We've told you about the preseason Pac-12 media poll, which projected things as most folks believed it would. But what about all the other media polls out there for teams that cross paths with Pac-12 teams this fall?

Don't worry. We are here to help.

The Pac-12 has dates with the preseason SEC (LSU-Washington) and Big Ten (Wisconsin-Oregon State) favorites, but there also is plenty of mediocrity on the nonconference slate this season. There's only one game between the conference and the ACC (Duke-Stanford) and Big 12 (Oklahoma State-Arizona). There's two between the Pac-12 and SEC because Missouri (Arizona State) switched its affiliation away from the Big 12.

And it's clear the Big Ten, the Pac-12's Rose Bowl rival, is still the chief partner for quality nonconference action. There also are dates with Illinois (Arizona State), Ohio State (California) and Nebraska (UCLA).

There also are seven dates with the Mountain West Conference: Colorado State (Colorado), Fresno State (Oregon, Colorado), Nevada (California), Hawaii (USC), San Diego State (Washington State) and UNLV (Washington State).

BYU and Notre Dame, as Independents, aren't in preseason media polls. FCS teams aren't included

Arizona: Toledo (first in MAC West Division); Oklahoma State (fourth in Big 12)

Arizona State: Illinois (fourth in the Big Ten Leaders Division); Missouri (fourth in SEC East)

California: Nevada (second in Mountain West); Ohio State (second in Big Ten Leaders Division);

Colorado: Colorado State (eighth in Mountain West); Fresno State (third in Mountain West)

Oregon: Arkansas State (second in Sun Belt); Fresno State (third in Mountain West)

Oregon State: Wisconsin (first in Big Ten Leaders Division)

Stanford: San Jose State (third in WAC); Duke (last in ACC Coastal Division)

UCLA: Rice (fifth in Conference USA West Division); Nebraska (first in Big Ten Legends Division; Big Ten champs); Houston (first in Conference USA West Division)

USC: Hawaii (seventh in Mountain West), Syracuse

Utah: Utah State (second in WAC)

Washington: San Diego State (fifth in Mountain West); LSU (first in SEC West, SEC champs)

Washington State: UNLV (ninth in Mountain West)

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