USC Trojans: Alex Wood

Five things: USC-Utah

October, 25, 2013
Five things to watch for USC in the upcoming game against Utah:

Injuries: The long list of injuries for the Trojans is mind-numbing these days and three more players were lost for the season this week; linebacker Lamar Dawson (knee), tailback Justin Davis (ankle) and offensive guard Jordan Simmons (knee). These are not inconsequential losses as Dawson was fourth on the team in tackles and Davis was second on the team in rushing. At the end of Tuesday’s practice, only one scholarship receiver was available -- Darreus Rogers -- and there were no scholarship tight ends. How the USC injury list stands on Saturday may be as important to the outcome of the game as anything.

USC O-line vs Utah D-line: It was a rough night for the Trojans O-line against the Irish and it doesn’t figure to get a whole lot easier this week against a defensive line that paves the way for the conference lead in sacks. The Utes have 22 sacks on the year and 16 come from the line. They are a strong and aggressive group, led by a pair of outside pass rushers in Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard. Under normal circumstances the Trojans would use the tight ends to help with blocking assignments so this is yet another area where injuries could come into play.

USC corners vs. Utah pass game: The Trojans pass defense has been a struggle for the past three games and interim coach Ed Orgeron has decided to address things with a position change. Josh Shaw will move from safety to corner, the position he played earlier in the season. Orgeron is confident that the presence of Shaw will help to correct things, noting that the problems were not there earlier when Shaw was at corner. The ability of Utah to attack USC is the passing game will depend largely on the health of Utes quarterback Travis Wilson, who suffered a hand injury last week against Arizona but is expected to play on Saturday.

Kicking competition: After Andre Heidari missed two of three field goals against Notre Dame, Orgeron announced that the place-kicker job would be open for competition this week. Heidari, who has been the starter since his freshman year, admitted after Wednesday’s practice that he is in “a funk” with his kicking but he is confident he can work out of it. Alex Wood and Craig McMahon are being given longer looks in practice with a decision expected Friday after Orgeron meets with special teams coach John Baxter.

How do Trojans respond: It was an emotional scene in the USC locker room after the game in South Bend and it was obvious that was a game the players really wanted. They had fought hard but just weren’t able to pull it out. What made it even more interesting is how many players talked about how they wanted to win it for Orgeron. The interim coach has put a much-needed focus on the players, on keeping their spirits up, and that energy will need to continue because there is no time for a letup against Utah. Don’t forget that the Utes are the one team this year that has defeated Stanford.
One of the biggest topics for USC fans in the aftermath of the loss to Notre Dame was the impact of the game on the job status of interim coach Ed Orgeron.

It wasn’t that fans pinned the loss on Orgeron but the general consensus was that the loss did great damage to his long-term hopes of getting the permanent job. There were some who thought the damage was too much to overcome while others thought there was still a chance Orgeron could go a run to keep the job. There is still time to compete for a spot in the Pac-12 title game although there is very little wiggle room left. The Trojans would simply have to go on an amazing run through the rest of the season and there couldn’t be a repeat of what was seen on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesUSC interim coach Ed Orgeron has brought some positive energy to the Trojans.
That will be a daunting task for Orgeron to achieve when you consider the schedule that lies ahead for the Trojans, but he seems bound and determined to keep things positive. His postgame quotes following a crushing loss to the Irish were nothing more than gratitude for the players. And that could be the thing that matters as much as anything for Orgeron and athletic director Pat Haden during the remainder of this season.

It’s not like the Trojans got blown out or embarrassed in any way. They lost a tough game on the road where the realities of this particular team were on full display -- injuries, penalties, key mistakes, etc. at the wrong time.

One of the consistent praises you heard after the game, however, was for the effort from the team. Even in the face of one of those nights where so many bounces of the ball went against them, the Trojans fought to the end. And that’s where Orgeron wants to keep them. He wants to build upon the good energy he has brought during his tenure and not let one defeat put a halt to that momentum.

Kicking open the door of competition

Orgeron announced on Monday that he would be opening up the kicking competition this week in practice after Andre Heidari -- for the second time this year -- missed two field goals that could have provided the margin of victory in a game.

Other candidates in the competition will include Alex Wood and Craig McMahon, both of whom have seen action with extra points and kickoffs but have yet to attempt a field goal for the Trojans. The odds are that Heidari will end up keeping his job at the end of this week but it doesn’t hurt to have a little competition to get things kick-started, no pun intended.

Injury woes

There isn’t any way to sugarcoat what is going on with the Trojans and injuries right now. A look at the offensive side of the ball during the Tuesday practice showed a veritable MASH unit of sidelined players and a whole lot of walk-ons sprinkled among the active players.

At wide receiver, the Trojans ended the practice with only one scholarship receiver -- Darreus Rogers -- but that must have seemed like a bonus to the tight end spot, where no scholarship players were available. Add to that a running back position that is dealing with the news that freshman sensation Justin Davis will be out for the remainder of the regular season with an ankle injury and you have the makings of a real depletion of talent at the skill positions.

Position switch

It appears as if Josh Shaw is on the move again. After beginning his USC career at safety in 2012, Shaw got moved to corner midway through last season and played well. In spring 2013, however, he moved back to safety and seemed to have found a home in a spot where he was comfortable. But injuries and inconsistent play have reversed that course and this week Shaw finds himself back at corner.

It’s no secret that the cornerback position has been hit-and-miss this year and for the last three weeks it has been mostly a miss. Opposing offenses have found a recipe for success with attacking the Trojans cornerback spot no matter who was there from Kevon Seymour to Torin Harris to Anthony Brown. No matter how much the coaches preferred to keep Shaw at safety, this latest move is one that makes sense because the other options weren’t working. With Shaw now out of the safety rotation, look for Leon McQuay III to steadily get more time. McQuay has looked solid lately on the practice field, particularly on special teams as a kick blocker.
USC will open up the placekicking competition after Andre Heidari missed two field goals in the 14-10 loss to Notre Dame.

Heidari has been successful on 6 of 11 field-goal attempts this year, with two key misses in the loss to Washington State as well.

As a freshman in 2011, Heidari was named All Pac-12 first team after hitting 15 of 17 field goals and all 50 extra points. An early season knee injury in 2012 slowed him a bit and he ended the year by connecting on 10 of 16 field goals and 39 of 41 extra points.

There was hope within the USC program that the knee injury would be behind Heidari in 2013 and that he would get back to the form he showed in 2011. With the news that his job will now be open for competition, other candidates will include junior Craig McMahon -- who has 39 kickoffs in his USC career -- and sophomore Alex Wood, who connected on all eight extra points while subbing for the injured Heidari last season in games against Syracuse and Stanford.

Redshirting OT Banner gets trip home

October, 12, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans freshman offensive lineman Zach Banner is redshirting this season, so he has been left at home for each of the Trojans' three trips this year.

But coach Lane Kiffin is throwing him a bone this week and putting Banner on the travel squad for the team's game against Washington. Banner grew up in Tacoma, Wash., 30 miles from Seattle, where the game will be played, and was raised a Huskies fan.

Banner was elated to find out he'd be accompanying the team, even though he won't be playing unless something drastic happens.

"If I was gonna pick any trip, it'd be this one," he said this week.

The mammoth 6-foot-9, 335-pounder expects about 30 family members to attend and anticipated he'll be giving out a "a lot of love pats and I-miss-you's" on the field afterward.

Teams are allowed to take 70 players on conference road trips. Kiffin said NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations and normal injuries have left the Trojans with less than 70 available players who they could count on in a game.

"We're not at that point," Kiffin said. "So we take some guys that never play and so that's the good thing about the sanctions. ... Zach gets to go on a trip home and go up there.

"Hopefully we won't be doing that for many years."

Banner, the son of former NFL lineman Lincoln Kennedy, said he was stressing to himself that it was a business trip, regardless of the game's location. The fact that he went to several Huskies home games as recently as last season doesn't matter anymore, he said.

"One thing that's cool about it is Coach Kiff is giving me the opportunity not only to go home and see the family, something I'm not able to do because I'm not from around here, but he's also giving me the experience of what it's like to travel," Banner said this week. "Next year, for my real freshman year, I'm gonna know what it's like to travel and not have it phase me."

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USC can point to missed opportunities 

September, 16, 2012
The USC Trojans certainly had their chances with several opportunities to take control before Stanford really seized things in the second half in a 21-14 victory.

USC benefitted early when Stanford missed scoring chances in the kicking game. A long return on the opening kickoff set the Cardinal up for a quick field-goal attempt, but it hit the upright and bounced away. The USC defense had a nice goal-line stand to force another field-goal attempt, which simply missed wide left. Finally there was the blocked field goal by T.J. McDonald.

There were a pair of key third-down swings. In the middle of the third quarter with the Trojans leading 14-7, Stanford was stopped on a third-and-long run play deep in their end, and a resulting punt would likely have given USC the ball near midfield. Instead there was a personal foul penalty against George Uko and the drive continued. On the final Stanford scoring drive, Josh Nunes – not known for his running ability – ran for 12 yards on a third-and-10 with the ball at midfield. A stop there would have given the Trojans the ball in a tie game. Instead, Stanford took the lead and never gave it up.

In the third quarter, USC was faced with a fourth-and-1 from the Stanford 13-yard line. There was no Andre Heidari to rely on, but you have to imagine a 30-yard attempt would have been in Alex Wood’s range. There was also the option to go for it, which the Trojans did, and Matt Barkley ended up lofting a pass in the direction of Soma Vainuku, who got his hands on the ball despite good coverage from the defender. As they came to the ground, however, the defender was able to dislodge the ball and the pass was ruled incomplete. The Trojans had a real chance right there to extend the 14-7 lead but they came away empty.

Grades: USC-Syracuse

September, 8, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The No. 2 USC Trojans fought through an hour-long severe weather delay to top Syracuse, 42-29, at MetLife Stadium on Saturday. Here's a report card for how the Trojans performed in their second game of the 2012 season:

It might've been the sneakiest six-touchdown game in history. This wasn't A-quality work from Matt Barkley, and that shows how high expectations for him this season. He had a nice streak going in the second and third quarters, but that was ruined by a bad deep throw to Robert Woods that was picked off.

This was a significant improvement over Week 1, but, still, that's the best USC could do? Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal, two 1,000-yard rushers in 2011, gained more than six per rush, but they got only a combined 25 carries. Maybe some run calls could've replaced those boring bubble screens.

USC's offensive line was downright poor for much of this game, as evidenced by Lane Kiffin's repeated avoidance of anything that required Barkley to stay in the pocket for more than three seconds. But the Trojans' defensive line played well for the second straight game, even though two key ends were out in the second half.

Considering Syracuse put up 41 points a week ago, USC did OK to hold the Orange to 29 points Saturday. Dion Bailey and Morgan Breslin were difference-makers all game, but the Trojans' defensive backs were not. Monte Kiffin really needs to find a suitable second corner sometime soon.

Kyle Negrete averaged 50 yards on his three punts and downed all three inside the 20-yard line -- that's elite punting. Woods boosted the Trojans with a big second-half punt return, and walk-on kicker Alex Wood knocked down all five of his point-after attempts. This unit really helped USC today.

Lane Kiffin's playcalling was clearly not at its best, but he did enough in the fourth quarter to get things going. USC had its players take their pads off during the 70-minute delay, and that appeared to help keep them fresh late in the game. And he didn't go for two at all.