USC Trojans: Andre Heidari

Spring games roundup

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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Here's a quick look at some of the highlights of the four spring games this past weekend.

Arizona State

Sophomore linebacker Viliami Moeakiola stopped running back Jarek Hilgers on fourth-and-short on the final play as the Maroon team held off the Gold squad 29-23 in front of 8,456 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly completed 7 of 22 passes with a touchdown for the Maroon team. Gold quarterback Mike Bercovici went 11-of-24 with three touchdowns and an interception.

“I like the format that we did because it created more competition,” said ASU coach Todd Graham. “The gold team was really down, but came back and fought back, got a chance to win. Maroon held on with a fourth down, goal-line stand. D.J. [Foster] was frustrated with me—he really wanted to play more. I thought he did some good things when he was in there. Loved the big shot to Jaelen [Strong] from Taylor Kelly. I thought Kelly really looked good today. He really managed the offense and was very much in command of things. Both offensive lines divided up evenly on each team — all those guys did some good things."

The complete stats are available here.

USC

In front of 17,500 fans at the L.A. Coliseum, kicker Andre Heidari made four field goals. But the offense failed to get into the end zone and the defense came out on top 16-15.

Newly re-anointed starting quarterback Cody Kessler completed 5 of 10 passes for 86 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Max Browne went 6-of-17 for 76 yards with no scores or picks and Jalen Greene was 4-of-11 for 61 yards – also without a touchdown nor an interception. Notes Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times:
Before getting too alarmed, it is worth noting that dating to the Pete Carroll era, USC's spring finale has not served as a reliable indicator of fall performance.

Rather, it's annually an exercise in avoiding major injury while looking ahead to summer.

So a true evaluation of [Steve] Sarkisian's new fast-paced, no-huddle scheme cannot begin until USC plays its Aug. 30 opener against Fresno State at the Coliseum.

Walk-on tailback James Toland IV was the top rusher with 36 yards on eight carries and tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick caught three passes for 56 yards. Scott Starr had a game-high six tackles, with three for a loss.

"We had a couple big pass plays, but the defense played really well and tackled well,” Sarkisian said. "And we got out of the game with no serious injuries."

Utah

Despite 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns from transfer Devontae Booker, the Red team took down the White squad 28-27 in front of 12,056 fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Quarterback Travis Wilson, still shackled by noncontact restrictions, completed 7 of 12 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in five drives.

Dominique Hatfield (four catches, 93 yards) and Westlee Tonga hauled in touchdown receptions for the White team. Troy McCormick rushed eight times for 34 yards with a touchdown to lead the Red squad.

"We've been high on Devontae Booker ever since he got here," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He didn't get here more than a week or two before the start of spring ball, so he was fighting his lack of conditioning all spring. But as soon as he gets himself in great shape, I think he'll be a very good running back in this conference. All of the running backs ran hard today. A strong running game is where everything begins, even if you are a spread team."

Sal Velasquez and Filipo Mokofisi each picked off Brandon Cox, who threw the only interceptions of the game. Adam Schulz was 9-of-13 for 110 yards with a touchdown and Conner Manning was 9-of-12 for 86 yards and a score.

The complete stats are available here.

Washington

Though Washington didn’t keep official stats for its drizzly spring game, quarterback Jeff Lindquist threw four touchdowns in red zone and situational drills and, per Adam Jude of the Seattle Times, was unofficially 11-of-15 for 134 yards.

Troy Williams, who has been splitting reps all spring with Lindquist while the team awaits the status of Cyler Miles, was 11-of-18 for 38 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Deontae Cooper, Lavon Coleman and Ralph Kinne were the only backs who participated. Cooper carried nine times for 68 yards, Colmean rushed 18 times for 99 yards and a touchdown and Kinne had seven carries for 38 yards.

Head coach Chris Petersen told Gohuskies.com that picking a quarterback to replace Keith Price could go all the way up until the season opener – if not longer.

“Absolutely, that’s possible. Yeah, we could go to Game 9, if it hasn’t been decided,” Petersen said. “We’ll take this one day at a time. One day, one game. I know it sounds cliché, but it really will be. … I mean, it’s all nice to have a starting quarterback, but that guy graduated in December. And so, we are at square one. Until one guy establishes himself, we don’t have a guy.”
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

Season wrap: USC

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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The big news for USC's 2013 campaign wasn't the season itself but the firing of coach Lane Kiffin. That, however, also was the transformative moment of the season, as the Trojans bounced back from a dispiriting 3-2 start to finish 10-4 and rank 19th, rallying under interim coach Ed Orgeron.

The Trojans went 6-2 under Orgeron, but his hopes for earning the full-time job were likely dashed by two losses to Notre Dame and UCLA, USC's two chief rivals.

The second big news for the Trojans was the hiring of Steve Sarkisian away from Washington, which received a mixed reaction. But that points toward the future. Our concern is the 2013 season.

You can read our graded review of USC here.

Offensive MVP: The Trojans' offense struggled much of the season, ranking ninth in the conference with 29.7 points per game, but its most consistent weapon was receiver Nelson Agholor. With Marqise Lee in and out of the lineup with injuries, it was Agholor, a sophomore, who led the Trojans with 918 yards receiving and six touchdowns. His 16.4 yards per reception also was tops among the team's receivers. Further, he led the conference and ranked second in the nation with a 19.1-yard average on punt returns, which included two returns for touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Leonard Williams became one of the nation's best defensive linemen as a true sophomore. He ranked second on the Trojans with 74 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He also had four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles and was named a first-team All-American by ESPN.com and third-team by the Associated Press. He is almost certain to be a 2014 preseason All-American.

Best moment: No. 4 Stanford had rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit to tie the score at 17-17, and it had the ball with more than three minutes remaining on its 40-yard line. There was plenty of time to drive for the winning field goal, but Stanford QB Kevin Hogan threw his second fourth-quarter interception to Su'a Cravens at the USC 44. The Trojans then got a 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari, who had struggled for much of 2013, with just 19 seconds left to notch the upset, and recorded the fourth and best win of what would become a five-game winning streak under Orgeron.

Worst moment: While the 10-7 loss at home to Washington State was horrible -- the Trojans had just 193 total yards -- and was the beginning of the end for Kiffin, the 62-41 loss at Arizona State was the defeat that ended his tenure. Athletic director Pat Haden was so dismayed with the white-flag performance -- the Trojans gave up 612 yards -- that he fired Kiffin at LAX in the early morning hours of the next day. Of course, that low moment seems to spur the season's transformation so some may see Kiffin's firing as a good thing.

Season review: USC

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
5:30
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Our season reviews continue in alphabetic order.

Next up is USC.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler, Clay Helton
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesCody Kessler showed improvement with Clay Helton calling the plays.
Offense: When taking stock of the USC offense, you really have to look at it like it was two different seasons: The Lane Kiffin swan song vs. the Ed Orgeron rebirth. The first few games were an extended tryout at the quarterback spot, which was eventually won by Cody Kessler. In the first five games under Kiffin, Kessler completed 63 percent of his throws, averaged 166.4 yards per game and had six touchdowns to four interceptions. His raw QBR was 39.9 and his adjusted QBR was 48.9. Post Kiffin, when Clay Helton stepped in to call the plays, Kessler completed 65 percent of his throws and threw 14 touchdowns to three interceptions. As a team, they averaged 26 points in the first five games and 31.7 over the final nine. We also saw the emergence of Buck Allen at tailback. Once he started getting regular carries, he had four 100-yard rushing games in his final six games and 12 touchdowns over that same span. Often-injured Marqise Lee couldn’t follow up on his 2012 Belitnikoff Award season, but Nelson Agholor came on strong. It will be interesting to see what USC looks like as an uptempo offense with Steve Sarkisian at the helm. Grade: C+

Defense: For all the heat Kiffin took – including one last final burn – he also recognized that the Trojans needed to move to an odd front to keep up with some of the perimeter speed in the league. And he knew he had the horses. Hiring Clancy Pendergast was a wise decision. In one season under Pendergast, the Trojans cut their points allowed by more than a field goal, made huge strides in rush defense (167 yards allowed in 2012 compared to 120.3 in 2013) and were on the plus side of turnover margin at plus-6 after going minus-2 in 2012 and minus-1 in 2011. Four players landed on the first- or second-team all-league squads and Leonard Williams emerged as one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the country. Statistically, the Trojans ranked in the top three or four in the league in most major categories. Yes, there were a couple of bad games. But there was a lot more good than bad as the Trojans allowed fewer than 20 points in nine of 13 games. Grade: A-

Special teams: The Trojans were first in the league in punt returns with three touchdowns (two from Agholor), but last in the league in kick returns. They were second to last in the league in touchbacks, but had one of the stronger kick coverage teams in the league. Andre Heidari was just 15 of 22 on field goals, but he came up clutch in the Stanford game. And they were 2 for 2 on onside kicks. Some units were really good. Some, not so much. Grade: C+

Overall: Few teams in college football history had to endure the kind of internal drama that USC faced this year. And to come out on the other end up – ranked in the Top 25 and winning a bowl game over a ranked team – speaks to the character of the seniors and the job Orgeron did in relief. But it wasn’t all peaches. While the Trojans did score a huge win over Stanford, they still lost to Notre Dame and UCLA – a couple of big no-nos with the fans, die-hard and casual alike. Firing a coach midseason usually means throwing up a white flag. So we certainly give credit where credit is due. The Trojans fought hard. The losses were ugly (see: State, Washington; State, Arizona; and Dame, Notre). The future of the USC program is certainly going to be an interesting one. But when you peel back all of the layers of 2013 and reflect on what USC managed to get done, it’s hard not to respect where they ended up compared to where they could have ended up. Grade: B-

Trojans hitting stride at right time

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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The Trojans arrived home in Los Angeles on Sunday morning in a good position.

Coming off a satisfying 49-27 victory over Colorado, USC extended its win streak to five games and an overall 6-1 record under interim coach Ed Orgeron. It might not have been enough to get the Trojans into the Pac-12 title game -- ASU clinched the berth from the south on Saturday night -- but that bit of news will do little to dampen the enthusiasm of the players and coaches.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans' win over Colorado.
There is too much else to celebrate about what this team has accomplished to worry about the title game. Yes, it would have been nice for the program, especially considering the Trojans have yet to play in the game as it enters its third year in existence. But to focus solely on the title game would be a disservice to everything else that has gone on with this program over the last seven weeks, a process that has seen the team continue to improve to the point where they are playing their best football of the year at a time when the Bruins come to the Coliseum.

Not only do the Trojans have a chance to put the finishing touches on an amazing in-season turnaround with a victory over UCLA, they also have a chance to right a painful memory from last year. In their first season under coach Jim Mora, the Bruins got the upper hand in 2012 with a 38-28 victory in the Rose Bowl, a win that was all the more notable considering USC had beaten UCLA 50-0 the previous year.

The Bruins have tried to use the momentum from last year to lay claim to ownership of Los Angeles, on the field and on the recruiting trail. The slow start to the USC season appeared to give credence to those efforts, all while UCLA got a big road win over Nebraska and had high-profile stars such as Brett Hundley and Anthony Barr.

Then came the coaching switch for USC and tides of change have swung local momentum back in favor of the Trojans. While USC has been thriving under Orgeron, the Bruins are 3-3 in their last six games. While the Bruins were once ranked in the top 10 and the Trojans were unranked, the two teams now stand right next to each other in the rankings at No. 22 (UCLA) and 23 (USC).

The USC players are certainly going to want revenge for last year. Trojans safety Dion Bailey said in the locker room following the Colorado game that he and his teammates needed to “remind the Bruins” of who runs the town. That bit of chatter about ownership rights of the city is always part of this rivalry so that’s nothing new, but it doesn't figure to be the overriding storyline of this game.

The ongoing saga of Orgeron and his pursuit of the full-time USC job will dominate the discussions leading up to Saturday night, but what shouldn't get lost in the shuffle is the fact his team is playing well right now, as good as he could have hoped for in such an important matchup.

USC has a quarterback in Cody Kessler who has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games while growing into a clear leader of the offense. The running game has received a huge boost from the play of Buck Allen, with his nine rushing touchdowns in the last four games and the splash of explosiveness he adds on the ground. There is also the thought in opponents' minds now of a 260-pound fullback in Soma Vainuku who can move pretty well, too.

On the outside there is still the reality that Marqise Lee is bothered by injuries but Nelson Agholor has stepped up to help pick up some of the slack. Lee would love to be back on the field against UCLA to help make up for 2012 in what will likely be his final home game at the Coliseum. At tight end, Xavier Grimble showed on Saturday what can happen when the tight ends are healthy and utilized the right way as he led the team with six catches.

The development of the offensive line has to be considered one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It’s no accident when a team has four different running backs go for over 100 yards in a game, at some point the line is doing something right.

On defense, the USC front seven is starting to get recognition as one of the best units in college football. Leonard Williams is playing like an All-American and Devon Kennard isn’t far behind. It makes it all the more impressive to think the Trojans are doing this lately without leading sacker Morgan Breslin, primarily due to the fine play of J.R. Tavai.

There has been the dependable leadership from Hayes Pullard while Anthony Sarao stepped in for an injured Lamar Dawson without missing a beat. And what was once the biggest weakness on the team, the secondary play and coverage at the corner spot, has been stabilized by the physical presence of Josh Shaw while Bailey has been a playmaker at safety.

On top of all that, kicker Andre Heidari battled through his job being put up for grabs to nail the biggest kick of his career in the win over Stanford.

Those are a lot of positives for the Trojans, players who are rising up and playing well, and by no means are these the only players getting it done. Orgeron has provided substance to the loose atmosphere he has fostered with the Trojans and now he and his team have a chance to finish this magnificent regular season run in style.
Say hello to Marqise Lee, All-America . . . teammate?

Yes, we’re talking about the same guy who was an All-America wide receiver and Biletnikoff Award winner for USC a year ago, the same player who was expected to challenge the Trojans’ all-time pass catching records as a strong Heisman Trophy candidate this season.

Unfortunately, fate and injuries have dictated otherwise. Lee not only has been hobbled for much of the fall with a painful knee, he had to absorb the firing of a head coach who was closer to him than probably any other player. Put all that together, and most kids would be walking around campus in a deep funk.


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Pac-12 names players of the week

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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USC quarterback Cody Kessler has been named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week, along with defensive player of the week Robert Nelson of Arizona State and special teams player of the week Andre Heidari of USC.

Here’s some more info on the trio per the Pac-12’s release:
Kessler, a sophomore from Bakersfield, Calif., was 25-of-37 for 288 yards and a touchdown in a 20-17 upset win over No. 5 Stanford on Saturday night in the Coliseum. He produced a season-best for both completions and attempts while connecting on 10 in a row as the Trojans held on to a seven point lead entering the third quarter. With the score tied 17-17 and 1:23 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Kessler completed a 13-yard pass to Marqise Lee on fourth and two to keep a drive alive that ended with a game-winning field goal.

Nelson, a senior from Lakeland, Fla., led an Arizona State defense that forced four interceptions from the nation’s leading passer in a 30-17 win over Oregon State in Tempe on Saturday night. Nelson collected two interceptions, returning the second one 23 yards for a game-sealing touchdown late in the fourth quarter, while adding five tackles and a fumble recovery on the night. Nelson now has six interceptions on the year, which is tied for fourth in the nation and is the most for a Sun Devil cornerback in a single season since 1987.

Heidari, junior from Bakersfield, Calif., hit the game-winning 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to seal the upset victory over Stanford. The game-winner helped the Trojans snap a four-game losing streak to the Cardinal while it was their first game-winning field goal since 2000. Heidari now has 38 field goals in his career.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Connor Halliday of Washington State; running back Marion Grice of Arizona State and running back/linebacker Myles Jack of UCLA; and Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Addison Gillam of Colorado, Erik Kendricks of UCLA and Justin Sagote of Washington State; and USC safety Dion Bailey. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors was punter Sean Covington of UCLA and Oregon running back/kick returner De’Anthony Thomas.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
11:00
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Taking stock of Week 12 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: USC started with a great plan against Stanford. Then it played smart, disciplined football and executed that plan. And when Stanford looked like it was asserting itself, the Trojans persevered, making clutch plays at the end to beat the Cardinal 20-17. USC is now 5-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, looking nothing like the sloppy, uninterested team from the beginning of the season.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee caught six passes for 83 yards in USC's upset win over Stanford.
Best game: On a mostly ho-hum weekend, USC-Stanford wasn't decided until the final moments. Moreover, the stakes were high. Stanford was knocked out of the lead spot in the North Division and the Trojans are now squarely in the South race.

Biggest play: Was it the athletic interception from freshman Su'a Cravens that set up the final USC drive? Or was it the fourth-and-2 completion from Cody Kessler to Marqise Lee for 13 yards to the Stanford 35-yard line on the game-winning drive? Or the 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari? Each was critical in the final turn toward USC in the fourth quarter.

Offensive standout: Colorado WR Paul Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards in the Buffaloes' 41-24 win over California, which gave them their first Pac-12 win since September 2012. Richardson broke the school’s single-season receiving record, eclipsing the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson. He sits at 1,201 receiving yards, which ranks second in the Pac-12.

Defensive standout: Stanford OLB Trent Murphy had eight tackles, with four coming for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble against USC. The Cardinal lost, but it sure wasn't Murphy's fault. He now leads the Pac-12 in both sacks (12) and tackles for a loss (18).

Defensive standout 2: Arizona State safety Robert Nelson had two interceptions -- one he returned 23 yards for a touchdown -- and a fumble recovery in the Sun Devils' 30-17 win over Oregon State. He also had five tackles.

Special teams standout: It has been a long season for Heidari, but he was the difference for the Trojans in their upset win over Stanford. He kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play that provided the winning margin. He also kicked a 23-yard field goal and was 2-for-2 on PATs.

Smiley face: We'd gush more about Orgeron's leadership at USC, but there at least needs to be a hat tip to Washington State and coach Mike Leach going to Tucson and grabbing a much-needed victory with some late-game heroics from QB Connor Halliday. His 25-yard TD pass to Isiah Myers for the tiebreaking touchdown with 2:15 to play gave the Cougars a 24-17 win, keeping their bowl hopes alive.

Frowny face: As impressive as USC's win over Stanford was, it probably wasn't very popular among 10 other Pac-12 teams. Oregon, of course, is thrilled. The Ducks now control their North Division destiny and Rose Bowl hopes. But Stanford's losing makes it unlikely the conference will have two BCS bowl teams, which means every conference team lost about $500,000 when the Cardinal went down. It will be the first time since 2009 conference ADs won't enrich their coffers with that extra check.

Thought of the week: Arizona State and UCLA have a recent history of disappointing their fans and falling short of expectations. But guess what? Both teams are 8-2 and ranked heading into their critical showdown Saturday. They are about where optimistic preseason expectations placed them after 10 games. Both have showed resolve under second-year head coaches. No matter who wins Saturday, both programs seem to be on a decided uptick.

Questions for the week: Who salvages their season? Several Pac-12 teams' seasons are on the brink, and two games in particular are of note: Washington visits Oregon State and Washington State plays host to Utah. As far as the Huskies and Beavers, the loser of that game will officially be able to call its season a disappointment. The Huskies would then face the specter of another 7-6 season -- or worse -- and that could make Steve Sarkisian's seat pretty hot. The Beavers would be set up to lose their final five regular-season games after a 6-1 start, pending the result of the Civil War against Oregon. Utah needs to win in order to keep its bowl hopes alive, and failing to reach a bowl game for a second consecutive year would have folks getting chippy in Salt Lake. The game is not a must-win for the Cougars' bowl hopes, but they'd probably rather not hang their hopes on the Apple Cup the following week.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
6:00
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Here are the players who earned helmet stickers in the Pac-12 in Week 12:

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: Halliday completed 36 of 53 passes for 319 yards, none more important than a 25-yard strike to Isiah Myers for a touchdown with 2:15 left. The score stood as the game-winner as WSU improved to 5-5 -- one game shy of bowl eligibility.

Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA: After running for four touchdowns in the Bruins’ 41-31 win against UCLA, Jack maintained he’s “still defense all the way.” Could have fooled us. Jack became the first UCLA player since Maurice Jones-Drew to pull off the feat and is now tied with Jordan James for second on the team with five rushing scores despite playing offense in just two games.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey cracked the 100-yard mark for the 13th straight game, running for 132 yards on 26 carries and a score. The Doak Walker Award semifinalist came into the game No. 2 in the nation, averaging 152.6 yards per game.

Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado: Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards and broke the school’s single-season receiving record in the process. He surpassed the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson and sits at 1,201 receiving yards on the year.

Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State: Grice ran for 118 yards on 24 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ win against Oregon State. ASU remains in control in the Pac-12 South with an important showdown with UCLA looming next week.

Andre Heidari, K, USC: Heidari’s day didn’t start too well when he missed the PAT following USC’s first touchdown of the game. But he redeemed himself with a 47-yard field goal in the final minute to lift USC over No. 4 Stanford, 20-17.

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Stanford’s loss won’t fall on Gaffney’s shoulders. The senior carried 24 times for 158 yards and a pair of scores, including a highlight-reel quality 35-yarder in the first quarter.

3 up, 3 down: USC 20, Stanford 17

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
5:07
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LOS ANGELES -- A look at the positives and negatives from USC’s thrilling 20-17 victory over No. 4 Stanford on Saturday.

Three up
1. Andre Heidari
Having nearly lost his kicking job earlier in the season and having a less-than-memorable outing last weekend against California, Heidari’s fortunes appeared to be spiraling downward when his PAT attempt sailed wide right in the first quarter against Stanford. To his credit, however, he responded valiantly, hitting a key 23-yard field goal in the second quarter, before ultimately nailing a dramatic 47-yard game-winner, completing his transformation from goat to hero, all in one night.

2. USC defense
The Trojans' defense certainly rose to the challenge in this one, limiting the Cardinal to a season-low 17 points. A fast and swarming bunch that was paced by linebacker Anthony Sarao and his 12 tackles. The group showed a ton of heart and determination late, turning back, time and time again, a Stanford offense noted for its physical brand of play at the line of scrimmage. The performance of the safeties was particularly stellar down the stretch, with Dion Bailey and Su’a Cravens each recording clutch interceptions in the fourth quarter.

3. USC team resolve
The Trojans had every opportunity to let the game slip away, but even when their backs were against the wall, they simply refused to give in. That's a credit to the man who has instilled new life into the program, interim coach Ed Orgeron. In addition to the two interceptions by the defense, Chad Wheeler’s momentum-turning blocked field goal and a hobbled Marqise Lee’s improbable 13-yard reception on 4th-and-2 were plays indicative of a team that possesses a fierce will to win. It’s a mindset that has reached new heights under the direction of Orgeron, and it’s a big reason why he just might be USC athletic director Pat Haden’s best choice as the Trojans' next full-time coach. The gritty, never-say-die effort of USC quarterback Cody Kessler -- who completed 25-of-37 passes for 288 yards and one touchdown -- also deserves special mention.

Three down
1. USC run game
Averaging 185.9 rushing yards per game entering Saturday's contest, the Trojans were only able to compile 23 yards on the ground as the vaunted Cardinal defense completely stymied the USC run game. Spearheaded by outside linebacker Trent Murphy and inside linebacker Shayne Skov, the Stanford front seven simply overpowered the USC offensive line for much of the game, and the Trojans tailbacks never had a chance to get going.

2. USC second-half defensive lull
While it’s hard to pinpoint anything negative about a USC defense that played such an integral part in the victory, there were certainly instances in the second half where the Trojans looked to be worn down up front. At no time was this more apparent than early in the third quarter when the Cardinal offense ripped off a ten-play, 92-yard touchdown drive with typical Stanford efficiency. Following Wheeler’s blocked field goal on the following Cardinal possession, however, the USC defense appeared to get a burst of energy back that carried it through the rest of the contest.

3. USC pass coverage
Continuing a trend that has existed throughout the season, the cornerbacks struggled at times in coverage on Saturday night. Fortunately for the Trojans, however, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan and his receivers had problems of their own, and they were never able to really capitalize on any of the opportunities presented to them. The most obvious example of this occurred on Stanford’s opening drive when Ty Montgomery, who had blown by USC cornerback Josh Shaw, dropped a perfect toss from Hogan deep downfield. Hogan also missed an open Montgomery on a long pass in the third quarter.

Ed Orgeron conference call highlights

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
10:04
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Some selected quotes from USC head coach Ed Orgeron's Sunday night conference call following the Trojans' 62-28 victory over California.

Orgeron's opening statement:

"After watching the film, I'm very excited about a lot of things that happened in that game versus Cal. We played very well as a team going on the road again ... putting up 62 points. There were some really, really good things on the film."

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Ric Tapia/Icon SMISophomore defensive end Leonard Williams is expected to return to action Saturday against Stanford.
On the status of tailback Silas Redd and defensive end Leonard Williams:

"Silas Redd for [this weekend's] game is questionable -- knee. We expect to get Leonard Williams back sometime this week, and we expect him to play on Saturday."

On the style of play that has marked the Trojans' recent contests with Stanford, a team that has defeated USC five out of the last six times the programs have met:

"Obviously it's a very physical football game. I just watched last year's game, and there were some things that we did really well, but we did not make the play when we had to. They were tight games, and they made the plays when they had to, and we didn't. It's the type of game where we have to play 60 minutes. They're so well coached that if you make a mistake, they'll score a touchdown on you. If you miss a tackle, they'll score a touchdown on you. You just have to stay in there and fight with them. You have to fight with them toe-to-toe every play. Just take one play at a time, and you need a complete game. Their defensive line is very, very well coached ... they get after you, they make a lot of plays ... a lot of sacks. They're physical. They have a great kickoff returner ... they're great on special teams. They have a very physical run game. They're just a well-rounded football team."

On the fact that ESPN's College GameDay will be at the Coliseum this Saturday, and whether that, as well as the excitement surrounding the game in general, adds anything extra to the matchup for the team:

"We're going to prepare the same as we have for the last five weeks. From that standpoint, we need to stick to the plan ... the plan that has been working for us. On the outside, it's good for the University; it's great for recruiting; it's great for the crowd ... hopefully there's going to be a big crowd there, and really it's why you come to USC as a football player. It's why you come to coach here ... to play in these types of games, and it should be expected."

On what USC fullback Soma Vainuku brings to the fold in terms of his contribution on special teams, and in particular, on kickoff coverage:

"He sets the tone on the kickoff. He set the tone at Oregon State. He made a tremendous tackle [against California]. We studied the film this morning, and people have to change their blocking schemes in order to attack Soma on the kickoff. He's such a force. He's 260 pounds, [and] he's running down there like a sleek tailback. He's tough. He just does a lot for us. He's a great young man. He's a difference-maker."

[+] EnlargeAndre Heidari
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAfter a stellar freshman season in 2011, Andre Heidari has struggled the last two years.
On whether the play of place kicker Andre Heidari -- who missed a PAT attempt as well as his lone field goal attempt versus California -- is a concern right now:

"It's always a concern when we don't make the kicks that we're supposed to. We've been inconsistent in that area. It will be addressed again this week. We're going to go back to the chalkboard, per se, in practice. I talked to Coach [John] Baxter, and we have to fix some things. We have to make sure he's right."

On whether Orgeron and Baxter have discussed opening up the competition for Heidari's kicking job, as they did before the Utah game:

"No, we have not thought about opening the competition. I talked to Coach Baxter today, [and] he felt that there's some things that he needs to fix on Andre. We'll look at it this week. He's still our starter, but it is a concern."

On the performance of the offensive line, a unit that had Kevin Graf back at right tackle last weekend after he missed the Oregon State game with an ankle injury:

"We went back to Graf at right tackle, and it seemed like it worked out well. Those guys seemed to perform well together. Moving Max [Tuerk] back to his original [left guard] position, I think those guys performed well. It was a positive. We didn't want Graf to get hurt, but in case someone gets hurt, then we can mix and match our guys and play well there."

On the areas in which the team has made the biggest strides of late:

"I think the energy, playing as a team, the offensive line, the run game ... the turnover ratio -- we're plus-six in the last five games -- which is a big key for us. The special teams have made some tremendous plays. I think those are our biggest improvements. I just think we're playing as a complete team."

On whether Orgeron has considered utilizing freshman safety Su'a Cravens, who also excelled on offense on the high school level, as a two-way player:

"He would probably be a great two-way player. We have not discussed that. [With] our situation we feel that we can't move a lot of people around, and you know, him just being a freshman -- he does play the nickel, and he plays the safety -- so we think he has enough on his plate. I would leave that open to discussion, and I wouldn't mind him doing that in the near future if he's able to do it. I just don't think we can afford to do it right now."

Trojans show some grit under Orgeron

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
10:00
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With three games under his belt as the interim coach of the Trojans, Ed Orgeron is continuing to put his stamp on the USC football program.

The Trojans sit at 2-1 on Orgeron’s watch, and it has certainly been an interesting ride. There was a gut-wrenching road loss to the Irish, a pair of home wins that might have lacked style points but were celebrated nonetheless, and then there were injuries. Lots and lots of injuries.

Through it all, the defense has continued to play hard for Orgeron, and the move of Josh Shaw to corner should plug what has been the biggest hole of the year. Orgeron’s handling of a shaky placekicking situation seems to have worked with Andre Heidari responding by making 4 of 5 field goals last week. Orgeron also has shown more of a willingness to use players lower on the depth chart -- in part due to the injuries -- and it has resulted in some good production from guys such as J.R. Tavai, Demetrius Wright and De'Von Flournoy..

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsEd Orgeron has infused the Trojans with a better attitude duringi his tenure.
There are still some issues that remain. The inconsistencies on offense are puzzling with a unit that can look so good on one drive and then stumble for long periods of time. At various times you can point the finger to play-calling, penalties, specific position groups or players or the aforementioned injury bug. Orgeron has done a good job of making sure injuries are not used as an excuse, but at some point he doesn’t need to say a word. The impact is obvious when you see just how many players are out right now.

That attitude of “no excuses” helps explain the biggest success Orgeron has seen so far. It really doesn’t have anything to do with the X’s and O’s. It has more to do with keeping the program above water through a shaky transition time. It’s hard to imagine how tough it is to change coaches in the middle of the season, especially when a change is being made because things aren’t going well.

Orgeron knows all too well how low the morale of the team was because he saw it every day and he knew that any key he had to finishing the season in a strong fashion was to get that attitude turned around. He has tried to change the climate, to return the energy and fun to the program and not let any negative feelings creep back in.

Have the results been perfect? No, but they haven’t been all that bad either. The Trojans might not have always played pretty football, but they have fought to the end in every game for this coach who shows how much he cares. And that has gone a long way to endear this team to the fans. The tone is noticeable on the message boards in support of the way this undermanned team has quietly shown some grit.

There might be no better example than the way Dion Bailey changed from street clothes to uniform and played the whole second half against Utah. Bailey is a warrior so for him to be out of action in the first place meant that he was legitimately hurt. But when Su’a Cravens went down at the end of the first half, Bailey realized the team needed him. That’s not an insignificant moment. It’s the kind that should be paid attention to because it shows how the players feel about playing for this coach.

For Orgeron, nothing will serve him or the Trojans better down the stretch of this season than a team of players willing to play hard for him. There is a lot of football remaining, and, if some of the walking wounded can return, then let the chips fall where they may.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
10:00
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Five things we learned in Week 9 in the Pac-12.

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards for the Ducks in 2013.
See Ducks run: First, credit the Bruins for effort. They sold out and committed to the run and totaled 219 yards on the ground in playing the Ducks to a 14-14 halftime tie. They weren’t intimidated and they didn’t back down from the challenge. But like Jim Mora said, “the heck with being close.” UCLA needs to start winning these games if it wants to be considered an elite Pac-12 team. That said, Oregon simply needed 48 minutes instead of its usual 30 to dispatch a team, ranked or not. And it was refreshing to see how the Ducks would react to being punched back. They reacted like a championship team should. Oregon picked up 325 yards on the ground, with 133 yards and three touchdowns from Byron Marshall. And we’ve been saying it in the blog for a while now: Oregon’s defense is really, really good. The Ducks picked off Brett Hundley twice and held him to just 64 yards in the air. Marcus Mariota was a very clean 21-of-28 for 230 yards and a touchdown. His streak of games with at least one rushing and one passing touchdown came to an end, but he extended his interception-less streak to 292 consecutive passes. And it has to be comforting to know that if every Oregon running back is suddenly stricken with sprained ankles, Rodney Hardrick can always carry the rock.

Typical Stanford: Stanford’s offense survived on the strength of tough running by Tyler Gaffney and a defense that sacked Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion eight times. But it was Gaffney’s late-game fumble that should serve as a reminder that Stanford hasn’t been scoring many points of late. So, not unlike last year’s Stanford team, white knuckles will likely be required down the stretch. But credit the defense for creating pressure on Mannion, who was 41-of-57 for 271 yards and a touchdown. His partner in crime, Brandin Cooks, had nine catches for 80 yards and a score. Sans the late-game fumble, Gaffney was stellar again, this time going for 145 yards and three touchdowns. The Beavers saw their six-game winning streak come to an end. But there’s little time to wallow with USC coming into town before a bye and then going on the road for two of their last three. The next time Stanford takes the field will be when Oregon comes to town. And despite the one Cardinal loss, that game still has all the fun subplots and polish we were hoping for.

Where’s the offense? The Utes are reeling after failing to win on the road for the second straight week. And the once-potent offense managed just three points and 201 yards, and it turned the ball over four times. Remember, this is the team that put up 410 yards on Stanford. But this was the worst offensive output by far. A lot of that has to do with the health of Travis Wilson, who sat out the second half for the second straight week. The offensive line looked leaky and the explosive attack we’d come to know the first half of the season looked flat. The defense did what it could, but the offense left it in bad spots. Which leads us to the Trojans. Not a particularly great offensive showing for them, either, so a game ball to Andre Heidari and his four field goals. Cody Kessler looked pretty good, taking care of the ball and completing 21 of 32 passes for 230 yards with a touchdown. But minus-30 yards in sacks left the Trojans with just 30 total rushing yards for the game. Credit USC’s defense for being opportunistic and big ups to the Trojans for continuing to persevere despite a depleted roster. They did what they had to do to win. But now Utah’s signature win a couple of weeks ago is starting to look more and more like a one-week-wonder.

Carey keeps rolling: The leading rusher against Colorado was not Ka’Deem Carey, surprisingly enough. But Carey did rush for 119 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 10 straight games of at least 100 yards dating back to last year’s game against Colorado. It was quarterback B.J. Denker who carried 15 times for 192 yards. The Buffs played this one tough for a while, even leading 13-10 with five minutes left in the half. But the Wildcats struck hard and fast with two late-half touchdowns, and it was game over from there. You can get the sense that this is a different Colorado team than last season. And Paul Richardson is simply outstanding (seven catches, 132 yards, one score). The results just aren’t showing up in the win column. Arizona broke through with its second straight conference win and will look to become bowl eligible next week against Cal.

Huskies bounce back: Washington got exactly what it needed: a win, and a convincing win at that. Cal continues to be everyone’s slump buster. And the Huskies busted their three-game slump with a monster 241-yard, two-touchdown performance from Bishop Sankey. This win won’t get the Huskies back in the Top 25. And beating Colorado next week probably won’t, either. But the Huskies are one step closer to another year of bowl eligibility, and with back-to-back road games at UCLA and Oregon State before the Apple Cup, Washington has an opportunity to finish very strong and break the seven-win curse. For Cal, it’s about finding the little positives. But the Bears have now dropped 10 straight Pac-12 contests dating back to last year. And after another blowout loss, you have to wonder if that streak will end this season.

3 up, 3 down: USC 19, Utah 3

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
8:00
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LOS ANGELES -- A look at the positives and negatives from USC's 19-3 victory over Utah on Saturday.

THREE UP

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.

THREE DOWN

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.

Takeaways help Trojans beat Utes

October, 26, 2013
10/26/13
6:43
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For a USC Trojans team that is fighting injuries and scrapping for every win, there was something that just seemed right about the way things played out in a 19-3 victory over Utah on Saturday.

Last week the Trojans were unable to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them in the loss to Notre Dame, but there were no such troubles against the Utes. In fact, Utah was able to drive for a field goal on its opening possession but that was it.

“It was an outstanding performance by our players,” USC interim coach Ed Orgeron said. “They had a good mindset throughout the week to pull together through adversity and the result is a happy locker room right now.”

It was the USC defense that set the tone by forcing four Utah turnovers -- three interceptions and a fumble -- and converting all of them into points to go into the locker room at halftime with a 16-3 lead.

First it was Josh Shaw, who had been moved back to corner after spending the past three games at safety. Shaw was able to intercept a ball that had been tipped by a Utes receiver, and it set up a 30-yard touchdown pass from Cody Kessler to Nelson Agholor for a 7-3 USC lead.

[+] EnlargeLeon McQuay III
AP Photo/Gus RuelasFreshman safety Leon McQuay III had one of USC's three first-half interceptions.
Next it was Antwaun Woods forcing a fumble on a sack of Utah quarterback Travis Wilson. Anthony Sarao recovered at the Utah 19. The Trojans went three-and-out, but Andre Heidari was able to convert a 35-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead. In the first quarter alone, the USC defense had three sacks, five tackles for loss and two takeaways.

Leon McQuay III, who got his first start for the Trojans at safety, was able to get an interception after Wilson rolled to his right and threw late, with McQuay moving in for the ball at the right moment. Heidari was able to hit a 38-yard field goal to make it 13-3 and then late in the half, with time running out, the Utes inserted Adam Schulz at quarterback in place of Wilson, who was having trouble throwing the ball with a hand injury. Schulz didn’t fare any better as his first pass was intercepted by Su’a Cravens, who returned it 54 yards to the Utah 10. Heidari added a 28-yard field goal as time expired.

“We had emphasized all week on getting back to our dominant selves,” USC linebacker Hayes Pullard said. “We wanted to give up nothing on the field. We just had to execute the plan the coaches gave us and transfer that to the field during the game.”

About the only things that went wrong for USC were injuries to Cravens and offensive tackle Kevin Graf. Cravens injured his groin on the interception return, while Graf left the game earlier with a left ankle/foot injury. The string of injuries for the Trojans is long right now with players such as Marqise Lee, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Morgan Breslin being forced to sit out the game. In fact, once Cravens went down, the Trojans were forced to suit up Dion Bailey, who had been on the sidelines in street clothes during the first half.

“We knew that at the nickel position we only had one guy to play,” Orgeron said. “He [Bailey] knew that and he told us he wanted to play so he put on his uniform and went out there. It shows that these guys believe in each other and are willing to sacrifice for the good of the team.”

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCody Kessler passed for 230 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
J.R. Tavai, who was playing for Breslin, led USC with 11 tackles and two sacks. The second-leading tackler was Sarao with nine, and he was subbing for the injured Dawson. It has been that kind of year for the Trojans with injuries, but it’s easy to get well when the opposing offense puts up only 201 total yards and averages less than 3 yards per play.

For the Trojans offensively, it wasn’t exactly a banner day either. USC gained only 30 yards rushing when factoring in sack totals. Tre Madden led the way with 60 yards on 12 carries. Kessler had a solid day with 21 completions in 32 attempts for 230 yards and one touchdown with no picks, but he was also sacked five times. The Trojans did not turn the ball over, but third-down conversions (3 of 15) continue to be an issue.

A special mention needs to be made of Heidari, who saw his job put open for competition this week after he missed two critical field goals against Notre Dame. Heidari admitted at practice earlier in the week that he was in “a funk,” but he appeared to get out of it by hitting on 4 of 5 field goals in a nice rebound performance.

“Andre is money,” Kessler said. “He’s a great kicker. Unfortunately he missed some kicks last week, but he’s one of the best kickers in the nation in my opinion. I have 100 percent confidence in him. When he’s focused and locked in, he is spot on.”

The Trojans travel to Oregon State next Friday to face a Beavers team that will not likely struggle on offense the way the Utes did. Orgeron will be looking to get his team as healthy as possible on a short week in order to play at a place that has not been kind to the Trojans in recent memory and against a team that is more than capable of providing a much stiffer test.

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