USC Trojans: Hayes Pullard
UCLA's Myles Jack earned freshman of the year for both offense and defense with his 70 tackles as a linebacker and seven touchdowns as a running back. This is the first time since the awards were introduced in 2008 that the same player has won both sides.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the league's coach of the year for guiding the Sun Devils to a conference record of 8-1 and winning the South Division. The Sun Devils host Stanford this weekend in the Pac-12 championship game.
The team is selected by the Pac-12 head coaches.
Offensive player of the year: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE Arizona State
Freshman Offense and Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State
First team offense
QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (2)
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Chris Coyle, Grad., Arizona State
OL Evan Finkenberg, Grad., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon (2)
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA (2)
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford (2)
First team defense
DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DL Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DL Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (2)
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (2)
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
DB Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
DB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford (2)
First team specialists
PK Zane Gonzalez, Fr., Arizona State
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
RS Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
ST Soma Vainuku, So. USC
Second team offense
QB Taylor Kelly, Jr., Arizona State
RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr., Stanford
RB Marion Grice, Sr. Arizona State
WR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
WR Jaelen Strong, So., Arizona State
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Jamil Douglas, Jr., Arizona State
OL Cameron Fleming, Sr., Stanford
OL Andrus Peat, So., Stanford
OL Isaac Seumalo, So., Oregon State
OL Khalil Wilkes, Sr. Stanford
Second team defense
DL Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DL Taylor Hart, Sr., Oregon
DL Devon Kennard, Sr., USC
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Jr., Washington
DL Tenny Palepoi, Sr., Utah
LB Carl Bradford, Jr., Arizona State
LB Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
LB Hayes Pullard, Jr., USC
LB Chris Young, Sr., Arizona State
DB Dion Bailey, Jr., USC
DB Osahon Irabor, Grad., Arizona State
DB Marcus Peters, So., Washington
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Sr., Oregon State
Second team specialists
PK Vincenzo D'Amato, Sr., California
P Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
RS Nelson Agholor, So., USC
ST Erick Dargan, Jr., Oregon
ST Joe Hemschoot, Sr., Stanford
ST Ryan Hofmeister, Jr., UCLA
RS: Return Specialist
ST: special teams player (not a kicker or returner)
(2): Two-time first-team selection
Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.; DL Tevin Hood, Sr.; WR Nate Phillips, Fr.; DB Jared Tevis, Jr.; LB Scooby Wright, Fr.
Arizona State: DL Davon Coleman, Grad.; Gannon Conway, Sr.; ST D.J. Foster, So.; ST De'Marieya Nelson, Jr.
California: DL Deandre Coleman, Sr.; QB Jared Goff, Fr.; WR Bryce Treggs, So.
Colorado: RB Mike Adkins, Fr.; LB Addison Gillam, Fr.; PK Will Oliver, Jr.
Oregon: WR/RS Bralon Addison, So.; WR Josh Huff, Sr.; OL Tyler Johnstone, So.; DL Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; LB Derrick Malone, Jr.; RB Byron Marshall, So.; DL Tony Washington, Jr.
Oregon State: OL Grant Enger, Sr.; TE Connor Hamlett, JR.; QB Sean Mannion, Jr.; DB Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB Steven Nelson, Jr.; ST Terron Ward, Jr.
Stanford: DL Henry Anderson, Sr.; DB Alex Carter, So.; OL Kevin Danser, Sr.; DL Josh Mauro, Sr.; P Ben Rhyne, Sr.; DB Jordan Richards, Jr.; LB A.J. Tarpley, Sr.
UCLA: OL Jake Brendel, So.; ST Jayon Brown, Fr.; P Sean Covington, Fr.; TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.; WR Shaq Evans, Sr.; WR Devin Fuller, So.; DB Randall Goforth, So.; QB Brett Hundley, So.; DB Anthony Jefferson, Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Jr.; DL Cassius Marsh, Sr.; DL Ellis McCarthy, So.; DB Fabian Moreau, So.; OL Alex Redmond, Fr.; DL Eddie Vanderdoes, Fr.; LB Jordan Zumwalt, Sr.
USC: P Kris Albarado, So.; RB Javorius Allen, So.; WR Nelson Agholor, So.; DB Su'a Cravens, Fr.; OL Kevin Graf, Sr.; TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.; QB Cody Kessler, So.; WR Marqise Lee, Jr.; DB Josh Shaw, Jr.; DL J.R. Tavai, Jr.; OL Max Turek, So.; DL George Uko, Jr.
Utah: WR Dres Anderson, Jr.; OL Vyncent Jones, Sr.; DB Keith McGill, Sr.; PK Andy Phillips, Fr.; LB Jason Whittingham, So.
Washington: OL Dexter Charles, So.; PK Travis Coons, Sr.; OL Mike Criste, Jr.; OL Micah Hatchie, Jr.; DB Sean Parker, Sr.; QB Keith Price, Sr.; DL Danny Shelton, Jr.; LB Shaq Thompson, So.
Washington State: OL Elliott Bosch, Sr.; WR River Cracraft, Fr.; PK Andrew Furney, Sr.; DB Damante Horton, Sr.;
Some notes on the teams:
By School: Arizona State and Stanford placed the most players on the first team with six selections each.
By Class: Of the 27 first-team selections, two are graduate students, 11 are seniors, nine are juniors, four are sophomores and one freshman.
Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches -- RB Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona.
Two-time Selections: Ten players are repeat first-team selections from last year.
All-Academic: Two first team All-Pac-12 performers also were named to the Pac-12 All Academic second team -- RB Bishop Sankey of Washington and DB Ed Reynolds of Stanford, while Washington defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly earned second-team honors on both the Pac-12 All-Conference and All-Academic teams.
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.
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.
We could try to quantify how much better USC is under Ed Orgeron the past six games compared to Lane Kiffin during the season's first five, but that really is pretty easy. We don't need numbers. We need only three words:
Everything is better.
USC is less sloppy. It's more disciplined. It's protecting the football. USC is playing better offense. It's even playing better defense, if you consider the schedule. It's better on special teams.
Obviously, USC is playing with far more passion. And you can't undersell this: Its players are having way more fun.
"We absolutely love him," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said after the 20-17 win over Stanford. "We'd run through a brick wall for him. He has that look in his eye that you can tell that when he talks to you he really does care. I gave him a hug after the game, and I don't know if he'd want me saying this, but I saw his eyes water up. It's awesome when you play with someone who has that same passion."
How can you dispute or diminish that? You can't.
But the question then becomes: Is that enough to hire him to be the next USC head coach? That is, reportedly, the $6 million question.
When you look at how USC is playing and the Trojans' 5-1 record since Orgeron took over, it's impossible to not give his candidacy legitimacy. Further, that already strong résumé will become measurably stronger if the Trojans win out, which would include a victory over highly ranked rival UCLA, and they would thereby finish the regular season with a 10-3 record and a high national ranking.
At that point, Orgeron would own the locker room and probably have significant momentum with the Trojans' fan base. That would make it difficult for athletic director Pat Haden not to hire him.
The expectation when Orgeron took over for Kiffin after a humiliating 62-41 loss at Arizona State was the Trojans would play better because the season-long hot-seat talk surrounding Kiffin would be over, thereby allowing players to breathe easier and play looser. That improved play, however, wasn't expected to include a 5-1 record and a win over Stanford, ending a four-game losing streak in the series.
In fact, the Pac-12 blog's expectation was the "Hire Coach O!" talk would end with losses to Stanford and UCLA. The Pac-12 blog was wrong, at least so far. Further, when the Pac-12 blog conceived of writing this column about USC's improvement under Orgeron, it expected to, after giving Coach O a tip of the cap, recommend against hiring him, no matter how the now seemingly charmed season ended.
Yet, after further review, there is not enough evidence to overturn the ruling in the stands and the locker room, at least if USC wins out and wins its bowl game.
The only advice the Pac-12 blog has for Haden, though, is this: Don't allow the emotions of the moment to overrule your long-term vision for this coaching hire. A serious evaluation of Orgeron should begin now, if it hasn't already, and there are myriad considerations besides his popularity among the players.
One doesn't have to look far for examples of internal promotions producing great results: Chris Petersen taking over for Dan Hawkins at Boise State, Chip Kelly taking over for Mike Bellotti at Oregon and David Shaw taking over for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Although those three programs were already successful, you could make the case that USC's circumstances are similar because, well, it's USC.
The next USC coach isn't rebuilding a program. His job is to maximize the potential of a college football superpower, one that no longer will be yoked with NCAA sanctions after the 2014 recruiting class. Orgeron just might be able to do that.
Of course, we also have precedents that suggest that promoting from within or hiring an interim coach because of his initial success and support of the locker room doesn't always yield long-term success.
Larry Coker took over in Miami after Butch Davis bolted and won a national title in his first season. He went 35-3 his first three seasons, in fact, losing the national title game in Year 2 and winning the Orange Bowl in Year 3. But then things went south and, after a 7-6 season in 2006, he was fired. Coker was a strong short-term answer but not one for the long term.
As interim coach after Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan, Bill Stewart led West Virginia to a stunning upset of No. 3 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. But after three consecutive 9-4 seasons and an off-the-field controversy, he was pushed aside in favor of his head-coach-in-waiting, Dana Holgorsen.
We know what great college head coaches look like: Urban Meyer and Nick Saban top the list. I'd throw in Bill Snyder at Kansas State. But after them, there are no sure things. Petersen is not a sure thing because he has never been a head coach in an automatic-qualifying conference. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin has an impressive recent track record, but that track record in an AQ conference is only two years and includes one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football history.
The NFL guys such as Jon Gruden, Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio? Not sure things by a long shot.
So the risk of hiring Orgeron isn't that much greater. Sure, he went a dismal 10-25 at Ole Miss, but his thus-far-successful audition running the USC program provides a strong counter to that. He's not only learned from his mistakes; he's also coaching in an environment he knows how to navigate. It's also noteworthy that he's clearly motivated his assistant coaches to care about and focus on their present jobs instead of giving USC 60 percent while the other 40 percent pining about their future employment.
The apparent formula for an Orgeron administration would go like this: He plays the CEO and lets his coaches coach, which means Clay Helton runs the offense, Clancy Pendergast runs the defense and John Baxter runs the special teams. Orgeron leans on his strengths: motivation, chemistry, emotions and recruiting.
The big question would then be whether Orgeron can be consistently and obsessively detail-oriented as all good head coaches are. Can he maintain discipline and run a tight ship? Will he lead a recruiting effort based on insightful evaluation rather than star rating? Can he skillfully handle all the off-the-field responsibilities that head coaches deal with?
My guess is that Haden immediately realized after the Stanford game -- and not before -- that Orgeron deserved at least a raised eyebrow. Haden will be practically forced to make a more thorough evaluation of Orgeron if the Trojans beat UCLA.
"When you have a father figure like Coach O treating us all like sons and putting us under his arm, we want to run through a brick wall for him," linebacker Hayes Pullard said. "One team, one heartbeat, we wanted to carry that over. We wanted to show him that we are with him no matter what."
That's inspiring and meaningful. But there's more to being a head coach than getting your players to run through brick walls.
At this point, however, Orgeron is not only getting his guys to run through those brick walls, he's also getting them to hit the wall in the correct place and use good technique while doing so.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin comments
Opening statement: "Unfortunately, a disastrous third quarter for us was a big part of the game. The first half seemed to go back and forth -- two critical turnovers for us in the first half. We had a dropped pass on the post route going out, and it ended up being an interception for them and a big play. In the third quarter we went down the field and scored, and then it went downhill from there."
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When you have a defense playing as well as USC’s is this season, it shouldn’t be losing to Washington State and having to struggle to a hang-onto-your-fingernails victory over Utah State, both at home, no less.
What their most recent 17-14 escape proved is that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s almost unbelievably-revived defense is good enough to keep USC in every football game the rest of the way.
But will it matter if the offense can’t shake off the cobwebs that seem to have completely engulfed it?
The screams for coach Lane Kiffin’s job calmed down a bit after a semi-soothing win over BC, but they were back at full roar late Saturday. The reaction is understandable, since it is Kiffin who remains in charge of the sluggish offense, not to mention the play-calling that remains as puzzling as ever.
The undercurrent of dissatisfaction has actually reached out even dangerously deeper than to just the fan base. The Trojans’ list of early 2014 commitments is lagging far behind past seasons, with hardly any four- or five-star kids on the list.
Kiffin might still be able to turn that momentum around, of course, if he can find some way to juice up an offense that could never find its rhythm against Utah State. Tre Madden ran decently enough at tailback, but the running game was never complemented by play-action passes.
At least the Trojans throw downfield occasionally now, but almost always to Marqise Lee exclusively, which would be fine if it was the old, Biletnikoff Award-winning Marqise. The problem is, he hasn’t shown up yet this season.
The scary part is Utah State spent most of the game single-covering Lee and Nelson Agholor, and Kiffin still couldn’t figure out a way to let Cody Kessler take advantage of it. Some of it has to do with an offensive line that simply isn’t up to USC standards. But then, what do you expect from a kid like left tackle Chad Wheeler, who hadn’t played a down of college football until four weeks ago?
It’s too bad, because with just some normal offensive help, Pendergast’s defense would be getting the national recognition it so richly deserves.
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With Hayes Pullard, a team captain with 28 starts and 201 career tackles to his credit, serving as the leader at middle linebacker, the entire unit has taken off in their first year playing in new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s aggressive 5-2 scheme.
“I give all the credit to Coach Pendergast, coach [Ed] Orgeron and coach [Mike] Ekeler,” said the 6-foot-1 and 230-pound Pullard, who has compiled 13 tackles in 2013. “They put us in the position to be able to play fast. I’m enjoying it so much. It’s spread around where people are making plays on the perimeter, in the middle, we’re forcing turnovers. ... It’s just a fun atmosphere when we’re out there. Everybody is just focused on doing their assignments and doing everything they can to achieve our goal -- to be a dominant defense.”
And so far at least, it's mission accomplished. But neither Pullard nor his teammates have yet to face an offense this season that resembles anything close to what Utah State (2-1) will bring to the Coliseum this Saturday. The Aggies average a whopping 49.3 points and 550.3 total yards per game, and it’s their dual-threat Heisman candidate at quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, who engineers it all. Running USU’s spread offense to perfection this season, the 6-2, 200-pound junior has completed 78.1 percent of his passes for 923 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one interception, while also leading the team with 187 rushing yards.
“I guess the closest thing would be Oregon as far as how they can hurt you in all aspects,” said USC head coach Lane Kiffin earlier this week when asked if there is another team that showcases an offense similar to Utah State’s. “They run the ball really well, [Keeton] throws the ball really well, and then he takes off and runs it. So, I guess that would be the closest. ... It’s a little bit of a different style, but at the same time they’re really explosive, and they have really good players around him, too. ... Good receivers [and] a very veteran offensive line that returns five starters. This is a top-25 team.”
And Kiffin isn’t alone in his line of thinking, particularly when it comes to Keeton, who led the Aggies to a breakthrough 11-2 record in 2012.
“Oh my gosh, watching him on film, he’s a great player,” Pullard said. “He can pass, he loves to run [and] he loves to attack defenses. I can’t say anything bad about him.”
But if there is a defense out there that appears to have the potential to contain Keeton -- which according to Pullard, is all you can hope to do -- it just might be USC. After all, on top of the talent the Trojans have, Pendergast has made a name for himself as an architect of defenses that are geared to shut down uptempo, spread attacks.
And while it remains to be seen exactly how the USC defense does, in fact, plan to slow Keeton and the rest of the Utah State offense down, so long as Pullard and his teammates perform at the same high level that they have all season long up to this point, while also staying disciplined and following the game plan put in place by Pendergast, there’s little reason to doubt that they’ll be more than up for the challenge.
“We talked about it on Monday, and everybody is taking the initiative, and everybody is being accountable for themselves,” Pullard said. “It’s just about being responsible for your duty when you’re out there and making sure that you do your assignment, and then we’ll go from there.”
Which USC defensive player will be most important to help slow Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton?
Garry Paskwietz: Leonard Williams. I think it’s safe to say that any plan to slow Keeton will need to start with pressure. The Aggies quarterback has put up impressive numbers so far this year and his versatility will offer a key matchup for a USC defense that has played well in the first three games. The quickest way the Trojans are going to be able to get to Keeton and disrupt his timing will be from Williams. The sophomore defensive end was consistently applying pressure last week to thwart the Boston College run game, the strength of the Eagles' offense, and now his attention will be shifted to slowing the quarterback for Utah State.
Johnny Curren: Morgan Breslin. The USC defense will need to have a constant presence in the Utah State offensive backfield right from the get-go, and it would be ideal for the Trojans if that pressure came from the front level so they don’t lose anything in terms of their coverage. After all, Keeton is incredibly accurate, completing 78.1 percent of his passes this season, so he certainly appears to have the ability to pick a gambling defense apart. With that in mind, I think that Breslin, the Predator linebacker on the edge, could play a pivotal role. Possessing outstanding pass-rush skills to go along with the speed and athleticism to hang with Keeton, he’ll need to hit the Aggies’ passer early and often, thereby getting in his head and preventing him from finding his groove. If Breslin pressures Keeton on a consistent basis, and the rest of the defense plays disciplined and is able to contain him in the pocket, it could be a long day for the talented USU signal caller.
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USC coach Lane Kiffin
Attitude adjustment: “First off, for two groups today, I’m excited for all our players. It wasn’t a great week. There wasn’t positivity around for obvious reasons. I thought these guys kept working, kept grinding, and just worked extremely hard. And then our fans, too. It wasn’t an easy week on our fans, with how passionate they are and what they had to deal with last week. I’m happy for them to feel good today. We had good Trojan football for the most part today.”
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After a disappointing defensive showing in 2012, the Trojans made a change at the coordinator spot by bringing in Clancy Pendergast to install his 5-2 scheme. There was a lot of hope that the transition would bring about instant results.
Well, if the performance against Hawaii is any indication of what’s in store for this defense, USC fans are going to like what they see in 2013.
The defense wasted no time as Dion Bailey got things started with a sack of Warriors quarterback Taylor Graham on the first play of the game.
On the next drive, true freshman Su’a Cravens got the first of what should be many interceptions in his USC career.
There was more pressure on Graham, lots and lots of pressure. Devon Kennard, Leonard Williams and George Uko were coming from every angle and the Hawaii offensive line simply couldn’t keep up. By the time the game was over the Trojans had notched seven sacks and had four interceptions of Graham.
In fact, the interceptions were the difference in the ballgame. USC was able to convert those interceptions into 18 points and they won by 17 points. You do the math.
The timing of the first-half dominance by the defense couldn’t have been better as the Trojans offense struggled to get going early. In fact, midway through the second quarter the score was 5-3 in favor of the Warriors but it was then that Hayes Pullard intercepted Graham at the Hawaii 30. Cody Kessler quickly hit Nelson Agholor with a pretty 19-yard touchdown pass and the Trojans were up 10-5.
On the next Hawaii drive, Graham was picked by Josh Shaw, who returned it 35 yards for a score and a 17-5 USC lead. From that point on the Trojans basically had the game in hand and the halftime stats showed how dominant the defense had been. Graham completed only six of 20 passes in the first half for 56 yards and he was sacked five times along with the three picks. The rushing numbers weren’t any better for the Warriors with 19 yards on 22 carries.
“We didn’t play very well on offense but we were great on defense,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I thought it was a very good effort and I liked the aggressiveness that we showed. Hopefully we can continue to improve on that as the season goes along.”
The individual stars were all over the place on the USC defense.
In addition to his opening play sack, Bailey added a third-quarter interception and led the team in tackles with seven. It was a good sign for Bailey, who had been banged up in fall camp with a hip injury in addition to making the position switch from linebacker to safety.
Williams had a pair of sacks to go along with five tackles, Uko had two sacks and Kennard had two tackles for loss along with a forced fumble. There were also encouraging performances from players such as Lamar Dawson and Jabari Ruffin.
If there is a concern coming out of the game it is the situation at cornerback. That spot was already a primary area of emphasis because of the coverage duties for the cornerbacks in the 5-2 defense and the loss of both starting corners during the game doesn’t help. Kevon Seymour left the game early after being on the receiving end of a big hit and Anthony Brown was later forced to leave due to an apparent ankle injury.
Torin Harris and Devian Shelton were the two corners for the remainder of the game and there were mixed results. Harris tied for second on the team with five tackles while Shelton had three tackles and both players had two pass break-ups but there were also some obvious coverage issues that will need to be shored up.
“We will have to get back home and check on the status of guys who were hurt,” Kiffin said. “That’s something that we will definitely have to deal with as we get ready for conference play.”
At the end of the day, however, this was a day to celebrate for the Trojans defense. A check of the final numbers shows some pretty impressive stats; on top of the sacks and interceptions there were also nine tackles for loss, a total of 23 rushing yards and four of 18 third-down conversions for the Warriors. That is some good defense.
Now the Trojans return home to face the wide-open passing offense of Mike Leach and Washington State and they do so with some good confidence about their new defense and what is possible in the coming season.
Who starts at quarterback?
Garry Paskwietz: Cody Kessler. Throughout fall camp it has been Kessler going with the first unit more often than not. Even with the status of a starter up in the air, the choice here says that Kessler will get the first shot at showing that he is the man for the full-time job.
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- WR Marqise Lee (Jr.): The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner has 191 catches in his two years with the Trojans and currently owns or shares 22 USC records.
- OL Marcus Martin (Jr.): The versatile Martin stepped into the starting line-up at left guard three games into his true freshman season but moves to center this year.
- LB Hayes Pullard (Jr.): With 25 career starts at outside linebacker, Pullard moves inside in the new 5-2 scheme.
- OLB Devon Kennard (Sr.): After seeing time at middle linebacker and defensive end early in his career, Kennard returns for his final year in a role that seems perfect for him.
Kiffin also announced that four walk-ons would be awarded scholarships for the 2013 season; TB John Akiba, S John Auran, WR Cody Skene and LB Kyle Yatabe.
The quarterback competition was the most dominant storyline of camp but that battle was expected. The shuffling of the starting line-up along the offensive line, however, was not expected.
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Both quarterbacks had their opportunities in the scrimmage, which was a different format than normal. Instead of having one quarterback with the first unit and the other with the second, the quarterbacks alternated series with the first unit while going against the service team defense.
The first interception came on the opening drive. Kessler had driven the offense into the red zone -- helped by a nice Tre Madden toss sweep behind blocking from Chad Wheeler and Jahleel Pinner -- but was intercepted by walk-on Nick Schlossberg on a slant pass attempt to Marqise Lee.
Max Wittek came in and was promptly sacked by Delvon Simmons. Wittek had a long completion to Xavier Grimble on a real strong throw. Justin Davis got the ball inside the 5-yard line, but the drive stalled and the offense settled for a 21-yard Andre Heidari field goal.
It was supposed to be a non-tackling scrimmage, but Torin Harris must not have got that memo because he laid a pretty good lick on walk-on receiver Christian Guzman. George Uko added a sack.
Kessler was picked on the next series by walk-on John Auran.
Wittek hit Agholor deep on the first play of the next drive. Schlossberg came on a blitz on the next play and was met by a terrific block from Javorius Allen. Kevin Greene had a sack on third down to force a 42-yard field goal by Heidari.
Marcus Martin started at center but he went out as a precaution. Max Tuerk was moved to center with Nathan Guertler stepping in at left guard.
Chris Hawkins had a nice pass break-up of a Kessler attempt to Lee, resulting in another Heidari field goal.
Lee went out later in the scrimmage and was seen with ice on his shoulder on the bench. By the end of the scrimmage the ice was off, and both Lee and Kiffin said things were “fine”.
The rest of the scrimmage basically belonged to Nelson Agholor. He caught two touchdowns from Kessler and one from Wittek to end the day with nine catches for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Lee had eight grabs for 107 yards.
There were plenty of players who sat out the scrimmage due to various injuries. Dion Bailey, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Ryan Henderson, Marquis Simmons, Scott Starr, Cyrus Hobbi, Cody Temple, Silas Redd, Jordan Simmons, Victor Blackwell, D.J. Morgan, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Kevon Seymour and Randall Telfer were all sidelinded.
The starting lineups were as follows:
Offense: Kessler, Madden, Pinner, Lee, Agholor, Grimble, Wheeler, Tuerk, Martin, John Martinez, Kevin Graf.
Defense: Devon Kennard, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods, Uko, Jabari Ruffin, Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson, Anthony Brown, Harris, Josh Shaw, Su'a Cravens.
“We had 21 guys today that didn’t practice, [and] there were more that couldn’t have contact in the yellow jerseys,” Kiffin said. “You start getting into the 20s with guys not practicing at all – we’ve got some really short lines and some really unfamiliar names playing with the first and second units, so obviously we didn’t plan for that to happen.”
Among those sidelined were Dion Bailey, Su’a Cravens, Kevon Seymour, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Scott Starr, Victor Blackwell, Ty Isaac, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and perhaps most noticeably Aundrey Walker, who left Monday's practice early with an undisclosed injury.
“Aundrey wasn’t able to practice today,” Kiffin said. “We anticipate him practicing tomorrow.”
With the three top tight ends atop the depth chart out in Grimble, Telfer and Cope-Fitzpatrick, the USC offense relied on the very unlikely trio of Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan and Kevin Greene -- a development Kiffin brought up as an example of a position group decimated by injuries.
“One [Willson] was a quarterback a week ago, one [Sullivan] we’re just learning his name, and the other one [Greene] was a defensive end a week ago,” Kiffin said. “They’re doing the best that they can.”
Highlights from practice:
- The Trojans spent the majority of the day in an extensive 11-on-11 period, with Kessler starting the session with the first unit at quarterback, although Wittek also saw plenty of time with the ones throughout the course of the day.
- Defensively, the No. 1 defense was made up of a group that included Torin Harris and Anthony Brown at cornerback, Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright at the safety spots, Hayes Pullard – in a yellow jersey – and Lamar Dawson at inside linebacker, Devon Kennard and Jabari Ruffin at outside linebacker, George Uko and Leonard Williams at defensive end and Antwaun Woods at nose tackle.
- Kessler got things started with a couple of nice quick strikes to Marqise Lee – also in a yellow jersey – right off the bat before connecting with De’von Flournoy for a first-down pick-up. Wittek followed that with a connection to Darreus Rogers for 10 yards. Javorius Allen took a handoff a short while later, but outside linebacker Charles Burks – who has impressed lately – wrapped him up immediately for a loss in the backfield. Justin Davis followed that with a nifty run in which he made a nice cut right after he got past the line for a big gain. Wittek tried to hit Sullivan in the flat, but Dawson came up and nearly picked the ball off. Allen broke off a nice, 10-yard run. Uko, Ruffin and Dawson each racked up sacks. Wittek came up with the play of the day shortly thereafter, hitting Nelson Agholor on a deep throw down the sideline over Harris for a gain of about 45 yards.
- A brief red-zone period immediately followed, with Kessler opening things up by connecting with Flournoy for a touchdown. Kessler also connected on short passes to Sullivan, Agholor and Pinner. Wittek hit Agholor for a short gain, but he also had a ball batted down by Hutchings at the goal line. Tre Madden finished the session off by plowing into the end zone from two yards out.
- The team finished the day with each quarterback getting a chance to lead the offense in a two-minute drill, but both drives stalled without a score.
Kiffin revealed that Wednesday’s scrimmage won’t be particularly physical – in fact, there won’t be any live tackling – but it could provide a potential look at how certain position battles are shaping up and how the rotations might look. Kiffin plans to break the team into two groups, with one of those being comprised of the players expected to play most.
“We will divide the guys so that we can really practice a game for the first time where, really, the main guys are together on one sideline, so that we can get used to the substitutions on offense, defense and special teams,” Kiffin said. “We can get used to the offense coming to the sideline with the coaches, and the defense coming to the sideline, and having a break between series. And then basically a service team will be on the other side.”
“I saw some good stuff in practice today, and I thought the D-line played really well, kind of the same characters as usual,” Kiffin said. “Going back to the film yesterday, I thought the storyline was the first-team defense -- five three-and-outs. If the game would have been over at halftime, the first team defense would have given up minus-2 yards at that point. It was a really good showing by the front seven on defense, especially. Those guys showed up and made plays. George [Uko] made a bunch of plays, Hayes [Pullard] showed up, Su'a Cravens probably made more plays than anybody, and he only played 28 snaps.”
Upon further review: Quarterbacks
After going through the film from Friday’s scrimmage, Kiffin revealed that while the numbers put up by Cody Kessler (20 of 28, 231 yards, 3 TDs) were on the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to those of Max Wittek (2 of 7, 15 yards), not all is necessarily as it seems.
“Yesterday’s numbers got screwed up just by the way the series went,” Kiffin said. “Obviously Cody got more chances because of the pass attempts, and he played really well in there. And then Max was going against, for the most part, the No. 1 defense, which was having a really good day versus the No. 1 offense -- which also had a number of special players out.”
As such, Kiffin still doesn't appear to be close to naming a starter between Kessler and Wittek.
“It’s the same thing I’ve said all along,” Kiffin said. “Ideally we would have liked to have had it done by now. We don’t know when it’s going to happen. Ideally we would not like to have two quarterbacks on opening day, but you never say never.”
Injury report: Tailbacks getting healthy
Kiffin said after practice that 17 players are still being held out of contact, with the most recent addition being wide receiver Victor Blackwell, who watched from the sideline on crutches Saturday with a brace on his knee.
One position group that appears to be getting healthier, however, is the Trojans' tailback corps. With Buck Allen carrying the bulk of the load of late, the group has been bolstered by the recent return of Ty Isaac, and on Saturday both Silas Redd and Justin Davis were back, as well, taking part in the workout in a limited capacity.
“Today we got Justin back for the beginning of practice, and Silas ... that’s the first time in a while that they’ve done individual,” Kiffin said. “Justin did team and looked really good, so I think we’re headed in the right direction. We could be back here very soon with everybody outside of D.J. [Morgan] back in full participation.”
Other notables who sat out the practice included Dion Bailey, Morgan Breslin, Torin Harris and Tre Madden. Late in the day, tight end Xavier Grimble and nose tackle Antwaun Woods also could be seen in the trainers' tent with apparent injuries, and Pullard was also in and out of the lineup, wearing a yellow jersey later in the day.
The team’s 11-on-11 period started with a big hit by Cravens on Isaac, holding the run attempt for no-gain. Davis, donning a yellow jersey, took a handoff for a gain of 6 or 7 yards, and that was immediately followed by an impressive run by Allen in which he bounced outside to pick up 20 yards. Kessler would get Marqise Lee -- also in a yellow jersey -- involved soon thereafter, completing a 9-yard pass on the outside to the star wideout. Leonard Williams came in for a sack on Kessler. During a brief two-minute drill, Wittek completed passes to Darreus Rogers, Grimble and Nelson Agholor, but the drive ultimately stalled.
During 7-on-7s, Wittek completed a deep strike over the middle to Agholor, and in the final 11-on-11 period, Agholor caught a number of passes from both quarterbacks, and it’s safe to say that he’s really starting to resemble the standout performer everyone saw this past spring. Freshman WILL linebacker Quinton Powell -- who spent much of the day running with the first-team defense alongside Lamar Dawson -- had a nice pass break-up in coverage on a toss over the middle to Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, and Williams recorded another sack.
On one of the wildest plays of fall camp, outside linebacker Charles Burks picked off a Wittek pass over the middle, only to fumble it. The defense wound up recovering the ball, but all 22 players on the field still had to run a lap after the play. Kessler came in and hit Isaac with a pass in stride for a pickup of more than 30 yards, and Dawson and Shaw combined for a sack on the last highlight play of the day.
Notables in attendance: Former USC head coach John Robinson and ESPN 300 Class of 2014 tight end Bryce Dixon (Saint Bonaventure/Ventura, Calif.).