USC Trojans: J.R. Tavai

USC roundtable: Impact, battles and more 

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
7:15
AM PT
The WeAreSC staffers discuss various topics related to the opening of USC Trojans fall camp practices next Monday.

Who will have the biggest camp impact? (offense/defense)

Garry Paskwietz: Steve Sarkisian says this will be a physical run-first offense and that should mean plenty of opportunities for Buck Allen to establish himself early as a critical piece of the system. The reigning Trojans MVP is in great shape and appears ready for that kind of role. On defense, Leonard Williams may be the most talented and Hayes Pullard is the most productive -- but in terms of impact, I'm going to go with Su'a Cravens. His athleticism should allow for him to make a lot of plays.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesThe Trojans' offense will run through quarterback Cody Kessler and tailback Javorius "Buck" Allen.
Johnny Curren: On offense, I'm going to go with Allen. The fourth-year junior tailback is in fantastic shape right now, and with Sarkisian showing a real desire to pound the ball on the ground, he should get plenty of chances to shine. On defense, Williams is the one to watch. Close to 100 percent after undergoing offseason surgery on his shoulder, there's every reason to believe he'll have an even bigger 2014 campaign than his season of 2013, when he garnered ESPN.com first-team All-America honors.

Greg Katz: Cody Kessler on offense. The Trojans' offense may have more explosive players, but the system doesn't work unless Kessler works, and he has been relentless in not only learning Sark's no-huddle, fast-paced offense but executing it and teaching others. Williams on defense. Teammates of the "Big Cat" know he played with pain in his shoulder last season and was never 100 percent. In the summer, however, it was darn scary just how must quicker and intense he was during voluntary workouts.

What will be the best position battle?

Paskwietz: The Trojans enter camp with no clear-cut starter at left guard and as many as four candidates for the job. The one veteran in the mix is Jordan Simmons, but he is coming off knee surgery last fall. The other three possibilities are all true freshmen in Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama. All are extremely talented, but all will be taking part in their first fall camp practices as Trojans, though Lobendahn did participate in spring drills.

Curren: I'm tempted to say the battle at Sam linebacker between Jabari Ruffin and Quinton Powell, but after seeing J.R. Tavai shine throughout the summer workouts, I'll go with the competition between he and Scott Starr at rush end. Both performers are excellent athletes who play physical and fast to the ball off the edge, and I look forward to watching them bring out the best in each other in fall camp.

Katz: Because of the importance of both offensive guard positions, one would have to lump this as a critical unit position battle. Whether starting senior right guard Aundrey Walker, coming off an ankle injury, and Simmons, coming off of a knee injury, at left guard can be physically in shape and hold up to the pace of the offense remains in question. What isn't in question are the true freshmen O-liners such as Lobendahn, who is a well advanced talent despite his inexperience.

Who will be the surprise player of camp?

Paskwietz: It's hard to call Adoree' Jackson a surprise player in anything when you consider he was the highest-rated recruit in this USC class. The surprise will come, however, in just how good he will be from the word go. And I'm not talking just at one spot, he will make a case for playing time on offense, defense and special teams.

Curren: I really liked what I saw out of Leon McQuay III, both in the spring as well as this past summer. He's going to really open some eyes in his role as the starting free safety. Having bulked up considerably since his freshman season, he's also played with a new level of confidence over the past six months.

As the Trojans move into the fourth week of spring ball drills, the coaches are still searching to balance the desire for physical play with the need to keep players healthy on a reduced roster.

[+] EnlargeShaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThe USC defense is likely to look much different in the fall with injured players like Josh Shaw back in action.
When Steve Sarkisian set the agenda for spring ball, he made it clear that one of his goals was to have all the injured players healthy for the fall. With injured veterans like Leonard Williams and Josh Shaw, the decision was made to sit them out entirely. And there was a lot of caution shown in terms of bringing other players back as well.

Sarkisian chose to focus a lot of attention this spring on the installation of new schemes on both sides of the ball, including morning walk-throughs and in-practice teaching sessions that would allow those injured players the opportunity to mentally stay with the rest of the team.

One of the trade-offs has been fewer opportunities for live tackling during practice, a concession that no coach wants to make but that sometimes can come into play. There were a few dozen live plays during a recent practice session at the Coliseum -- including a spirited Oklahoma drill -- and other isolated physical sessions, but they have been limited in scope.

“You would love to practice [live tackling] all the time, but you have to be smart about the way you do it,” USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “You work on tackling in controlled environments where you limit the number of bodies potentially going to the ground, you work that way in one-on-one drills, you work it on bags. But when you get to go live, you have to go. There’s nothing like live tackling.”

It’s not like the Trojans don’t have plenty of opportunities to tackle if they want. Through nine days of spring ball, the new up-tempo offensive system has run more than 1,000 plays (more than 2,000 if you include morning walk-throughs), and there is an added benefit there as the defensive players must also adapt quickly to the new pace of play.

“The offense can have the advantage late in the game with the up-tempo,” Sarkisian said. “That’s why we practice this way, to prepare for games.”

That late-game advantage would be evident based on what Wilcox has seen so far from his defense.

“We have a tendency to start practices fast and we play well for the first half, but we don’t do as well in the second half,” Wilcox said. “That’s where we have to continue to emphasize finishing strong because the end of the game is when you get up there in play count. When you get to plays 100 to 120, that’s when you really need to sustain things mentally and that’s something we’ve got to work on. The effort has been good, we just have to get better. I would have thought through nine days that we would have it down pat and look great, but I don’t know if that’s reality.”

It would be natural to expect things to look better in the fall, especially when so many of the injured players return. In addition to starters such as Williams and Shaw, there are also players with starting experience like J.R. Tavai, Lamar Dawson and Anthony Brown who are expected back in action.

In the meantime, other players will continue to fill in during the last two weeks of spring to get as much experience as they can.

“With the injured guys out, there’s some guys taking reps right now who won’t be getting reps in the fall,” Wilcox said. “But that’s OK, we need everybody and you’re always looking to build on your depth. It’s a chance for those guys to show us something to maybe earn a bigger role.”
After a break in action, USC returns to Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Tuesday to pick up where it left off after a promising first week of spring drills under Steve Sarkisian.

Much was revealed during those initial three workouts, and here are three key things to keep an eye on as the Trojans go through the remaining practice schedule in March and April.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler has adjusted well to USC's uptempo offense this spring.
The continued development of the players in the new systems

Week 1 was all about an uptempo pace as the players got their feet wet in new offensive and defensive schemes at a frenetic pace. To their credit, they appeared to adapt to it all in lightning-quick fashion.

And so, the big question now is just how much further can they come over the course of the next four weeks?

On offense, the progression of the passing game should be particularly interesting to watch. Both Cody Kessler and Max Browne performed solidly in Sarkisian’s hurry-up, shotgun-based offense. As they continue to grow at ease in the new system and develop more chemistry with their receivers, there’s reason to believe the aerial attack has the potential to really take off.

On the other side of the ball, Justin Wilcox’s 3-4 multiple-front defense has been a hit so far, due in large part to some outstanding play in the trenches. The front seven shined throughout the first week, even with Leonard Williams standing on the sideline due to injury. With unique size on the interior and hulking contributors like Delvon Simmons, Antwaun Woods, Kenny Bigelow and Claude Pelon combined with exciting athletes on the outside, this unit should get better and better this spring.

In the secondary, even with Josh Shaw out of action, Keith Heyward’s group has been making some impressive plays in coverage -- something they struggled to do under the prior regime. Will that trend continue? We’ll soon find out.

Competition, competition, competition

When Sarkisian took the reins in early December, one thing he stressed was that virtually every position would be up for grabs. He wanted to create an atmosphere of competition. And with one week of practice in the books, it’s safe to say that is precisely what's happened.

A number of tightly contested position battles have taken shape, none garnering more attention than the one at quarterback between Browne, Kessler and early-entrant freshman Jalen Greene. With some added bulk to his frame and an increased level of confidence, Browne really opened eyes with his play in Week 1, but that doesn’t mean Kessler backed down an inch. A vocal leader of the team, Kessler did a great job of directing the offense down the field with frequent success. He had the poise and command you’d expect from a veteran with 14 starts under his belt. Greene has displayed flashes at times, although he’s taken noticeably fewer snaps than his counterparts, both of whom appear to have a sizeable lead on him in this race.

On defense, the competitions for the two spots on the edge of the line have been the highlight so far. Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin are duking it out at SAM linebacker, with Scott Starr and J.R. Tavai battling at rush end. In Week 1, it was Powell and Starr running exclusively with the No. 1 unit, but, really, all four contenders have stood out at times.

Some previously hidden players have also begun to emerge as they’ve received somewhat of a golden opportunity to show what they can do in the new schemes. Powell and Starr are two such examples, as are tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, guard Khaliel Rodgers, tackle Nathan Guertler, cornerback Chris Hawkins and defensive end Simmons.

How physical will Sarkisian allow it to get?

With a new staff in place and a depleted roster (NCAA sanctions) made even more so because of a number of injuries, Sarkisian indicated when he took over at USC that he might not push the envelope too much when it came to live hitting this spring. That was certainly the case in the first week. But as the team progresses through the schedule this month and next, will we see the pads popping with greater frequency at any point?

There are certainly some added benefits that could come with more physical workouts, but there are drawbacks as well. Finding the perfect combination isn’t as easy as it might sound. Just ask Lane Kiffin.

Stay away from full-contact drills completely and you risk fielding a defense that could get pushed around and has tackling issues. That was the case in 2012.

But USC still lacks depth, and if you allow more hitting, you also run the risk of more players getting injured. That happened in 2013.

It’s a decision that could ultimately play a major role in shaping the identity of the team down the line, so it will be interesting to see which way Sarkisian goes here.

Offense shines on Day 2

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
9:56
PM PT
After the defense stood out in the team’s first practice session under Steve Sarkisian on Tuesday, the new USC head coach said the offense stole the show on Day 2 of the Trojans’ spring practice.

“I thought the offense created some explosive plays in the second practice which weren’t there in the first practice,” Sarkisian said. “And so, like I’m used to on this practice field, one side of the ball can get the better of the other on one day, and then you come back the next practice and the other side can get the better of them. I thought the defense had a great Tuesday [and] I thought the offense came out and created some explosive plays today. It was kind of their turn.”

In particular, it was the play of quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Browne -- who are entrenched in a position battle -- that really caught the eye of Sarkisian. Directing the team’s brand new uptempo, shotgun-based offense, both signal callers split the bulk of snaps during the 7-on-7 and team periods, with each contender completing deep passes downfield on a number of occasions.

“I thought they played well today,” Sarkisian said. “I think that they’re starting to recognize the speed coming out of Tuesday’s practice of how fast things go, and how quickly they have to recognize fronts and coverages, and making those quick decisions -- similar to how a point guard would have to make quick decisions on a basketball court. And I thought both Cody and Max were much better at that today.”

And even though the third member of the quarterback competition, early entry freshman Jalen Greene, didn’t see as much action as his counterparts, he came up with a big play of his own when he completed a 35-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to Darreus Rogers, and it certainly didn’t go unnoticed by Sarkisian.

“[He took] a little less reps, but to Jalen’s credit he goes in and throws a touchdown pass,” Sarkisian said. “He’ll get plenty of reps. We’ve got 13 more [practices] to go, so he’ll get his time. We just felt like it was important to get Cody and Max some extended reps in today’s practice.”

Cope-Fitzpatrick makes a big impression

No player benefitted more from the performance of the quarterbacks than junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. With Randall Telfer sidelined due to injury, the former Rocklin (Calif.) Whitney standout is currently the only active scholarship tight end available for the Trojans. To his credit, he’s taken advantage of the increased opportunity this spring, particularly on Thursday.

Showcasing soft hands, Cope-Fitzpatrick hauled in a number of passes all over the field, and he was especially in sync with Kessler. With Sarkisian having shown at Washington that he isn’t afraid to use the tight end as a major weapon in his offense, he was encouraged by what he saw from Cope-Fitzpatrick on Thursday.

“In this system we love to utilize the tight end, and a lot of time multiple tight ends,” Sarkisian said. “I think Jalen has really focused himself on trying to come out and have a good spring. I thought he was really attentive and locked in on Tuesday, and then he got opportunities today to make plays down the field, and he made them. I think that’s what he’s capable of. He’s an athletic guy, he’s got tremendous ball skills and I think he’s seen a real opportunity to step up and make plays and he’s doing it.”

Notes and quotes

• Following practice defensive back Josh Shaw, who is still sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot and is wearing a boot, said that he will line up at cornerback in 2014.

J.R. Tavai saw extensive time with the first-team defense at defensive end on Thursday, where Kenny Bigelow lined up for the majority of Tuesday’s practice. Tavai had run primarily with the second unit on the outside at rush end on Tuesday.

• Among those in attendance were Class of 2014 signees Viane Talamaivao, Damien Mama, Chris Brown and Ajene Harris, Class of 2015 defensive lineman Rasheem Green and USC and NFL greats Keyshawn Johnson and Ronnie Lott.

• The next practice is on Saturday, but the team will be in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets, and it will not be in a scrimmage setting as some might have assumed. In fact, Sarkisian said that he isn’t sure that the team will hold any scrimmages in the traditional sense this spring.

“I don’t know if we’re ever going to come out and have a two-hour scrimmage. I don’t know if we benefit from that,” he said. “But there will be portions of our practice that will be live, that will be scrimmage oriented, and I think that will allow us to tackle, it will allow us to cut block, it will allow us to learn from those things, but not be so overly fatigued to where guys can start getting injured.”

Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: Coach Rich Rodriguez is confident in both Reggie Gilbert and Dan Pettinato and anxious to get junior-college transfers Jeff Worthy, who also spent a year at Boise State, and Jerod Cody acclimated to the system. Calvin Allen, Jack Banda and Luca Bruno are coming off redshirt seasons and represent a group Rodriguez said the team needs production from.

Arizona State: With the departure of Gannon Conway and Davon Coleman, there is a question about the team's depth at end. Without Will Sutton clogging things up next year, the Sun Devils' lack of experience is even more of a concern. Sean O'Grady backed up Conway and Coleman last year, but ASU has several well-regarded junior-college transfers in Edmond Boateng, Marcus Hardison and Demetrius Cherry.

California: The Bears list seven defensive ends, but former junior-college transfer Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa gained the most experience last season listed at the rush position. Antione Davis was outgoing starter Dan Camporeale's primary backup, but Brennan Scarlett's return is more important. He started nine games in 2012 and has been cleared to play following a hand issue that cost him the 2013 season. Todd Barr, Sione Sina and recent-transfer Jonathan Johnson are also in the mix.

Colorado: Colorado must replace Chidera Uzo-Diribe, but Juda Parker is back for his senior season, and several others have game experience. Samson Kafovalu is the likely candidate to start opposite him after making 18 tackles in seven games last year. Jimmie Gilbert was Uzo-Diribe's backup, Kirk Poston and De'Jon Wilson also played.

Oregon: The Ducks took a hit with the departure of Taylor Hart, who was named second-team All-Pac-12, but have a talented player in Arik Armstead lined up to take his spot. Armstead started five times in 2013 and left the basketball team midseason to shift his focus back to football. T.J. Daniel, Jason Sloan are projected to be in the mix for playing time.

Oregon State: Scott Crichton is gone, but Dylan Wynn remains and will likely be the Beavers' best defensive player a year after finishing fourth on the team in tackles. Lavonte Barnett, Crichton's primary backup in 2013, and Jaswha James figure to compete for the starting job, but there are two others to keep an eye on. Obum Gwacham recently switched from receiver and Mike Riley has been complimentary of Titus Failauga, who is coming off his redshirt.

Stanford: Henry Anderson has a chance to be one of the best defensive players in the conference and Blake Lueders, who switched from OLB, began the spring atop the depth chart. The intriguing prospect is Luke Kaumatule, who was recruited to play defense but began 2013 as the team's starting tight end. Spring will be important for his development, but his raw ability is impressive.

UCLA: Both Ellis McCarthy and Eddie Vanderdoes were all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season and highlight a talented UCLA defensive line. Their return will help account for the loss of Cassius Marsh, who started 12 games last year. Both McCarthy and Vanderdoes can play inside or outside, but the Bruins listed them both at end. Highly recruited DE Kylie Fitts saw playing time as a true freshman last season, and Keenan Graham and Brandon Willis will provide depth.

USC: Leonard Williams, the only sophomore named first-team all-Pac-12 on defense last season, is the best in the conference. Delvon Simmons, who sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech, has a lot of game experience. He started 12 games for the Red Raiders in 2012 and had regular playing time as a freshman there in 2011. Both Simmons and J.R. Tavai, who was an all-Pac-12 honorable mention selection, can play inside or outside.

Utah: There's no replacing Trevor Reilly, who made 100 tackles despite lingering effects from a torn ACL, but Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick both saw extensive playing time last season. The Utes have five other defensive ends on the roster, but of that group only LT Filiaga made a tackle last season.

Washington: The Huskies are in great shape with the return of Hau'oli Kikaha, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, Cory Littleton and Evan Hudson. Josh Shirley has 10 career starts, while Joe Mathis and Psalm Wooching provide depth.

Washington State: With Toni Pole expected to move back inside, the depth chart will look similar to how it did going into last season, minus Matt Bock. After making 50 tackles last year, Xavier Cooper will start on one side, with Destiny Vaeao and Lyman Faoliu strong candidates for more playing time. Emmitt Su'a-Kalio is coming off a redshirt, and the Cougars also signed a pair of defensive ends from Hawaii in Kingston Fernandez and Hercules Mata'afa.

Previous positions

Tight end
Quarterback
Running back
Receiver
Offensive line
Defensive tackle
The upcoming spring practice sessions will be the first official opportunity for Steve Sarkisian and staff to view the players on the field, and the coaches have been clear that they want to see the players in action before determining certain position spots.

Here are five versatile players who could end up at different spots, depending on how things play out on the field:

[+] EnlargeSu'a Cravens
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIFreshman All-American Su'a Cravens could move up from safety to linebacker if necessary.
DB Josh Shaw: In 2013, it was clear the best thing for the USC defense was to have Shaw at corner. There were a lot of early-season issues with the pass defense that seemingly melted away once Shaw returned to corner for good but that was 2013. It remains to be seen if 2014 will mean Shaw is at corner because there is a good chance he will be needed at safety, too, particularly if Su'a Cravens moves to linebacker. With Kevon Seymour appearing set as one starting corner, the coaches may project someone like Adoree' Jackson as a possibility to work in at the other spot in the fall, which could free up Shaw to get a look at safety. There is also the need for a new slot corner with the departure of Dion Bailey.

DB Su’a Cravens: There has been a lot of message board chatter about the possibility of Cravens being put in the same type of outside linebacker/rover role that Shaq Thompson played in the Washington defense last season. Both have similar frames and unique athletic ability so it’s not a stretch to think the coaches might look at such a move. Cravens was a freshman All-American safety last season so you could always keep him at that spot if a switch doesn’t work out, but any move that gets Cravens closer to the line of scrimmage would seem to make sense.

DL J.R. Tavai: There aren’t too many defensive linemen who have shown the versatility of Tavai in his USC career, as he has seen time at defensive tackle, defensive end and stand-up outside linebacker. And he has done them all well. That’s a nice piece for the coaches to work with this spring, as they have a lot of open spots to fill up front and some good depth along the interior. It should allow them to be flexible with how they use Tavai.

OL Max Tuerk: In his two seasons at USC, Tuerk has started games at left tackle, left guard and right tackle and even had a brief tryout last spring at center. That’s a dream scenario for a coach when a guy, who is arguably your most talented o-lineman, can hold his own across the board. Right now Tuerk is scheduled to get his first look this spring at right tackle to replace three-year starter Kevin Graf, but with a new position coach in Tim Drevno, don’t rule out the possibility of multiple position looks for Tuerk, as the coaches search for the best combination of starters.

RB Tre Madden: I just want to be clear that I think Madden is a running back, and I don’t see him switching positions. However, for the sake of this conversation, what happens if the Trojans fall a bit short of what they are looking for at one of the linebacker spots? There is an abundance of tailbacks right now, and Madden showed the ability to start as a true freshman on defense. USC definitely isn't looking to move the guy who was picking up 100-yard games left and right to open the 2013 season, but it’s nice to know such a talented option is there, if needed.

2013 review: USC defense

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
6:00
AM PT
Determined to find a greater level of success against those uptempo, spread offenses that have shredded USC in recent years, Clancy Pendergast was brought in this past offseason by Lane Kiffin to replace his father, Monte Kiffin, as the team’s defensive coordinator. Installing a vastly different defense, both in terms of look and philosophy, this unit showed tremendous improvement, ranking No. 1 in the Pac-12 in passing defense and No. 2 in rushing defense.

Defensive line

A fast and attacking bunch, the Trojans defensive line spearheaded a defense that compiled an impressive 91 tackles for loss, including 35 sacks.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSophomore defensive end Leonard Williams had an All-American season.
Headlining the group was defensive end Leonard Williams. A 6-foot-5 sophomore with off-the-charts physical tools, he had arguably the best season of any Trojan, ranking No. 2 on the team with 74 tackles, including 13.5 for a loss, on his way to garnering ESPN.com First Team All-American honors.

Fourth-year junior George Uko lined up opposite Williams at the other end spot, compiling 36 tackles and five sacks of his own, and Antwaun Woods did a solid job at nose tackle when the Trojans went to their 5-2 look. He also took reps at end on occasion.

The outside linebackers emerged as a key piece of the puzzle in the new defensive scheme, with SAM linebacker Devon Kennard and Predator linebacker Morgan Breslin providing steady pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Kennard, who has played everywhere from middle linebacker to defensive end in his career, finally found his niche standing up on the outside, pacing the Trojans with nine sacks. Breslin, who made a huge impact in 2012 as a junior college transfer, had his season cut short because of a hip injury, though he still managed to record 4.5 sacks in five games. Sliding into the lineup for Breslin midway through the season was J.R. Tavai, who had spent the entirety of his career on the interior. An exceptional athlete with unique football instincts, his standout play allowed the defense to continue on its forward path without a hitch.

Jabari Ruffin, Marquis Simmons, Scott Starr and Kevin Greene were others who played at outside linebacker.

Inside linebackers

Under the direction of first-year coach Mike Ekeler, the inside linebackers set the tone as a group that played with a high level of physicality, with fourth-year junior MIKE linebacker Hayes Pullard serving as the leader. Racking up 14 tackles against UCLA, he finished with a team-best 94 stops.

After a spirited competition with sophomore Anthony Sarao in the spring, junior Lamar Dawson emerged as the starter at WILL linebacker, recording 35 tackles before going down with a torn ACL during an October practice. With Dawson sidelined, Sarao stepped in and looked right at home, showcasing a nonstop motor and a nose for the ball.

Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell are freshman reserves who figure to factor heavily into the equation down the line.

Secondary

It was an up-and-down season for a secondary that struggled at times in coverage, particularly at cornerback. They did end on a high note, helping to corral Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and the nation’s No. 1 passing attack in the Trojans' 45-20 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory.

[+] Enlarge Josh Shaw
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsJosh Shaw, a natural safety, responded well at cornerback, often covering a team's top receiver.
Kevon Seymour was one of the primary starters at cornerback. An athletic-looking sophomore who arrived at USC in 2012 with plenty of hype, he was victimized at times this year by opposing offenses, but he certainly finished up strong in the bowl matchup, collecting a team-best seven tackles on his way to earning defensive outperformer of the game honors.

With Torin Harris and a hobbled Anthony Brown unable to provide stability in starting opportunities, Josh Shaw, a natural safety, found himself sitting atop the depth chart at the opposite cornerback spot for the second consecutive season. Commonly pitted against the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver, he did a nice job of containing elite pass-catchers such as Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and Colorado’s Paul Richardson, finishing up with four interceptions to go along with 67 stops.

Ryan Henderson, Ryan Dillard and Devian Shelton also saw brief time at cornerback.

While the situation was somewhat muddled at cornerback during the early stages, it immediately became apparent that the Trojans had a wealth of talent at safety. Fourth-year junior Dion Bailey, who made the switch from linebacker to safety, more than proved himself at nickelback. Announcing Monday that he will forgo his senior season to enter this May’s NFL draft, he paced the Trojans with five interceptions.

With Shaw settling in at cornerback, senior Demetrius Wright was the primary starter at free safety. Having been buried on the depth chart for much of his career, he stepped into his new role and was solid. At strong safety, the impact of freshman Su’a Cravens was a revelation. One of those rare playmakers who only comes around so often, he played more like a seasoned veteran than a green, first-year performer, and there’s no doubt that he has a bright future.

Another freshman, Leon McQuay III, also earned valuable playing time. He also looks primed for a big 2014 campaign. Senior Gerald Bowman played sparingly early, but was ultimately sidelined with a shoulder injury and will be back next season after redshirting.

Pac-12 names all-conference team

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
12:50
PM PT
The Pac-12 has announced its first- and second-team all-conference squads and postseason awards for 2013.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Ka'Deem Carey was the only unanimous first-team pick.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey has been named the league's offensive player of the year. Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton joins an elite fraternity, earning his second straight Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Washington's Steve Emtman is the only other player to win the league's defensive player of the year award in back to back years (1990-1991).

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

Honorable mention

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.
Tags:

USC Trojans, Stanford Cardinal, Pac-12, Oregon Ducks, Dion Bailey, Marqise Lee, Su'a Cravens, Xavier Grimble, Marcus Martin, Ellis McCarthy, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, California Bears, Colorado Buffaloes, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Stanford Cardinal, UCLA Bruins, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, Keith Price, Shaq Thompson, Andrus Peat, Byron Marshall, Isaac Seumalo, Brett Hundley, Davon Coleman, A.J. Tarpley, Ty Montgomery, Tyler Gaffney, Bryce Treggs, Paul Richardson, George Uko, J.R. Tavai, Devon Kennard, Sean Parker, Cody Kessler, Hayes Pullard, Kevin Graf, River Cracraft, Soma Vainuku, Nelson Agholor, leonard williams, Sean Mannion, Todd Graham, Marquis Flowers, Taylor Kelly, Kris Albarado, Jayon Brown, Eddie Vanderdoes, Brandin Cooks, Deandre Coleman, Marcus Mariota, Thomas Duarte, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Shayne Skov, Alex Redmond, Ed Reynolds, Ben Gardner, Kevin Danser, Ka'Deem Carey, Scott Crichton, Trevor Reilly, Will Sutton, Bishop Sankey, Marcus Peters, Danny Shelton, Bralon Addison, Tyler Johnstone, Chris Coyle, Marion Grice, Chris Young, Carl Bradford, Randall Goforth, Alden Darby, Anthony Barr, Evan Finkenberg, Cassius Marsh, Eric Kendricks, Jake Brendel, Steven Nelson, Andrew Furney, Jaelen Strong, Sean Covington, Myles Jack, Javorius Allen, Anthony Jefferson, De'Marieya Nelson, Devin Fuller, Shaq Evans, Tenny Palepoi, David Yankey, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Trent Murphy, Jared Goff, Dres Anderson, Deone Bucannon, Elliott Bosch, Rashaad Reynolds, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Hroniss Grasu, Mike Criste, Jordan Richards, Ryan Murphy, Gannon Conway, Tony Washington, Derrick Malone, Keith McGill, Jordan Zumwalt, Andy Phillips, Vincenzo D'Amato, Addison Gillam, Damante Horton, Tevin Hood, Josh Mauro, Hau'oli Kikaha, Tom Hackett, Robert Nelson, Scooby Wright, Connor Hamlett, Jared Tevis, Travis Coons, Henry Anderson, Alex Carter, Cameron Fleming, Dexter Charles, Erick Dargan, Fabian Moreau, Grant Enger, Jamil Douglas, Jason Whittingham, Joe Hemschoot, Khalil Wilkes, Micah Hatchie, Mike Adkins, Nate Phillips, Osahan Irabor, Ryan Hoffmeister, Taylor Hart, Terron Ward, Vyncent Jones, Wade Keliikipi, Will Oliver, Zane Gonzales

Planning for success: USC

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
5:00
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Ed Orgeron didn’t waste any time in getting to the heart of USC’s matchup against Stanford on Saturday.

“This is gonna be a line of scrimmage game,” the interim head coach said after the Trojans practice on Tuesday.

There’s no secret about what the Cardinal are looking to do these days. They are going to line up on offense and run the football behind a talented and aggressive offensive line, while often employing additional linemen or tight ends to supplement their blocking efforts. The Stanford defense is particularly strong against the run, as it gives up less than 100 rushing yards per game.

[+] EnlargeStanford Cardinals
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezThe sight of Stanford celebrating has been familiar to USC fans, as the Cardinal have won four in a row and five out of six against the Trojans.
The emphasis on a physical identity from the Cardinal -- which started under Jim Harbaugh and has continued with David Shaw -- also coincides with a stretch of good fortune against the Trojans. Stanford has won four in a row against USC and five of the last six. For the Trojans to avoid a fifth straight loss there is no getting around the fact that they will need to win the battles on the line of scrimmage, and that isn’t something which has been easy to do against the Cardinal lately.

On offense, the Cardinal are very efficient, if not overwhelming. They average 32 points per game (No. 7 in the Pac-12) and are No. 11 in the conference with 388 total yards per game. They do average 205 yards on the ground each game -- No. 4 in the conference -- and only give up a nation-leading three tackles for loss per game. The Cardinal have only given up nine sacks on the season.

The Trojans will counter with a strong defensive front that is among the top 25 nationally in sacks (3.1 per game) and tackles for loss (7.1 per game). One of the keys for USC all season has been the play of defensive end Leonard Williams along the interior of the line. Williams is second on the team in tackles (56) and leads the Trojans in tackles for loss with 11 but has been hampered by a shoulder injury that caused him to sit out the California game last week.

USC is already without the services of Morgan Breslin, one of the leading pass rushers in the nation, who is out for the season with a hip injury, so depth could be a concern in such a physical contest. J.R. Tavai has proven to be a versatile reserve who could sub in for either Breslin or Williams as needed. Devon Kennard has been a steady force all year at the OLB spot opposite Breslin, leading the Trojans with eight sacks.

Things don’t get any easier for the Trojans on offense when facing the Cardinal defensive line. Stanford leads the Pac-12 in giving up only 98.7 rushing yards on the ground per game and is also stingy in scoring defense (19.4 points per game) and total defense (348.8 yards per game), ranking in the top 20 of the nation in both categories.

Stanford is also missing a key defender, as defensive end Ben Gardner is out for the season with an arm injury, but there is still plenty of talent. OLB Trent Murphy leads the Pac-12 in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (14), while defensive end Henry Anderson returned last week after missing six weeks with an injury.

While Stanford is very tough to run against, the Trojans will look to get balance while relying on Javorius Allen and Ty Isaac, as Silas Redd and Tre Madden are questionable due to injury. What is known is that all the scholarship wide receivers are available and all the tight ends got practice time this week. Look for the Trojans to keep the tight ends in a lot to help with pass protection while taking some shots with Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor in the passing game.

There might be some big plays with Lee and Agholor, or with Stanford WR Ty Montgomery, but that’s not where this game will be won. It will be won in the trenches, at the line of scrimmage. The Trojans know that and Stanford knows that. Now it’s just a matter of hitting the field on Saturday to see who can get the job done.

Five things: USC at California

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
7:00
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Five things to watch for USC against the California Golden Bears (noon PT):

1. No let-up: The Trojans picked up an emotional victory last week on the road at Oregon State and next week will be a prime-time showdown in the Coliseum against No. 5 Stanford. Sandwiched between those two games is Cal, a team that is struggling with only a single win against FCS Portland State and seven consecutive losses. After early season issues of their own, Ed Orgeron is doing a good job of keeping the USC players focused on enjoying the day-to-day process right now, so it’s not likely they will be caught looking ahead.

2. Injuries: It’s not a USC preview piece these days unless you talk about injuries. The latest bit of bad news came this week with the announcement that Morgan Breslin will have hip surgery and is out for the remainder of the regular season. Breslin has been the best pass rusher on the team for the past two years, so he’s not a guy you want out of the lineup for the final stretch. Look for the Trojans to use J.R. Tavai and Jabari Ruffin to help fill that spot, although Tavai might need to replace Leonard Williams if the star defensive end cannot play because of a bad shoulder that held him out of two practices this week.

3. Cal passing game vs USC secondary: The Bears hang their hat on the passing game in the Bear Raid offense of Sonny Dykes. They are going with a true freshman quarterback this year in Jared Goff, who has put up some big numbers but has also made some predictable, true-freshman mistakes. Goff is No. 8 nationally in passing yards per game and has some good receivers, but the USC corner situation seems to have stabilized with the move of Josh Shaw and the healthy status of Kevon Seymour.

4. USC run game: The Trojans found a lot of success last week running the ball with both Silas Redd and Buck Allen gaining more than 133 yards behind some good blocking from the offensive line. The Bears rank last in the Pac-12 in three major categories, so it stands to reason that USC will look to get things going on the ground again this week. One area to watch on the line will be the status of right tackle Kevin Graf, who has been battling an ankle injury. Orgeron has said Graf will start if he can play. If he cannot, Max Tuerk will move to right tackle and John Martinez will start at left guard.

5. Pendergast factor: After spending the last three years as the defensive coordinator at Cal, Clancy Pendergast has a good working knowledge of many of the Bears' players. He might not know the new offense as well, but the knowledge of the players will certainly play some kind of benefit for the Trojans. Pendergast has the USC defense ranked among the national top 25 in 10 categories.

Five things: USC-Oregon State 

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
9:00
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Five things to watch for the USC Trojans against Oregon State:

1. Figuring out Reser: The reason there is so much being made about the recent USC struggles in Corvallis is because the Trojans have struggled a lot in Corvallis. The Beavers have beaten the Trojans in the last three meetings at Reser Stadium, including some dramatic upset victories over highly ranked USC teams. The Trojans come in as the underdog in this matchup as they try to reverse recent history in a hostile environment.

2. Slow down Mannion: OSU quarterback Sean Mannion leads the nation’s top-ranked passing attack and he is going to be throwing the ball a lot. Mannion averages nearly 50 pass attempts a game and many of them go to Brandin Cooks, the nation’s leading receiver. The Trojans will need to get pressure up front, something the Stanford Cardinal did in their victory over the Beavers last week. USC will be without leading sack-man Morgan Breslin but look for Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard and J.R. Tavai to pick up the slack.

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QB controversy coming in 2014? 

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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They’re only college football opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

• The head coach is obviously the biggest issue for USC in 2014, but what about the quarterback? Has Cody Kessler played well enough to secure the job, or will talented redshirt-freshman-to-be Max Browne get first shot? It will certainly be an interesting decision.


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Planning for success: USC

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
5:00
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With the way the USC secondary has performed at times this season, facing the top-ranked passing attack in the country would figure to be a post-Halloween fright night for the Trojans.

That is exactly what awaits the USC defense on Friday night as Sean Mannion and the Oregon State offense come into the game averaging a nation-leading 420.8 yards per game. If guys such as Taylor Kelly from Arizona State and Tommy Rees from Notre Dame can have success throwing the ball against the Trojans, what will Mannion and company be expected to do?

[+] EnlargeShaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC is hoping that the move of Josh Shaw from safety to cornerback can help it defend Oregon State's top-ranked passing attack.
The Trojans will look to answer that question in two primary ways.

One is the move of Josh Shaw from safety back to cornerback. Shaw has seen time at both spots in his USC career, but the defense seems to perform better when he lines up at corner. Shaw will be joined in the starting lineup by Kevon Seymour, who has been playing well after battling injuries early in the season.

It will be important to watch how the move of Shaw impacts the rotation at safety, especially since the Trojans will be in nickel package for much of the game. The normal starters would be Dion Bailey and Su'a Cravens. Both are likely to play, but they have missed practice time this week due to injuries. USC fans can expect to see a lot of Demetrius Wright and Leon McQuay III after both played well last week against Utah.

The second key will be to get pressure on Mannion to disrupt his timing. That’s easy to say, but not always easy to do. Mannion averages nearly 50 pass attempts a game and completes close to 70 percent of them, throwing 30 touchdown passes to only three interceptions.

The Beavers’ offensive line had done a solid job protecting Mannion for the most part by allowing only nine sacks through the first seven games before allowing eight sacks to Stanford last week. The Trojans are No. 10 nationally in sacks but will be without their sack leader, as Morgan Breslin will miss the game with a hip injury. The Trojans will look to J.R. Tavai to fill in for Breslin. In the two games that Tavai has started for Breslin he has totaled 21 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Leonard Williams and Devon Kennard will also look to play big roles for the USC front seven.

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.

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.

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