USC Trojans: John Baxter

Guertler helping USC out at tight end 

November, 7, 2013
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LOS ANGELES -- With the USC Trojans’ sudden dearth of tight ends due to injuries suffered in the Notre Dame game, it was out of desperation that junior walk-on offensive tackle Nathan Guertler was converted to tight end, and the results couldn’t be more satisfying.

Josh RosenBlair Angulo/ESPNESPN Junior 300 quarterback Josh Rosen is a big target for USC, which has struck out on 2014 quarterback prospects so far.

BELLFLOWER, Calif. -- Before leaving the USC campus on Friday night, interim head coach Ed Orgeron told reporters it was time for the staff to become visible on the Los Angeles recruiting scene. He and assistant coach Tee Martin wasted no time following the evening practice session, heading directly to Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco for an intriguing matchup against Los Angeles Crenshaw.

Upon arrival, Orgeron did everything short of kissing babies.


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Roundtable: How will new staff work out? 

February, 28, 2013
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Now that the coaching staff is set, give your thoughts on the coaching moves and how you think the new staff will shake out.

Garry Paskwietz
I like the vast majority of the changes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. There had to be a change at the top, and the move from Monte Kiffin to Clancy Pendergast should be a good one.


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Grades: UCLA 38, USC 28

November, 17, 2012
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PASADENA, Calif. -- The USC Trojans (No. 18 BCS, No. 21 AP) started poorly, then rebounded, then played more mistake-ridden football in the second half and lost, 38-28, to the UCLA Bruins (No. 17 BCS, No. 17 AP) in a back-and-forth game at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

Here's a report card for the Trojans, who dropped to 7-4 overall and 5-4 in the Pac-12 with the loss.

GradePASSING ATTACK

Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee's crucial connections seemed off until late in Saturday's game, and that might be the single biggest reason why USC lost. Barkley's two picks were just puzzling, too, and they were both intended for Lee, so the Trojans didn't learn their lesson from last week. But Robert Woods did prove he can still catch the ball.

GradeRUSHING ATTACK

With Silas Redd still less than 100 percent, Curtis McNeal again stepped up and carried the ball nicely. Yet, as has been the case all year save for last week, he didn't get many opportunities early on. Would the game have ended differently if he had? We'll never know, but McNeal did finish with 158 yards.

GradeIN THE TRENCHES

One of the better games for both units, actually. The USC defensive line, led by Morgan Breslin, pressured Brett Hundley most of the game, and the O-line did a better-than-expected job protecting Barkley. The picks weren't because he had no time -- they were just bad decisions. Aundrey Walker was beaten badly on the hit that knocked Barkley out, though.

GradeDEFENSE

This really wasn't that bad. A lot of UCLA's points came directly off turnovers, and there's little the Trojans' defense could have done there. They held the Bruins plenty of times in the second half, and it wasn't their fault that the USC offense couldn't match UCLA. But Monte Kiffin will still be under fire come Monday.

GradeSPECIAL TEAMS

After two straight great special-teams games, John Baxter's unit regressed Saturday. There was a missed extra point, missed field goal, blocked field goal and blocked punt, and nothing positive from the Trojans to offset them. It's tough to expect a still-hurt Andre Heidari to convert a 44-yard field goal in that weather when his season long was 41.

GradeCOACHING

Yes, USC rebounded from a terrible start, to the coaches' credit, but hasn't that terrible start happened too many times this season to make it still-defensible? It sure seems like it. A stellar coaching job would involve getting your players ready before kickoff, not 30 minutes after it. What was Kiffin's motivation to avoid running so desperately until late in the game?

USC's special teams successes

September, 26, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- During each of Cal's field-goal attempts last Saturday at the Coliseum, USC's video board took on a bold proclamation and displayed it to the 83,000-plus fans in attendance.

"Welcome to the kick block capital of the world," the video board read.

USC sort of was that last season, as the Matt Kalil-led Trojans blocked four field-goal attempts and two point-after attempts. The NCAA record is six blocked field-goal tries in a single season.

But the Trojans have only blocked one attempt this year -- a 51-yarder from Stanford's Jordan Williamson in a losing effort. And they didn't come close to blocking any of Cal's on Saturday.

All that, though, is mostly irrelevant to USC coach Lane Kiffin, who loves the work his Trojans are doing on special teams under assistant John Baxter regardless of how many kick-blocks they record.

“To do what we’re doing on special teams, from a head-coaching perspective, you just love every minute of it,” Kiffin said Wednesday.

USC is having a lot of success. Through four games, the Trojans are first in the Pac-12 in kickoff returning and net punting. They have converted all three of their field-goal attempts and all 15 PAT's.

So there's only two things left to be desired on special-teams units, then: kickoff coverage, which has been an ongoing issue for USC since Kiffin arrived, and living up to the video-board proclamation.

It's hard to guess which one will be easier to fulfill.

Exit Interview: Ross Cumming 

January, 28, 2012
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Ross CummingsUSC Senior Ross Cumming entered the season as a reserve walk-on linebacker. He ended it as a key player at fullback who helped add a physicality to the Trojans' offense.

One of the unsung players for the 2011 USC team was senior linebacker/fullback/special teams performer Ross Cumming.

Cumming was a little-used senior linebacker heading into the season who had made his mark primarily on special teams, but the coaches moved him to fullback for the Arizona State game and his role steadily increased the rest of the year. Cumming is a hard-nosed and physical player so his style worked perfectly as a lead blocker for the Trojans offense. He even caught two passes for 16 yards and added 15 tackles on special teams en route to being named the USC Special Teams Player of the Year.

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