USC Trojans: Kevin Graf
The Pac-12 has 26 of the 98 early entrants in the NFL draft. That’s impressive. Some players are locks to get drafted. Others might have jumped the gun a bit and find themselves on practice squads or brushing up on their Canadian. We’ll see.
What we’re more concerned about here is who is going to replace them. Some answers are clearer than others. Some teams might have to alter their schemes just to account for a departed player.
Here’s a look at the possible replacement players in the Pac-12 South. We’ll look at the North later this morning.
Leaving: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona.
The replacement: Jared Baker should be in the mix, though an injury will keep him out of spring ball. He’s expected to return in time for fall camp. Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will also get looks. Speaking with folks at Arizona, the word right now is that it’s wide open. One player could emerge, or it could end up being a by-committee approach. Nothing is off the table at this point.
Leaving: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
The replacement: There really isn’t anyone who has Bradford’s skill set in the program yet, so the position is wide open. Viliami Latu has potential. So does Chans Cox, who was hurt a lot last season. They are also excited about incoming freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson. He might not be ready to jump in immediately, but he could be the Devil backer by 2015.
The replacement: It was probably going to be Jeff Thomas before he transferred. Now it’s probably going to be a rotation of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, or redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo or Elijah Dunston. Nelson Spruce has been solid, but he’s not the breakaway threat Richardson was. This will be a key spring battle to watch.
Leaving: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA
The replacement: Simon Goines should be back after starting six games at left tackle before an injury forced him out. Scott Quessenberry stepped in and played five games at left guard, which is where he’ll likely be next season with Goines back at tackle.
Leaving: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
The replacement: Leon McQuay III saw some playing time and is very highly regarded by the coaching staff. His contributions last season were mostly on special teams, but he’ll take on a larger role with Bailey’s departure.
Leaving: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The replacement: Remember George Farmer? He’s still around and could be in for a big season if healthy. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell both are promising, but both have missed time with injury. You never truly replace a Biletnikoff winner, but playing opposite a surging Nelson Agholor could help boost the production of whoever gets in the regular rotation.
Leaving: George Uko, DT, USC
The replacement: Transfer Delvon Simmons is coming off a redshirt season, as is freshman Kenny Bigelow. Both should get some serious looks, as this will be one of the hot position battles this spring. Someone will ultimately win the job, but expect a rotation with both next season.
Leaving: Marcus Martin, C, USC
The replacement: Lots of ifs here. It could be Max Tuerk moving over from guard, but he’ll also be in the mix for right tackle to replace Kevin Graf. Khaliel Rodgers redshirted and is an option at guard or center. Giovanni Di Poalo could also get a look.
Leaving: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
The replacement: Grimble and Randall Telfer were basically co-starters, so all this probably means is Telfer’s workload increases as he becomes the clear No. 1. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster.
Leaving: Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
The replacement: Westlee Tonga seems like the logical fit. He has been around for a few years and has some experience, but was injured most of last year. He’ll get another opportunity to be the lead tight end in the newest installment of Utah’s offense.
Such has long been the case for right tackle Kevin Graf, who grew up with a father, Allan, who won a national title for the Trojans in 1972 as an offensive guard and a brother, Derek, who started on the line for USC in the 2003 Orange Bowl victory over Iowa.
So when the disappointing 2012 season finally came to an end, and with Kevin having the option of leaving school early to turn pro, it really wasn’t much of a decision at all. Even though Graf had already earned a degree in communications, his strong feelings for the program wouldn’t allow him to leave.
“I was definitely wavering with the thought of coming out early,” Graf said. “But I didn’t want to leave on the note of where the program was at the end of last season. It’s too special of a place to me, it means way too much. This program last year didn’t do what this program has done before. We’re known for Rose Bowls, national titles and Heisman winners. I wanted to help bring that back.”
“This year was definitely a grind,” Graf said. “It was stressful but this team found a way to pull through, especially after Coach O took over. We showed how special this team is and how we can fight through anything. What we did this year is bigger than a Rose Bowl because we brought a program back to where it should be.”
The Trojans were a team under Lane Kiffin that was consumed with talk of roster restrictions and depth issues. But Ed Orgeron turned around the attitude and it resonated with the players in terms of attitude and performance. It was also the return of a familiar feeling for Graf.
“I got one year as a redshirt freshman under [Pete] Carroll where I got to see that USC and then it didn’t feel like SC for a couple years,” Graf said. “That first week when Coach O took over, against Arizona, it felt like SC again. The practices, the meeting rooms, the way we played, it felt like SC again. You saw guys hitting hard, talking trash, making long runs, great catches. It was the SC people knew and liked. It felt good to be a part of that.”
Instead of focusing on the negative impact of the NCAA sanctions, Graf thinks the reduced numbers might have actually helped the Trojans go on a 6-2 run under Orgeron to finish the season.
“The sanctions gave us a chance to get better,” Graf said. “We didn’t take reps off. First-team guys were out there the entire practice going hard against each other all day. That’s what helped us, I think, in becoming a physical team because we became accountable to each other.”
As the momentum picked up for the Trojans during the season, not only did the fans show their appreciation but the former USC players made it clear that they approved of what was going on.
“When you have Marcus Allen coming down on Thanksgiving morning to talk with us, you know what this program is all about,” Graf said. “He woke up at 6 in the morning to drive down from Santa Barbara so that he could tell us how proud he was of us. We had guys like Carson Palmer, Ron Yary and Anthony Munoz come around. That means a lot to me and a lot to this team. It shows a lot about what we did for this university in a short amount of time. For them to single you out and say “Hey, I’ve watched you play and I like what you’re doing”, it just makes you want to scream because you are so excited.”
As his USC career prepares to wind down, Graf, who will take part in the East-West Shrine Game in January, can know that his decision to come back for his senior year to help restore the program was a success and, in the process, his feelings for the program were re-affirmed.
“Coach O really made me believe in this place again, he really did,” Graf said. “I think he made a lot more people than me believe in it again too. It’s getting hard to think it’s coming to an end. I don’t think it’s really hitting me yet. It’s still hard to think that I’m never going to play in the Coliseum again. That’s weird to say. For me to know that I only get to wear that cardinal jersey one more time, that’s weird to say.
“I know it’s going to hit that emotional spot in me so I’m just trying to enjoy the time that I have left with these guys. I can’t wait to see what these guys do next year, they are all such special players and special guys that they’re going to do things SC is known for.”
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.
There are nine assistants whose livelihoods and potential family relocations might be at stake, pending the outcomes of the Colorado and UCLA games. It’s a tenuous position, as Trojans athletic director Pat Haden will soon make the difficult decision on the next USC head football coach, which will affect some, if not all, of the current assistants.
Be assured that Haden has empathy for Orgeron, his assistants, and their limbo status, as this coaching staff attempts to finish the regular season in spectacular fashion and state their case for further employment at USC.
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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.
What was most impressive part of USC's victory against Oregon State?
Johnny Curren: It was a phenomenal effort by tailbacks Javorius Allen and Silas Redd, as the Trojans amassed 242 rushing yards. But it wasn’t just the ball-carriers who made an impact. In fact, the performance of the offensive line might have been what was most impressive of all. Putting together their best outing of the season, they were an incredibly aggressive and cohesive unit. The lights-out night that Aundrey Walker had, in particular, was a positive development with an eye toward the rest of the season. If the USC ground game continues to roll like it did against OSU, there’s little doubt the Trojans will be finishing the 2013 campaign very strong.
Greg Katz: The most impressive part of the Trojans' victory was the way Ed Orgeron’s team kept its poise once the Beavers tied the game at 14-14. In the past, the Men of Troy might have folded at Reser Stadium, but this group was able to rise above the crowd noise, keep its composure and come right back to win going away. It was a major maturity step and possible turning point for the 2013 Trojans.
What is the key matchup of the USC-Cal game?
Paskwietz: USC vs. themselves. Things are going in a very positive direction right now for the Trojans, and on paper it doesn’t appear Cal should present an overwhelmingly tough matchup. But, as any college football fan knows, anything can happen on any given day. Think back to last year for the Trojans at the beginning of November when they hit the road for a game they were expected to win. If they had won in Arizona, it would have set up a huge showdown the following week at the Coliseum -- a very similar scenario to this year.
Curren: With Josh Shaw moving from safety to cornerback, the USC secondary has put together two consecutive solid outings after struggling at times earlier in the season, but it faces a big test this weekend in California’s uptempo, spread offense. Freshman quarterback Jared Goff leads a Golden Bears aerial attack that generates 351.1 passing yards per game -- the No. 8 mark in the FBS -- and he has three very talented receivers at his disposal in Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler. With very little else clicking for Cal on either side of the ball, if the Trojans’ defensive backfield can keep those wideouts corralled while also taking advantage of a Goff mistake here or there -- which he’s been known to make on occasion -- USC should run away with the game.
Katz: The key matchup will not only will be the performance of the Trojans offensive line against the Bears defensive front, but the actual lineup of cardinal and gold players. The Trojans right side of the line actually looked pretty good against Oregon State with Max Tuerk at right tackle filling in for veteran Kevin Graf, and right guard Aundrey Walker having his best game as a Trojan. On the left side, senior John Martinez played a good game. Can this unit with or without Graf (ankle) continue to grow and open up big holes for the Trojans' obvious wealth of tailback riches?
What was the most memorable moment from USC vs. Cal in Memorial Stadium?
Paskwietz: It's the 2007 game when both teams came in ranked in the top 25. The game was played in a hard-driving rain, and the Trojans were only able to throw for 129 yards. But senior tailback Chauncey Washington had the game of his career with 29 carries for 220 yards and a touchdown to lead USC to a 24-17 victory. Washington had spent two years on academic probation and had to pay his own way at USC, so to see him rewarded for his patience with a performance like that was truly memorable.
Curren: It wasn’t a positive memory for the Trojans, but the 2003 USC-Cal matchup was as drama-filled as it gets. In a game featuring an incredible three overtimes marked by wild and unpredictable plays, including a Hershel Dennis fumble, as well as a field-goal block by Gregg Guenther, the No. 3 Trojans wound up losing 34-31. The difference was a Tyler Fredrickson field goal. In looking back, the most significant thing to come from the game was that it really marked a turning point of sorts under Pete Carroll, as the Trojans would go on to win an incredible 34 consecutive games following that defeat.
Katz: Unfortunately for Trojans fans it would be the 2003 triple-overtime loss to the Bears. The Dennis fumble and the game-winning 38-yard field goal by Frederickson in OT was at the time a killer. However, it seems that painful loss was inspirational the rest of the way, as former Trojans head coach Pete Carroll never again lost to Cal during his marvelous tenure.
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It was the most complete game that USC has played in years. The defense did a great job against the top statistical passing game in the nation, including three interceptions, which was the total that Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion had coming into the game. The offense had tremendous balance with 242 yards rushing and 247 yards passing. It was the best play calling yet from Clay Helton.
As important as anything, however, was the way in which the Trojans physically dominated on both sides of the ball. For a team that has struggled with injuries and has thrilled in recent weeks to take any win no matter how it happened, this game was one to enjoy for its physical beauty.
It was somewhat unexpected too.
The Trojans defensive front had been solid coming into the game but they were without leading sack-man Morgan Breslin and Mannion had proven to be tough to rattle. Not only did the Trojans get two sacks but they added nine pressures in addition to the critical interceptions -- two of them at or near the end zone -- and they also held Mannion and leading receiver Brandin Cooks well below their nation-leading averages.
The Trojans offensive line had been in a state of flux after an injury to Kevin Graf resulted in three players seeing time at new positions. USC was also limited at tight end. Regular starter Xavier Grimble tried to go but for most of the game it ended up being walk-in tackle Nathan Guertler filling in and doing a very commendable job in the blocking department.
The USC running game was coming off a net 30-yard performance the week before against Utah and it was clear early on against the Beavers that leading rusher Tre Madden was not going to be available due to injury. Not a problem for Silas Redd and Buck Allen.
Redd set the tone with his physical runs gaining big chunks of yardage. Then Allen would spring in and use his combination of speed and slashing ability to keep things going.
There was no better example of what kind of day this was going to be for the Trojans on the ground than early in the second quarter after Oregon State had pulled to a 14-14 tie. It was the kind of moment when you need to rely on the run game to settle things down. The Trojans went on a 10-play drive -- eight of them on the ground -- to score what would prove to be the game-winning points.
More importantly, it was the kind of drive where the Trojans realized they could impose their will. Momentum had been completely on the side of the Beavers at the start of the drive but the Trojans stole it right back with a physical ball-control drive.
For the second time this season, the Trojans also saw the emergence of a two-headed weapon at tailback. Early in the year it was Madden and true freshman Justin Davis but now, thanks to injuries to both, the opportunity has been presented to Redd and Allen and both took advantage on Friday night.
As the Trojans continue to ride this wave of emotion under interim coach Ed Orgeron, this latest physical performance can only offer encouragement for what is possible in the coming weeks. The next game offers an opponent that is struggling and an opportunity for USC to get back more bodies from the injured list. If the Trojans can build upon what took place in Corvallis, you never know what might be in store for this team in the final stretch of the season
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.
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.
If these Trojans players can somehow rebound against Utah on Saturday at the Coliseum and maintain momentum the rest of the way, anything is still possible when it comes to USC’s interim head coach. If the Trojans can win the games they’re supposed to win, including obvious uphill challenges against Stanford and UCLA, the impossible can still become the possible.
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USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron comments
Painful: "Well, we have a hurt team in there. They gave it everything they had. I was really proud of our football team and our players and our coaching staff. Game two of a new season, the way we competed to the very end."
Yellow and red: "Obviously the penalties hurt us tonight in crucial situations, and we didn't punch it in the red zone when we needed to. It seemed that every time we had a first down or something like that, we had a holding call or jumped offside. We shot ourselves in the foot, and then it was second and 20."
On Notre Dame defensive success: "Pressure. A lot of pressure. That was a good front. We knew it was a good front coming in, a lot of pressure, and we just seemed that we couldn't get things going. Those are big guys to block, 300 (pounds) in the middle."
On the offensive line: "Hey, listen, we made some mistakes. We didn't do the things we would like to do at a high level, but I am proud of all my guys, just like my family. They fought as hard as they can and gave it everything that they can."
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly comments
On beating USC: "They found a way to win the game. Our defense was outstanding in the second half and gave us a chance to win the football game. Great win, one that obviously when it comes to beating USC will go a long way with our guys."
On defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt: "He got the game ball. He was all over the place. They (USC) couldn't handle him today. If you're wanting to talk about a defensive lineman that was dominating, you could throw that word out there. He was a force out there."
On defending Trojans wide receiver Nelson Agholor: "I thought we defended well. If he was going to hit us on some drive routes and some intermediate routes, we were going to rally and tackle him, and that was the extent of it."
More notes and anecdotes
Key(s) to victory: The Notre Dame defense rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter, and the Trojans' offense didn't. Twice the Trojans had excellent opportunities in Irish territory and came away empty, especially the final drive of the game. It also didn't help that the Trojans were just 2 of 13 in third down conversions for the game.
The offensive scoring average: The Trojans scored 10 points against Notre Dame. Prior to the game with the Irish, the Trojans were averaging 28.0 points per game.
Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler comments: "It really sucks that we lost, but we gave it a good effort. As a team, we wanted badly to win it for Coach O and the coaching staff. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. We just have to eliminate the mistakes we're making as a team."
Defending the rush: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans defense was allowing 107.2 yards rushing per game. Against the Irish, the Trojans allowed 129 yards rushing.
Evaluating the defense: Safety Dion Bailey said, "I'm not trying to take anything away from Notre Dame, they played a great game, and they just made a couple more plays at the end that affected the outcome."
Offensively better: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 408.0 yards per game in total offense. Against the Irish, the Trojans had 330 total yards on offense.
Kessler: "Not taking away anything from Notre Dame, we have to execute, and we missed too many assignments and were dropping balls. It's disappointing, but stuff that can be fixed, and we have to eliminate the penalties. We put ourselves in too many third and long situations."
Rush to dominance: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 200.3 yards per game rushing. Against the Irish, the Trojans rushed for 129 net yards.
Grafting an answer: On his line's offensive penalties, starting senior right tackle Kevin Graf said, "I was definitely surprised (by the penalties). Honestly, I thought a lot of our guys were pretty angry about those calls, but we'll see what the film says. It's very frustrating. Someone like me who it's their senior year and this is the last time I'll get to be in this place. It's very upsetting."
Midwest fall: Temperature at kickoff was 48 degrees.
The defensive scoring average: The Trojans defense allowed 14 points to Notre Dame. Before the Irish game, the Trojans were allowing 22.8 points per game.
Confidence builder: After the game, it was an emotional Trojans locker room and wide receiver Darreus Rogers said, "Coach O told us to stay together and keep having one heartbeat."
Defensively speaking: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were allowing an average of 340.3 total yards on defense. Against the Irish, the Cardinal and Gold allowed 295 total yards.
The infirmary: Freshman tailback Justin Davis left Notre Dame Stadium with a boot on his right ankle. Tight ends Xaiver Grimble and Randall Telfer also left with an ankle and knee problem, respectively. Marqise Lee said he tweaked his shoulder in the first half, and Orgeron wouldn't let him back in the game in the second half.
Air low: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were allowing 233.2 passing yards per game. Against the Irish, the Trojans allowed 166 passing yards.
On beating the Trojans: Irish senior receiver T.J. Jones said, "Yeah, it doesn't feel bad, that's for sure. It's definitely a fulfilling feeling, three out of four years at my time here, and my last year, last time I'll ever play them."
Top tacklers: The Trojans defense was led by defensive lineman Leonard Williams with nine tackles, followed by corner Anthony Brown and safety Josh Shaw with seven tackles each.
Passing fancy: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 207.7 passing yards per game. Against the Irish, the Trojans passed for 201 yards.
Getting worse: Before the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 59.3 penalty yards per game. Against the Irish, the Trojans were penalized 11 times for 95 yards.
Scouting the talent: NFL scouts in attendance included those representing the Rams, Eagles, Texans, Colts and Bears.
Next Saturday: The Trojans play host to Utah in the Coliseum in a Pac-12 South Division game. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. PT.
Standing outside the Los Angeles Coliseum locker room entrance, Haden simply stated: “They have hope now.”
Without the return of “hope,” the Trojans' likelihood of upsetting arch-rival Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday night would have been harder than former USC head coach Lane Kiffin not calling for a bubble screen or a fade. The Irish could have been primed for one of its most satisfying poundings of this series.
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“Our guys came back really rejuvenated today,” Orgeron said. “We had a good meeting on Friday … covered the film. They had Friday night off, yesterday off and had a Monday practice today. We gave them a little scouting report on Notre Dame … just breaking some stuff in. We had some corrections from the film from the game Thursday night, and we’re moving forward.”
The Trojans’ win over the Wildcats not only marked the team’s first over a Pac-12 opponent this season, but it was also their first under Orgeron, who was making his debut as interim coach.
“It’s been overwhelming,” said Orgeron of the support and feedback that he’s received over the last three days. “The response has been positive. It’s all about the players. I’m just excited to see the Trojans win, and obviously there’s a lot of things that need to get better, but the style in which they played and the energy and the emotion … and again, to see that locker room, it just relieved a lot of pain.”
With that said, Orgeron and Co. have now firmly turned their focus toward a Fighting Irish squad that currently sits at 4-2.
“We realize that this is a rivalry game … USC-Notre Dame, and we have a lot of respect for our opponent,” Orgeron said. “But again, we need to take care of what we can control, and that’s us, the fundamentals and the style of play. But it’s going to be an exciting game, and we know it.”
Help on the way in the secondary?
While Thursday night’s victory was filled with positives, the one glaring negative was the performance of the secondary -- a unit that was continually victimized by Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker, who threw for a career-high 363 yards and four touchdowns.
“All of the things were correctable,” Orgeron said. “We had some coverage things that we looked at, and [we] let the guys get behind us a little too much. We’ve just got to emphasize just being in the right positions … stuff like that. The coaches did a great job of illustrating what we need to get better at.”
Additionally, the Trojans defensive backfield could get a big boost in the form of Anthony Brown this week. Out of action since spraining his knee against Hawaii on Aug. 29, the fourth-year junior cornerback returned to action on Sunday and started for a majority of the practice opposite Kevon Seymour.
And while the Fontana (Calif.) Kaiser product appeared to look healthy and in command during the light workout, Orgeron said that it’s still too early to tell whether he’ll be able to go this weekend with 100 percent certainty, listing him as “probable.”
“We’ve got to see this week,” Orgeron said. “That’s a big decision on our staff. It’s hard for a guy that’s been out for as long as he’s been out to come back. We don’t know if he’s ready yet. It’s going to be very, very critical this week to find out if he’s going to be ready and if he can play.”
In addition to Brown, all eyes were on star wide receiver Marqise Lee, who has been sidelined since going down against Arizona State on Sept. 28 with a knee sprain. Wearing a brace on his left knee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner didn’t participate in drills, but he did run sprints on the sideline, and appeared to do so without a limp.
Others who sat out Sunday’s practice included Kevin Graf, Victor Blackwell (ankle heavily taped), Tre Madden, Xavier Grimble, Marquis Simmons, and Morgan Breslin.
Nathan Guertler filled in for Graf, while Darreus Rogers appeared to go full speed at wideout.
In his post-practice media scrum, Orgeron said that Brown, Graf, Rogers, Grimble, Madden and Simmons are all probable for Saturday’s game, while Lee, Blackwell and Breslin are questionable and D.J. Morgan is out.
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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USC head coach Lane Kiffin
Opening statement: “We knew it was a really good team we were going to play. Anytime you have a great player at quarterback (Chuckie Keeton) like they do, it’s going to be hard to take him out of the game. Their defense has played really tough and really physical.”
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