USC Trojans: Soma Vainuku

So long to the fullback?

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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In Simon and Garfunkel’s classic “Mrs. Robinson,” the duo asks: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

If the famed singing duo were to change the lyrics of their celebrated song to relate to the 2014 Trojans fullback position, they might croon, “Where have you gone, Sam Cunningham, a Trojans nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo). What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson, Sam Bam has left and gone away (Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey).”

In the evolution of football, the once famous fullback position could be the gridiron’s version of the dinosaur. Your children may one day ask, “Hey, dad, what’s a fullback and did the Trojans ever really have one?”

Through no fault of their own, new Trojans head football coach Steve Sarkisian and his colleagues across the country have been rapidly changing the face of collegiate offenses by adjusting to the new rules, formations, speed of the game and the spread-the-defense mentality. It’s now all now part of the college football and even NFL landscapes. It would appear the days of the fullback as we know it are numbered.

[+] EnlargeSoma Vainuku
Chris Williams/Icon SMIHow will the Trojans use fullbacks such as Soma Vainuku?
Looking toward 2014, one of the Trojans’ major questions has become will Sarkisian figure out a way to use returning fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner in some capacity? Since they are productive players, it figures he will. Those are two very talented players who improved over the course of the 2013 season.

While he is still evolving in a new direction for his own offensive philosophy, Sarkisian can still remember how useful the fullback was during his assistant days under former Trojans coach Pete Carroll.

Carroll, a defensive guru by trade, realized how much damage could be inflicted on an offense from a fullback, especially coming out of the backfield like he did with current Indianapolis Colt fullback Stanley Havili. One doesn’t have to jog a Trojans memory too far back to recall how Havili (2006-10), whose running ability was only superseded by his pass routes out of the backfield, caused havoc to mismatched linebackers.

The thought of no fullback in a Trojans backfield causes one to reminisce those beasts who once blocked for all those Heisman Trophy winning tailbacks. In fact, one of the great USC trivia questions has always been who blocked for all-time tailbacks Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Anthony Davis, Charles White, and Marcus Allen?

Of course the great irony with 1979 Heisman Trophy winner Charles White is that his lead blocker was a young fullback named Marcus Allen. Allen has always maintained that his service as a fullback helped develop his skills as a devastating tailback.

In the case of Davis, Hall of Famer Sam “Bam” Cunningham (1970-72) led the way and when Santa Barbara Sam was crushing linebackers to clear the way for A.D., he was also busy diving over the top for a Trojans score. Cunningham’s four touchdown leaps over Woody Hayes’ Ohio State defensive in the 1973 Rose Bowl are legendary.

There probably has never been a more bruising and brutal fullback in Trojans lore than the late Mosi Tatupu (1974-77), the Hawaiian bone crusher, whose All-American son, Lofa, starred for Carroll’s 2004 national champions as a linebacker. Mosi was expertly used during his junior and senior year under Hall of Fame coach John Robinson, who once said, “Trying to tackle Mosi is like trying to tackle a Coke machine.”

Robinson had another two-way fullback/tailback in Lynn Cain (1977-78), who followed Tatupu. Cain was an All-American JC tailback out of East Los Angeles College, but Robinson turned the former L.A. Roosevelt prep star into a multi-purpose tailback/fullback. By having Cain as a running and blocking threat, opposing defenses couldn’t exclusively key on White. Cain was instrumental in helping the Trojans to the 1978 national championship.

Not all the Trojans’ fullbacks have been national household names. There was Danny Scott (1966-68), who teamed with Simpson. Scott, who played at Pico Rivera (Calif.) El Rancho High and transferred to USC from Cerritos (Calif.) College, was a human battering ram at just 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds.

In the mid-80s, the Trojans had another stud fullback out of Banning High in Carson, California. Leroy Holt (1986-89) was known more for carrying the football than just blocking. Holt’s playing skills may not have been as important as his leadership skills in helping guide the Trojans into the 1989 Rose Bowl game. Most players referred to Holt as the team’s spiritual leader. Making fullback Holt unique is that he still ranks No. 21 in USC career rushing (1,825 yards), and those numbers say he is the greatest running fullback in USC history.

There have been other fullbacks who played a major role in the storied history of USC. Consider yourself a Trojans historian if you remember the names of Big Ben Wilson, Ron Heller, Mike “Bambi” Hull, David Farmer, Deon Strother, Scott Lockwood and Terry Barnum. No, not forgotten is the late All-America tailback Ricky Bell, whose Trojans offensive career began as a John McKay fullback.

So the Trojans have their history of extraordinary fullbacks, but the question is rapidly becoming this: Have we seen the last of the USC fullback?

2013 review: USC offense 

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
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With a new starting quarterback at the helm, a slew of injuries depleting an already thin depth chart and a highly publicized coaching carousel, the production of the USC offense was largely up and down in 2013 with the Trojans averaging a pedestrian 29.7 points per game, while converting just 35 percent on third-down plays.

Still, part of a USC squad that finished 10-4, this is a unit that made strides throughout the course of the season. It’s safe to say that it certainly had more than its share of shining moments.

Quarterback

USC players receive team honors

December, 14, 2013
12/14/13
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Sophomore tailback Javorius "Buck" Allen was named team MVP at the annual end-of-season banquet held Friday night at USC’s Tutor Campus Center Ballroom.

The award winners:
  • Most Valuable Player: Allen
  • Most Inspirational Player: outside linebacker Devon Kennard
  • Trojan Way Leadership Award: Kennard, linebacker Hayes Pullard
  • Linemen of the Year: center Marcus Martin (offense), defensive end Leonard Williams (defense)
  • Perimeter Players of the Year: Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor (offense), cornerback Josh Shaw and safety Dion Bailey (defense)
  • Special Teams Player of the Year: fullback Soma Vainuku
  • Service Team Players of the Year: quarterback Conner Sullivan (offense), linebacker Nick Schlossberg (defense)
  • Jack Oakie Rise and Shine Award (longest run): Allen (80 yards vs. California)
  • Howard Jones/Football Alumni Club Academic Award (overall academic achievement): Kennard
  • Bob Chandler Award (underclassman with outstanding athletic ability, academic achievement and character): quarterback Cody Kessler
  • John McKay Award (underclassman with the most competitive spirit): Agholor
  • Joe Collins Walk-on Award: tailback Taylor Ross
  • Courage Award: tight end Randall Telfer, wide receiver Marqise Lee
  • Lifters Award: Kennard, offensive tackle Chad Wheeler
  • Team Captains: Lee, Pullard, Kennard, Martin

WeAreSC roundtable: Postseason honors

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
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The USC football team banquet will be held this week with the annual team awards handed out. The WeAreSC staffers give their picks on some of the top performers of the season.

MVP

Garry Paskwietz: Leonard Williams
Johnny Curren: Leonard Williams
Greg Katz: Leonard Williams

Top offensive player

GP: Javorius "Buck" Allen
JC: Marcus Martin
GK: Cody Kessler

Top defensive player

GP: Devon Kennard
JC: Devon Kennard
GK: Devon Kennard

Most impactful freshman

GP: Su'a Cravens
JC: Su’a Cravens
GK: Su’a Cravens

Surprise performer

GP: Buck Allen
JC: Buck Allen
GK: J.R. Tavai

Tough guy of the year

GP: Dion Bailey
JC: Soma Vainuku
GK: Hayes Pullard

Biggest one-game performance

GP: Hayes Pullard vs Stanford
JC: Soma Vainuku vs Colorado
GK: Buck Allen vs Cal

Future star

GP: Justin Davis
JC: Justin Davis
GK: Darreus Rogers

Pac-12 names all-conference team

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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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

Pac-12 names players of the week

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey has been named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week, along with Arizona State linebacker Chris Young, who was named defensive player of the week and UCLA returner Ishmael Adams, who was named special teams player of the week.

Here’s some more on the trio per the Pac-12’s release:

Carey, a junior from Tucson, Ariz., racked up 206 yards on a school-record 48 carries to become the Wildcats’ all-time leading rusher with 3,913 career yards as Arizona upset No. 5 Oregon 42-16 on Saturday afternoon in Tucson. His four touchdowns on the day established a new program mark for career touchdowns with 49 while his 45 career rushing touchdowns are also a school record. The 48 carries were the most by an FBS player in a game this season and his string of 14 straight 100-yard rushing games is tied for the longest streak by an FBS player over the past ten seasons. The nation’s second-leading rusher (155.9 ypg) earns the conference offensive player of the week honor for the second time this year.

Young, a senior from Seattle, Wash., led an Arizona State defense that limited a potent UCLA offense and squashed a fourth-quarter comeback bid in a 38-33 win over the Bruins at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night as the Sun Devils clinched the Pac-12 South Division title with the victory. He collected a game-leading 13 tackles, including 12 solo, and three sacks for a loss of 27 yards. His two fourth-quarter sacks and game-ending tackle on the Bruins’ final two drives secured the win for the Sun Devils, who earned a spot in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game on Dec. 7.

Adams, a sophomore from Woodland Hills, Calif., collected 234 return yards in his first game serving as the return man in the Bruins’ 38-33 loss to Arizona State. His efforts in the return game led to three UCLA scores, including a 58-yard return on the Sun Devils’ first kickoff of the game to set up a 42-yard scoring pass on the next play and a 49-yard punt return that set up a 48-yard field goal that put the Bruins ahead late in the first quarter.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Taylor Kelly of Arizona State and Connor Halliday of Washington State; running backs Javorius Allen of USC and Bishop Sankey of Washington; and wide receivers Ty Montgomery of Stanford and Shaq Evans of UCLA. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Anthony Barr of UCLA and Justin Sagote of Washington State; cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson of Arizona and Marcus Peters of Washington; and defensive end Leonard Williams of USC and free safety Jered Bell of Colorado. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors was Washington State kicker Andrew Furney and USC fullback/special teams member Soma Vainuku.

3 up, 3 down: USC 47, Colorado 29

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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LOS ANGELES – A look at the positives and negatives from USC’s 47-29 victory over Colorado on Saturday.

Three up
1. USC first-team defense
Spearheaded by another strong effort by the front seven, the Trojans' defensive starters completely stymied the Buffaloes. In fact, Colorado’s offense failed to put up any points against USC when the entire first-team defense was on the field. Clancy Pendergast’s group was particularly impressive in the first half, allowing just 30 yards on the ground, while also limiting Sefo Liufau to 43 yards on 4-of-15 passing, a fumble and an interception. Cornerback Josh Shaw also did quite a job on Buffaloes star wide out Paul Richardson, holding him without a catch until midway through the third quarter.

2. Javorius Allen
Allen continued his string of outstanding play, running for a career-best 145 yards to go along with three touchdowns -- despite missing some time in the first half with a shoulder injury. He compiled 112 of his rushing yards in the second half, and the third-year sophomore tailback appeared to grow stronger and more determined following his fumble to open the third quarter. He deserves a ton of praise for the resiliency he showed. His three rushing touchdowns gives him a total of nine in the past four games.

3. Soma Vainuku
Another player who has really come on as of late, Vainuku had arguably his best game as a Trojan on Saturday. Making a name for himself as a special teams demon this fall, the physical fullback blocked a Darragh O’Neill punt in the first quarter, and the ball flew out of the end zone for a USC safety. It was Vainuku’s third blocked punt of the season. But it was on offense where the Eureka (Calif.) native made perhaps his biggest mark against the Buffaloes. Entering the game without a single carry to his credit in 2013, he exploded for 70 yards on 5 rushing attempts, with his 52-yard touchdown jaunt clinching the game for the Trojans.

Three down
1. USC first-half rushing offense
Amassing just 37 rushing yards in the first half, the Trojans offensive line struggled early and the USC tailbacks couldn’t do much of anything on the ground against Colorado. That was a surprise considering the Buffaloes entered the game ranked No. 103 in the FBS against the run (210.4 yards allowed per game). To the credit of the USC offensive line, however, they did come back with a much better performance in the second half, opening lanes and allowing Allen and Co. to get rolling. The Trojans finished with a more-than-respectable 243 rushing yards.

2. USC second-half defensive lapse
With the Trojans leading 37-7 late in the third quarter, interim coach Ed Orgeron opted to bring in the reserves, and Colorado's offense really got going for the first time all night. Without a significant push up front by the Trojans, Liufau had plenty of time to throw downfield and the Buffaloes offense put 22 points in the fourth quarter. Cutting the USC lead to 11 points with just over three minutes remaining in the contest, Colorado’s comeback bid ultimately ended when Will Oliver’s onside kick was recovered by Leon McQuay III.

3. USC punting
USC punter Kris Albarado has had some big outings this season, but Saturday's matchup wasn’t one of them. Averaging just 30.2 yards on six punts, he was noticeably off from the start of this game. His 17-yard boot in the fourth quarter was the low point of his night, with Colorado quickly converting the mistake into its final touchdown.

Vainuku becomes playmaker for USC

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
10:30
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Following USC’s dramatic 20-17 upset victory over No. 4 Stanford last Saturday, a feeling of euphoria overtook Soma Vainuku as he found himself standing atop the ladder leading the famed USC marching band.

[+] EnlargeSoma Vainuku
Chris Williams/Icon SMISoma Vainuku's touchdown catch against Stanford was his first of the season.
“Coming in as a freshman I never thought I’d have the chance to do that, but the band director called me over to go up, and I can’t explain the feeling you get when you’re up there,” the 6-foot and 265-pound fullback said. “Just seeing all of those people looking at you, it was unbelievable. It was really special and I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”

It was a well-deserved moment for Vainuku.

A tireless worker known for his physical brand of play, Vainuku reached the end zone for the first time in his Trojans career against the Cardinal, hauling in a one-yard touchdown pass from Cody Kessler on USC's first offensive series.

The score not only played a significant role in the team’s victory, but it also served a function as a source of redemption for Vainuku, who struggled to catch passes at times in 2012, including against Stanford when he failed to hold on to a ball that would have resulted in six points.

Having refocused his attention this past spring and summer, however, Vainuku has shown vast improvement as a receiver coming out of the backfield with seven catches for 63 yards in 2013, not to mention that touchdown.

“It was really special, especially in that game, to get my first touchdown as a Trojan.” said Vainuku, who also made a 15-yard reception last weekend. “It kind of stuck with me when I dropped the pass in the end zone against Stanford last year. I took it upon myself in the offseason to focus on catching the ball. As a fullback, I don't get many opportunities to catch the ball, and it bothered me that I didn't make the most of the chances that I had last year."

Now he’s capitalizing on seemingly every opportunity that comes his way, and not just on offense. In fact, he’s arguably making even more of an impact on special teams, most notably on the kickoff team where he’s garnered a reputation as the team’s most capable, and feared, playmaker.

"People have been changing their blocking schemes in order to attack Soma on the kickoffs,” USC interim coach Ed Orgeron said recently. “He's such a force."

Vainuku has shown he can swing momentum in the Trojans' favor with one hit -- something Oregon State found out the hard way when he leveled linebacker Joel Skotte on the opening kickoff. And it's that knack for dishing out punishment that Vainuku developed at an early age, thanks in large part to some encouragement from his six older brothers.

“I started playing in the sixth grade, and I was always too big to play in my own age group, so I was with all of the older kids, and I was kind of intimidated,” said Vainuku, who has also blocked two kicks this season. “And then all of my brothers said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Just run down there and hit somebody full-speed, and they’ll stop.’ So, I’ve just been carrying that mentality on my whole life.”

Still, it wasn’t until Vainuku arrived at USC that he really learned the ins and the outs of special teams.

“Just seeing my freshman year how much special teams plays a part in football, it’s just a huge deal,” Vainuku said. “I got that from [Special teams coordinator John] Baxter, and I just make sure that I pay attention to all the little details that he’s been teaching me, because a big play on special teams is just as important as a defensive stop or an offensive score.”

Vainuku’s hard work has most certainly paid off, both in terms of his production on offense as well as on special teams. But with his mindset honed in on taking his game even further, he’s not even close to being satisfied just yet.

“I want to improve each week at fullback and on special teams,” Vainuku said. “There’s always something you can find to work on to improve your game, and that’s my goal.”

Ed Orgeron conference call highlights

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

Orgeron's opening statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notebook: Run sets up pass for Trojans

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
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One of the most compelling stats from the Boston College game for the USC offense is the fact that the Trojans were able to achieve such good balance on a day when they put up over 500 yards of total offense.

USC ended the day with 521 yards of offense -- 257 on the ground and 264 through the air. But what makes it even more interesting is the fact that those 264 passing yards came on only 19 attempts. The Trojans don’t need to throw the ball 40 times a game to put up big numbers; the stats will come if the run game is setting the tone and if they are spreading the ball around with the right play calls.

[+] EnlargeJustin Davis
Chris Williams/Icon SMIUSC's Justin Davis ran for 96 yards and a touchdown vs. Boston College.
USC coach Lane Kiffin has done a commendable job so far this year of sticking with the commitment to the run as the Trojans have averaged more than 43 rushing attempts per game. It helps when the attempts are producing good yardage and that has been the case with the Trojans averaging 4.5 yards per rush, a number that figures to grow as the backs get more experience and the offensive line continues to gel. Think about it: the Trojans are running the ball well with two backs who had never carried the ball in a college game prior to this season.

On Saturday, the Trojans also came out and did a good job of spreading the ball around. The first six passes that Cody Kessler completed went to six different receivers. By the time the second quarter rolled around, the Trojans had shown the run and the ability to use other players so the Eagles decided to use single coverage on Marqise Lee. That was just a simple Kessler toss to the flat, Lee made one guy miss and that was all she wrote for an 80-yard touchdown.

What’s ironic is that while Lee might be the most explosive player in college football, the Trojans are actually very effective when his catches are limited. USC is 5-0 in games when Lee has two catches and 14-9 in all other Lee games. I doubt Kiffin is going to use that stat as an excuse to start reducing Lee’s touches but it shows how successful the team can be when Lee isn’t forced to carry too much of the load.

Dynamic duo: The Trojans couldn’t have asked for a much better start from the tailback duo of Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Both players have been impressive in, as mentioned above, their first college action at tailback. Madden has been the lead performer with his powerful yet smooth style that has allowed him to go for over 100 yards in each of the first three games to open the season. The last USC tailback to do that was Marcus Allen in his 1981 Heisman-winning season. The true freshman Davis is averaging more than 6.5 yards per carry with 172 yards on 26 carries. It will be interesting to see what will happen when projected starter Silas Redd returns from injury. The latest depth chart released on Sunday night for the Trojans shows Madden as the starter with no “or” designation next to his name, a clear sign that Kiffin is content with what he’s seen so far.

(Read full post)

Injuries piling up for Trojans

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
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The Trojans are at the midway point of fall camp and, with the injuries mounting, USC coach Lane Kiffin said the impact is being felt on the field.

“We’re starting to lose guys and it’s affecting our ability to rotate guys as much as we want,” Kiffin said.

There were no new injuries to report on Tuesday but among the players sidelined with previous issues were Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor, Darreus Rogers, Silas Redd, D.J. Morgan, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac, Jordan Simmons, Leonard Williams, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai and Josh Shaw.

Tre Madden
Johnny Curren/WeAreSC.comTre Madden is running with more burst, a bright spot for a Trojans team that's dealing with bumps and bruises.
From what has been reported, it doesn’t appear as if any of the injuries will put the players in jeopardy of missing the season opener, but they are still missing valuable practice reps.

“There are a lot of skill guys who aren’t available and that has hurt us in terms of developing an identity for the offense,” Kiffin said.

One position that has been relatively healthy is quarterback, as the battle between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek continues. Kiffin pointed out that both quarterbacks have done a good job of taking care of the football against a defense that does a lot of attacking from multiple spots.

“The number one theme for this team this year is about taking care of the football,” Kiffin said.

Wittek had an opportunity for a big play early today when he hit De'Von Flournoy in stride with a deep pass, but the ball was dropped. Wittek later hit Victor Blackwell with a pass over the middle that went right through Ryan Henderson’s hands.

He ended practice with a pair of completions to walk-on Robby Kolanz -- the first was a throw across the middle in traffic and the second came in the left corner of the end zone where Kolanz was able to fight off coverage from Chris Hawkins to make the play. The offensive players came over to celebrate with Kolanz, ending the practice session on a good note.

Kessler had an impressive touchdown thanks to some good running by Tre Madden, who caught a pass in the flat and outran Devian Shelton and Gerald Bowman to the end zone. Madden continues to look better and better with more work. He is still wearing a yellow jersey to indicate no contact, but it’s pretty obvious that he is getting close to full playing speed.

Kessler also showed his agility when he rolled left and hit Xavier Grimble with a first-down pass.

Hayes Pullard and Xavier Grimble were late to practice due to a class and, in Pullard’s absence, both Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao were on the field at the same time at the two inside linebacker spots. With Breslin out at OLB, Marquis Simmons and Jabari Ruffin have been alternating reps.

Anthony Brown had a nice pass breakup at the goal line of a Kessler pass attempt for Blackwell.

There was work on kickoff coverage drills at the start of the day, with John Baxter timing the coverage team getting downfield. The coverage unit which started the drill featured Andre Heidari, Dion Bailey, Quinton Powell, Shelton, Kevon Seymour, Su'a Cravens, Leon McQuay III, Henderson, Ruffin, Simmons and Soma Vainuku.

Quotebook:

“The left side of the offensive line is playing well together. I’m really excited about how they look and the fact that these are two young guys who could grow together. It will be really good to see how they play when you line up a couple veteran tight ends next to them with Grimble and Telfer.” -- Kiffin talking about left tackle Chad Wheeler and left guard Max Tuerk.
The Trojans held a night practice on Dedeaux Field on Monday and coach Lane Kiffin was very pleased with the results.

“It was our best practice of fall camp,” Kiffin said. “Now we need to get the players to understand how to come out with this kind of mindset every day. It was a very competitive session, especially when you consider it was the second practice of the day.”

As usual, the day started with special teams drills. There was time spent on learning how to scatter when a punt is coming down that is not going to be caught, in order to make sure the ball doesn’t take a bad bounce off a player on the return team. Also, players worked on chasing loose balls that had been kicked after they hit the ground. There are the kinds of details that John Baxter pays attention to as a special teams coach.

There were some individual position drills and then a lot of 11-on-11 team work in various down and distance situations.

The running backs were once again limited to Tre Madden and Buck Allen, as the other backs are sidelined with injury. Allen had the highlight play of the day when he took a handoff to the left side and outran the defense for a 60-yard touchdown.

Both players also scored multiple touchdowns in a goal-line drill that was dominated by the offense. Madden had a couple of scores to the outside, and Allen did his damage inside. Soma Vainuku also had a touchdown run in the goal-line drill while Cody Kessler hit Xavier Grimble in the end zone and he held on despite getting hit as the ball arrived by Kevon Seymour and Gerald Bowman. Kessler also connected with De'Von Flournoy for a score, while Max Wittek completed a touchdown to Victor Blackwell.

Flournoy also had a touchdown catch from Kessler on a deep ball against Ryan Henderson in a team drill. Kiffin commented after practice that Flournoy has looked good after missing some time early in camp. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick had a pair of good catches, while Darreus Rogers caught a touchdown from Wittek. Rogers was later spotted on the sideline with his pads off and ice on his left shoulder. Henderson came back and got an interception off Kessler and then Su'a Cravens broke up a Wittek pass attempt at the goal line. Scott Starr had a solid pop on Grimble after the tight end had caught a short pass from Kessler, Grimble turned upfield and was met by a solid form tackle from Starr that stopped Xavier in his tracks and caused an uproar on the defensive sideline.

The next practice for the Trojans is Tuesday at 3:15 p.m.

Pinner hoping for breakout season

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
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Back in April, USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin revealed that he wanted to see more offensive production out of a fullback position that accounted for a total of just 76 combined rushing and receiving yards last season. Well, if the way sophomore Jahleel Pinner has performed during the past week is any indication at all, it’s safe to say Kiffin will get his wish in 2013.

Jahleel Pinner
Johnny Curren/WeAreSC.comIf spring and fall practices are any indication, FB Jahleel Pinner is in for a breakout 2013 season.
Building off a stellar showing in the spring that had running backs coach Tommie Robinson calling him the most improved member of his group, and with last year’s primary starter at fullback, Soma Vainuku, sidelined for a vast majority of fall camp, Pinner has been one of the major bright spots for the Trojans.

“It’s going good for me right now,” said the 6-foot, 235-pound Pinner. “I’m just taking my opportunities as the coaches give them to me. I still have to capitalize on some things -- work harder and work on my technique, but so far I’m doing good, and I feel like I’m seizing the opportunity.”

Known primarily for his abilities as a gritty lead-blocker during his first season at USC, it’s Pinner’s pass-catching skills that have really turned heads as of late, with the latest instance coming during the Trojans’ workout on Sunday. On a play that showcased Pinner’s athleticism and soft hands, he hauled in a 20-yard touchdown reception from Cody Kessler on a wheel route despite tight coverage from freshman linebacker Quinton Powell. It was the type of catch Pinner has been making with great regularity this August, providing evidence that the USC offense will have a new weapon at its disposal this fall.

“When they recruited me, that’s one thing that they mentioned -- they wanted a kind of Stanley Havili type of player to catch the ball out of the backfield, running deep routes and stuff like that,” said Pinner, who had three receptions for 19 yards and one touchdown in the team’s most recent scrimmage. “So far, that’s what I’m doing right now, and I’m loving it.”

Of course, making plays out of the backfield isn’t exactly anything new for Pinner. As a high school standout at Mission Viejo (Calif.), he made 29 receptions over the course of his final two years, while also amassing more than 1,500 rushing yards. Having finally earned the trust of his coaches and teammates at USC, he’s now getting the chance to put those talents on display.

“Since high school, I’ve always had good hands,” said Pinner, who appeared in all 13 of the Trojans’ games in 2012, without recording a carry or catch. “I’ve always been used as a receiver. As long as they keep throwing me the ball, I’m going to catch it. It’s all about opportunities for me right now.”

But it’s more than that. Pinner has also garnered a reputation as a tireless worker, both on the field as well as in the film room. Combine that with the experience he gained on the field last season, and he’s also a much more confident player than he was a year ago.

“Definitely in my second year around, I’m a lot more comfortable with everything that’s going on,” Pinner said. “Especially this time around in fall camp -- I know all of the plays. I know basically everything that I have to do and I know more in terms of technique, and I don’t have to worry about memorizing or learning the plays or anything like that.”

With everything coming together, there is little doubt that Pinner looks poised to break out for the Trojans this season, and he couldn’t be more ready.

“I’m always up for any challenge,” Pinner said. “If they want me to take on a bigger role as a fullback, then that’s what I’m going to do.”


LOS ANGELES -- Coach Lane Kiffin put the USC Trojans through several situational drills Sunday to help prepare for game action.

“It was a real good day today,” Kiffin said. “Maybe not our best day in terms of performance, but we had some good situational work and we can learn a lot from that.

“We did red-zone stuff, some two-minute and four-minute drills, just to let our guys have an understanding of those points. We want them to pay attention to things like down and distance. We had one instance today with a third-and-long; we need to know to not give up a big play there. We can go watch the film and show them specific examples.”

There was also a bit of an announcement on the quarterback front, although it had little to do with naming a starter. Kiffin confirmed that it is officially a two-quarterback battle between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek as Kiffin told freshman Max Browne after the Saturday practice that he was out of the competition.

“Max took it like a professional,” Kiffin said. “He’s a competitor, though, and this doesn’t mean he is out of it as far as the whole season is concerned. It just means he’s out of it right now. Max is as advanced as any young quarterback. I wasn’t here when Matthew (Barkley) came in, but Browne has picked things up quickly. But now it’s a two-guy race.”

Sunday was a perfect example of why this is such a close competition. Both Kessler and Wittek made several big plays that showcased their abilities.

The first big play for Wittek was on a deep-in pattern to Darreus Rogers. A few plays later, Wittek stood tall in the pocket with a lot of pressure and he hit Rogers deep. The defensive backs collided and Rogers went for an 80-yard score. Later in the day in a red-zone drill, he hit Rogers with a fade pass for a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeAundrey Walker
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAundrey Walker got some work in at right guard on Sunday.
Kessler got his day started with a scramble left and a shovel pass to a running back for a first down. It was an example of Kessler the improviser, something he does well. He later scrambled right and threw a strike on the run to Victor Blackwell for 20 yards. Kessler’s best throw came with the ball at his own 1-yard line. He dropped back into the end zone and threw a strike into the hands of Xavier Grimble, who had a step on Hayes Pullard. Once Grimble caught the ball, he outran Hayes for the score. Cody also hit Jahleel Pinner for a 20-yard touchdown in a red-zone drill.

There was a position switch of note, although Kiffin was clear to say it was not permanent at this point. Aundrey Walker has been out of action for the past several days, so Chad Wheeler has been taking reps with the first unit at left tackle. At the Saturday practice, reserve right guard Jordan Simmons left early and did not practice on Sunday. The coaches put Walker as the No. 2 right guard upon his return on Sunday, a position he played as a freshman. Walker said he made one mistake of crossing up the signals, but he also showed his impressive strength on one play when he shoved big Delvon Simmons out of the play.

“This is the time of year to look at switches like this,” Kiffin said. “It also speaks a little to the play of Chad Wheeler that we are even looking at this. If he wasn’t playing well, we wouldn’t do it.”

Marqise Lee spent a second day on the sidelines in uniform but no pads after suffering a bone bruise on Friday. Kiffin said they hope to get Lee out on the field soon, but he didn’t specific a time frame. Kiffin also talked about how important this time period is for Lee -- even though he is the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have things he can work on. Specifically, he mentioned the fact that Lee had four fumbles last year and they can work with him to focus on areas such as ball security.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFreshman receiver Darreus Rogers is having a great camp, playing with confidence.
Nelson Agholor was also limited in action but, as noted above in the quarterback highlight plays, it was another terrific outing for Rogers. The freshman is big and strong and he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.

Pinner is another young guy who is making an impression. The sophomore fullback has been getting a lot of reps in Soma Vainuku’s absence. (Vainuku returned to practice Sunday.) The wheel route from Kessler to Pinner was pretty as Pinner caught the ball in stride. That is going to be an effective weapon if he can contribute plays such as that in the passing game.

The big hit of the day came courtesy of Demetrius Wright. Wittek threw a pass from his end zone to walk-on wide receiver Robby Kolanz at the 18-yard line. Wright hit him hard right as the ball arrived, but Kolanz hung on for the catch.

Quinton Powell, who was recently moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, spent the day with the second unit behind Pullard. Michael Hutchings had been in that No. 2 spot to this point in camp.

One of the special-teams drills today was focusing on blocking field goals. Anthony Brown, Su’a Cravens and Leon McQuay each had blocks.

Jahlani Tavai (Manhattan Beach, Calif./Mira Costa) was in attendance Sunday. He’s a class of 2014 DE/OLB prospect and the brother of current USC defensive end J.R. Tavai.

Quotebook:

“I’m trying to provide depth to the line. I’m 100 percent ready to work after having a mild concussion last week. I’m willing to do anything I can to help and I trust coach Summers to put me in the right position. I was pretty comfortable today at right guard. I would actually feel comfortable at any spot really, well, maybe center wouldn’t work. I still feel left tackle is my position but I’m not surprised they wanted to take a look at this with Jordan [Simmons] being down.” – Aundrey Walker
With eight starters returning on offense, there is a lot of talent returning for the Trojans. But there is also the matter of replacing key productive starters, particularly at quarterback. One person who won’t be replaced is play-caller Lane Kiffin, who gave thought to transferring play-calling duties to quarterback coach Clay Helton before ultimately deciding to keep the duties for the coming season.

The Trojans actually put up some good offensive numbers in 2012, including averages of 32 points and 432 yards per game. The struggles came in areas such as turnovers (34, fourth-worst in FBS), 3rd down conversions (34.2 percent, No. 105 in FBS) and red zone execution (74.5 percent). Kiffin has said he wants to return to a more physical approach in 2013 with a run game that can be relied on to close out games when needed.

Quarterback

The competition to replace Matt Barkley will be one of the most highly watched position battles in college football. Right now there are three players in the mix -- Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne -- although most speculation has it as a two-man race between third-year players Kessler and Wittek. Kessler has gained a lot of momentum since his performance in spring, when he didn’t throw an interception in five scrimmages, and has continued to look sharp in summer throwing sessions. Wittek has the experience of starting two games at the end of the 2012 season, but injuries and illness have limited him in spring and summer drills. Wittek is known for having the bigger arm while Kiffin has described Kessler as a “gamer”. Browne is a true freshman with loads of potential but the two guys ahead of him have a lot of time in the system, so it stands to reason that one of the veterans will land the job.

Running back

Kiffin has described this as the deepest and most talented running back group of his tenure as USC coach. We see no reason to argue, as there is a nice blend of experience, toughness, speed and ability. Silas Redd is the expected starter and showed last season that he can run hard and carry the primary load. Redd is coming off a knee injury in spring ball he is projected to return in time for fall camp. As for the rotation behind Redd, that is where things get interesting.

Tre Madden made a huge splash in spring of 2012 when he moved from linebacker and dazzled the coaches in practice before suffering a knee injury and missing the entire season. Madden will be given every opportunity to show that he is back to form. D.J. Morgan brings a speed element, but he also has been banged up and will need to show that he can stay healthy and hold on to the ball. Javorius Allen enters his third year and showed promise in spring. Then there are the two freshmen -- Justin Davis and Ty Isaac. Davis was one of the stars of spring, as he looked very good as a slasher. Isaac is a big back who will try to make an instant impact in camp with limited reps to go around.

The Trojans return a pair of fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner. Both players will be entering their second year of on-field action, and they are expected to play a bigger role.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesExpect Nelson Agholor's production to take a step up as a sophomore.
Wide receiver

It’s always a good situation when the top player at his position returns for another season. Marqise Lee won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 as the best receiver in college football and has the ability to make a run at the Heisman Trophy this season along with securing his spot as the all-time leading receiver in USC history. Lee will also be the unquestioned leader of the Trojans and seems very comfortable in that role so far.

On the other side of Lee, Nelson Agholor appears set to show that he has similar big play ability. When Lee was sidelined for part of spring with a knee injury, Agholor was the most productive player for the Trojans. Victor Blackwell appears ready for a bigger role after a solid spring and true freshman Darreus Rogers was impressive in summer workouts. Fifth-year senior De'Von Flournoy offers an experienced option as well. Depth could be an issue for this group after season-ending knee injuries to George Farmer and Steven Mitchell.

Tight end

The Trojans don’t have great depth at tight end, but the position group is still strong. Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble are basically co-starters, a talented pair of 6-foot-5, 250-pound options who can catch and block with equal skill. Don’t be surprised if they put up bigger numbers than they did last season. Both players suffered knee injuries in spring ball, which meant an extended audition for sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who passed with flying colors. Cope-Fitzpatrick is another big and athletic guy who is clearly ready for a bigger role.

Offensive line

This is the position group that will need to come together for the USC offense to achieve the stated goals of being more physical and controlling the line of scrimmage. There are five players with starting experience returning with Marcus Martin moving from guard to center as a replacement for Khaled Holmes. Martin showed a lot of promise when he was moved midway through spring ball.

On the right side of the line, Kevin Graf and John Martinez return for their third year of starting next to each other at tackle and guard. Both players are on the preseason Outland Trophy watch list. Max Tuerk follows up a true freshman season that saw him named an honorable mention all-conference selection at left tackle by moving to left guard. Aundrey Walker is once again at left tackle and might be the critical piece for the line. Walker has loads of physical potential but there have also been issues with work ethic and preparation, which led the coaches to consider putting Tuerk back at tackle in the spring. If Walker can match the effort from the rest of the group this could be a pretty good line.

For the first time in many seasons there are some solid reserve options including Jordan Simmons, Cyrus Hobbi, Chad Wheeler, Nico Falah and Khaliel Rodgers. Abe Markowitz might also be available as a sixth-year player. He practiced with the team in voluntary workouts all summer, but there has been no confirmation on his status.

-- Statistics were compiled by ESPN Stats and Information

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