USC: Devon Kennard

Exit interview: Devon Kennard 

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
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Arriving at USC as one of the most heralded members of the Trojans’ signing class of 2009, Devon Kennard had his ups and downs in his first four years on campus due primarily to a constant series of position changes, as well as a number of injuries -- including a torn chest muscle that forced him to miss all of 2012.

This past season, however, everything came together as the fifth-year senior co-captain found his niche lining up at SAM linebacker in Clancy Pendergast’s "52" defensive scheme. Racking up a team-high 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks, Kennard was a key piece of the puzzle for a Trojans defense that allowed just 335.2 yards per game -- the No. 13 mark in the FBS.

A 2013 second-team All-Pac-12 selection and Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist, the Phoenix (Ariz.) Desert Vista product also excelled inside the classroom at USC, while also taking part in a number of charitable activities off campus.

[+] EnlargeKennard
AP Photo/John PyleDevon Kennard played several positions in his time at USC, but he thrived as an outside linebacker as a senior in 2013.
Finishing his career with 32 starts to his credit along with 195 tackles, he recently took part in the East-West Shrine Game, where he was one of the standouts of the practice sessions leading up to the contest. Now gearing up for the NFL scouting combine (Feb. 22-25) and USC’s pro day (March 12), he took a break from his training schedule to talk to WeAreSC.

WeAreSC: What were you able to take away from the recent East-West Shrine Game experience?

Devon Kennard: Just being able to be rewarded with that kind of opportunity to go to an all-star game like that was an honor for me. And what the East-West Shrine Game stands for with the Shriners Hospitals and being able to have fun with some kids that are in some really tough situations, that was awesome. So I loved everything that it stood for, and the football aspect of it, it was great to just get the opportunity to compete against some of the best players from all over the country. And then getting to know some of these guys from all over the place, it was a really cool dynamic.

WeAreSC: What else have you been up to since the season ended?

Kennard: I’m training in Sherman Oaks (Calif.) at a place called Athletic Gains, and I’m just training every day, getting ready for pro day and the NFL combine.

WeAreSC: You played all over the place in your first four years at USC from defensive end to middle linebacker before really taking off in Clancy Pendergast’s defense at outside linebacker. How gratifying was it for you to find so much success in your final season?

Kennard: It was a great opportunity to play in Coach Pendergast’s defense, and my injury turned out to be a big blessing for me. It was a great year to be a part of. We had an awesome year on defense, and although we didn’t do as well as we wanted to, to end the season 10-4 with all of the adversity that we faced, I’m really proud to have been a captain of that team.

WeAreSC: You arrived at USC in 2009, so you saw a lot of coaches come and go. Can you pick one or two who had an especially profound impact on you?

Kennard: Most definitely Coach [Ed] Orgeron because he was my position coach for a good amount of time, but also Coach Joe Barry. The year I played middle linebacker he was my coach, and I learned so much from him in getting ready to play that position, and that was a good experience as well. I’ve had a lot of coaches, but I’ve also been fortunate to play for some very good coaches. I’ve had Coach Jethro Franklin, Coach [Ken] Norton, Coach Barry, Coach Orgeron, Coach Pete Jenkins ... so I’d like to argue that I’ve had some of the best position coaches at every position that I’ve played throughout my career, and I think it’s prepared me for the next level.

WeAreSC: You were able to not only earn an undergraduate degree in communication in your time at USC, but also a master’s in communication management. How big was that for you?

Kennard: It was a goal of mine going into college. I wanted to graduate as fast as I could and get into a master’s program and start that. I was going to have to be at school for at least three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years regardless, so I wanted to get as much done as possible. Being able to knock out two degrees, and for it to be completely paid for, I just really took advantage of the opportunities placed before me, and I encourage other guys to do the same.

WeAreSC: What was your favorite class at USC?

Pendergast's future at USC up in the air

December, 23, 2013
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With the news that junior safety Dion Bailey will make himself available for the NFL draft, that is one piece of the Trojans' defensive puzzle that is known for next year.

[+] EnlargeClancy Pendergast
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comUSC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast did wonders with the Trojans in 2013.
In the coming weeks, the Trojans will find out if other draft-eligible defensive stalwarts such as defensive end George Uko, linebacker Hayes Pullard and cornerback Josh Shaw will stay in school or choose to follow Bailey to the next level.

Those decisions will obviously have a huge impact on the fortunes of the 2014 USC defense as all of those players had prominent roles in the success this season. But there is another important cog in the defensive machine that is also unclear in terms of being back: defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

New USC coach Steve Sarkisian has filled six spots on his staff -- including the news over the weekend that Trojans offensive coordinator Clay Helton would be retained -- but there has been no confirmed news as far as his plans for the defensive coordinator spot.

There is a lot of speculation that Justin Wilcox -- who served for the past two seasons as defensive coordinator for Sarkisian at Washington – would be coming down to join the staff at USC. The Huskies play in the Fight Hunger Bowl on December 27 so any update on Wilcox will likely come after that game.

Wilcox has certainly developed a reputation as an up-and-coming coach who bolstered the Huskies' defense and received consideration for the Boise State head coaching job after Chris Petersen left the Broncos to replace Sarkisian at Washington.

A quick check of Pendergast’s one-season body of work, however, has many USC fans wondering why Pendergast wouldn’t be a natural option to keep on the staff as well.

Pendergast took over a USC defense that gave up 394 yards per game in 2012, the second highest total in school history, and over 24 points per game, the fourth highest mark. In 2013 under Pendergast, the Trojans led the conference in passing defense and red zone defense and were No. 2 in total defense, run defense and scoring defense.

That improvement was seen with many of the same players that were on the team in 2012, except for a few key losses in current NFL players T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. There was a change in scheme, from the 4-3 to the 5-2. There were depth issues, coaching changes and double duty for Pendergast, who also served as secondary coach. And there was success against both ends of the offensive spectrum -- his defense held up against the physical power running attack of Stanford and against the highest-ranked passing game in the country with Fresno State.

There was improvement with many individual players. Devon Kennard had spent three years playing out of position and was coming off a missed season due to injury, but he ended up leading the team in sacks and was a Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist. Leonard Williams was named an ESPN All-American. Pendergast took a safety in Shaw and made him a valuable corner, J.R. Tavai moved from an interior D-lineman to a stand-up OLB and Bailey made the effortless switch from linebacker to safety.

Pendergast isn’t flashy, but he’s a relatively quiet coach on the field who holds his players accountable and gets obvious results. Players like Shaw have been quick to praise him for the work that was done this year. Oh, and if you want NFL swag, he’s also got Super Bowl experience from a stint with the Arizona Cardinals.

There is a lot on Sarkisian’s plate in terms of filling out his staff but one of his best options might just be to find a way to keep Pendergast around if at all possible.

Five things: Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

December, 21, 2013
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Here are five things to watch for the USC Trojans (9-4) in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl matchup against Fresno State (11-1) on Saturday (12:30 p.m. PT, ABC):

1. 10 wins: The talking point that USC players and coaches used a lot over the past two weeks was the desire to get to 10 wins for the season. And the more you think about it, with all this team has gone through, it really would be a notable accomplishment. It’s not often a team has three coaches in one season, and the results usually aren’t good. If the Trojans can come away with a victory in this game against a quality opponent in Fresno State, it would be a satisfying way for this group to go out.

2. Stop that Carr: There’s a reason the Bulldogs have won 11 games, and it starts with the passing attack. Fresno State is ranked at the top of the national rankings in passing offense, their quarterback Derek Carr leads the nation in passing yards and touchdowns, and his top receiver Davante Adams tops the rankings in catches and receiving touchdowns. The Trojans – despite early season concerns in the secondary – ended up leading the Pac-12 in passing defense and a big key in this game will be the ability to get pressure up front with Devon Kennard and Leonard Williams.

3. O-line openings: The Trojans will be filling two open spots on the offensive line in this game after Marcus Martin (center) and Aundrey Walker (right guard) went out with injuries against UCLA. Fortunately, the replacements – Abe Markowitz and John Martinez – are experienced veterans, but they will have a strong test with a Fresno State defense that is tied for the national lead in sacks. It will be critical to give Cody Kessler time to throw to Marqise Lee – who is finally healthy – and Nelson Agholor to take advantage of a secondary that is ranked No. 116 in the nation against the pass.

4. You’re not in El Paso anymore: There has been a lot of talk leading into the game about the motivation factor for the Trojans. Last season, the team appeared to be less than enthused about a Sun Bowl appearance, and it showed in the performance. Fresno State is an opponent that is more than capable of beating the Trojans if there is a repeat of El Paso, but USC players and coaches say that there will be no such lack of enthusiasm for this game. In fact, several players cited a desire to play well for departed interim coach Ed Orgeron as a key factor.

5. Sark Watch: New USC coach Steve Sarkisian will be in attendance at the game, though he won’t be coaching. Regardless, it will be the first opportunity for the returning USC players to show well in front of their new coach, and you never know what can happen when a fresh set of eyes is doing the evaluations. Just ask Buck Allen – he was limited to 14 carries in the first five games under Lane Kiffin but played a larger role once Orgeron took over and became the team MVP.

WeAreSC roundtable: Postseason honors

December, 12, 2013
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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

Five things: UCLA at USC

November, 30, 2013
11/30/13
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Five things to watch as No. 22 UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) takes on No. 23 USC (9-3, 6-2) on Saturday at the Coliseum (5 p.m. PT, ABC).

Take back the City: This one is for the bragging rights of Los Angeles and, after the UCLA victory in 2012, the Bruins have talked a lot this week about how this game is an opportunity to show that they run the town now. The Trojans, of course, will point to 12 USC victories in the last 14 matchups, and the fact that the Bruins have not won in the Coliseum since 1997. The USC players know that the best way to put a stop to any talk of UCLA momentum is a win Saturday.

Real ball: When UCLA coach Jim Mora talked about facing the USC offense this week, he clearly relished the challenge of going against a “physical, downhill” offense, as opposed to so many of the spread offenses that are prevalent in the conference today. Mora called it “real ball” and he can expect to see plenty of it in this game. The Trojans have been running the ball well lately, with 240 or more rushing yards in three of the past four games. Buck Allen has nine rushing touchdowns in those four games and the USC offensive line has played particularly well.

Contain Hundley: It’s no secret that UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is one of the top dual-threat players in the country. He ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and the ball gets spread around, as 26 Bruins have caught passes this year. But where Hundley can often be most dangerous is when he takes off to run. He has more than 500 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground this year. The biggest issue for UCLA is that their offensive line will start three freshmen who will be attempting to block Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard & Co.

Senior Day: Among the USC seniors who be playing their final game at the Coliseum are a group of eight players who were a part of the final recruiting class of Pete Carroll at USC: De’Von Flournoy, Kevin Graf, Kevin Greene, Torin Harris, Devon Kennard, John Martinez, Marquis Simmons and Simi Vehikite. Those players signed up for what they thought would be a continuation of the Carroll dynasty but they were subjected instead to harsh NCAA penalties for violations that took place long before they arrived. They were also part of a resurgence at end of their final USC season that helped restore a great sense of pride to the program.

Finish the script: The last seven weeks has brought an amazing turnaround and nothing could finish it better than a win over the Bruins in the Coliseum. All the feel-good emotion around the Trojans right now would reach a crescendo if USC can find a way to avenge the loss last season in the Rose Bowl. Of course, a Trojans victory on Saturday would also result in a landslide of public opinion in favor of retaining interim coach Ed Orgeron.

Trojans hitting stride at right time

November, 24, 2013
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The Trojans arrived home in Los Angeles on Sunday morning in a good position.

Coming off a satisfying 49-27 victory over Colorado, USC extended its win streak to five games and an overall 6-1 record under interim coach Ed Orgeron. It might not have been enough to get the Trojans into the Pac-12 title game -- ASU clinched the berth from the south on Saturday night -- but that bit of news will do little to dampen the enthusiasm of the players and coaches.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans' win over Colorado.
There is too much else to celebrate about what this team has accomplished to worry about the title game. Yes, it would have been nice for the program, especially considering the Trojans have yet to play in the game as it enters its third year in existence. But to focus solely on the title game would be a disservice to everything else that has gone on with this program over the last seven weeks, a process that has seen the team continue to improve to the point where they are playing their best football of the year at a time when the Bruins come to the Coliseum.

Not only do the Trojans have a chance to put the finishing touches on an amazing in-season turnaround with a victory over UCLA, they also have a chance to right a painful memory from last year. In their first season under coach Jim Mora, the Bruins got the upper hand in 2012 with a 38-28 victory in the Rose Bowl, a win that was all the more notable considering USC had beaten UCLA 50-0 the previous year.

The Bruins have tried to use the momentum from last year to lay claim to ownership of Los Angeles, on the field and on the recruiting trail. The slow start to the USC season appeared to give credence to those efforts, all while UCLA got a big road win over Nebraska and had high-profile stars such as Brett Hundley and Anthony Barr.

Then came the coaching switch for USC and tides of change have swung local momentum back in favor of the Trojans. While USC has been thriving under Orgeron, the Bruins are 3-3 in their last six games. While the Bruins were once ranked in the top 10 and the Trojans were unranked, the two teams now stand right next to each other in the rankings at No. 22 (UCLA) and 23 (USC).

The USC players are certainly going to want revenge for last year. Trojans safety Dion Bailey said in the locker room following the Colorado game that he and his teammates needed to “remind the Bruins” of who runs the town. That bit of chatter about ownership rights of the city is always part of this rivalry so that’s nothing new, but it doesn't figure to be the overriding storyline of this game.

The ongoing saga of Orgeron and his pursuit of the full-time USC job will dominate the discussions leading up to Saturday night, but what shouldn't get lost in the shuffle is the fact his team is playing well right now, as good as he could have hoped for in such an important matchup.

USC has a quarterback in Cody Kessler who has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games while growing into a clear leader of the offense. The running game has received a huge boost from the play of Buck Allen, with his nine rushing touchdowns in the last four games and the splash of explosiveness he adds on the ground. There is also the thought in opponents' minds now of a 260-pound fullback in Soma Vainuku who can move pretty well, too.

On the outside there is still the reality that Marqise Lee is bothered by injuries but Nelson Agholor has stepped up to help pick up some of the slack. Lee would love to be back on the field against UCLA to help make up for 2012 in what will likely be his final home game at the Coliseum. At tight end, Xavier Grimble showed on Saturday what can happen when the tight ends are healthy and utilized the right way as he led the team with six catches.

The development of the offensive line has to be considered one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It’s no accident when a team has four different running backs go for over 100 yards in a game, at some point the line is doing something right.

On defense, the USC front seven is starting to get recognition as one of the best units in college football. Leonard Williams is playing like an All-American and Devon Kennard isn’t far behind. It makes it all the more impressive to think the Trojans are doing this lately without leading sacker Morgan Breslin, primarily due to the fine play of J.R. Tavai.

There has been the dependable leadership from Hayes Pullard while Anthony Sarao stepped in for an injured Lamar Dawson without missing a beat. And what was once the biggest weakness on the team, the secondary play and coverage at the corner spot, has been stabilized by the physical presence of Josh Shaw while Bailey has been a playmaker at safety.

On top of all that, kicker Andre Heidari battled through his job being put up for grabs to nail the biggest kick of his career in the win over Stanford.

Those are a lot of positives for the Trojans, players who are rising up and playing well, and by no means are these the only players getting it done. Orgeron has provided substance to the loose atmosphere he has fostered with the Trojans and now he and his team have a chance to finish this magnificent regular season run in style.

USC Grades: Momentum builds after Oregon State win

November, 4, 2013
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Anyone who recalls the name Jeff Van Orsow will realize how important USC’s 31-14 win at Oregon State was to the program. He was the Beavers defensive lineman who batted down John David Booty’s pass on a two-point conversion attempt to preserve Oregon State’s shocking victory over USC in 2006. It knocked the Trojans off a national-title trajectory and until Saturday, they had lost every game at Corvallis since. For the first time in a while, this USC team seems to be having fun. It has won three of four games under interim coach Ed Orgeron and now could actually become a factor in the Pac-12 South.

PASSING ATTACK

Marqise Lee is back. He is not only physically able to play -- he had missed about a month with a knee injury -- but back to making the game-changing plays that earned him recognition as the nation’s best receiver last year. Lee sparked the runaway victory on the game’s opening play, with a 71-yard touchdown reception. He didn’t do much after that, but as he gets healthier and quarterback Cody Kessler finds ways to get him the ball, he could once again become the threat the Trojans thought they had. Kessler completed 17 of his 21 passes for 249 yards and continued to impress Orgeron with his leadership skills and competitiveness.

Grade: B-

RUSHING ATTACK

Nobody is happier after a change in coaching regimes than the players who couldn’t get on the field under the previous guy. Suddenly, the slate is clear, their path to a role wide open. Javorius Allen was practically forgotten under Lane Kiffin, but Orgeron gave him a chance and the third-year sophomore ran with it. He ran for 133 yards and three touchdowns. Silas Redd picked up 140 yards rushing and suddenly people aren’t fretting about the Trojans’ lack of run offense any more.

Grade: A

IN THE TRENCHES

The USC offensive line finally played with the cohesiveness it had lacked for practically the entire season. Maybe that was because the offensive coaches simplified the game plan and the players were able to execute their assignments or maybe they’re beginning to trust one another. Either way, it bodes well for the remainder of the season, because this still doesn’t look like an offense that is going to sling it all over the field and, to beat a team as physical as Stanford, for example, it’s going to take some bullying from the offensive line. No group showed more progress.

Grade: A-

DEFENSE

Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion had thrown three interceptions in his first eight games, but a ball-hawking USC defense got that many in one game. This is becoming not only a strong defense, but an entertaining one to watch with the frequent turnovers and the aggressive schemes. The Trojans held Oregon State to 277 passing yards, nearly 150 yards under its season average, which led the nation coming into the game. Devon Kennard is emerging as a force in the new defense. With a dominant defensive line, even without top pass rusher Morgan Breslin, and strong secondary, this defense is giving the coaches something to build around.

Grade: A-

SPECIAL TEAMS

Andre Heidari made his only field goal attempt, a little 34-yarder. The Trojans blocked a field goal. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to talk about. USC only got to return two punts and all three Oregon State kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

Grade: C+

COACHING

Could a strong finish convince Pat Haden to give Orgeron the job permanently? It certainly seems like a reasonable supposition now that the Trojans have responded and built some momentum behind Orgeron. It might take a program-building win over Stanford or UCLA, assuming USC doesn’t get upset in one of its two remaining games outside L.A., at Cal and Colorado. If Orgeron can win six of his eight games as head coach and his team looks prepared and excited about playing in its bowl game, he deserves a long look.

Grade: A-

Oregon State can't stop Trojans' Buck 

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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Javorious Allen, Caleb Saulo Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJavorius "Buck" Allen wasn't stopped Friday, as the sophomore ran for 133 yards and three TDs as USC defeated Oregon State 31-14 for its first win in Corvallis, Ore., since 2004.
The “Buck” doesn’t stop here.

And now, all of a sudden, maybe Ed Orgeron doesn’t, either.

Javorius “Buck” Allen, the sophomore who’d been the forgotten tailback in the first few weeks of this weird, emotional season, rushed for 133 yards and three touchdowns to lead USC to its most impressive and complete victory in at least two years on Friday night.

Allen and Silas Redd rumbled through Oregon State’s bright orange at will, Marqise Lee returned to revitalize the passing game and Devon Kennard and the defense shut down Sean Mannion and one of the country’s most prolific passing attacks on their way to a 31-14 upset over the Beavers.

So much for the pit that Reser Stadium is supposed to be, huh?

Give most of the credit to Orgeron, the huge, teddy bear of an interim head coach who is doing everything in his power to wipe the word ‘interim’ off his title. He has re-energized a team that was spiraling down the depths toward a full-blown depression after Arizona State dropped 62 in what turned out to be Lane Kiffin’s last game.

Look around, the Trojans are having fun again. They’re playing loose on the field and flashing some frisky dance moves on the sidelines.

They’ve earned the right. And maybe Orgeron is earning something, too. He is 3-1 since taking over, only a couple of makeable field goals against Notre Dame away from being 4-0. He is 3-0 in the Pac-12 and, suddenly, USC (6-3 overall, 3-2 Pac-12) is a legitimate contender to win the South Division and get to the conference title game.

The 6-3 Trojans have undermanned California and shaky Colorado still left on the schedule. Oh yeah, then there are those two home games against Stanford and UCLA.

Well, let’s say Orgeron wins the two games in which he’ll be heavily favored and somehow manages to split the Stanford/UCLA duo. Considering the circumstances, that would give USC a more than respectable 9-4 record and mean that “Coach O,” as the kids like to call him, would be 6-2 as the head guy.

If you’re a real Trojans optimist and want to fantasize victories over both Stanford and UCLA, then suddenly the record gets to 10-3, 7-1 for Orgeron.

If that somehow happened, USC athletic director Pat Haden would be hard pressed to overlook Orgeron for the full-time job, even over a coach with a more glamorous name.


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USC seeks fresh start under Orgeron

October, 10, 2013
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Almost everything will be the same for the USC Trojans when they take the field Thursday night against Arizona in their first game since losing to Arizona State on Sept. 28.

The players are the same. The schemes/concepts are the same. Uniforms, helmets, etc., all the same. It’s what’s under the helmets -- specifically between the ears -- that might be noticeably different.

That ... and also a new coach. You might recall Lane Kiffin was fired nearly two weeks ago and the Trojans have spent the past 11 days going through a rebirth of sorts. The hope in Troy is that their minds are right for Thursday night's kickoff.

“There is a lot of energy and excitement right now which is a good thing going into the Arizona game,” said USC linebacker Devon Kennard. “When Coach Kiffin first got fired, some guys were really surprised and some guys were sad. After our first meeting, we bounced back and we’re ready to move forward and we’re really buying into what Coach O is doing and the direction he’s trying to take this program. We believe. That’s a good start.”

Coach O, being Ed Orgeron, was named interim head coach following the near-immediate dismissal of Kiffin following the 62-41 loss in Tempe, Ariz. He’s spent the bye week doing everything he can to put the fun back in USC.

“It was a critical week for us to get back to USC football,” Orgeron said. “These guys have been through a lot, so I tried to ease up on them and change a couple of things that were going on in the program. I thought we needed some change and to let the guys know it was going in a different direction. It’s been great. The guys have been walking around and smiling. There is a lot of energy in the room. A lot of energy on the practice field. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, but still focused.”

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesEd Orgeron has tried to lighten up the atmosphere at USC.
Kennard said many of the players were surprised Kiffin was fired. He added that they were aware of the outside noise, but few thought it would actually happen during the season. Kennard said he’s swapped text messages with Kiffin and thanked him for everything he did for him.

Then he, Orgeron and the Trojans got down to business.

“Coach O addressed the hard circumstances, but reminded us that the only thing that matters is the men in this room,” Kennard said. “We’ve got to fight the rest of the season. We really have a unique opportunity to turn this season around with a fresh start and a new beginning. That really fired a lot of the guys up.”

So what will the Trojans look like under Orgeron? Probably not too different than the previous Trojans. But Orgeron said there will be subtle tweaks that hopefully will have not-so-subtle results. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will call the plays and Clancy Pendergast will continue to run the defense.

“It’s hard to make wholesale changes in a week,” Orgeron said. “... There is hope. You’ve seen the running game; we’re making strides. Our strength is our running backs. The offensive line is doing a better job. We got out of whack in our passing game and it was not what USC used to be. We went back to some fundamentals. Some things they do really well and some things they aren’t ready to do. We’re making it quarterback-friendly so we can do some things we know we can do to get the ball deep.”

Arizona knows a little something about changing coaches in midseason. It happened to the Wildcats in 2011 when Mike Stoops was let go. The Wildcats came out the following game and beat UCLA 48-12. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said his team is preparing for an emotionally charged USC squad.

“I would hope we would play normally like ourselves no matter what,” Rodriguez said. “But I did tell the players that this game is going to be more difficult because USC is going to play extremely fired up, loose and come out with a chip on their shoulder. We will get USC’s best shot.”

Kennard and his teammates see the change as an opportunity to move forward and erase the negativity that has plagued the program for the past nine months.

“At this point in the season, coming off the ASU loss, things could be a lot more down around the locker room than they are,” he said. “But because of the change, there is a lot of energy and guys feel like it’s a fresh start and a new opportunity for everyone. In that sense, it gives us a clean slate. Nothing that happened up until this point matters. All that matters is the future.”

Inside the Coliseum locker room 

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
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LOS ANGELES -- Notes, quotes, and anecdotes from the Coliseum after the Trojans (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) defeated Utah State (2-2, 1-0 MWC) by a score of 17-14.

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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Defense bails out Trojans again

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
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LOS ANGELES -- USC was hoping to use the game against Utah State as a way to build some positive momentum, but the 17-14 victory over the Aggies showed that the Trojans still have a long way to go.

Make no mistake, it’s always nice to get the win but this is a game where the Trojans had a huge advantage in field position and also got the usual solid game from the defense. Unfortunately, the USC offense couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities to put the game away in the second half and, if not for some special teams miscues by Utah State, the result could have been very different.

“It was a very hard fought game today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Very much like what we anticipated. I felt like there was a rhythm early on when we were able to run the ball, but obviously we wanted to finish better in the second half.”

USC started off strong with a Tre Madden touchdown run on the second series of the game to go up 7-0. The Trojans defense put good pressure early on Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, primarily with defensive linemen Leonard Williams and George Uko as well as outside linebackers Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin. USC dodged a bullet when Utah State clanged a first-quarter field goal off the upright, a miss that would loom large.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams, Hayes Pullard
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsLeonard Williams (left) and the USC defense put the crunch on Utah State on Saturday.
Each team added a touchdown in the second quarter, and as the second half started it was clear it was anyone’s ball game.

The Trojans had their chances with the Aggies playing an eight-man front, leaving the USC receivers against man coverage. Normally, that would spell a big day for Marqise Lee and/or Nelson Agholor, but there were some dropped passes and some pressure on Cody Kessler which prevented the Trojans from capitalizing. Lee ended the day with six catches for 72 yards, while Agholor had two catches for 38 yards. Neither player reached the end zone.

“I missed some throws and we had some drops, but they are things we can fix,” Kessler said. “Thanks for the job our defense did, we were able to come away with the win.”

The USC defense is rapidly becoming known as the side of the ball which will win games for this team. Williams led the team in tackles with eight and added three tackles for loss. Uko had five tackles and a sack, Breslin had two sacks and Kennard added a sack. They did a terrific job of limiting Keeton -- who came into the game completing 78 percent of his passes -- to a rather pedestrian stat line of 21-of-39 passing for 179 yards and a pair of scores. Good numbers to be sure, but not enough to get it done against the Trojans.

“We had a good game plan from Coach O (Orgreon) the whole week,” Uko said. “We just wanted to angle in and rush tight and keep them in the box”

The battle for field position really started to impact the game in the second half, as the Trojans’ average starting field position was the Utah State 45, while Utah State started at its own 16. It didn’t help the Aggies that their punter had a shanked 12-yard kick at the end of the third quarter that led directly to a 25-yard Andre Heidari field goal, which proved to be the winning margin. There was also a strange fake punt from the Aggies on a fourth-and-11 from their own 34-yard line in the fourth quarter, resulting in an incomplete pass from tight end D.J. Tialavea.

If you’re looking for bright spots for the Trojans, look no further than punter Kris Albarado, who pinned five punts inside the Aggies’ 20-yard line to help win the field position battle. Little things like that are big on a day when the two teams are basically even in total yards (285 for USU to 282 for USC).

Madden fell short in his bid for a fourth-straight 100-yard rushing day but did run for 93 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Kessler completed 13 of 27 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown, but he was also sacked three times and took several big hits.

Now the Trojans turn their attention to a big road game next week in Tempe against Arizona State. There was hope that things would be clicking after a four-game opening stretch that included three games at home but at this point the offense can best be described as a work in progress. Thankfully the Trojans have their defense, a unit which once again put the team on their shoulders to come away with a tougher-than-expected win.

Notebook: Cravens latest to injure knee

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
7:17
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Injuries continue to be one of the big stories for the Trojans this spring as it was confirmed after practice that both George Farmer and Su’a Cravens will undergo knee surgeries.

The news was more dire for Farmer after Kiffin confirmed the earlier media reports of a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, which will force him to miss the 2013 season. For Cravens, he has a torn meniscus in his right knee and will undergo surgery Friday. The injury is the same as the one suffered by Silas Redd. Cravens is expected to miss 4-6 weeks and will be back in plenty of time for fall camp.

Su'a Cravens
Garry Paskwietz/WeAreSC.comSu'a Cravens is the latest USC player to get dinged in spring practice.
“Whenever there is an injury you hope, like Su’a, that’s it’s not going to be a long setback,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “With guys like George, those are the ones you feel really bad for. A guy who battles back and was playing well and then to have this setback.”

The Trojans entered the Thursday practice session with 20 players out of action because of injury and two more left practice – Torin Harris and Cyrus Hobbi.

“I don’t see any way we could practice like this in the fall. We wouldn’t be able to play a game,” Kiffin said. “Of the 22 guys who ended up being out today, 18 of them are scholarship players. With the roster reductions we already have we would not be able to give up that many players. We will start fall camp practicing this way, but I don’t think we will end fall camp this way.”

There was some good news on the injury front as Marqise Lee returned, albeit in a limited role, after missing two-and-a-half weeks with a knee injury. Lee seemed to be running fine with no major issues but he was held out of contact team drills. Kevon Seymour and Jordan Simmons also returned to action.

“Marqise was back, which was obviously good to see,” Kiffin said. “He basically took part in the first hour of practice and we’ll add to him as we go.”

George Uko was out today and J.R. Tavai took his spot with the first unit at defensive end. During the final team drill, Aundrey Walker was out and Max Tuerk had moved to center with Hobbi out, so the first unit left side of the line was walk-on Nathan Guertler at tackle and Giovanni Di Poalo at guard.

Receiver shuffle

With Farmer out, that means opportunities for players such as Victor Blackwell and De’Von Flournoy along with first-year players Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell. Kiffin also made sure to note the high level of play from Nelson Agholor this spring when discussing the receiver group.

(Read full post)

Week Two: Spring depth chart 

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
9:08
AM PT
The Trojans are almost two weeks through spring ball, and while it is still early, here’s a look at how the team’s depth chart might shake out if the season were to start today.

Quarterback
Cody Kessler (6-1, 215, RS So.) OR Max Browne (6-5, 215, Fr.); Max Wittek (6-foot-4, 235 pounds, RS So.)


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USC spring practice report: March 14

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
7:23
AM PT
The Trojans put an emphasis on the offensive line during the Thursday full-pads practice, and coach Lane Kiffin liked what he saw.

“I thought the offensive line responded well today,” Kiffin said. “We had some issues on Tuesday with fumbled snaps and false starts, but the players came out today with good energy along the line of scrimmage.”

Kiffin also noted the continued strong play of quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Browne, who have been forced to take extra snaps this week as the only two available players at the position.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Erik McKinney/WeAreSC.comWith Max Wittek sitting due to injury, Cody Kessler continued to impress in Thursday's practice.
“I thought both the quarterbacks did some good things today," Kiffin said. "Cody [Kessler] is really doing a great job and really comes alive in those team settings. Max [Browne] is moving around probably better than we thought this early from pocket movements and getting out of trouble for a tall, young guy."

Kessler hit Nelson Agholor against coverage from Morgan Breslin and the play went for a long gain. Browne had his best practice of spring and it included a pair of touchdown passes to Darreus Rogers. There was also a nice sequence for Browne where he had a pass attempt broken up by Leon McQuay III but he came right back on the next play for a nice completion to Buck Allen.

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
It was a breakout day for Rogers. The first touchdown from Browne came on a short throw that he caught and put a spin move to get away from Ryan Dillard for a 20-yard score. The second touchdown was the highlight play of the day on a 40-yard pass reception at the goal line. He also had an impressive play with a sideline catch where it took multiple defenders to bring him down.

“Darreus Rogers had an unbelievable day,” said Kiffin.

Bucking the trend
Buck Allen hasn’t made a ton of noise during his USC career so far, but he’s quietly put together a pair of strong practices in a row. Allen finished the practice off right, first with a 4-yard TD run and then with a 20-yard touchdown dash off the left side on the final play of the day.

Injury update
Marqise Lee and Max Wittek continued to sit out practice with the knee injuries they suffered last weekend, and Kiffin said both will wait until the first Tuesday practice after spring break (March 27) to get back on the field. Silas Redd and Chad Wheeler both left the Thursday practice with knee injuries, while George Farmer had a shoulder injury. There was no word on the status of those three. Kevon Seymour sat out with an ankle injury and is day to day.

MVP
Xavier Grimble was named the MVP of the day with Rogers a close second. Kiffin gave a lot of praise to Grimble as a guy who is on his way to becoming a potentially great player. Grimble wasn’t even supposed to practice due to a rib injury but he went out and performed well, most notably in a blocking drill against the safeties.

Other highlight plays

Anthony Sarao and Lamar Dawson both had pass deflections. Dawson also added a big hit on Justin Davis. Kiffin said Dawson has put together five great practices in a row after changing his body in the off-season.

Sarao, Devon Kennard and Charles Burks each had a sack.

Leonard Williams had a pass deflection.

Notables in attendance
Nico Falah, Damien Mama, Rey Maualuga and several players from Upland HS including safety Jeff Farrar, QB Tyler Hilinski and incoming ninth-grade receiver Nathan Telfer (no relation to TE Randall).

Quotebook
“The competition between Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer is good, no issues between the two of them. It’s kind of like how it was with Robert (Woods) and Marqise. They are really close, and they just push each other. They are almost exactly the same size, Randall is five pounds heavier and tests better.” -- Lane Kiffin

“This has probably been my best day here, but obviously still making a few mental errors. We slowed it down today and didn't install that much, so I was able to go out there and play. I felt like today I was the most comfortable and I think it showed in our offense as a whole." -- Max Browne

Offense explosive in Thursday's practice

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
11:45
AM PT
Lane Kiffin during his USC Trojans' loss to the Notre Dame Fighting IrishHarry How/Getty ImagesLane Kiffin is liking what he is seeing from his early enrollees in spring practice.

It’s easy to notice the upbeat style of play through the first two days of USC spring ball, and it was evident on Thursday with a team drill that featured some explosive plays from the offense.

The team drill started off strong for the defense, as the offense was backed up near its own goal line on the south end of Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field, and the defense had some stops, led by the interior front with Antwaun Woods, George Uko and Leonard Williams.

After the offense switched to the north end of the field, however, things began to change. Max Wittek hit Nelson Agholor for a short gain, and Agholor showed his burst of speed to outrun the secondary and make it a long gain. With the ball placed again deep in the offense's end, Silas Redd took a handoff and went 85 yards down the left sideline before being driven out at the 10-yard line by Kevon Seymour.

(Read full post)

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2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler373260313330
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen23112445.49
J. Davis1064694.43
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
N. Agholor85110313.010
J. Smith4661013.35
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense153.9287.5441.5
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring33.824.69.2