USC: Justin Davis

Pinner shows off versatility for Trojans

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
3:15
PM PT
USC junior fullback Jahleel Pinner hasn’t recorded a single carry up to this point in his career, but if the two most recent practice sessions of the spring are any indication, that just might change in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJahleel Pinner
Chris Williams/Icon SMIJahleel Pinner has seven career receptions -- and no rushes -- for the Trojans.
With the running back corps decimated by injuries, Pinner has been relied upon heavily -- both at his normal fullback spot, where, with Soma Vainuku sidelined, he has served as the lone scholarship contributor, and at tailback, where he has split reps with Tre Madden and walk-on James Toland. And to the credit of Pinner, a part-time starter in 2013, he has seized the increased opportunity to make a strong statement with his play -- particularly on Saturday when he put together a string of impressive runs during the team’s full-pads workout in the Coliseum.

“You know, Jahleel is a unique player because he is a very smart football player -- he’s got a very high football IQ,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “On a lot of those runs, he hadn’t even carried the ball ever leading up to that Saturday scrimmage, and he had a natural feel for running the ball where the ball was supposed to go, and then taking advantage when our defense was wrong, which is really how the running game works. When the defense is wrong, you have to take advantage of it, and he was in the right spot to do so.”

Of course, the fact that Pinner has looked at home toting the ball shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. After all, he did see time at the position -- in addition to fullback -- as a high school standout at Orange County power Mission Viejo in California, amassing more than 1,500 yards on the ground over the course of his final two seasons, despite being hampered by an ankle injury as a senior.

With a rock-solid 5-foot-11, 240-pound frame, however, and a reputation as a punishing blocker, he has made a name for himself exclusively at fullback at USC, where his attributes have proven to be a perfect fit -- both in the Trojans’ prior offensive scheme, as well as in Sarkisian’s newly installed up-tempo, shotgun-based attack. Throw in the fact that talented tailbacks Javorius Allen, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac and D.J. Morgan are all due back in the fold in the future, and a permanent switch from fullback isn’t likely to be in the cards.

Still, with the versatility that Pinner has shown this spring, Sarkisian envisions Pinner potentially lining up at tailback on a situational basis for the Trojans in the fall.

“I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a feature back for us down the road, but he’s a guy that we know we can put him in, whether it’s in a short-yardage situation, a goal line situation, [or] late to close out a football game,” Sarkisian said. “He’s a guy that we can have trust in that he can go out and execute the offense from that position.”

For Pinner, who has more than enjoyed his time at tailback, that’s music to his ears.

“With this offense there’s going to be a lot of plays,” Pinner said “They’re not going to play just one running back all 120 plays you run per game or whatever, so we are going to be rotating backs just like we did last year. So, as long as I keep doing what I’m doing and playing hard, I’m going to get a shot in the games.”

And with that prospect of possibly taking on a larger role within the offense spurring him on, Pinner is determined to stay focused on the task at hand, all in an effort to continue in what has already been a productive spring.

“Every day is a golden opportunity here,” Pinner said. “I’m just trying to take advantage of every rep I get, and just trying to get better.”

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
7:15
PM PT
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: With Ka'Deem Carey off to the NFL, figuring out Arizona's running back situation requires a bit of guesswork. Backups Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler are out of eligibility and rising junior Jared Baker tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. That leaves no running backs who had a carry last season. Those competing for carries will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green, and true freshmen Jonathan Haden, an early enrollee, and Nick Wilson.

[+] EnlargeOregon/Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesByron Marshall will be the Pac-12's leading returning rusher in 2014.
Arizona State: The torch was passed from Marion Grice to D.J. Foster toward the end of last season, and Foster will have a full offseason to prepare to be the No. 1 guy. He showed impressive flashes in spot playing time in the past two seasons, and ran for 318 yards (6.2 yards per carry) in three starts after Grice was lost to injury.

California: Much was made about Brendan Bigelow's talent during his career in Berkeley, but it never materialized the way many expected it would. He was beaten out by true freshman Khalfani Muhammad a year ago, then opted out of his final year of eligibility for a shot at the NFL -- and subsequently was not invited to the combine. Getting a feel for how coach Sonny Dykes would like to use his running backs is tough considering the lopsided nature of most of the games last year, but Muhammad showed all the signs that he would develop into a good Pac-12 running back.

Colorado: Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II will both be back after combining for 1,097 yards rushing in 2013. With receiver Paul Richardson off to the NFL, there's the need for added production on offense, and while coach Mike MacIntyre showed at San Jose State he'd prefer that to come through the air, it could add up to more opportunities for Powell and Adkins.

Oregon: Does it even matter who the Ducks hand the ball to? Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but, regardless, Oregon remains loaded with speed and talent at running back. Byron Marshall (1,038 yards rushing) and Thomas Tyner (711 yards) will both see plenty of carries when quarterback Marcus Mariota (715 yards) isn't running on his own. The team does lose De'Anthony Thomas, who opted to leave early for the NFL, but Thomas turned into a relative afterthought last season anyway.

Oregon State: It shouldn't be hard to improve the Beavers' running game after they ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. Their top two backs -- Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- return and figure to see more use under new offensive coordinator John Garrett. There was a glimpse of what could be against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl as the Beavers unleashed a more balanced approach. Woods ran for 107 yards on 16 carries and Ward added 54 yards on nine carries in a comfortable 38-23 victory.

Stanford:The Cardinal's running back situation is outlined here in more detail, but it should be noted that the competition between Remound Wright, Barry J. Sanders and Ricky Seale -- competing to replace Tyler Gaffney -- will also include Kelsey Young. Young was recruited to Stanford to play running back, but was switched to receiver and is now back at running back. Sanders has the name recognition, but all signs point to Wright getting the first crack at being the primary back. However it plays out, it would be a complete shock if one back was used as much as Gaffney was in 2013 and Stepfan Taylor the two seasons before that.

UCLA: If things play out the way UCLA coach Jim Mora hopes they will, linebacker Myles Jack will be just that … a linebacker. After winning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, the Bruins would ideally keep him on defense. For that to happen, someone needs to step up. That conversation still includes Jordon James and Paul Perkins, while Craig Lee, a four-star recruit who redshirted last year, also factors into the equation.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen will likely head up USC's running back committee next season.
USC: After watching Bishop Sankey turn into one of the nation's premier backs under the tutelage of new coach Steve Sarkisian, USC's deep stable of running backs has to be intrigued. The Trojans will return four of their top five leading rushers from a year ago -- Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac -- when they were predominantly a run-first team. Allen, who was named the team MVP in 2013, figures to get the first crack at being the starter, but that could be just in name only as a running-back-by-committee scenario seems likely.

Utah: Another season, another new offensive coordinator for the Utes. This time it's Dave Christensen's job to invoke life in the Utah offense, which will return leading rusher Bubba Poole (607 yards) and Lucky Radley (284 yards). The Utes averaged just 4.1 yards a carry as a team last year, which is partially to blame for the change from Dennis Erickson to Christensen after just one year.

Washington: The NFL combine taught us that Bishop Sankey might have been the most physically gifted running back in the country last year. It's not as simple as plugging in another guy to replace him, but the Huskies are still in good shape. Senior Jesse Callier (48 carries, 213 yards in 2013), who was slated to be the starter before an ACL tear in the season opener in 2012, is intriguing and will compete with fellow senior Deontae Cooper (43 carries, 270 yards) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (27 carries, 332 yards).

Washington State: Considering quarterback Connor Halliday had three single-game passing totals that were more than leading rusher Marcus Mason ran for in entire season (429), any discussion about the Cougars' running game is tough to take seriously. Yes, there will still be running backs on the roster. No, they probably won't combine to run for 1,000 yards as a team.

Previous positions

Quarterback

Trojans are deep at tailback

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
9:00
AM PT
After the fax machines stopped rolling and the ink was dry on national signing day, USC first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, when discussing the merits of the 2014 recruiting class, made a point of stating that his staff intentionally did not recruit a running back.

Naturally, given the roster strength of the 2014 running back depth chart, this didn’t exactly come as a surprise. But it was recognition that of all those question marks heading into spring ball, the young men who carry the football aren’t an issue.

Sarkisian also reminded Trojans followers that despite the change in offensive formations, his philosophy on offense is to first having a power running game complemented by a balanced passing attack.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen is poised to be the leading tailback for USC.
There’s no position more identified or glorified in college football than the USC running back, or “tailback” as it is commonly referred. Legendary USC Hall of Fame coach John McKay created the modern era Trojans running game philosophy with the spotlight on the tailback and things haven’t significantly changed over the decades.

During McKay’s tenure, he believed the best ball carrier should be given the ball repeatedly and justified it with such immortal quotes as “It’s [the ball’s] not heavy,” and “he [the tailback] doesn’t belong to a union.”

One look at the Trojans' 2014 tailback depth chart and it appears to be a proverbial embarrassment of riches. Of the tailbacks returning, each has already been given the opportunity to carry the ball and has shown through styles of their own that they could probably start for most universities in the country.

About the only thing that has separated this collection of standout tailbacks has been injuries. As one talented tailback went down in 2013, another took his place without much of a hiccup.

Sophomores Javorius “Buck” Allen and Tre Madden, freshmen Justin Davis and Ty Isaac, and junior D.J. Morgan all return in 2014. About the only thing that separates most them all at this point, besides the brilliance of Allen’s second half of the season, is rehabilitation from injuries sustained during last season.

The healthy spotlight returner heading into spring practice is Allen, the 2013 team MVP whose rise to the prestigious heights of a starting USC tailback was both remarkable and heartwarming.

Allen, who seemed buried in Lane Kiffin’s pecking order last season, was given a chance when Kiffin was fired after the Arizona State debacle. Ed Orgeron handed over the tailback decisions to former running backs coach Tommie Robinson, who thought Allen was the best option in a recommitted power-oriented offense.

Naturally, Sarkisian hasn’t said how he plans to use his assortment of tailbacks. Will it be one featured back like Sarkisian’s former All-American at the University of Washington, Bishop Sankey, or tailback by committee? This decision will be part of many spring ball questions to be answered, but the truth probably lies with the fact that the actual running back rotation order probably won’t be decided until fall practice, when there are more healthy bodies available for scrimmaging.

Unless there is a shocking development in spring, it’s likely that junior-to-be Allen, who will probably be named to some preseason All-Pac-12 lists, will head into fall camp as the Trojans No. 1 running back. However, Sarkisian and running backs coach Johnny Nansen need to show some semblance of credibility when they say all positions are open, which should bring out the best in all the available tailbacks in the spring.

And since the Trojans didn’t recruit a tailback in the class of 2014, those potential running back recruits for the class of 2015 will also be paying close attention to how Sarkisian and Nansen use their backs this season.

So, the implementation of the new- or old-school philosophy of the USC tailback under Sarkisian is just a plethora of spring handoffs away, and it begs an answer to a tantalizing question: Is Sark a one-tailback, “old school” professor, or is he a multi-tailbacks, “new school” professor when it comes to Tailback U?

WeAreSC roundtable: Postseason honors

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
8:00
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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 Trojans who have stepped up

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
2:00
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As the Trojans continue to battle injuries while they prepare for the final stretch of the 2013 season, here are 5 players who have stepped up when called upon due to injuries to other players at their position.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY SportsAfter missing a few games with injury, USC wideout Darreus Rogers has caught 12 passes in his last three games.
RB Buck Allen: There is no bigger example of a player rising up and playing a key role than what Allen did last week in the win over Oregon State. There were flashes from Allen earlier in the season -- as well as his solid performance in fall camp -- but it was still a pleasant surprise for USC fans to see him get 16 carries for 133 yards and three touchdowns in such a critical game. With Justin Davis out for the season with ankle surgery and Tre Madden battling hamstring issues, the Trojans might be relying on a whole lot more from Buck in the coming weeks.

WR Darreus Rogers: The freshman wide receiver had injury issues of his own early in the season but got healthy just as Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor both were hurting as well. In a two-game stretch against Notre Dame and Utah, Rogers had 11 catches for 122 yards and was a reliable mid-range target.

TE’s Nathan Guertler: Through the first three years of his career, Guertler was a little-used walk-on offensive lineman who was known for his rugged style of play. In recent weeks, however, the Trojans have found themselves with serious depth issues at tight end so Guertler has thrown on a new jersey with a tight end number and played well against Oregon State as an extra blocker.

OLB J.R. Tavai: After beginning this season as a backup to Leonard Williams at defensive end, Tavai was moved to outside linebacker when Morgan Breslin went down with a hip injury. Tavai responded with a pair of double-digit tackle games with his usual relentless motor and strength. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Tavai have such success considering he has played both inside and outside on the line in his USC career, but it is still a bonus for the Trojans to have a player who can move seamlessly between both spots.

DB Demetrius Wright: The Trojans came into the season with great depth at safety but it has been tested with the move of Josh Shaw to corner, the redshirt season for Gerald Bowman and various injury issues for Dion Bailey and Su’a Cravens. Wright has stepped in as an experienced reserve and provided steady play along with some big hits. Interim coach Ed Orgeron has mentioned Wright multiple times as a key contributor in recent weeks.

Tuesday mailbag: Can Mac get it done?

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
9:00
AM PT
Just cause it’s the mailbag doesn’t mean I mail it in.

Trojan Nation in (Downtown LA) writes: For the mailbag ... Kevin! You picked USC to lose against Oregon State. You Picked USC to lose against Utah. When are you going to show us Trojans some love and admit that we're a good football team with great talent who are WINNING despite going through what no other college team in college football has to. Would any other team in college football be doing as well as SC is if it had the same restriction put unfairly upon them??? I think not!

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesEd Orgeron's Trojans have managed to overcome plenty of obstacles this season.
Kevin Gemmell: I did, and I did. But I’ll say the same thing to you that I said to the ASU fan who berated my Washington pick a couple of weeks ago: Where were the mailbag notes thanking me for my support when I picked USC over Notre Dame and Washington State or Utah State? Though I will admit, your note was far more polite and playful, which is appreciated.

Color me egg-faced, because you’re right, USC is doing some pretty incredible things considering the roller coaster ride the program has been on with the sanctions and the coaching change and the injuries it has sustained.

When it comes to close games, I tend to lean toward the home team. And given USC’s lack of recent success in Corvallis, I took the best data I had available and made a decision. I was wrong. Ted was right, so a tip of the cap to him.

What impressed me most about USC was the power running game. Getting Silas Redd back has obviously helped, but Justin Davis goes down, Tre Madden exits and Buck Allen steps in and absolutely throttles Oregon State. Say this for USC’s depth, it’s bad in a lot of places, but it’s freaking awesome at tailback.

Now the Trojans are 3-1 since the coaching change, playing inspired defense and pushing people around on the lines. So yes, you are a good football team with great talent who is winning.

I’m not sure what to expect from USC down the stretch. But here’s a spoiler alert, I’m going to go out on a limb and pick you guys this week.


Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, Nice article on the new coach at CU. I wish them well this weekend and for the rest of the season. Snarky and spiteful? Ouch. I'll try and get back to my playful self. Let's be clear: I don't love UCLA, but Jim Mora's done a nice job and has handled himself admirably. I just think the media loves to over-hype sometimes, and given the Bruins' most impressive performances have been close losses, I do believe they need to win a meaningful game to earn so much praise. Keep up the good work and give your partner-in-crime a shout out, too.

Kevin Gemmell: This is why Ryan is one of my favorite mailbaggers. He flew off the handle a bit last week. I called him on it and had to reel him back in. And he comes right back with another note. The dedication is appreciated.

First, thanks for the kudos on the Mike MacIntyre story. I know the wins and losses aren’t there. And I don’t think anyone expected a massive swing in the win column in just one season. But he’s a proven rebuilder and recruiter, and I think he’s got the program moving in the right direction.

Regarding UCLA, I still consider the win in Nebraska to be a meaningful game. Not just because of the tragic circumstances that led up to it, but simply for how explosive UCLA looked in that second half when everything was clicking. We got a glimpse of a team with remarkable offensive and defensive potential and saw firsthand that when it’s clicking, it can hang with anybody.

Now, it wasn’t clicking the past couple of weeks, and it clicked off and on against Colorado. A lot of that has to do with youth and injuries.

Right now ASU looks like the team to beat in the South. But I’m not banking on anything in this final month. With USC yet to play UCLA, and the Bruins and Sun Devils yet to play Arizona, a lot can, and probably will, happen.


Mahalo in Honolulu writes: Hey Kevin, most of us Buff fans are happy with the new coach, yet are still skeptical on the outlook for the future -- primarily because of recruiting. High school kids don't have any memory of the glory days, the facilities are bleh, and the product on the field is, well, you know. What would you do to sell CU to the kids that can come here and help Mac build the Buffs to a contender?

Kevin Gemmell: Your skepticism is valid. You’ve been jilted a few times over the past five or six years.

I don’t know Mike MacIntyre as well as I do some of the other coaches. We’ve met a few times and speak on the phone every week during the teleconference. And for the story last week, he was gracious with his time and gave me an extended phone interview.

But there is a sense when talking to the man that he’s going to at least get the program back to respectability or go down with the ship trying. He’s a no-excuses guy. His pedigree is phenomenal, and there is no question about his dedication to the program.

That’s what you sell. You buy into the man, not the facilities or the school’s record 25 years ago. Take, for example, linebacker Addison Gillam. He had committed to MacIntyre at San Jose State. And when Mac changed to Colorado, Gillam followed. Here’s a young man who had a chance to go to an 11-win team, ranked in the Top 25 and moving into the Mountain West, a very respected non-AQ conference. But he followed MacIntyre because he believes in the man and the vision. He wants to be a part of something special -- building up a program from scratch and restoring it.

There is something admirable about that. And I think that’s MacIntyre’s greatest asset in recruiting.

And though the wins aren’t there yet, I think we definitely see a fiery, competitive team on the field. One playing with much more confidence than we’ve seen the past couple of seasons.


Daniel in Pittsburg writes: Hey Kevin, as a diehard Stanford fan and family member, I'm curious to know what your projected BCS standings would be if Stanford beats Oregon? I would also like to know if a Baylor victory would also play a role? Thanks Kevin.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesEven if Stanford and Kevin Hogan beat Oregon, the Cardinal may need help from some other teams.
Kevin Gemmell: Everything plays a role. A butterfly flaps its wings in Uzbekistan and the Colley Matrix blue screens.

I think Stanford would still need help, even if it beat Oregon, for the obvious reason that there are still undefeated teams in front of the Cardinal. If Florida State and Ohio State were to lose, then we could see the Cardinal jump into that No. 2 spot if they were to beat Oregon. And if Alabama loses, obviously the rest of the field moves up. So Stanford’s best chance is to beat Oregon and hope for an assist from a Syracuse or Florida, an Indiana or a Michigan, or an LSU or Auburn.

Assuming everyone else wins, Stanford beating Oregon would further supplant Florida State as the No. 2 team and strengthen Ohio State even more as one of the few undefeated teams. Perhaps Stanford gets a couple of No. 2 or No. 3 votes in either of the human polls, but I’m not sure voters would spring them over an Ohio State team that hasn’t lost in almost two seasons.

As for Baylor, I think it would enjoy a nice bump if it beat No. 10 Oklahoma. But I don’t think it would be enough to vault the Bears over Stanford if the Cardinal beat Oregon. If Stanford loses, it’s moot, because it will drop. If Baylor loses, it’s moot, because the Bears will drop. Both teams need to win to keep pace, and I think Stanford’s win would be viewed as more significant, so I don’t see Baylor jumping the Cardinal.


Joe Bruin in Westwood writes: Hey Kev ... Joe Bruin here. As a fan (and a mascot), I seem to be a little too worried about my team, especially after the games against Stanford and Oregon. I concur with Coach Mora when he said the team seemed to have a "hangover" from those games. Is it just me, or did the win against Colorado not look too impressive? Should I be worried about this team? Or will the Bruins get back in the swing of things?

Kevin Gemmell: I’d be concerned about this game coming up. The Bruins haven’t won in Tucson since 2003, Karl Dorrell’s first season, and Ka’Deem Carey is obviously one of the nation’s most elite playmakers. I know a lot of focus is on the Nov. 23 date with Arizona State -- and rightfully so -- but the Bruins still have a couple of tough tests in Arizona and Washington before that showdown.

However, Brett Hundley actually turned in the best quarterback performance of the week, per ESPN’s Adjusted QBR rating (note, adjusted reflects opponent’s strength).

Here’s the other side of it. As I said earlier, Colorado is a better team than it was last fall so give those guys a little credit for coming in and not being intimidated.

I think Colorado provided a nice little test (when was the last time we typed that?) for UCLA to knock off some of the rust from the back-to-back losses. The Bruins figured a few things out, and the offensive line got some more experience.

And Mora has shown that he can rally the troops when they are down. And I wouldn’t call the Bruins down right now. I’d just say they have a tough November ahead of them.

USC gets physical in beating Oregon State

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
4:00
PM PT
As the Trojans bask in the glow of the victory in Corvallis, there are many areas of their performance that deserve celebrating.

It was the most complete game that USC has played in years. The defense did a great job against the top statistical passing game in the nation, including three interceptions, which was the total that Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion had coming into the game. The offense had tremendous balance with 242 yards rushing and 247 yards passing. It was the best play calling yet from Clay Helton.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Steve Conner/Icon SMIThe USC defense made things difficult for Sean Mannion and the high-scoring Oregon State offense.

As important as anything, however, was the way in which the Trojans physically dominated on both sides of the ball. For a team that has struggled with injuries and has thrilled in recent weeks to take any win no matter how it happened, this game was one to enjoy for its physical beauty.

It was somewhat unexpected too.

The Trojans defensive front had been solid coming into the game but they were without leading sack-man Morgan Breslin and Mannion had proven to be tough to rattle. Not only did the Trojans get two sacks but they added nine pressures in addition to the critical interceptions -- two of them at or near the end zone -- and they also held Mannion and leading receiver Brandin Cooks well below their nation-leading averages.

The Trojans offensive line had been in a state of flux after an injury to Kevin Graf resulted in three players seeing time at new positions. USC was also limited at tight end. Regular starter Xavier Grimble tried to go but for most of the game it ended up being walk-in tackle Nathan Guertler filling in and doing a very commendable job in the blocking department.

The USC running game was coming off a net 30-yard performance the week before against Utah and it was clear early on against the Beavers that leading rusher Tre Madden was not going to be available due to injury. Not a problem for Silas Redd and Buck Allen.

Redd set the tone with his physical runs gaining big chunks of yardage. Then Allen would spring in and use his combination of speed and slashing ability to keep things going.

There was no better example of what kind of day this was going to be for the Trojans on the ground than early in the second quarter after Oregon State had pulled to a 14-14 tie. It was the kind of moment when you need to rely on the run game to settle things down. The Trojans went on a 10-play drive -- eight of them on the ground -- to score what would prove to be the game-winning points.

More importantly, it was the kind of drive where the Trojans realized they could impose their will. Momentum had been completely on the side of the Beavers at the start of the drive but the Trojans stole it right back with a physical ball-control drive.

For the second time this season, the Trojans also saw the emergence of a two-headed weapon at tailback. Early in the year it was Madden and true freshman Justin Davis but now, thanks to injuries to both, the opportunity has been presented to Redd and Allen and both took advantage on Friday night.

As the Trojans continue to ride this wave of emotion under interim coach Ed Orgeron, this latest physical performance can only offer encouragement for what is possible in the coming weeks. The next game offers an opponent that is struggling and an opportunity for USC to get back more bodies from the injured list. If the Trojans can build upon what took place in Corvallis, you never know what might be in store for this team in the final stretch of the season

Five things: USC-Utah

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
8:00
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Five things to watch for USC in the upcoming game against Utah:


Injuries: The long list of injuries for the Trojans is mind-numbing these days and three more players were lost for the season this week; linebacker Lamar Dawson (knee), tailback Justin Davis (ankle) and offensive guard Jordan Simmons (knee). These are not inconsequential losses as Dawson was fourth on the team in tackles and Davis was second on the team in rushing. At the end of Tuesday’s practice, only one scholarship receiver was available -- Darreus Rogers -- and there were no scholarship tight ends. How the USC injury list stands on Saturday may be as important to the outcome of the game as anything.

USC O-line vs Utah D-line: It was a rough night for the Trojans O-line against the Irish and it doesn’t figure to get a whole lot easier this week against a defensive line that paves the way for the conference lead in sacks. The Utes have 22 sacks on the year and 16 come from the line. They are a strong and aggressive group, led by a pair of outside pass rushers in Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard. Under normal circumstances the Trojans would use the tight ends to help with blocking assignments so this is yet another area where injuries could come into play.

USC corners vs. Utah pass game: The Trojans pass defense has been a struggle for the past three games and interim coach Ed Orgeron has decided to address things with a position change. Josh Shaw will move from safety to corner, the position he played earlier in the season. Orgeron is confident that the presence of Shaw will help to correct things, noting that the problems were not there earlier when Shaw was at corner. The ability of Utah to attack USC is the passing game will depend largely on the health of Utes quarterback Travis Wilson, who suffered a hand injury last week against Arizona but is expected to play on Saturday.

Kicking competition: After Andre Heidari missed two of three field goals against Notre Dame, Orgeron announced that the place-kicker job would be open for competition this week. Heidari, who has been the starter since his freshman year, admitted after Wednesday’s practice that he is in “a funk” with his kicking but he is confident he can work out of it. Alex Wood and Craig McMahon are being given longer looks in practice with a decision expected Friday after Orgeron meets with special teams coach John Baxter.

How do Trojans respond: It was an emotional scene in the USC locker room after the game in South Bend and it was obvious that was a game the players really wanted. They had fought hard but just weren’t able to pull it out. What made it even more interesting is how many players talked about how they wanted to win it for Orgeron. The interim coach has put a much-needed focus on the players, on keeping their spirits up, and that energy will need to continue because there is no time for a letup against Utah. Don’t forget that the Utes are the one team this year that has defeated Stanford.

Notebook: Injuries decimate skill positions

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
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One of the biggest topics for USC fans in the aftermath of the loss to Notre Dame was the impact of the game on the job status of interim coach Ed Orgeron.

It wasn’t that fans pinned the loss on Orgeron but the general consensus was that the loss did great damage to his long-term hopes of getting the permanent job. There were some who thought the damage was too much to overcome while others thought there was still a chance Orgeron could go a run to keep the job. There is still time to compete for a spot in the Pac-12 title game although there is very little wiggle room left. The Trojans would simply have to go on an amazing run through the rest of the season and there couldn’t be a repeat of what was seen on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesUSC interim coach Ed Orgeron has brought some positive energy to the Trojans.
That will be a daunting task for Orgeron to achieve when you consider the schedule that lies ahead for the Trojans, but he seems bound and determined to keep things positive. His postgame quotes following a crushing loss to the Irish were nothing more than gratitude for the players. And that could be the thing that matters as much as anything for Orgeron and athletic director Pat Haden during the remainder of this season.

It’s not like the Trojans got blown out or embarrassed in any way. They lost a tough game on the road where the realities of this particular team were on full display -- injuries, penalties, key mistakes, etc. at the wrong time.

One of the consistent praises you heard after the game, however, was for the effort from the team. Even in the face of one of those nights where so many bounces of the ball went against them, the Trojans fought to the end. And that’s where Orgeron wants to keep them. He wants to build upon the good energy he has brought during his tenure and not let one defeat put a halt to that momentum.

Kicking open the door of competition

Orgeron announced on Monday that he would be opening up the kicking competition this week in practice after Andre Heidari -- for the second time this year -- missed two field goals that could have provided the margin of victory in a game.

Other candidates in the competition will include Alex Wood and Craig McMahon, both of whom have seen action with extra points and kickoffs but have yet to attempt a field goal for the Trojans. The odds are that Heidari will end up keeping his job at the end of this week but it doesn’t hurt to have a little competition to get things kick-started, no pun intended.

Injury woes

There isn’t any way to sugarcoat what is going on with the Trojans and injuries right now. A look at the offensive side of the ball during the Tuesday practice showed a veritable MASH unit of sidelined players and a whole lot of walk-ons sprinkled among the active players.

At wide receiver, the Trojans ended the practice with only one scholarship receiver -- Darreus Rogers -- but that must have seemed like a bonus to the tight end spot, where no scholarship players were available. Add to that a running back position that is dealing with the news that freshman sensation Justin Davis will be out for the remainder of the regular season with an ankle injury and you have the makings of a real depletion of talent at the skill positions.

Position switch

It appears as if Josh Shaw is on the move again. After beginning his USC career at safety in 2012, Shaw got moved to corner midway through last season and played well. In spring 2013, however, he moved back to safety and seemed to have found a home in a spot where he was comfortable. But injuries and inconsistent play have reversed that course and this week Shaw finds himself back at corner.

It’s no secret that the cornerback position has been hit-and-miss this year and for the last three weeks it has been mostly a miss. Opposing offenses have found a recipe for success with attacking the Trojans cornerback spot no matter who was there from Kevon Seymour to Torin Harris to Anthony Brown. No matter how much the coaches preferred to keep Shaw at safety, this latest move is one that makes sense because the other options weren’t working. With Shaw now out of the safety rotation, look for Leon McQuay III to steadily get more time. McQuay has looked solid lately on the practice field, particularly on special teams as a kick blocker.

Ed Orgeron conference call highlights 

October, 21, 2013
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Here are some selected quotes from USC head coach Ed Orgeron’s Sunday night conference call following the Trojans’ 14-10 loss to Notre Dame.

Opening statement:

“After reviewing the film, there were some outstanding efforts by our guys. ... We felt that the penalties hurt us at the end, and put us in a bad position on third down ... too many penalties and too many mistakes put us in crucial situations.

Dream job still possible for Orgeron 

October, 21, 2013
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Despite the bevy of prognostications regarding the head coaching candidacy of interim head coach Ed Orgeron after Saturday’s bitter 14-10 loss at Notre Dame, maybe it’s still a bit premature to throw in the Orgeron towel, because his players certainly haven’t.

If these Trojans players can somehow rebound against Utah on Saturday at the Coliseum and maintain momentum the rest of the way, anything is still possible when it comes to USC’s interim head coach. If the Trojans can win the games they’re supposed to win, including obvious uphill challenges against Stanford and UCLA, the impossible can still become the possible.


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Planning for success: USC

October, 17, 2013
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It’s always a physical battle whenever USC and Notre Dame get together and this year’s matchup could be one that is won in the trenches.

For the Trojans on offense, it will be critical to continue a season-long pattern of committing to the run behind an offensive line that is blocking well, even if they don’t know exactly who will be available to carry the ball.

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsRB Silas Redd could be a big weapon for USC in the Trojans' showdown with Notre Dame.
Leading rusher Tre Madden has not practiced since suffering a hamstring injury against Arizona and true freshman Ty Isaac was also sidelined this week as well.

Fortunately for the Trojans, there are other options. Justin Davis has been a true big-play performer, the kind of young back who could shine in a setting like the one he will see in South Bend. Buck Allen has also impressed with his tough running style through the early part of the year. But the guy who could end up playing the biggest role -- particularly if Madden cannot go -- is Silas Redd. The presence of Redd allows the Trojans to legitimately go five-deep at the tailback spot with the ability to rotate throughout the game.

After suffering a knee injury in spring, Redd was sidelined until last week and it was almost a case of “out of sight, out of mind” as other tailbacks started to shine in his absence. The game against the Wildcats -- particularly the final drive -- was a reminder of just what he can bring to the physical nature of the Trojans’ run game. Redd ended the night with 80 yards on 19 carries. but it was his seven straight carries on the game-ending drive that really stood out.

There’s little doubt the Irish defensive front is going to be ready for a physical game. Notre Dame features one of the best D-line duos in the country in Stephon Truitt and Louis Nix III, who combine to put 680 pounds of force against the Trojans. However, Notre Dame’s co-leading tackler, linebacker Jarrett Grace, broke his leg in the last game so that will be a big hole to fill. The Irish only give up 122.3 yards per game on the ground while the Trojans come in averaging 200 yard per game so it will be interesting to see which team is able to impose their will in this area.

3 Up, 3 Down: USC 38, Arizona 31

October, 11, 2013
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LOS ANGELES – A look at the positives and negatives from USC’s 38-31 victory over Arizona on Thursday.

THREE UP

1. USC tailbacks: It’s safe to say that USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron wasn’t joking when he talked about wanting to get more players involved in the offensive attack. All five available scholarship tailbacks contributed on Thursday, helping the Trojans offense amass 249 rushing yards. Tre Madden – who went out in the first half with a hamstring injury – set the tone early, and Silas Redd, Justin Davis, Javorius Allen and Ty Isaac each kept it going. Redd, who closed the game out with some crucial runs during a game-clinching fourth-quarter drive, rushed for a team-best 80 yards.

2. USC passing offense: Offensive coordinator Clay Helton impressed in his first game as the Trojans’ play-caller, spreading the ball all over the field while placing an emphasis on establishing the vertical passing game. Cody Kessler completed passes to six receivers and threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns. The Bakersfield (Calif.) Centennial graduate completed long, first-quarter touchdown passes to Madden and Nelson Agholor, the latter of whom finished with seven grabs for 161 yards and one touchdown. To top things off, USC didn’t turn the ball over.

3. J.R. Tavai: Tavai, who had just two tackles to his credit on the season heading into the game, had a breakout performance. Filling in for Morgan Breslin at outside linebacker, he racked up 10 tackles (seven solo), including 3.5 tackles for loss. He was particularly active early on, making eight stops by halftime.

THREE DOWN

1. USC passing defense: For the second consecutive game, the Trojans defense struggled tremendously in pass coverage. Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker entered the matchup by completing just 50 percent of his throws for an average of 111.2 yards per game, yet he managed to look like an All-American against USC, completing 28 of 44 passes for a career-high 363 yards and four touchdowns.

2. Second-half letdown: The Trojans led 28-10 at halftime and appeared well on their way to a blowout victory, but unable to match the stamina nor the emotionally hyped level of play that they put on display early, they let the Wildcats hang around until the very end. Arizona outscored the Trojans 21-10 in the second half, and the USC defense, in particular, appeared to be physically drained in the fourth quarter, allowing Arizona to drive down the field with ease for touchdowns on the team’s final two possessions.

3. Attendance: The Trojans’ first-ever non-Thanksgiving/non-bowl Thursday night game in the Coliseum drew just 64,215, a number that began to shrink dramatically near the end of the third quarter -- just when Arizona started to make the game interesting. On a positive note, those who were in attendance were noticeably enthusiastic and vocal, feeding off the energy of Orgeron and the USC players.

Trojans shed ills, shred Eagles

September, 14, 2013
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video LOS ANGELES -- That was exactly what the cardinal and gold doctor ordered.

After a week filled with questions about the passing game and the definition of players-only meetings, the Trojans let their play do all the talking on Saturday with a 35-7 victory over Boston College at the Coliseum.

[+] EnlargeTre Madden
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsTre Madden had a touchdown reception to go with this 30-yard TD run.
The Trojans didn’t waste any time in letting the home crowd know that this game would be different from last week as new full-time starter Cody Kessler let fly on the opening play with a deep pass intended for Marqise Lee. The pass was overthrown, but the Coliseum crowd erupted in cheers, an obvious nod to the lack of downfield throws in the loss to Washington State.

“That was [USC president] Max Nikias’ play,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “He said just throw it deep and they will cheer no matter what.”

That was about all that went wrong for Kessler as he hit his next 14 passes. His first six went to six different receivers. By the time the game was over Kessler was 15 of 17 for 237 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yarder to Lee against one-on-one coverage from the Eagles defense, which was forced into that coverage since the Trojans were spreading the ball around.

“Coach Kiffin called a great game,” Kessler said. “He put me in position to have some multiple reads, and it was great to have options like that. I’m excited about our overall play. There was whole new confidence this week and I think it showed in our play.”

In addition to the success with the passing game, the Trojans also had a strong showing on the ground as Tre Madden went over 100 yards for the third game in a row and freshman Justin Davis also flashed his potential. That helped lead to 521 yards of total offense and more than 36 minutes time of possession.

Madden was the dominant performer in the first half with a short touchdown catch from Kessler to go along with 13 carries for 65 yards as the Trojans built a 14-0 lead. There were counter running plays, something that had not been a big part of the USC offense to this point, and Madden was taking advantage behind a nice performance from the offensive line.

Madden added a 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and finished with 16 carries for 102 yards. The majority of damage on the ground for the Trojans in the second half came courtesy of Davis, the electrifying newcomer who had 96 yards on 10 carries, including a pretty 17-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. The most impressive run for Davis came on a 39-yard play where he switched the ball from his inside arm to the outside arm like a seasoned veteran.

“We finished the game on the ground and I’m proud of that,” Kiffin said. “We had 43 rushing attempts and that really helped to open up the play-action passing game.”

The Trojans have rushed the ball 40 times or more in each of the first three games for a total of 130 attempts compared to 79 for their opponents.

As has also been the case so far this season, the USC defense once again played well and put tremendous pressure on the Eagles offense. Boston College featured a four-year starting quarterback in Chase Rettig and a productive running back in Andre Williams, but the Trojans ended the game with eight tackles for loss and didn’t allow an Eagles score until the USC reserves were in the game in the fourth quarter.

“I thought our first defense was lights out,” Kiffin said. “We were worried about their running back because we hadn’t played a Power I offense yet. It was all about tackling for the defense and I thought they did a great job. To give up only 184 total yards shows we did that well.”

Williams finished with 38 yards on 17 carries after rushing for 318 yards in the first two games of the year.

The Trojans improve to 2-1 on the season and return home next Saturday to take on Utah State. The victory over an outmanned Boston College team doesn’t mean that all of the early-season issues are gone for Kiffin and his team, but it was certainly a much-needed step in the right direction.

Young 'Trojan Horses' are ready to roll

September, 4, 2013
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While the USC passing offense sputtered throughout a good portion of the team’s 30-13 victory over Hawaii in Week 1, the Trojans showcased a ground game that was effective from the get-go -- even without the services of veteran ball carriers Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan. This success was in large part due to a couple of tailbacks who were making their collegiate debuts in the backfield -- redshirt sophomore Tre Madden and true freshman Justin Davis.

Keying a rushing attack that generated 192 yards against the Rainbow Warriors -- over 40 yards more than USC averaged a season ago -- both players ran with confidence and physicality, reflecting the mindset that the Trojans coaching staff worked hard to instill during the offseason. Not surprisingly, Madden and Davis drew praise from USC head coach Lane Kiffin on his Sunday night media call.

[+] EnlargeTre Madden
AP Photo/Eugene TannerSophomore Tre Madden ran for 109 yards in his first in-game running back action since high school.
“I thought that the run game was very efficient, especially for two running backs that had never played running back in a college game ever before,” Kiffin said.

It was Madden -- who played sparingly at linebacker and on special teams as a freshman before sitting out the 2012 season after tearing ligaments in his knee -- who led the way, getting the nod as the starter and rushing 18 times for a game-high 109 yards. And despite the fact that he hadn’t seen action in a live game since Nov. 26, 2011, the former Mission Viejo (Calif.) standout quickly settled into his role.

“After the first play I was back in the swing of things,” said Madden following the Trojans’ practice on Tuesday. “The nerves were building up before the game, and it was a long day leading up to it, but once I got on the field everything felt good. I felt comfortable with the game plan, the offensive line did well and [fullback] Jahleel [Pinner] did well in front of me. It definitely felt good to get that game out of the way and under my belt. Now I can look forward and just concentrate on getting better every week.”

Davis, who enrolled at USC this past January after starring at Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln, had the pregame jitters as well. But like his older counterpart, they were overcome once he took his first carry late in the first quarter.

“I was definitely nervous beforehand, but that’s just a normal part of the game,” Davis said. “Once you get into it and get a couple of snaps, it’s just like it is in high school.”

Amassing 74 yards and one touchdown on the ground, Davis’ rushing total would have possibly exceeded the century mark if not for a 15-yard loss that he took on a play where he recovered his own fumble. Still, as a whole, there’s more than a few positives that the young freshman can take away from his outing.

“I can definitely build off of my performance,” Davis said. “Experience is one of the best things you can have. The more experience that I get, the better I’m going to be.”

In Davis and Madden, as well as Javorius Allen -- who chipped in with 18 yards on four carries -- Kiffin and Co. found a rotation at tailback that could wind up being the ultimate formula for success ... at least as far as the USC run game is concerned.

“As a running back corps we all jelled together, and you could see that in the game,” Davis said.

Added Madden, “As a whole, I think the tailback unit did some good things. It was awesome having that three-running back rotation.”

Up next for the Trojans is a Washington State defense that, while fast and aggressive, did give up 297 yards on the ground last Saturday to Auburn.

Focused on taking the next step in their progression as a group, however, you can be certain that the USC tailbacks won’t be taking any opponent for granted.

“They fly around on defense,” said Madden on what he’s seen of the Cougars on film. “We just need to have physical practices -- like we did today -- to get ready. We need to get the game plan down and just get better every day.”

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PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler100718468
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen603185.31
J. Davis26602.31
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
N. Agholor232129.23
J. Smith1117015.50
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense151292443
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring322012