USC: Kevin Graf
There are nine assistants whose livelihoods and potential family relocations might be at stake, pending the outcomes of the Colorado and UCLA games. It’s a tenuous position, as Trojans athletic director Pat Haden will soon make the difficult decision on the next USC head football coach, which will affect some, if not all, of the current assistants.
Be assured that Haden has empathy for Orgeron, his assistants, and their limbo status, as this coaching staff attempts to finish the regular season in spectacular fashion and state their case for further employment at USC.
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What was most impressive part of USC's victory against Oregon State?
Johnny Curren: It was a phenomenal effort by tailbacks Javorius Allen and Silas Redd, as the Trojans amassed 242 rushing yards. But it wasn’t just the ball-carriers who made an impact. In fact, the performance of the offensive line might have been what was most impressive of all. Putting together their best outing of the season, they were an incredibly aggressive and cohesive unit. The lights-out night that Aundrey Walker had, in particular, was a positive development with an eye toward the rest of the season. If the USC ground game continues to roll like it did against OSU, there’s little doubt the Trojans will be finishing the 2013 campaign very strong.
Greg Katz: The most impressive part of the Trojans' victory was the way Ed Orgeron’s team kept its poise once the Beavers tied the game at 14-14. In the past, the Men of Troy might have folded at Reser Stadium, but this group was able to rise above the crowd noise, keep its composure and come right back to win going away. It was a major maturity step and possible turning point for the 2013 Trojans.
What is the key matchup of the USC-Cal game?
Paskwietz: USC vs. themselves. Things are going in a very positive direction right now for the Trojans, and on paper it doesn’t appear Cal should present an overwhelmingly tough matchup. But, as any college football fan knows, anything can happen on any given day. Think back to last year for the Trojans at the beginning of November when they hit the road for a game they were expected to win. If they had won in Arizona, it would have set up a huge showdown the following week at the Coliseum -- a very similar scenario to this year.
Curren: With Josh Shaw moving from safety to cornerback, the USC secondary has put together two consecutive solid outings after struggling at times earlier in the season, but it faces a big test this weekend in California’s uptempo, spread offense. Freshman quarterback Jared Goff leads a Golden Bears aerial attack that generates 351.1 passing yards per game -- the No. 8 mark in the FBS -- and he has three very talented receivers at his disposal in Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler. With very little else clicking for Cal on either side of the ball, if the Trojans’ defensive backfield can keep those wideouts corralled while also taking advantage of a Goff mistake here or there -- which he’s been known to make on occasion -- USC should run away with the game.
Katz: The key matchup will not only will be the performance of the Trojans offensive line against the Bears defensive front, but the actual lineup of cardinal and gold players. The Trojans right side of the line actually looked pretty good against Oregon State with Max Tuerk at right tackle filling in for veteran Kevin Graf, and right guard Aundrey Walker having his best game as a Trojan. On the left side, senior John Martinez played a good game. Can this unit with or without Graf (ankle) continue to grow and open up big holes for the Trojans' obvious wealth of tailback riches?
What was the most memorable moment from USC vs. Cal in Memorial Stadium?
Paskwietz: It's the 2007 game when both teams came in ranked in the top 25. The game was played in a hard-driving rain, and the Trojans were only able to throw for 129 yards. But senior tailback Chauncey Washington had the game of his career with 29 carries for 220 yards and a touchdown to lead USC to a 24-17 victory. Washington had spent two years on academic probation and had to pay his own way at USC, so to see him rewarded for his patience with a performance like that was truly memorable.
Curren: It wasn’t a positive memory for the Trojans, but the 2003 USC-Cal matchup was as drama-filled as it gets. In a game featuring an incredible three overtimes marked by wild and unpredictable plays, including a Hershel Dennis fumble, as well as a field-goal block by Gregg Guenther, the No. 3 Trojans wound up losing 34-31. The difference was a Tyler Fredrickson field goal. In looking back, the most significant thing to come from the game was that it really marked a turning point of sorts under Pete Carroll, as the Trojans would go on to win an incredible 34 consecutive games following that defeat.
Katz: Unfortunately for Trojans fans it would be the 2003 triple-overtime loss to the Bears. The Dennis fumble and the game-winning 38-yard field goal by Frederickson in OT was at the time a killer. However, it seems that painful loss was inspirational the rest of the way, as former Trojans head coach Pete Carroll never again lost to Cal during his marvelous tenure.
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It was the most complete game that USC has played in years. The defense did a great job against the top statistical passing game in the nation, including three interceptions, which was the total that Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion had coming into the game. The offense had tremendous balance with 242 yards rushing and 247 yards passing. It was the best play calling yet from Clay Helton.
As important as anything, however, was the way in which the Trojans physically dominated on both sides of the ball. For a team that has struggled with injuries and has thrilled in recent weeks to take any win no matter how it happened, this game was one to enjoy for its physical beauty.
It was somewhat unexpected too.
The Trojans defensive front had been solid coming into the game but they were without leading sack-man Morgan Breslin and Mannion had proven to be tough to rattle. Not only did the Trojans get two sacks but they added nine pressures in addition to the critical interceptions -- two of them at or near the end zone -- and they also held Mannion and leading receiver Brandin Cooks well below their nation-leading averages.
The Trojans offensive line had been in a state of flux after an injury to Kevin Graf resulted in three players seeing time at new positions. USC was also limited at tight end. Regular starter Xavier Grimble tried to go but for most of the game it ended up being walk-in tackle Nathan Guertler filling in and doing a very commendable job in the blocking department.
The USC running game was coming off a net 30-yard performance the week before against Utah and it was clear early on against the Beavers that leading rusher Tre Madden was not going to be available due to injury. Not a problem for Silas Redd and Buck Allen.
Redd set the tone with his physical runs gaining big chunks of yardage. Then Allen would spring in and use his combination of speed and slashing ability to keep things going.
There was no better example of what kind of day this was going to be for the Trojans on the ground than early in the second quarter after Oregon State had pulled to a 14-14 tie. It was the kind of moment when you need to rely on the run game to settle things down. The Trojans went on a 10-play drive -- eight of them on the ground -- to score what would prove to be the game-winning points.
More importantly, it was the kind of drive where the Trojans realized they could impose their will. Momentum had been completely on the side of the Beavers at the start of the drive but the Trojans stole it right back with a physical ball-control drive.
For the second time this season, the Trojans also saw the emergence of a two-headed weapon at tailback. Early in the year it was Madden and true freshman Justin Davis but now, thanks to injuries to both, the opportunity has been presented to Redd and Allen and both took advantage on Friday night.
As the Trojans continue to ride this wave of emotion under interim coach Ed Orgeron, this latest physical performance can only offer encouragement for what is possible in the coming weeks. The next game offers an opponent that is struggling and an opportunity for USC to get back more bodies from the injured list. If the Trojans can build upon what took place in Corvallis, you never know what might be in store for this team in the final stretch of the season
If these Trojans players can somehow rebound against Utah on Saturday at the Coliseum and maintain momentum the rest of the way, anything is still possible when it comes to USC’s interim head coach. If the Trojans can win the games they’re supposed to win, including obvious uphill challenges against Stanford and UCLA, the impossible can still become the possible.
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USC 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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Over on the right side of the line, meanwhile, guard John Martinez and tackle Kevin Graf have each quietly had a more-than-productive March and April. Two redshirt seniors set to start alongside each other for the third straight year, there’s nothing particularly glamorous about the hard-nosed duo, but as the unquestioned veteran leaders of an offensive line unit that is still very much a work in progress, they figure to play a vital part in determining how the group ultimately performs in the fall.
“We’re the right side, we have the most experience and we plan on leading these guys to wherever we need to go,” Martinez said.
With a change in philosophy set in place by Summers, however, in addition to the two seasoned vets paving the way, it’s safe to say that the offensive line has its sights set high for 2013.
“One thing Coach Summers has brought in this spring is that we talk about being the best offensive line in the country, and that’s what our goal is,” Graf said. “We’re here to be the best. We’re here to be the greatest offensive line in the country, and that’s what we need to work harder towards.”
In Graf, the Trojans have a prototypical tackle with 6-foot-6, 300-pound size to go along with deceptive athleticism and a unique football IQ that comes with growing up in a football family. His father, Allan, and brother, Derek, both played for the Trojans on the offensive line.
Martinez, at 6-2 and 305 pounds, is more of a brawler on the interior with a strong build and quick feet. Like Graf, he has football in his genes, with a number cousins having played collegiately, and a brother, Keni Kaufusi, currently on the California roster.
Both arrived at USC as members of the Class of 2009 during the Pete Carroll era. Graf, from Agoura Hills (Calif.), and Martinez, a Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood, product actually first met at the Under Armor All-American Game that year and became fast friends.
That bond has transferred over to the field where, having made a total of 25 starts next to each other, the two share a unique familiarity and comfort in the knowledge that they can always count on one another.
“We have trust,” Graf said. “I know that he’s going to have my back, and he knows that I’m going to have his, and that’s the most important thing.”
In particular, it’s the relative ease with which they can communicate with each other on the line in the heat of battle that works not only to their own benefit, but to that of the entire offense.
“We’ll have full-on conversations on the line, because we know that we need to be able to communicate with each other -- we need to be able to see everything, and that definitely helps,” added Graf. “And when you’ve been training with someone next to you for three years, it’s almost easy.”
But their synchronicity on the field isn’t the only reason for their success. Having made names for themselves both in the weight room and on the practice field for the determined way in which they go about their work, they continue to strive to improve.
“We’re still getting better,” Graf said. “When we first started, we were just sophomores, and by the time you’re a senior, you’ve grown a lot in terms of your maturity, and you’ve grown up as a player and a person, but you can still get better every day, and that’s what we do.”
With a work ethic like that, their emergence as leaders over the last year has developed naturally. This spring, however, they’ve each taken that responsibility up a notch.
“I definitely think that I’ve stepped up as a leader, because now that Khaled is gone it’s our turn,” Martinez said. “You have to have someone fill that role on a team, and I feel like that’s what me and Kevin have done on the offensive line. We have the experience to lead them and to show them the path to take.”
“I’m not going to be here forever, and John isn’t going to be here forever, so when the time comes for us to leave, the younger guys need to be ready,” Graf said.
Following the lead of Graf and Martinez, there are signs the offensive line is slowly starting to come together. The two vets are part of a starting unit that features Marcus Martin at center, Max Tuerk at left guard and Walker at left tackle. Over the past two weeks of practice, there has been a noticeable improvement in the group’s level of play.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride, but I feel like everything is starting to come together now,” Martinez said. “Spring break is over, we’ve got all of the jitters out and everyone is here to play ball. That’s what we need to do, because the offensive line had a decent season last year, and now we need to make a point to everyone else that we’re the foundation of the offense.”
If the offensive line does fulfill Martinez’s goal in establishing that mindset, it’s not far-fetched to imagine both he, as well as Graf, capping their USC careers off on the right note in 2013.
“Finishing off strong is important for us as seniors,” Martinez said. “I definitely think that we’re going to make a point to everybody that we mean business, and we’re going to hold down that right side.”
“It was a very physical practice,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I liked the defensive mentality at the end in the goal-line drill. It’s been a very competitive spring. It reminds me of the spring when we first got here. We need that to establish a competitive mindset.”
As Kiffin mentioned, the Trojans ended practice with a goal-line drill that got started with Hayes Pullard stuffing a run up the middle by Buck Allen. Justin Davis tried to slash into the end zone, but J.R. Tavai came across the line and knocked the ball out as he was bringing Davis to the ground, although Randall Telfer recovered for the offense. Davis did punch in a score at the end for the offense. There was also a little skirmish between a few offensive and defensive players after one play.
“It’s always a tough line between physical play and getting penalties with the goal-line drill,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin speaks with Enfield
Kiffin said he talked with new USC basketball coach Andy Enfield on Sunday night, prior to the announcement that Enfield had taken the job.
“I talked to him about the program and about working with Pat (Haden) and Max (Nikias),” Kiffin said. “I think it’s a great hire. He brings an exciting style of play and kids will want to play in that style. He’s also a guy who understands the academic side of being at a private school.”
Brady on campus
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady worked out on the USC campus Tuesday, throwing passes to his new receiver, Danny Amendola. Kiffin said it is common for NFL quarterbacks to use the USC facilities in the offseason, mentioning Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Matt Cassel as players who had thrown recently on the USC field.
* Anthony Brown knocked away a pass at the sideline intended for Nelson Agholor. Brown has put together a very solid spring while consistently in the lineup as one of the starting corners.
* A few plays later, however, Brown went for a pick on a rope thrown over the middle by Max Wittek and missed, allowing De’Von Flournoy to go for a long gain. Flournoy also had a touchdown later in the drill when he caught a pass from Max Browne and split the safeties with his speed.
* Victor Blackwell caught a short pass and got loose from Torin Harris with a nice shake move.
* Kevin Greene had a sack on Cody Kessler.
* Ryan Henderson had a pick off Kessler, who was trying to get the ball to Blackwell.
* George Uko had a nice play to move along the line of scrimmage in pursuit of Davis and hold him to no gain.
* Davis provided yet another dazzling touchdown run, this one a 45-yarder behind a block from Kevin Graf.
* Allen had a 20-yard gain down the left sideline thanks to Jahleel Pinner, who got one block at the line and then hustled down field to get another block.
* Browne hooked up on a 25-yard pass to walk-on Robby Kolanz on the right sideline.
Notables in attendance
Nico Falah, Steven Mitchell, Adoree’ Jackson, Dwight Williams, Chase Blakley
Max Wittek (6-foot-4, 235 pounds, RS So.) OR Cody Kessler (6-1, 215, RS So.) OR Max Browne (6-5, 215, Fr.)
Silas Redd (5-10, 200, Sr.); D.J. Morgan (5-10, 190, RS. Jr.) OR Tre Madden (6-1, 220, RS So.) OR Javorious Allen (6-1, 210, RS So.) OR Justin Davis (6-1, 215, Fr.)
With a full season under his belt at USC, Redd looks comfortable and focused as the starter. Morgan showcased a couple of big plays this week, while Madden looked much sharper than you might imagine a year removed from his knee injury. Davis, meanwhile, has been perhaps the hit of the early-entrant group so far, making the most of his limited carries in practice.
Soma Vainuku (6-0, 250, RS. So.); Jahleel Pinner (5-11, 225, So.)
Two of the team's hardest workers, Vainuku and Pinner alternated as the team’s primary fullbacks. It remains to be seen, however, if they’ll take on a bigger role in the offense.
Biggest individual plays
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- USC's official starting lineup is as follows, courtesy of the school's official site. On offense, Matt Barkley is at quarterback, Curtis McNeal at running back, Soma Vainuku at fullback, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee at receiver and Aundrey Walker, Marcus Martin, Khaled Holmes, John Martinez and Kevin Graf on the line.
- On defense, Wes Horton and J.R. Tavai are the defensive ends, Antwaun Woods and George Uko are the tackles, Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson and Hayes Pullard are the linebackers, Nickell Robey and Anthony Brown are the corners and T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling are the safeties. The school is listing Dawson as a game-time decision, though, which would appear to indicate he may not start after all. He was not warming up with his teammates on the field pregame.
- The Trojans have long resisted making alterations to their uniforms while programs across the country have given in, but USC is allowing its players something interesting this season. Every player's cleats and socks are now cardinal-and-gold colored and quite reflective in the Los Angeles sun.
- Los Angeles Dodgers public address announcer Eric Smith is the new Coliseum PA guy for the Trojans, beginning today. He was the school's top choice from a pool of potentials who auditioned during USC's Spring Game in April.
We'll have more from the Coliseum after today's game.
As expected, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are still listed as co-backups to starter Matt Barkley. We should have a resolution soon, according to Lane Kiffin, who said Sunday he'd have something to say on the subject on "Tuesday morning."
For what it's worth, Kessler was listed first at the end of spring and Wittek was listed first this time. But they still had an all-caps "OR" in between their names both times.
This might be the biggest surprise on the depth chart.
Curtis McNeal was expected to be the for-sure starter heading into camp, and that didn't change much when Silas Redd was added just days before. McNeal has done very little wrong over the last few weeks, yet, somehow, Redd's listed as his co-starter on the depth chart.
As the third-string running back, D.J. Morgan cannot afford to fumble this season. A turnover or two and his carries will be going to redshirt freshman Buck Allen, who has improved in camp.
Soma Vainuku is the starter here. There was never any doubt.
Freshman Jahleel Pinner is listed as the second-stringer, but it's likely he'll redshirt, so third-stringer Charles Burks is probably bound for the backup role. Walk-on Hunter Simmons gets on the depth chart after re-joining the team this year.
We'll analyze the depth chart on Monday.
Cody Kessler OR
CURTIS MCNEAL OR
De'Von Flournoy OR
XAVIER GRIMBLE^ OR
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick OR
Christian Thomas OR
LOS ANGELES -- Here are news and notes from Monday's afternoon practice, once again held on Dedeaux Field, that won't make it into our other coverage from the session:
Energy was a big issue in the Trojans' Sunday scrimmage at the Coliseum, with the offense appearing sluggish, lackadaisical and flat-out slow pretty much all throughout the action.
It was not an issue 24 hours later on Monday.
"For whatever reason, we had great energy (today)," coach Lane Kiffin said Monday. "I don’t know why, but it was really good to see.
Kiffin said the team came out with a spark in individual drills and carried it all the way through to the overtime session at the end of practice, two hours later.
And, given Monday's events, he said he was happy with the way the scrimmage went, because it energized his team into a full-go session just 12 days before the season opener.
Defensive ends return
J.R. Tavai and Wes Horton, the Trojans' likely defensive end pairing in next month's season opener, both returned to practice on Monday after sitting out several days due to injury. Tavai did just about everything, while Horton mostly sat out of 11-on-11 drills. Neither player's injury has been disclosed.
It was, in total, a good day for the defensive ends, then, as Kiffin praised Horton and spotlighted juco transfer Morgan Breslin as one of the Trojans' better players in Sunday's scrimmage. Kiffin said he felt "better after watching the film" about the play of the ends in the scrimmage.
Bad day for the offense
The circumstances weren't exactly great, as many of the first-team Trojans began the scrimmage watching from exercise bikes on the sidelines while Lane Kiffin reserved live-tackling drills for the backups.
But the USC offense just didn't perform well on Sunday. Matt Barkley and the first-team unit didn't, and neither did Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and the second unit. It looked ugly, all-around, from start to finish, with few positive blips in between.
"We struggled today," Lee said. "I think we weren't really focused here and there. That's really about it."
Kiffin said it wasn't any of the quarterbacks' fault, choosing instead to blame it on overall inefficiency from the group. He also found a positive aspect of it.
"There's not just one person to blame or anything," Kiffin said. "We didn't play well in any of our position groups for the most part. But there's always two sides to that. It means we were doing some good things on the other side as well."
Among the players who sat out of the scrimmage due to injury were right tackle Kevin Graf, defensive ends Wes Horton, J.R. Tavai and Greg Townsend Jr, linebackers Dion Bailey and Lamar Dawson (calf) and cornerbacks Torin Harris (hamstring) and Brian Baucham.
Woods, Lee, Curtis McNeal, Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald all began their days on exercise bikes on the sidelines before participating in the lighter portion of the session. Barkley and Khaled Holmes also logged a limited amount of snaps during the live-tackling part of practice.