- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.