USC: Tommy Rees

Ed Orgeron conference call highlights 

October, 21, 2013
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.

Missed opportunities doom Trojans in loss

October, 20, 2013
There are some losses that simply hurt more for fans than others and the 14-10 USC defeat last night in South Bend, Ind., certainly qualifies.

What makes this one so tough is the missed opportunities. This wasn’t a game for the ages in the USC-Notre Dame rivalry and it wasn’t particularly well played on either side, but it was there for the taking for the Trojans and you hate to lose those opportunities when you have them.

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTailback Silas Redd rushed for 112 yards vs. Notre Dame but the Trojans offense struggled mightily in the second half.
Things started so well for the Trojans with a Troy Polamalu-esque goal line stop on fourth down by Su’a Cravens on the opening drive by the Irish. Then the USC offense responded with a beautiful 13-play, 96-yard drive that ended with a Silas Redd touchdown to go up 7-0. And that was about it for the SC highlights on the night.

For the remainder of the game, it just seemed as if the Trojans couldn’t get out of their own way. Redd ran for 91 yards in the first half and eventually became the first runner this year to go over 100 yards against the Irish. Redd was the one USC player who seemed capable of pounding Notre Dame all night but for some reason his touches in the second half were limited.

Nelson Agholor was another bright spot -- both as a receiver and punt returner -- but even he could only do so much after Marqise Lee had gone out of the game with an injury. Lee had tried to come back from a recent knee injury but he had another key drop, this one on a potential touchdown pass on a well-thrown ball by quarterback Cody Kessler.

Kessler had a commendable game, completing 20 of 34 pass attempts for 201 yards. He was under constant pressure from the Notre Dame defensive line and was throwing to a depleted pass-catching group that eventually was missing three of the five scholarship receivers and the top two tight ends.

And we haven’t even gotten to the penalties yet. The Trojans committed 11 penalties for 95 yards and so many of them seemed to come at critical times to negate a big play or first down. The biggest came on a holding call that brought back a Kessler scramble down to the Irish 3-yard line late in the game. There was also a non-call against Notre Dame as a pass interference penalty was not called on an Irish defender against Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick on the final USC drive.

There was a big hit by Lamar Dawson that knocked Irish quarterback Tommy Rees out of the game after Rees had looked sharp throwing the ball, particularly in the direction of USC cornerback Anthony Brown. The replacement for Rees, Andrew Hendrix, was not able to complete a pass in the game but, once again, the Trojans were unable to take advantage.

Even with all that, the Trojans still had their chances. They had three straight drives in the second half that started on the Irish side of the field and a fourth that began at the USC 48-yard line, yet they were unable to score. There were five USC drives in the second half that went six yards or less. After converting the first two third-down conversions of the game, the Trojans did not convert their next 11 tries. The Trojans also missed a pair of field goals that would have provided a winning margin if successful. It was simply one of those nights.

So where do the Trojans go from here after such a disappointing loss? There are no easy answers for interim coach Ed Orgeron. The momentum had been going in such a positive direction since Orgeron took over but this game magnified the realities of where USC is at for the rest of the season. There are issues with the pass defense, the O-line, penalties and third-down conversions. There are injury issues to key players. There doesn’t seem to be a clear identity yet for the offense under Clay Helton and opposing offenses are suddenly having a lot of success against Clancy Pendergast's defense.

One thing Orgeron praised is that the USC players showed fight against Notre Dame. As frustrating as it was to watch the Trojans fail to find a way to pull out the game, it was clear that the effort was there from the team right up until the end. You can’t imagine that so many factors are going to go against you in the way that they did against the Irish so if the effort can be maintained, that gives Orgeron something to build on.

The Utah Utes are coming to town next week and they are more than capable of putting up a fight. Maybe the Trojans can get Lee back, perhaps Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer too. Maybe there are some shake-ups in personnel. Whatever changes need to be made, Orgeron needs to make them. What does he have to lose? The worse thing that could happen to this team is to let the Notre Dame game beat them twice. Chalk up the gut-wrenching loss to the Irish and move on because there is still plenty left to play for this season and it starts next Saturday at the Coliseum.

All eyes on coaching search now for USC 

October, 20, 2013
And now, Pat Haden, USC turns its lonely eyes toward you.

The focus of the Trojans’ immediate future will be off the field, not on it. The only thing left to look forward to at this point is the athletic director’s eventual choice of a new head coach.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesEd Orgeron has done an admirable job filling in as USC's interim coach, but it's highly unlikely he will be retained as head coach after the season.
A 2013 season that began disintegrating with horrid performances against Washington State and Arizona State and the inevitable firing of Lane Kiffin somehow managed to perk up momentarily under fun-meister Ed Orgeron.

But on a chilly Saturday night in South Bend, Ind., the Trojans' season quickly plunged back into the depths of mediocrity.

The cold reality is that right now, at this sad point in its history, USC isn’t really USC anymore.

Trojans’ offensive linemen aren’t supposed to get overpowered the way they were by Stephon Tuitt and friends at Notre Dame. USC’s secondary isn’t supposed to be more leaky than your average TMZ report. And USC's overall composure isn’t supposed to wilt the way it did in a penalty-infested fourth quarter in Indiana.

The crumbling of the foundation under Kiffin cannot be immediately repaired by Orgeron’s gifts of cookies and loud music in the locker room. The cracks run too deep. The ensuing holes are about to grow too wide.

The scary part of what happened in South Bend is that Notre Dame is a decent team, but hardly a great one. The Irish already had lost to two opponents ranked outside the Top 10 in Michigan and Oklahoma. And then, with nine minutes left to play in the third quarter on Saturday, they lost starting quarterback Tommy Rees to injury.

When backup Andrew Hendrix entered the game, it was clear coach Brian Kelly’s team wouldn’t score again. All USC had to do was cobble together one touchdown drive, or two field goals, in the final 24 minutes. But the Trojans couldn’t do it and lost, 14-10.

When USC quarterback Cody Kessler wasn’t under fierce pressure, he played like the redshirt freshman he is, appearing tentative after his one interception and limiting himself to check down passes instead of confidently throwing downfield.

It didn’t help that star receiver Marqise Lee, continuing his strange, injury-marred season, dropped a potential touchdown pass in the second quarter, or that slumping kicker Andre Heidari missed two makeable field goals that would have won the game. Or that Silas Redd, the night’s most effective tailback, didn’t seem to get as many carries as he should have in the second half.

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3 up, 3 down: Notre Dame 14, USC 10

October, 20, 2013
LOS ANGELES – A look at the positives and negatives for the Trojans after the 14-10 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday.


1. Nelson Agholor: Agholor stepped up for the second consecutive game, showcasing the unique playmaking skills that have had USC coaches and fans buzzing about the sophomore receiver’s potential since last season. He hauled in six passes for 89 yards against Notre Dame, while also making a huge impact on special teams, returning four punts for 100 yards. One of those returns, a 48-yarder in the second quarter, set up an Andre Heidari field goal.

2. Silas Redd: For a player who just returned to practice full-time a couple of weeks ago, Redd’s outing was more than impressive. Finishing with 112 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, the senior running back was particularly effective in the first half. Unfortunately for the Trojans, he was left standing on the sidelines for large stretches of time during the final two quarters, his role having been inexplicably diminished.

3. Su’a Cravens: Cravens has been one of the most consistent performers on defense throughout the season -- a trend that continued on Saturday. He came up clutch early when he stopped running back Cam McDaniel on a fourth-down play as the fighting Irish were knocking on the door from inside the USC 1-yard line, and then again in the fourth quarter when he forced a McDaniel fumble and recovered it, returning it to the Notre Dame 34-yard line. Cravens finished with six tackles, including two for a loss.


1. Second-half offensive line play: The Trojans offense had every opportunity to put this game away in the second half, beginning four-straight drives inside the Notre Dame 50-yard line, but they just couldn’t move the ball, and the primary reason was the play up front. When members of the offensive line weren’t committing penalties -- including two crucial holding infractions each by Aundrey Walker and Max Tuerk -- they were being out-muscled by the physical Fighting Irish defensive line. As a whole, USC was flagged 11 times, and offensive coordinator Clay Helton didn’t appear to help matters on this night, executing a game-plan that appeared to be conservative, while also hiding Redd in the second half.

2. USC pass defense: Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees, who came into the matchup with USC having completed just 41.7 percent of his passes over his last three games, looked like a world-beater against the Trojans, going 14 of 21 (67 percent) for 166 yards and two touchdowns in just a little over two quarters of play. Tight end Troy Niklas was a particular thorn in the side of the secondary, which struggled tremendously in pass coverage for the third game in a row. The USC defense did improve in the second half, but that likely had more to do with the ineffectiveness of Fighting Irish backup signal-caller Andrew Hendrix than anything else.

3. Andre Heidari: Heidari finished 1 of 3 on field goal attempts, with his two misses serving as the difference between USC and a victory over their intersectional rival. What made those failed attempts -- which both sailed wide-right -- especially disheartening was the fact that each of them were from what most would consider a makeable distance – 40 and 46 yards. Having lost faith in Heidari late, the Trojans completely abandoned the kicking option, choosing instead to go for it on fourth down.

Roundtable: USC-Notre Dame

October, 17, 2013
What is the key matchup of the game?

Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with the USC defensive line against the Fighting Irish offensive line. Notre Dame has allowed a total of only four sacks this season, a mark than ranks No. 5 in the country. The Trojans, meanwhile, are averaging three sacks per game, ranking No. 13. Something has to give in this department. USC will be looking to put pressure on Tommy Rees and protect a corner spot that has proved to be vulnerable lately. Notre Dame will be hoping that Rees can improve upon his 41.7 completion percentage over the last three games.

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsWhile USC's running game has been a strength, Silas Redd and Co. will be tested by a stout Notre Dame D-line.
Johnny Curren: USC rushing offense vs. Notre Dame rushing defense. The Trojans average an impressive 200.3 yards per game on the ground, and the play of the tailbacks has been a huge bright spot. So while the passing game has made great strides as of late, I still think the key to the success of the USC offense this weekend will lie in its ability to establish a strong rushing attack. But it won’t be easy, the Fighting Irish defense ranks No. 23 nationally against the run -- allowing just 122.3 yards per game -- thanks in large part to a hulking defensive line headlined by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III. The Trojans offensive line will need to get a good push going against the talented unit, and Silas Redd and Co. will need to have another strong outing for USC to come away with a victory.

Greg Katz: The key matchup is the Trojans offensive line versus a tough Notre Dame defensive line because the Men of Troy have to establish the run to control the ball, the pace of the game, and shorten the clock, all of which will keep the Irish offense off the field and away from the vulnerable USC secondary.

Who will be the big-time player to make the key play in this rivalry game?

Garry Paskwietz: Silas Redd. I don’t know if Redd and the offensive line are getting enough credit for that final drive against Arizona. The ability to close out a game on the ground is not something that has come easy to the Trojans in recent years, but the drive showcased the kind of big-boy running that Redd brings to the table. In no game will that trait be needed more than this one, and here’s guessing that Redd makes his presence felt in a memorable way.

Johnny Curren: Nelson Agholor. While the Fighting Irish are stout against the run, they’ve been picked apart at times by capable passing attacks, allowing an average of 252.2 passing yards per game -- the No. 87 mark nationally. With that in mind, I think that there is a significant opportunity for Agholor to come up with some big plays at wide out, particularly with Clay Helton appearing to have placed a greater emphasis on having Cody Kessler throw vertically than Lane Kiffin did.

Greg Katz: Assuming they’re both healthy, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Marqise Lee should have success against the Irish secondary if the offensive line can give Cody Kessler some time to look down field. Now, if you’re looking for a hidden surprise, it wouldn’t shock me if freshman receiver Darreus Rogers had a big game.

Which was the bigger moment: Fourth-and-9 or Bush Push?

Garry Paskwietz: I have literally gone back and forth on this one. At first I wrote out an answer for fourth-and-9, then I changed it to the Bush Push, now I’m going back to fourth-and-9. The Bush Push was awesome -- it was the dramatic game-clinching play with Leinart falling backwards, with help from a friend, into the end zone. But for pure emotion, a true edge-of-your-seat moment, I don’t think you can beat fourth-and-9. That was the moment where all of a sudden everything was on the line, the win streak, the three-time national championship dream, all of it. USC needed one play amidst chaos. And the Trojans delivered.

Johnny Curren: Fourth-and-9. Without Dwayne Jarrett’s clutch catch, there is no Bush Push, period. It was a phenomenal play, not just because of the fact that it was the perfect call, or because of the tremendous athleticism and determination shown by the lanky wideout, but because it dealt a devastating blow to the psyche of the Fighting Irish defense. Meanwhile, Matt Leinart and the USC offense fed off of the energy and renewed hope created by the play, using the momentum to ultimately carry themselves into the Notre Dame end zone.

Greg Katz: The bigger moment was 4th and 9 because without the audible by quarterback Matt Leinart and the perfect pass placement and then brilliant reception by receiver Dwayne Jarrett, there would never have been a Bush Push.

Up for debate: USC-Notre Dame

October, 16, 2013
USC travels to Notre Dame Stadium for a Saturday night showdown in what is one of the nation's top rivalries. Both teams are 4-2 and unranked, but the Trojans appeared to have been granted a new lease on life under interim coach Ed Orgeron, as they topped Arizona in their first game without Lane Kiffin in charge. The Irish, meanwhile, are coming off a much-needed win over Arizona State and a bye, as they look to make it three-for-their-last-four against USC after previously dropping eight in a row.

Matt Fortuna and Ted Miller take a look at this weekend's matchup.

Matt: We'll start with the obvious, Ted. USC is a talented team that just got a bit of a second wind this past week under Orgeron. Was the performance against Arizona simply the culmination of weeks of frustration? Or do you think these Trojans have new life and need to be looked at as the kind of threat many of us have been expecting them to be the last two years?

Ted: Is it fair for a know-it-all sportswriter to type that he has no idea? USC has been so difficult to read the past two seasons. You look at the 22 starters and think, "That's a lot of talent." But it doesn't translate to execution. Was that all Kiffin's fault? I don't think so, though the offense looked significantly better with Clay Helton calling the plays. Even the quasi-redemptive win over Arizona revealed the Trojans' tangible Achilles heel -- depth. USC jumped to an impressive first-half lead but seemed to wear down in the second half. I do think the locker room will continue to unite around Orgeron, as fiery a motivator as there is. The question is whether USC will be as motivated and focused on the road as it was at home. And can it maintain that in the fourth quarter?

Speaking of mercurial teams, the Fighting Irish. I picked Notre Dame to beat Arizona State (reaches around, pats self on back), but I did that as much because of the Sun Devils' tendency to throw up on themselves just when they seem to take a step forward as believing the Irish were better. Where does this team stand? How did the week off help -- or hurt -- the cause?

Matt: Well, this answer may sound quite familiar, too, but I think we're all still trying to figure out the Irish. A loss to ASU would have been brutal, as BCS hopes would have been eliminated by the mid-point of the season. Of course, USC can erase those scenarios this week, too, much the same way it did two years ago in a similar situation -- seventh game of the season, prime time at Notre Dame Stadium, Irish coming off a bye. Everyone slept on those Trojans that time, and they ended up turning in a 10-2 campaign while the Irish locker room nearly revolted on its head coach in that game's aftermath.

Notre Dame's front-loaded schedule looks a little less daunting in retrospect -- losses to Michigan and Oklahoma look worse by the week, as does a tight win at Purdue. But there is that small matter of Stanford underwhelming, too, and the Cardinal are easily the toughest opponent the Irish have left after the USC one, so it is not out of the question to see Notre Dame make a final push for a 10-2 mark and BCS bid.

That said, it needs to take some of the lessons from the ASU win and apply them moving forward. Coach Brian Kelly showed his players a highlight tape of three tight wins from 2012 leading up to that game in an effort to demonstrate just how razor-thin the margin for error was. We saw a much more complete performance from the Irish against the Sun Devils, but there was still a pick-six and a defense that looked little like last year's dominating unit.

I'll say this: USC's improved play under the one-game regime of Orgeron has seemed to add a much-needed jolt going into this matchup. It's USC-Notre Dame, with the Irish looking like they may have turned a corner in the rivalry last year and going for three wins out of four this year. Do you think the Trojans, having seen the Irish clinch a title-game berth on their field last season, carry a bit of a chip on their shoulder coming into this year's game? I know it sounds cliche, but from over here it looks like USC's 2013 issues have been more mental than anything else.

Ted: This is one of the truly great college football rivalries, one that is unique with its cross-country feel. If the Trojans can't get fired up for this one, then that will show you the Trojans' problems were as much the sort of player they recruited as the guy leading them onto the field. And, of course, in a rivalry game, the players who lost the year before should be particularly motivated to exact revenge.

Still, I see that as an uphill slog for USC. For one, the Trojans are banged up, with receiver Marqise Lee and outside linebacker Morgan Breslin, among others, highly questionable for the game. Second, Notre Dame is superior on both lines. I see USC hanging early but then getting worn down. Further, the pass defense has been poor, which means Irish quarterback Tommy Rees could again look like the solid decision-maker he was against Arizona State.

That said, if USC does manage to get the upset, we might have to re-evaluate USC's prospects this season. And, perhaps, even raise an eyebrow at what Orgeron is doing leading the Trojans.

Top 10 moments, No. 1: Starling's fumble return

December, 9, 2011
Our series of the top 10 moments of the 2011 USC football season concludes today with No. 1. Catch up on moments Nos. 2-10 here, including more than one Robert Woods touchdown catch and an especially courageous fourth-down call from Lane Kiffin.

Here's our top moment of the year: Jawanza Starling's 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Notre Dame.

This one had everything -- big consequences in the game, a crazy scene on the football field and monster long-term implications for the 2011 season as a whole.

Notre Dame was mounting a big comeback from a 17-0 deficit and on the verge of tying the game. Dayne Crist was in at quarterback for the injured Tommy Rees and the Irish had the ball inside the USC five-yard line.

Then Crist dropped the snap from center Braxston Cave and all hell broke loose. Crist dove to try to recover it but was stifled by a combination of teammate Michael Floyd and USC corner Isiah Wiley, who both tried to grab it and knocked it back a good 10 yards.

Starling had it the whole way, video replays show. Coming up from his strong safety slot, he ran directly toward the ball as soon as it fell from Crist's hands. He continued to run as the two Trojans and two Irish fought for it around the 10, and, when it was hit further back, he was in perfect position to grab it on the run.

With Wiley and McDonald flanking him on either side, Starling picked the ball up at the 20 and ran it all the way to the endzone for six. That made it 24-10, Trojans -- a lead the Irish couldn't come back from, although it got pretty close again later on before Chris Galippo recovered a key fumble.

It's funny to watch a number of the Trojans jumping and running along with Starling on the sidelines as he got closer and closer to the end zone. All things considered, this was the play that really turned the Trojans' fortunes around this season and started them on the path to finishing fifth-ranked in the country.

As Lane Kiffin said in his passionate postgame press conference in South Bend afterward, this was when the dark clouds surrounding the program started to move away for the first time.

It didn't erase them entirely, but it clearly started the process.

That concludes our top-10 moment series. Check back next week for the beginning of our top-1o performers series.

Heidari's presence is key

October, 24, 2011
If the kicking situation this season at UCLA is any indication, the health of USC's Andre Heidari heading into Saturday's Stanford game is much more important than many are realizing.

Heidari, the Trojans' impressive true freshman placekicker, sprained his right ankle on the 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Notre Dame's George Atkinson III in Saturday's win over the Irish, and he has been using crutches to get around campus since, which Trojans coach Lane Kiffin called "obviously not very good" for his chances to play Saturday.

USC doesn't have a men's soccer team to turn to for a last-second replacement. If Heidari can't go against the Cardinal, USC will use walk-on Craig McMahon for extra points and kickoffs and probably try to avoid most field goals outside of 30 yards. Even if he can, it's likely the Trojans' typical strategies will be changed to incorporate more going-for-it and pooch-punting and less kicking inside the opponents' 40-yard line.

It's hard to overstate the potential impacts of that, from USC's decision to punt from the Irish 30-yard line in the third quarter to the 32-yarder Heidari missed in the fourth quarter a few minutes after his first point-after attempt barely went over the bars.

USC is lucky his missed field-goal try didn't change the outcome of the game, because the Irish got the ball back after the miss down just seven points, 24-17, and with all the momentum on their side. If not for Chris Galippo's recovery of the incomplete pass from Tommy Rees to Cierre Wood ruled a rush and fumble, Notre Dame could easily have tied the score.

Heidari went back out and converted the extra point after USC's ensuing touchdown, but McMahon kicked off, allowing Notre Dame to get its next drive started at its own 36-yard line. Of course, that one ended soon after it started as well, with Nickell Robey picking off Rees' third pass to seal the outcome.

(Read full post)

The momentum switch vs. Irish

October, 22, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- They don't come much bigger than that.

With USC up 17-10 midway through the third quarter but Notre Dame driving down the field, the Fighting Irish got all the way to the one-yard line and looked poised to tie up the game on a Dayne Crist quarterback sneak until Crist fumbled the snap from Braxston Cave and the game broke open.

The football bounced all the way down to the 20-yard line, where USC safety Jawanza Starling scooped it up and took it all the way back the other way for a touchdown. Just like that, the Trojans led 24-10 instead of being tied 17-17.

And, sure, the Irish got within a touchdown once more, but that was biggest blow to their momentum all game, as the Trojans held on for a 31-17 win. It's not hard to envision the rest of the game unfolding to a Notre Dame win if Crist doesn't fumble and scores the touchdown there.

It was just a big, big play -- almost unprecedented for USC, even.

"As soon as it happened, I was trying to think of -- since I've been here, at least -- another play that can compare to that," center Khaled Holmes said after the game, unable to come up with another that measured up to it. "It was really just such a great play, one that we needed, and it was awesome."

It bounced a good four or five times before Starling scooped it up, with other Trojans going for it and coming up empty. But it only took him one swipe to secure it as he ran by and quickly accelerated the opposite way.

"I didn't want to try to go for it too soon and miss it," Starling said after the game. "So I was just taking my time as much as possible and I took it to the house.

"That was a big momentum swing. That changed the whole tone of the game."

The only other time Notre Dame had a good shot at the game was after Andre Heidari's missed field goal with nine minutes to go left it 24-17 as the Irish started at their 20, but a screen pass from Tommy Rees to Cierre Wood was dropped to the ground behind the line of scrimmage and ruled a fumble and USC linebacker Chris Galippo seized on it at the Notre Dame 18-yard line.

It took USC just three plays to score from there and essentially seal the game, carrying the momentum all the way from the Starling fumble recovery to the final whistle.

"That's just credit to our defense not quitting," Galippo said afterward. "When you're in long drives like that and it's the 16th or 17th play and you can get down inside the five-yard line, anything can happen.

"It was just completely bizarre."

Horton opines on Crist situation

October, 21, 2011
Midway through August, Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist was named the starting signal-caller for the Fighting Irish by head coach Brian Kelly, beating out precocious sophomore Tommy Rees.

And then he lost his job a half-game into the season when he started off badly against South Florida and Kelly called for Rees in the second half after severe weather forced the teams into a two-hour halftime delay. Now, Rees is the full-fledged starter and Crist is the backup, a talented fourth-year junior sitting behind a second-year player.

As USC and the Horton brothers -- Shane and Wes -- come into town this week, it's a fitting time to look back on what happened and what remains for Crist's collegiate career. The trio played together at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and have kept in touch throughout college, meeting up during Notre Dame's bye last week when Crist came back to town.

They talked plenty, but not about the situation back at school, Wes Horton said Thursday. Still, the USC defensive end offered some perspective on the whole situation.

"It sucked," Wes Horton said of Crist's position. "He was kind of on a short leash and he had that one bad game, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he's a great quarterback and he can get the job done. It was a smooth transition, Tommy Rees is their guy now, and they've been winning a lot lately with him.

"It is what it is."

As for the Trojans themselves, Horton's aware of what the game against Notre Dame means for USC. If the Trojans win, they're guaranteed a spot in the top-25 and a 6-1 record heading into a big home date against Stanford. If they lose, they're 5-2 and vaulting downward.

Then there's the defensive line, too -- the unit that has performed OK over the first half of the year but hasn't quite met expectations.

"This is a huge game for us," Horton said. "Seeing them on film, knowing what we gotta do up front, this could really be a breakout game for us.

"If we can prove that we can constantly get pressure on them and make plays in the backfield, that's gonna say a lot and boost us as we go into the later part of the season."

How good was Cal?

October, 14, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's a common practice for head coaches to hype up their opponents immediately before and after each game -- regardless of the validity of the comments.

At the time of the game, every team USC plays is a good one, according to Lane Kiffin. Only weeks later is it revealed what he actually thinks about each team.

So what, then, will be the eventual assessment of this California team that the Trojans beat handily at AT&T Park on Thursday night? This game was supposed to be a valuable measuring stick for USC heading into its toughest two-week stretch of the season at Notre Dame and against Stanford, but does it actually mean much?

Cal had two dominant players on the field Thursday: receivers Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones. The Bears' defensive linemen had their moments and safety Sean Cattouse did as well, but there were few other true threats on the field for Jeff Tedford's team.

Read between the lines of what USC said after the game, and the Trojans were saying the same thing. Kiffin said Cal's front seven was good but said nothing of their secondary. Linebacker Chris Galippo, in attempting to explain how the Trojans suddenly produced five turnovers in one game when they had five in the first five games, gave an even better clue.

He was asked about Dion Bailey's two interceptions, both of which appeared to come on relatively easy plays for the redshirt freshman linebacker.

"I don't want to take anything away from him, but (Cal quarterback Zach) Maynard just telegraphed the heck out of his passes," Galippo said. "Dion played an awesome game, obviously, having two picks, but he was just in the right spot."

Maynard did not have an impressive game. Even much-maligned Notre Dame signal-caller Tommy Rees, for example, can't be counted on to make the type of mistakes Maynard did against the Trojans on Thursday.

And that's the key. Sure, the Trojans played well against Cal, better than they've played in most of their games this season. Receiver Marqise Lee was on his way to a breakout game before he got hurt. Running back Curtis McNeal was downright dominant in the second half. There were no huge breakdowns from the defense for the first time this season.

But for those looking at that game in attempt to find evidence that Kiffin's up-and-down USC squad is ready to beat Notre Dame in South Bend in nine days, keep looking.

First look: Arizona

September, 27, 2011
It's not a winning streak or a losing streak -- yet.

But it's a streak all the same, and it began Saturday against Arizona State, when Sun Devils quarterback Brock Osweiler tore up the Trojans defense, rendering their pass irrelevant and their secondary ineffective.

From now on, USC's going to face a lot of Osweiler-quality quarterbacks this season. The Pac-12 is, for all intents and purposes, a quarterback's conference. And the Trojans are going to be challenged in the same ways that Osweiler tested them in Tempe.

"We're gonna hit a streak," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said this week. "We’re going to have to get better in what we’re doing."

That streak begins Saturday with Arizona, a 12:30 p.m. game at the Coliseum. Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles' numbers have been spectacular so far this season, the Michigan State transfer throwing for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions with a completion percentage higher than 70 percent.

After Foles, the Trojans will face Cal and quarterback Zach Maynard, whose numbers are strikingly similar to Matt Barkley's this year aside from a weaker completion percentage. Then comes Notre Dame and Tommy Rees, who beat USC last year, and Stanford and Andrew Luck.

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Notes from Sunday's conference call

November, 28, 2010
Some items of note from coach Lane Kiffin's Sunday conference call, which looked back at Saturday's loss to Notre Dame and ahead to next week's season finale at UCLA:
  • Ronald Johnson's final-drive drop on the wide-open Coliseum field was still a hot topic of conversation Sunday, and Kiffin said Johnson was still taking the play pretty hard, even almost 24 hours after the fact. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player take a game or a play harder than Ronald did,” Kiffin said. “He was obviously a wreck after the game. So emotional. He felt he had let so many people down." Kiffin also said he felt partly responsible for the way Johnson reacted to the play because of how much emphasis he placed in the week leading up to the game on playing for the Trojan faithful and coaching staff.
  • Injury updates: Kiffin said Matt Barkley (high-ankle sprain) looked a lot better Sunday and said "he's anticipating himself playing" against UCLA. Barkley suited up for the Notre Dame game and came out for the coin toss but never got on the field during the game. Nothing else is known about safety T.J. McDonald's injury, believed to be a separated shoulder, but walk-on Tony Burnett is listed as a co-starter with McDonald at free safety for the UCLA game. Right tackle Tyron Smith also shares his spot with Butch Lewis after missing Saturday's game becaue of a knee injury. Kiffin had no update on cornerback Brian Baucham's status either; Baucham played most of the game Saturday as the nickel corner but left the Coliseum sporting a neck brace.
  • Kiffin called the performance "well below our standard" and "very heartbreaking" for the players. He also failed to compliment Notre Dame much -- if at all -- on Sunday, seemingly putting much of the blame for the loss on his staff for an under-prepared team. "I just think that none of them ever imagined that we were going to lose this game," Kiffin said.
  • Kiffin had a solid quip when talking about his team's failure -- once again -- to stop the opposition in the clutch, as the Irish put together a game-winning 77-yard drive in Saturday's final minutes. USC couldn't stop Notre Dame running backs Cierre Wood or Robert Hughes on that drive, and freshman quarterback Tommy Rees also came up with two clutch completions. Said an obviously peeved Kiffin: "We've probably set a record for the worst two-minute defense, not just this year but in the history of college football."

Postgame thoughts: Notre Dame

November, 28, 2010
Notes, quotes and video from USC's 20-16 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night at the Coliseum:
  • One Ronald Johnson catch and the Trojans are 8-4, Notre Dame is 6-6 and we're talking about USC rebounding from a tough loss to Oregon State to tough one out against a big rival. But Johnson didn't catch the ball in the open from Mitch Mustain -- then Mustain forced a second-down throw from the Notre Dame 23-yard line with 36 seconds left and was intercepted by Irish safety Harrison Smith. Now Notre Dame is 7-5, USC is 7-5 -- worse than last year -- and the Trojans have another losing streak on the books.
  • A couple of solid-insight quotes, one from each side: USC middle linebacker Chris Galippo, who had six tackles, an interception and a fumble forced in one of his best games for USC, on the loss: "As a competitor, you want to win every game. We all want to win every game. It is tough to fight that hard and come out on the losing end, but sometimes you learn more when you lose than when you win." And Smith, a senior leader for Notre Dame who has played linebacker and safety in his career, about his game-sealing pick: "When I saw it I knew I was in good position. I just thought to myself: 'I've got to come down with this and the game is over.'"
  • The Trojans' offense has failed them twice in a row now, a week ago putting up only seven points at Oregon State and this week putting up 16. You could argue, too, that none of the 16 points were of the offense's doing -- all came directly off turnovers produced by the defense. USC had a plus-three turnover differential on Saturday, a margin that rarely leads to a loss. Said Coach Lane Kiffin postgame: "If you had told me before we would be [plus-three] on turnovers, I would have expected a different result."
  • Making his starting debut for USC, Mustain (20-of-37, 177 yards, no touchdowns) wasn't great. But it wasn't like he was consistently failing at executing what he was asked to do; it was more like USC didn't try to do much because of his presence in the game and the failure of the run game. Said Kiffin: "We didn't ask him to do much today, but we didn't support him with the running game at all."

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USC-Notre Dame grades

November, 27, 2010

In his first start in four years, Mitch Mustain was asked only to manage the game for the Trojans. He did that fairly effectively, missing badly only once or twice but throwing the game-clinching interception in the final minute. USC's big-play potential was clearly affected with Mustain under center.


Marc Tyler was either still limited by the ankle sprain that has been bothering him for most of this month or just ineffective, averaging around three yards a carry. C.J. Gable got a brief chance in the second half but the run game was mostly nonexistent.


Defensive end Nick Perry showed what he's capable of when healthy, almost single-handedly producing a touchdown for USC when he sacked Notre Dame's Tommy Rees, forced a fumble and recovered it, taking the ball down to the two-yard line and setting up Mustain's QB sneak.


All of USC's scores all came as a direct result of big defensive plays, so any credit for the Trojans' 16 points has to go to this unit. Chris Galippo's pick set the tone for what was almost the Trojans' best defensive performance this season.


Kicker Joe Houston made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a career-long 45-yarder in the first quarter. Robert Woods did his best to spark USC with a 37-yard kick return in the second half. Jacob Harfman matched the Irish's Ben Turk kick for kick.


Lane Kiffin's playcalling decisions were often questionable, and his team was hurt by its six penalties that seemed to come at the worst times. Walk-on cornerback Tony Burnett was oddly used as an extra defensive back over players like Demetrius Wright and Jawanza Starling.



C. Kessler361236296820
J. Allen1357855.814
T. Madden1387035.13
M. Lee5779113.94
N. Agholor5691816.46