USC: Tre Madden

The best of spring football at USC 

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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Here’s our look back at the Trojans’ progress during spring.

MVP

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsWill Nelson Agholor become the latest standout receiver at USC?
Garry Paskwietz: Nelson Agholor
Johnny Curren: Agholor
Greg Katz: Agholor, Hayes Pullard

Curren: From the start of spring ball to last Saturday’s finish no other player performed at such a sky-high level, and with such consistency, as Agholor. A practice didn’t ever seem to go by without the talented junior coming up with at least one highlight catch that caught everyone’s attention. An already solid player heading into the spring, he got even better and appears poised to take his place as the next great USC wide receiver.

Biggest surprise

GP: Zach Banner
JC: Scott Starr
GK: Banner

Katz: It has to be redshirt freshman offensive right tackle Zach Banner, who came out of nowhere -- thanks to the wonders of hip surgery -- to claim the starting position. He probably surprised not only his teammates with his newfound agility but himself as well. Still a work in progress, he is not only turning into a grizzly bear on roller skates but potentially a future All-Pac-12 selection. When Banner is able to stay at pad level, it’s like a tsunami of human girth stream rolling a mismatched opponent.

Pinner shows off versatility for Trojans

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
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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.”

Isaac aims to make sizable contribution

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
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LOS ANGELES – The first thought when seeing No. 29 enter Goux Gate and sprint onto USC's practice field is that he must be either a tight end or an H-back.

On the contrary, sophomore Ty Isaac is an extremely gifted running back, whose potential is nearly as big as his size, which is easy to pick out in the Trojans' new shotgun formation.

[+] EnlargeTy Isaac
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsTy Isaac rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2013.
A chiseled, 240-pound player at 6-foot-2, Isaac’s physical appearance easily sticks out from other active spring running back teammates Javorius “Buck” Allen (6-1, 215) -- the Trojans' 2013 team MVP -- and Tre Madden (6-1, 220), the grandson of former Los Angeles Rams running back great Lawrence McCutcheon.

Compared to the competition, Isaac is also a completely different type of ball carrier and provides head coach Steve Sarkisian with unique options. There’s no question that once Isaac gets the ball in his hands, squares his pads and generates a head of steam, he’s one very difficult strider to bring down. You could say that his potential is as big as his two calves, which are like miniature tree trunks.

Isaac doesn’t just run, he rumbles. And don’t be deceived: He has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and go the distance.

A glimpse into Isaac’s promise was illustrated in last season’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, when he ran for 44 yards in eight carries, including a dazzling 17-yard burst of power and speed. Eyebrows were raised even higher with a 35-yard pass reception, as the Trojans went on to a 45-20 rout of Fresno State.

Heading into spring ball with a new head coach, new running backs coach and a new offensive system, it figured that Isaac would use the first week of spring ball to quickly make a statement.

However, Sarkisian said a slight back issue slowed Isaac during that first week of spring practice and put him slightly behind both Allen and Madden.

After a week off to get well, thanks to spring break, Isaac, the former prep All-American out of Shorewood, Ill., and Joliet Catholic Academy, showed no outward signs of the back issue during Tuesday’s practice, which allowed him to move at the speed Sarkisian desires.

“It’s really fast,” said Isaac of the nonstop practice tempo. “For the most part, a lot of this stuff carried over from things we did last year. We’re obviously running it at a lot faster pace. Obviously it’s different terminology, but all the same plays.”

It’s this connection of the past and present offensive system that has helped players such as Isaac adjust to the offensive schemes of Sarkisian, but there are some adjustments.

“There’s a little bit of similarities from the past,” Isaac said. “It’s different coming across the quarterback. We didn’t do a lot of it last year, so it’s a little bit of an adjustment, but it’s not a big deal.”

Isaac saw considerable action last season as both a backup tailback and a member of the special teams. He appeared in all 14 games, running for 236 yards and averaging 5.9 yards per carry. If there was a highlight to his freshman season, it was at California, when he slashed and gashed the Golden Bears defense for 87 yards on 11 carries, which included two rushing touchdowns (4 and 37 yards).

Isaac's goal is to become a part of the running back rotation for 2014.

“I just feel I can improve overall and can get better,” Isaac said. “I feel like I could get better at pass-pro and seeing the field. Obviously being in the shotgun a lot this year gives a different view for a running back.”

One of the great fears of Trojans fans was whether this new offense would take away from the historically physical dominance of the Trojans' running game.

Isaac said followers of the Cardinal and Gold can put those fears to rest.

“We’re still going to pound teams, run the ball and pass when we have to, but it’s all at a way faster pace,” Isaac said. “We’ll constantly be attacking teams.”

There is fresh leadership in first-year running backs coach Johnny Nansen, who came south with Sarkisian from Washington.

“Man, he’s a good dude,” Isaac said of Nansen. “He’s getting us right and I like him a lot. He’s just getting us better as a group, teaching us this new playbook, and given us insights.”

And if Isaac has anything to do with it, he’ll give the Trojans backfield insight into becoming bigger and better, literally and figuratively.

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
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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
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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?

Isaac feeling good after breaking through

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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LOS ANGELES -- After showing promise in limited action throughout USC’s first nine games, freshman tailback Ty Isaac received the chance to contribute on a much grander scale this past weekend and responded with a breakout performance.

Thrust into the expanded role when starter Silas Redd went out early against California with a knee injury, Isaac was able to get in the flow of a game for the first time as a Trojan, racking up 87 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.

[+] EnlargeTy Isaac
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Ty Isaac made his first contributions as a Trojan by scoring his first touchdowns in USC's win over Cal.
“I just kind of got to relax,” Isaac said following USC’s practice on Tuesday, “and the offensive line was doing a really good job in opening up some holes for me, so everything worked out.”

Standing 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Isaac gives the Trojans a unique option as a physical back with deceptive speed, and his arrat of talents was on full display against the Golden Bears, with the highlight coming on a thrilling 37-yard touchdown dash in the fourth quarter in which he outraced a host of California defenders.

“Really, I was just trying to get a first down,” Isaac said of the long scoring run. “I was able to run in space, and when I saw daylight, I wanted it.”

Teaming with the hottest hand in the USC offensive backfield right now, Javorius Allen, Isaac helped the Trojans amass 256 yards on the ground in a 62-28 victory.

It was a banner day for players up and down the USC roster, but for Isaac, a Joliet (Ill.) Catholic product whose parents made the trek from Illinois to Berkeley to see him play in person, his attention-grabbing outing was particularly gratifying, especially with the game on national television.

“There were a lot of people texting me, congratulating me … a lot of friends and family from back home,” said Isaac, who has accumulated 144 yards on the ground in 2013. “It felt really good.”

And with a strong effort now under his belt, there’s reason to believe that Isaac’s friends and family might have more to cheer about in the future, but he’s not about to let his recent success get to his head.

“Definitely for confidence it helps you out, because now you know you can do it in a game against other people,” Isaac said, “but it just makes me want to continue to work hard in practice with my teammates.”

Isaac’s emergence is a boon for a tailback corps that has been hit hard by injuries, although his progression hasn’t come without challenges.

Arriving on campus this summer after a storied high school career in which he rushed for a total of 5,305 yards out of a prolific double-wing attack, Isaac had some difficulties early on as he made the switch from wingback to tailback in USC’s intricate pro-style scheme.

“It was a shock to the system,” Isaac said. “I ran about five plays in high school, and now I’ve got five different reads on one play, so that was definitely something that I had to adjust to.”

Through determination, hard work, and a fair amount of help along the way, Isaac has now made what appears to be a complete transition, and it’s had a profound influence on his ability to step in and produce.

“I’m in my playbook and I know my stuff a lot better, so that has had an impact,” Isaac said. “I’m a better player all-around, tenfold. Just playing against one of the best defenses in the country every day, it’s definitely made me a better player, and then just being around all of these older guys who have helped me out, as well as the coaches.”

With the status of Redd and Tre Madden still up in the air, all signs point to Isaac being asked to combine with Allen once again to carry a large portion of the load this Saturday, when USC faces No. 4 Stanford at the Coliseum.

An imposing squad featuring an aggressive defense that ranks No. 9 nationally against the run, the Cardinal present a stiff challenge for Isaac and Co. to deal with. But, as he explained, the Trojans have made a concerted effort to avoid getting caught up in the hype this week, instead focusing their efforts on sticking to the game-plan that has helped them compile a record of 4-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron.

“I’ve seen them on film, and I respect them as a team,” Isaac said. “Obviously, they’re a really good, physical team, but at the same time we’re going to treat it as another game in the season, and we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing.”

And with the young freshman having now proven himself in a game setting, the Trojans appear to have a new weapon to count on as they look to continue their winning ways this weekend – which is what it’s all about for Isaac.

“I just want to keep it rolling, and it’s a one-game season, every game," Isaac said. "I could not score another touchdown or gain another yard, as long as we’re still winning, I’m good.”

Five Trojans who have stepped up

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
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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
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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
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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

Oregon State can't stop Trojans' Buck 

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
10:42
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Javorious Allen, Caleb Saulo Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJavorius "Buck" Allen wasn't stopped Friday, as the sophomore ran for 133 yards and three TDs as USC defeated Oregon State 31-14 for its first win in Corvallis, Ore., since 2004.
The “Buck” doesn’t stop here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Takeaways help Trojans beat Utes

October, 26, 2013
10/26/13
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For a USC Trojans team that is fighting injuries and scrapping for every win, there was something that just seemed right about the way things played out in a 19-3 victory over Utah on Saturday.

Last week the Trojans were unable to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them in the loss to Notre Dame, but there were no such troubles against the Utes. In fact, Utah was able to drive for a field goal on its opening possession but that was it.

“It was an outstanding performance by our players,” USC interim coach Ed Orgeron said. “They had a good mindset throughout the week to pull together through adversity and the result is a happy locker room right now.”

It was the USC defense that set the tone by forcing four Utah turnovers -- three interceptions and a fumble -- and converting all of them into points to go into the locker room at halftime with a 16-3 lead.

First it was Josh Shaw, who had been moved back to corner after spending the past three games at safety. Shaw was able to intercept a ball that had been tipped by a Utes receiver, and it set up a 30-yard touchdown pass from Cody Kessler to Nelson Agholor for a 7-3 USC lead.

[+] EnlargeLeon McQuay III
AP Photo/Gus RuelasFreshman safety Leon McQuay III had one of USC's three first-half interceptions.
Next it was Antwaun Woods forcing a fumble on a sack of Utah quarterback Travis Wilson. Anthony Sarao recovered at the Utah 19. The Trojans went three-and-out, but Andre Heidari was able to convert a 35-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead. In the first quarter alone, the USC defense had three sacks, five tackles for loss and two takeaways.

Leon McQuay III, who got his first start for the Trojans at safety, was able to get an interception after Wilson rolled to his right and threw late, with McQuay moving in for the ball at the right moment. Heidari was able to hit a 38-yard field goal to make it 13-3 and then late in the half, with time running out, the Utes inserted Adam Schulz at quarterback in place of Wilson, who was having trouble throwing the ball with a hand injury. Schulz didn’t fare any better as his first pass was intercepted by Su’a Cravens, who returned it 54 yards to the Utah 10. Heidari added a 28-yard field goal as time expired.

“We had emphasized all week on getting back to our dominant selves,” USC linebacker Hayes Pullard said. “We wanted to give up nothing on the field. We just had to execute the plan the coaches gave us and transfer that to the field during the game.”

About the only things that went wrong for USC were injuries to Cravens and offensive tackle Kevin Graf. Cravens injured his groin on the interception return, while Graf left the game earlier with a left ankle/foot injury. The string of injuries for the Trojans is long right now with players such as Marqise Lee, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Morgan Breslin being forced to sit out the game. In fact, once Cravens went down, the Trojans were forced to suit up Dion Bailey, who had been on the sidelines in street clothes during the first half.

“We knew that at the nickel position we only had one guy to play,” Orgeron said. “He [Bailey] knew that and he told us he wanted to play so he put on his uniform and went out there. It shows that these guys believe in each other and are willing to sacrifice for the good of the team.”

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCody Kessler passed for 230 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
J.R. Tavai, who was playing for Breslin, led USC with 11 tackles and two sacks. The second-leading tackler was Sarao with nine, and he was subbing for the injured Dawson. It has been that kind of year for the Trojans with injuries, but it’s easy to get well when the opposing offense puts up only 201 total yards and averages less than 3 yards per play.

For the Trojans offensively, it wasn’t exactly a banner day either. USC gained only 30 yards rushing when factoring in sack totals. Tre Madden led the way with 60 yards on 12 carries. Kessler had a solid day with 21 completions in 32 attempts for 230 yards and one touchdown with no picks, but he was also sacked five times. The Trojans did not turn the ball over, but third-down conversions (3 of 15) continue to be an issue.

A special mention needs to be made of Heidari, who saw his job put open for competition this week after he missed two critical field goals against Notre Dame. Heidari admitted at practice earlier in the week that he was in “a funk,” but he appeared to get out of it by hitting on 4 of 5 field goals in a nice rebound performance.

“Andre is money,” Kessler said. “He’s a great kicker. Unfortunately he missed some kicks last week, but he’s one of the best kickers in the nation in my opinion. I have 100 percent confidence in him. When he’s focused and locked in, he is spot on.”

The Trojans travel to Oregon State next Friday to face a Beavers team that will not likely struggle on offense the way the Utes did. Orgeron will be looking to get his team as healthy as possible on a short week in order to play at a place that has not been kind to the Trojans in recent memory and against a team that is more than capable of providing a much stiffer test.

Ed Orgeron conference call highlights 

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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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.

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Redd ready for bigger role against Irish

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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The Trojans got a treat Tuesday afternoon when former NFL All-Pro Ray Lewis addressed the team before practice, and nobody was more moved by what the two-time Super Bowl champion had to say than senior tailback Silas Redd.

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillSilas Redd led the Trojans' rushing efforts last season against Notre Dame and will be counted on again this weekend.
"I don't think I blinked once while he was talking," said Redd, who grew up idolizing the legendary Ravens linebacker.

Lewis gave an eye-opening speech, with one quotation, in particular, standing out to Redd.

"'Effort is between you and you,'" Redd said, echoing the words of Lewis, now an ESPN NFL analyst. "It's not about anybody else."

It's a message Redd embodied with a gritty performance during USC's 38-31 victory over Arizona last week.

The Penn State transfer led the Trojans with 905 yards on the ground in 2012 but missed the first five games of the current campaign after tearing his meniscus in the spring and then undergoing two surgical procedures. Having returned to practice full time in the week leading up to USC's clash with the Wildcats, he wound up playing a much bigger role in the contest than he might have imagined.

With the Trojans leading by seven points late in the fourth quarter and starter Tre Madden sidelined with a hamstring injury, USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton leaned on Redd heavily, and he more than came through. Redd carried the ball on seven consecutive plays and picked up three first downs -- the last of which came on a clutch third-and-8 play that allowed the Trojans to run out the clock.

"I wasn't expecting it, but I was ready for it," Redd said of the extended fourth-quarter opportunity. "I think it sent a message that I can be trusted in that situation. You know, I'm the senior back, so my name was called and I was able to deliver."

He ultimately finished with a team-best 80 rushing yards on 19 carries. It was a remarkable outing for someone who hadn't played a down in a live game since USC's 21-7 Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.

Thanks to extensive rehab work, time spent in the film room and countless mental reps, however, Redd was prepared for the chance that came his way, and his performance has provided a boost of confidence as he gears up for the rest of the season.

"It's definitely something that I can build off of, and this week's practice has been great so far," Redd said. "I feel like each day my knee is getting stronger, and my wind is getting back. I'm just trying to stay focused."

That's welcome news for USC interim coach Ed Orgeron's offensive coaches. The veteran Redd adds a unique dimension to a talent-laden tailback unit that also includes Madden, Justin Davis, Javorius Allen and Ty Isaac. Against the Wildcats, each of the five backs made a significant contribution as the Trojans amassed 249 total rushing yards.

"We're a confident group right now," Redd said. "We know that each one of us can play this game, and we know that when we get out there, it's our individual time to deliver for our team. I think that we take pride in that."

USC is No. 39 nationally in rushing, averaging 200.3 yards per game, but the Trojans face a big test this coming weekend when they go up against intersectional rival Notre Dame. Spearheaded by a stout defensive line that features Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix III and Sheldon Day, the Fighting Irish defense currently ranks No. 23 against the run, allowing just 122.3 yards per game.

For Redd, it's a challenge he's looking forward to.

"It'll be my first time [going to South Bend], and I'm excited," Redd said. "They're huge, and it's going to be tough getting those guys off the ball, but we have some things up our sleeve."

And with Madden's status for Saturday's matchup still up in the air, there's reason to believe the USC offense will be calling on Redd with great frequency once again.

"This is what I came here for," Redd said. "I'm ready to contribute again, and whenever my name is called, I'll be ready for it."

Planning for success: USC

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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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
10/11/13
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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.

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2013 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler361236296820
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen1357855.814
T. Madden1387035.13
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
M. Lee5779113.94
N. Agholor5691816.46
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense174.2218.1392.3
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring28.521.37.2