Pac-12: Tre Madden

It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

We continue the series with running backs.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The combination of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should be as dangerous as ever. De'Anthony Thomas never really grew into the role as an every-down back, but Marshall carried 168 times for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tyner slowly picked up more carries and finished with 115 for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. Folks are also excited to see what incoming freshman Royce Freeman brings to the table. This is a scary corps, even before you realize that Marcus Mariota also carried 96 times for 715 yards and nine touchdowns last year.

USC: The emergence of Buck Allen was a pleasant surprise after he spent much time in Lane Kiffin purgatory. He boasted 5.8 yards per carry to go with 785 yards and 14 touchdowns. He'll be pushed by Tre Madden, Justin Davis and D.J. Morgan, who is back after missing all of 2013 with a knee injury. This is a group that could do damage in Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo offense. Think about what Bishop Sankey did last year.

Arizona State: Marion Grice was a touchdown machine. But D.J. Foster is no slouch after rushing for 501 yards and catching 63 passes for 653 yards in a dual-threat role. The local product is explosive and has big-play speed. Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks, back from injury, provide depth since Mike Norvell won't want to pass up the opportunity to use Foster in the slot at times. The depth has ASU teetering on the Great Shape/Good Shape fence, but Foster's experience and explosiveness give ASU a perfect replacement for Grice. So we're confident saying ASU is in great shape with him at the helm.

GOOD SHAPE

UCLA: No, we're not going to list Myles Jack as a running back. Get over it. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told the Pac-12 blog he's been looking for Jordon James to make strides as a "one-cut" runner. He believes he has. And Paul Perkins and Steven Manfro will press for carries with the intriguing Craig Lee waiting in the wings. Keep in mind it was quarterback Brett Hundley who led the Bruins in carries (160), yards (748) and touchdowns (11). Maybe ... just maybe ... we'll see Jack also pick up a few carries. The Bruins are dedicated to the run (only Oregon has more carries over the last three seasons) and they have the depth to deliver.

Stanford: No Tyler Gaffney. Four of five starters on the line are gone. Surely this is the year Stanford's running game takes a step backward, right? Probably not. The line will feature five members of the heralded 2012 recruiting class and a committee approach with Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young seems likely. Only Oregon and UCLA have attempted more rushes over the last three seasons, so the Cardinal are going to continue to be dedicated to the ground game. There is a lot of untapped potential with this group and they have a coach who loves to run the football. There are a lot of unknowns, but Stanford's recent history of success running the football warrants the benefit of the doubt to put them in the "Good Shape" column.

Utah: For now, it looks like Bubba Poole will be the primary back. But Kyle Whittingham and Co. are excited about the emergence of JC transfer Davontae Booker and the complementary role Troy McCormick might play. They aren't married to the idea of a single back. In fact, Whittingham told the Pac-12 blog he'd like to have situational flexibility. This trio provides that at Utah for the first time in a while. Spreading things out is a priority for new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. But don't be surprised to see a balanced attack if these three see success.

Colorado: The Buffs are surprisingly deep in the running backs department, with seasoned players like Christian Powell, Michael Adkins II, Tony Jones and Donta Abron returning. Powell (562 yards, three touchdowns) provided the power while Adkins emerged as a fine complement with 5.2 yards per carry (103 carries, 535 yards and six touchdowns). Look for the coaching staff to keep using those two in unison as a thunder-and-lightning tandem.

Oregon State: The running game, or lack thereof, has been a sore spot for Mike Riley the last couple of seasons. However, with last year's combination of Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks the personnel dictated 603 passing attempts. With Cooks gone, the staff will look to Terron Ward and Storm Woods (who combined for 240 carries, 998 yards and 11 touchdowns) to build off of last year's showing of 94.4 yards per game -- which was 11th in the conference. This tandem has the potential to be very good. It just has to go out and show it.

Washington State: That the Cougars return their top two rushers from last season, Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell, bodes well -- even in an offense in which the running back serves more to keep the opposition in check than to run the football. However, it might be Theron West and redshirt freshman Jamal Morrow who get the majority of the carries. The coaching staff was high on Morrow in the spring and if the Cougs can do just enough to keep the safeties guessing, it might open things up more for the Air Raid's primary objective.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats have to replace Ka'Deem Carey. No easy task. And it was made worse by the recent news that Pierre Cormier's won't be returning. That leaves carries to be divided among Nick Wilson, Zach Green and Terris Jones-Grigsby. Jonathan Haden is still waiting to get cleared and Jared Baker missed the spring with an injury from last year's ASU game. Look for special packages with DaVonte' Neal as well. The Wildcats are silly with wide receivers, which could help open things up in the running game.

California: The Bears averaged just 122.2 rushing yards per game last year -- ninth in the league. Despite the reputation for being a pass-happy team, the coaches would actually prefer more balance, so they'll need better production out of oft-injured Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad. The departed Brendan Bigelow had the most carries (105) last year, but Muhammad and Lasco combined for 141 totes for 762 yards and six touchdowns. Muhammad is the burner at 175 pounds while Lasco has the bigger frame at 200 and change. Incoming freshman Tre Watson is also an intriguing prospect.

Washington: Like Arizona, the Huskies must replace a phenomenal back in Sankey. But there are options. Dwayne Washington was the No. 2 behind Sankey last year, rushing for 332 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries. Behind him are Jesse Callier, who was the original starter in 2012 before his injury gave rise to Sankey, and Deontae Cooper. Both have a history of knee injuries. Jomon Dotson and Lavon Coleman could see time. We'll see isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means, we'll see.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS

Quarterback

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
7:15
PM ET
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

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.

Stat attack! Some Week 9 Pac-12 numbers

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
1:00
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Some Pac-12 numbers for your review.

Number to the left is national rank.

Scoring offense

2. Oregon, 55.6 points per game
6. Arizona State, 45.4
15. Oregon State, 40.1

Total offense
2. Oregon, 632.1 yards per game
14. Arizona State, 509.1
15. Washington, 501.9
22. Oregon State, 487.4
30. UCLA, 469.1

Rushing offense

2. Oregon, 331.5 yards per game
11. Arizona, 288.0
22. Washington, 218.1

Passing offense

1. Oregon State, 420.0 yards per game
6. Washington State, 373.1
8. California, 358.9
14. Arizona State, 332.0
20. Oregon, 300.6
24. Washington, 283.8

Note: The offensive numbers have been trending down. Why? Pac-12 defenses. You’ve got to respect the balance of Oregon and Washington, though the Huskies probably should be getting more than 34.5 points per game out of 502 yards of offense. By the way, Stanford ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in total offense with just 389.6 yards per game, but the Cardinal's 6.2 yards per play is just below Arizona State, Washington and Oregon State's 6.3 ypp, which is tied for second in the conference.

Scoring defense

9. Oregon, 16.9 points per game
16. USC, 19.3
18. Stanford, 19.4
20. Arizona, 19.9

Total defense

11. USC, 317.9
21. Arizona State, 349.3
25. Stanford, 353.4

Yards yielded per play (FBS foes only)

7. Oregon, 4.41 yards per play
11. Stanford, 4.69
16. USC, 4.79
23. Arizona, 4.89
25. UCLA, 4.97
26. Washington, 5.0

Pass-efficiency defense

6. Oregon
12. Arizona
14. Washington
20. USC
29. UCLA
30. Arizona State

Note: Is this the year that defense eclipses offense in the Pac-12? As good as the top Pac-12 offenses are, the numbers for scoring and passing efficiency are better for defense than offense. Still plenty of football left, though. USC gave up 62 to Arizona State and 31 to Arizona, but when playing non-Arizona schools in its other six games, the Trojans have yielded 10.2 points per game.

Rushing

1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona, 153.3 yards per game
3. Bishop Sankey, Washington, 145.3
17. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford, 110.8
18. Byron Marshall, Oregon, 109.9
31. Tre Madden, USC, 95.9

Note: Who will lead the Pac-12 in rushing, and will that total end up winning the top spot in the nation? And, if so, how does that guy not get invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony? Also, do both All-American running backs come from the Pac-12?

Pass efficiency

5. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
13. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
28. Keith Price, Washington
29. Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Note: Mariota is still No. 1 in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QBR. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly is 38th in the nation in the NCAA pass efficiency rating but he is 11th in QBR. Price climbed from 35th to 28th on his numbers against California. UCLA's Brett Hundley has fallen to 36th in the nation.

Receiving yards per game

1. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 157.0
3. Paul Richardson, Colorado, 130.6
21. Chris Harper, California, 99.5
25. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State, 97.9

Sacks

4. Trent Murphy, Stanford, 1.90 sacks per game
T10. Tony Washington, Oregon, 0.9
T18. Anthony Barr, UCLA, 0.9 (Barr's played in fewer games than Washington)
21. Keenan Graham, UCLA, 0.8

Note: The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award looks like a battle between Murphy and Barr. Barr is fifth in the nation with 1.90 tackles for a loss per game, while Murphy is tied for seventh with 1.70 per game.

Random notes: Arizona State is the Pac-12's least-penalized team. Washington is the most-penalized team. Oregon leads the Pac-12 in turnover margin. It's plus-13 for the season, having forced a conference-high 23 turnovers. Arizona has the fewest turnovers with eight. Washington State has the most with 25, including 19 interceptions, which is nine more than any other team. California, however, is 12th in turnover margin at minus-12. Stanford, USC and Utah are tied for first in the conference with 27 sacks. Arizona and Colorado are last in the conference with just nine sacks. Stanford has yielded the fewest sacks --nine in eight games. Cal has yielded the most sacks -- 27 in eight games. Oregon State leads the conference in third down defense, with foes converting just 32 percent of the time. UCLA is still No. 1 in third down offense (51.9 percent).

Takeaways help Trojans beat Utes

October, 26, 2013
10/26/13
9:43
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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.
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."

Midseason report: USC

October, 15, 2013
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It’s not too often that a midseason report includes the impact of a coaching change but such is the reality for the 2013 Trojans.

USC entered the season under Lane Kiffin and went 3-2 –- including two losses in the Pac-12 -- before athletic director Pat Haden decided it was time to make a change. Longtime defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was named as the interim coach, and he instantly set about putting his touches on the program, including the popular gesture of returning cookies to the USC training table.

The Trojans won their opening game under Orgeron by holding on against Arizona, but now things get tougher with a road trip to South Bend to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and then a return home to play Utah, which just beat Stanford. Games against the Cardinal and UCLA also await down the road.

Look for Orgeron to continue developing the Trojans' run game behind a deep group of tailbacks that includes Tre Madden and Silas Redd. The big unknown right now for the offense is the status of Marqise Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner who suffered a knee injury against Arizona State and has not returned. On defense, the front line has been a bright spot with Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin but the secondary has struggled at times, particularly at the corner position.

Offensive MVP: Madden -- A former linebacker who sat out the 2012 season with a knee injury, all Madden did to open the season was rush for more than 100 yards in four of the Trojans' first five games.

Defensive MVP: Williams -- The Trojans are ranked among the top-20 defenses against the run and in sacks and tackles for loss. That starts up front with Williams, a dominant big man who is second on the team in tackles (36) and is tied for the team lead with 7.5 tackles for loss.

Tuesday mailbag: Mannion for Heisman?

September, 24, 2013
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This is my mailbag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Eric in Redmond, Ore. writes: The Oregon State defense seems to spend large portions of games with their silly hats on. What is going on with them? It seems there is talent at every position, but they play like day-old pancakes with too much syrup on them. On the other hand, how good is Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks!? Can they keep this up all season? If they do, will there be Heisman considerations for either one? I have to say that right now, I think they are both #1 at their respective positions (in the conference).

Evan in New York writes: Sean Mannion has carried the OSU team on his shoulders. Mannion leads the nation in passing and leads the nation in TDs. Not saying he is in contention, but does he at least get a nod from the Heisman pundits? Without him the team could easily be 1-3 now. Or is it really about just propping up the best players on the best teams?

Shane in Corvallis, Ore. writes: Apparently of all Pac-12 teams the Beavers feel the need to give their fans the most heart attacks. What team would you say is the most stress inducing for their fan base?

James in Corvallis writes: Hey Kevin, even though there were question marks at a couple of positions for the Beavers’ defense, there were enough starters back on that side of the ball to expect much better play than they are showing. The entire defense has been missing tackles, missing assignments, and generally overplaying everything. What are your thoughts on why the Beavers’ defense has been sooooooo bad this year and is there any hope that it could turn around?

Kevin Gemmell: Lots of Oregon State fans eager to chat up their Beavers this week, so I’ll lump them all together in one efficient answer.

Oregon State has been hit hard with the injury bug on defense. And I know coaches like to say that’s not an excuse, but it kind of is. When you’re expecting to have your best talent out there -- and don’t -- it’s a valid excuse. Behind closed doors, I’m sure the coaching staff is frustrated that they are thin. There has been a notable drop off at some positions, and it’s especially noticeable in the tackling.

Take the Utah game, for example. In the first half, the defense played great holding the Utes to just a touchdown. Utah had just six rushing yards through the first quarter and didn’t get a first down until the second quarter. The schemes appear to be right. They just need better execution and they have to finish plays.

As for Cooks, in general, wide receivers are seen as a product of their quarterback. So while Cooks has put himself in great shape to be a Biletnikoff finalist, I don’t see any Heisman buzz in his future.

Mannion would have the better chance of the two if he continues his current pace. He’s leading the nation in touchdown passes, passing yards and completions and he’s 12th in QBR rating. Anytime you have a completion percentage in the 70s, you’re doing it right.

But Sir Heisman is a fickle fellow. Remember, it’s as much about perception as it is numbers. And right now the perception of Oregon State isn’t particularly strong. It’s not fair that defensive woes get placed on Mannion’s potential candidacy, but that’s how it goes. If the Beavers can pull off some wins over a couple of the ranked north teams, and he performs well, maybe he generates a little buzz on the West Coast. But he’s going to have to prove that he’s just as capable as Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley before he gets in the conversation.

As for heart attacks, if this is how the Beavers are going to play all year, I’d lay off the Smoked Pork Chili Cheese Burger at Block 15 and go with the Sun Burger.

Tonya in Gresham, Ore. writes: As an old fat woman who loves college football I am wondering why folks aren't talking more about Marcus Mariota as a Heisman candidate. He seems always to be mentioned but as an afterthought. Do the folks on the East Coast realize that his numbers come from just a little over half a game each week? Since he began starting as a QB for Oregon he has only completed 25 percent of his games! Most often sitting out after the first or second series in the third quarter (and we all know that takes only about 5 min off the clock at best). This young man is for real and I as a fan would like to hear more about him!

Kevin Gemmell: First off, you’re gorgeous, Tonya. Don’t let anybody tell you different.

As for Mariota, I think you need to look a little harder. Heading into last week he was atop the ESPN.com Heisman poll and even on a bye week, he distanced himself even further.

I’m not saying the ESPN.com Heisman poll is scripture. But it’s a pretty good sample of writers from across the country who see every conference.

The Ducks open conference play with Cal this week, and then back-to-back road games at Colorado and Washington. They’ll see three ranked teams in the next six weeks, including No. 5 Stanford. That’s the game that will likely make or break his Heisman hopes because the country will be tuning in to see what he’s all about.

Anton in Los Angeles writes: Hey Kevin, love the work you and Ted do with all the PAC-12 teams! I was wondering how much you are excited for the top pass rushing D-linemen potentially in the nation going at it when Will Sutton and Morgan Breslin go at it in Tempe. Who do you think will have the bigger game/impact??? Both teams' O-lines have looked suspect at times this past week.

Kevin Gemmell: Thanks Anton, I’m a huge fan of your work as well.

I think this is going to be one of the great sidebars to this game. How does ASU, which allowed three sacks and 10 tackles for a loss against Stanford, protect Taylor Kelly?
USC did a heck of a job corralling Chuckie Keeton last week, sacking him four times and holding him to minus-15 yards rushing. ASU does a really good job of moving Kelly around. He rarely throws from the same spot in the pocket on consecutive plays. They sprint him out and get him involved in the run game, so that will be a fun cat-and-mouse game between Breslin, Leonard Williams, George Uko and Co.

On the flip side, the Sun Devils blitz like crazy. They love to bring guys. Kessler has already been sacked six times this year, so I guarantee the ASU staff is looking for weaknesses.

Both guys have had success because of others around them, so look for complementary players to have an impact as well.

Both are dominant players, and both should impact the game in their own way.

0006shy in Los Angeles writes: Kevin, I agree with everything you've been writing about Lane Kiffin. But putting USC at #10 in the Power Rankings, below teams that have lost to FCS schools, just seems wrong. I take great pride in the fact that my Trojans have NEVER played, and NEVER lost to, an FCS school. Please consider taking this into account next week when you make the new rankings list.

Kevin Gemmell: While Ted and I consult every Sunday about the Power Rankings, he’s the one who does the final version. And as you can see from this week’s Power Rankings regarding Oregon State, he doesn’t always value my counsel. That's something he'll have to live with.

I feel like Utah’s win -- and USC’s for that matter -- was more impressive than Oregon State’s gift win from the Aztecs. The Beavers had no right trailing that team by as much as they did. And really had no right winning that game. But hey, good for them, and good for the conference going 10-0 against the Mountain West. And the Beavers beat Utah -- and they earned it -- so I can see where Ted is coming from there.

That said, I agree, USC should probably be ahead of Oregon State right now. As noted above, the Beavers have done nothing but give their fan base heart attacks against teams that shouldn’t be competitive against the Pac-12. The Trojans haven’t exactly been stellar offensively, but that defense has really been impressive. And to lock down Keeton the way they did last week, in my mind, should have earned them a bump.

I’ll press Ted harder next week if they beat the Sun Devils. If they don’t, I would only expect southward movement.

Nick in LaLaLand (I’m assuming that’s LA) writes: Hey Kevin, I was at the USC game and paying a little closer attention, wondering if Kiffin would open up the p-book a little. Alas, maybe not so, and the play calling got very conservative in the second half. Here's my questions: 1) when can we start adding PI yardage to Marqise Lee's stat line 2) a win is a win, but it wasn't pretty and was more like Utah State was prevented from winning rather than USC taking the victory. Was last weekend indicative of the mediocrity of BC and does our offense have more troubles ahead? 3) also when was the last time we scored in the thirrd quarter? Yikes. Thanks KG!

Kevin Gemmell: It hasn’t been that long of a drought. Tre Madden ran for a 30-yard touchdown in the third quarter against Boston College. (Wasn’t sure if you were being facetious, but we aim to please on the Pac-12 blog). I’ll check with Larry Scott to see if we can put the “Lee Exemption” into effect for this season. No promises, but he and I are tight, so we’ll try to make it happen.

So we’re clear, Boston College isn’t a great team. It’s better than it was last season, but that's not saying much, so USC did what it’s supposed to do against a team like that.

But you’re right, the play calling continues to be a mystery. The running game is chugging along nicely and you get first-and-goal on the Utah State 1-yard line and it’s play-action pass? I get that Kiffin probably wants his guy to get some confidence with a touchdown pass, but I’d wager Cody Kessler gets more confidence connecting on a 30-yard post than a 1-yard dunk off. There’s something to be said for trying to be overly creative. It’s 1-yard. You’re USC. Run the freaking ball straight ahead and blow that lower-tier Mountain West team off the line.

It feels like Kiffin is pressing so hard to show the world he can be a great play caller that the simplest plays are getting overlooked.

I like what’s happening with Madden and Justin Davis. Through four games the Trojans are averaging 20 more rushing yards per game than they were last year. And they already have six rushing touchdowns after only getting 12 all last season which was second worst in the league ahead of Washington State’s six rushing touchdowns.

But they need to do a better job sustaining drives. They are last in the Pac-12 in third-down conversions (27.5 percent) and bottom third in red zone touchdowns.

At this point, all I can say is be thankful for that defense.

Defense bails out Trojans again

September, 21, 2013
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LOS ANGELES -- USC was hoping to use the game against Utah State as a way to build some positive momentum, but the 17-14 victory over the Aggies showed that the Trojans still have a long way to go.

Make no mistake, it’s always nice to get the win but this is a game where the Trojans had a huge advantage in field position and also got the usual solid game from the defense. Unfortunately, the USC offense couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities to put the game away in the second half and, if not for some special teams miscues by Utah State, the result could have been very different.

“It was a very hard fought game today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Very much like what we anticipated. I felt like there was a rhythm early on when we were able to run the ball, but obviously we wanted to finish better in the second half.”

USC started off strong with a Tre Madden touchdown run on the second series of the game to go up 7-0. The Trojans defense put good pressure early on Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, primarily with defensive linemen Leonard Williams and George Uko as well as outside linebackers Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin. USC dodged a bullet when Utah State clanged a first-quarter field goal off the upright, a miss that would loom large.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams, Hayes Pullard
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsLeonard Williams (left) and the USC defense put the crunch on Utah State on Saturday.
Each team added a touchdown in the second quarter, and as the second half started it was clear it was anyone’s ball game.

The Trojans had their chances with the Aggies playing an eight-man front, leaving the USC receivers against man coverage. Normally, that would spell a big day for Marqise Lee and/or Nelson Agholor, but there were some dropped passes and some pressure on Cody Kessler which prevented the Trojans from capitalizing. Lee ended the day with six catches for 72 yards, while Agholor had two catches for 38 yards. Neither player reached the end zone.

“I missed some throws and we had some drops, but they are things we can fix,” Kessler said. “Thanks for the job our defense did, we were able to come away with the win.”

The USC defense is rapidly becoming known as the side of the ball which will win games for this team. Williams led the team in tackles with eight and added three tackles for loss. Uko had five tackles and a sack, Breslin had two sacks and Kennard added a sack. They did a terrific job of limiting Keeton -- who came into the game completing 78 percent of his passes -- to a rather pedestrian stat line of 21-of-39 passing for 179 yards and a pair of scores. Good numbers to be sure, but not enough to get it done against the Trojans.

“We had a good game plan from Coach O (Orgreon) the whole week,” Uko said. “We just wanted to angle in and rush tight and keep them in the box”

The battle for field position really started to impact the game in the second half, as the Trojans’ average starting field position was the Utah State 45, while Utah State started at its own 16. It didn’t help the Aggies that their punter had a shanked 12-yard kick at the end of the third quarter that led directly to a 25-yard Andre Heidari field goal, which proved to be the winning margin. There was also a strange fake punt from the Aggies on a fourth-and-11 from their own 34-yard line in the fourth quarter, resulting in an incomplete pass from tight end D.J. Tialavea.

If you’re looking for bright spots for the Trojans, look no further than punter Kris Albarado, who pinned five punts inside the Aggies’ 20-yard line to help win the field position battle. Little things like that are big on a day when the two teams are basically even in total yards (285 for USU to 282 for USC).

Madden fell short in his bid for a fourth-straight 100-yard rushing day but did run for 93 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Kessler completed 13 of 27 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown, but he was also sacked three times and took several big hits.

Now the Trojans turn their attention to a big road game next week in Tempe against Arizona State. There was hope that things would be clicking after a four-game opening stretch that included three games at home but at this point the offense can best be described as a work in progress. Thankfully the Trojans have their defense, a unit which once again put the team on their shoulders to come away with a tougher-than-expected win.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 this week.

  1. Keep it rolling: The Pac-12 is 23-4 in its nonconference games this year and 16-3 against FBS competition. It’s also 8-0 against Mountain West teams. USC and Oregon State can extend that streak with matchups against Utah State and San Diego State. Washington State also renews its border war with Idaho for the first time since 2007 -- a series the Cougs have owned 70-17-3.
  2. Air it out: Eight Pac-12 quarterbacks rank among the top 16 in total offense, headlined by Cal’s Jared Goff (429.7 ypg). Through three weeks, three Pac-12 quarterbacks (Goff, Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion) have combined to throw for 440-plus yards four times. Only two other seasons in Pac-12 history have seen league quarterbacks throw for 440 or more yards more than four times -- 1998 (six times) and 2002 (five times).
  3. Speed it up: Pac-12 offenses are scoring, and scoring fast. There have been 195 scoring drives, and so far 83 have taken less than two minutes. As you’d expect, Oregon tops the list with 23 of its 28 scoring drives taking less than two minutes. Utah is next on the list with nine.
  4. [+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
    Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsUCLA QB Brett Hundley was impressive against Nebraska and should be even more so this week.
  5. Heisman moments? Mariota, who sits atop the ESPN.com Heisman poll, is off this week. But Brett Hundley has a chance to bolster his numbers against a New Mexico State team that is allowing nearly 50 points per game. Look for Mannion to continue rolling against a San Diego State team that is yielding 41 points per game. Same for Washington running back Bishop Sankey against an FCS Idaho State squad.
  6. The headliner: For the first time this year, we have two ranked Pac-12 teams squaring off with No. 23 ASU’s trip to No. 5 Stanford. The focus is, and should be, on the lines. Stanford wants to do what Stanford does -- pound at ASU’s interior defense. The Sun Devils were pretty good defending at Wisconsin's inside rushing attack but were caught off guard by sweeps. Will be interesting to see if Stanford goes after the edges the way Wisconsin did.
  7. Sankey rolling: Sankey now has rushed for at least 100 yards in six of his past seven games -- including a career-high 208 yards in the win last week over Illinois. Through three weeks and two games, he’s the national leader in average yards per game with 184.5. Dating back to last year, he has rushed for 1,142 yards in his last seven games.
  8. Take a breather: Four byes this week, with Arizona, Cal, Colorado and Oregon all getting the week off. Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team had an unscheduled bye last week, said his team is back to practicing after several players were displaced by flooding.
  9. Running like a Mad(den) man: Only six players have started the season with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. We don't want to assume, but Sankey probably will have his third straight this week. For now, USC’s Tre Madden is the only Pac-12 player among those six (Paul James, Rutgers; Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin; Mark Weisman (FB), Iowa; Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Arkansas). Per our friends at ESPN Stats & Information, USC is running the ball on 62 percent of its plays this year, up 18 percent from last year. Of those six mentioned, Madden is the only one who has faced three FBS opponents. He leads the Pac-12 with 149 yards after contact.
  10. Mobile Hogan, mobile Kelly: Also from Stats & Info: Kevin Hogan and Taylor Kelly are the only Pac-12 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 20 percent of their passes outside the pocket over the last two seasons. Kelly leads all AQ quarterbacks with 115 passes attempted from outside of the pocket. When out of the pocket, Hogan has completed 76 percent of his passes, including 20-of-24 passes on designed rollouts. In comparison, Kelly has completed a lower percentage of his passes thrown outside the pocket, but his average throw travels 10 yards, 4.5 yards longer than Hogan.
  11. Goodbye for now, Holy War: The Utah-BYU rivalry will go on break for a couple of years after Saturday. Kyle Whittingham insists that doesn’t mean anything. I’m guessing having two extra years of bragging rights, however, means plenty to the fans. Utah has won four of the past five and holds a 56-34-4 edge in the series, which dates back to 1896. Though BYU doesn’t recognize six games, split 3-3, from when it was Brigham Young Academy. But since this is the Pac-12 blog, we’ll recognize it, cause we’re cool like that. And Utah SID Liz Abel is awesome at her job for bringing that nugget to our attention. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson is coming off of a 142-yard rushing performance -- the second most ever by a Utah quarterback and the most since 1979. Should this one be a nail-biter, it's worth noting that both kickers -- Utah's Andy Phillips and BYU's Justin Sorensen -- are 5-for-5 on field goals this season. Neither has missed a PAT.

Trojans shed ills, shred Eagles

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
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video LOS ANGELES -- That was exactly what the cardinal and gold doctor ordered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stat attack! Some Week 2 Pac-12 numbers

September, 10, 2013
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It's probably too early to draw too many statistical conclusions, but here is a quick look at some Pac-12 numbers and how they stack up nationally.

Number to the left is national rank.

Scoring offense
3. Oregon, 62.5 points per game
T5. UCLA, 58.0
7. Arizona State, 55.0
T11. Utah, 50.0
T17. Arizona, 46.5

Total offense
3. Oregon, 664.5 yards
7. UCLA, 647.0
9. Washington, 592.0
11. California, 582.5
22. Utah, 539.0
25. Arizona State, 523.0

Note: Welcome to the show, Utes. So how did these guys get these numbers? See below.

Rushing offense
2. Oregon, 425.0 yards per game
7. Arizona, 351.5
8. UCLA, 345.0
24. Washington, 268.0

Passing offense
1. California, 472.5 yards per game
3. Oregon State, 436.5
8. Colorado, 370.5
9. Arizona State, 365.0
24. Washington, 324.0

Note: Washington has to like the balance it showed against Boise State, but will the Huskies maintain it on the road at Illinois? Cal is getting huge production from freshman QB Jared Goff. Did Buffaloes fans think Connor Wood would be putting up such big numbers?

Scoring defense
T1. Arizona State, 0.0
6. Washington, 6.0
T7. Arizona, Oregon, 6.5
19. USC, 11.5
T22. Stanford, 13.0

Total defense
2. Arizona State, 167.0
12. USC, 226.5
14. Stanford, 251.0
19. Arizona, 276.0
24. Washington State, 293.5

Note: USC's defense under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast isn't the problem. It's way early but it appears the Arizona and Washington State defenses are much improved.

Tackles for a loss (per game)
2. UCLA, 11.0
T3. USC, 10.0
T15. Utah, 8.5
T22. Arizona, Oregon, 8.0

Rushing
3. Bishop Sankey, Washington, 161.0
4. Jordan James, UCLA, 155.0
16. Tre Madden, USC, 130.0
T20. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon, 126.0
25. Marcus Mariota, Oregon, 117.5

Note: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey's 171 yards on just 16 carries at UNLV don't officially count because of the requirement a player participate in 75 percent of the games thus far. The big test is James at Nebraska. Johnathan Franklin ran all over the Cornhuskers last year.

Pass efficiency
3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
6. Travis Wilson, Utah
14. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
16. Keith Price, Washington

Note: Wilson, Mannion and Price are answering big preseason questions for their teams. At least so far.

Receiving yards per game
1. Paul Richardson, Colorado, 208.5
4. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 144.0
7. Bryce Treggs, California, 133.0
24. Jaydon Mickens, Washington, 109.0

Note: Guessing more than a few folks are going, "Oh, yeah, that Paul Richardson." Here's a quiz: Who's the big name missing here? Hint: Marqise Lee, the best receiver in the country.

Pac-12 players of the week

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
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Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas, Washington State cornerback Damante Horton and Arizona kicker Jake Smith have been named the Pac-12’s players of the week.

Here are some more details on the trio, per the Pac-12’s release:
Thomas, a junior from Los Angeles, Calif., had 11 carries for a game-high 124 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the Ducks’ 59-10 road win over Virginia on Saturday. He had touchdown runs of 1, 40 and 8 yards and reeled in one catch for another 28 yards. Thomas is averaging 8.7 yards per carry and is tied for 20th in the nation in rushing yards per game (126.0 ypg).

Horton, a senior from Oakland, Calif., led a spirited defensive effort by Washington State in the Cougars 10-7 win over No.22/25 USC Trojans in the first conference game of season. The cornerback stepped in front of a USC pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown to even the score at 7-7 just before halftime. Horton collected his second interception with less than a minute remaining to seal the victory for Washington State, ending the game with two interceptions for 75 return yards and a career-best two tackles for a loss for 12 yards. He was also tasked with covering USC All-American receiver Marqise Lee, who was limited to 27 yards on seven catches.

Smith, a senior place-kicker Philadelphia, Pa., set a school record with 16 points by kicking to help lead Arizona past UNLV 58-13 on Saturday night in Las Vegas. The first-year kicker collected his first made field goal from 41 yards to put Arizona up 3-0 and went on to convert three of four on the night in addition to making all seven extra points he attempted. Smith also kicked off 11 times in the game with five touchbacks and a 63.3-yard average.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Travis Wilson of Utah, Taylor Kelly of Arizona State, Sean Mannion of Oregon State, and Jared Goff of Californa; running backs Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona, Tre Madden of USC and Tyler Gaffney of Stanford; and wide receiver Paul Richardson of Colorado. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Jake Fischer of Arizona, Grandville Taylor of Arizona State, and Hardy Nickerson of California, safeties Jered Bell of Colorado, Ed Reynolds of Stanford and Dion Bailey of USC; defensive end Tony Washington of Oregon and defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi of Utah. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors were kickers Vincenzo D'Amato of California and Andrew Furney of Washington State and Oregon State punter Keith Kostol.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
9:00
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 2.

    1. Heavy favorites: The Pac-12 is favored in all eight of its nonconference games this week. In fact, the league is favored by at least 10 points in every game and by at least 20 points in six of the eight. It should be a strong week for the conference. Should being the operative word.

 

  • League play kicks off: The ninth game this week features the first conference showdown of the season with Washington State traveling to USC. The Cougs are coming off a tough loss at Auburn, where Connor Halliday completed 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. Cody Kessler is expected to start for the Trojans, but Max Wittek likely will see time again. USC’s defense had four interceptions and seven sacks in its Week 1 win over Hawaii. WSU's last win at USC was in 2000.
  • Debuts: After spending last Saturday lounging around and watching football, Arizona State coach Todd Graham and Stanford coach David Shaw have to get back to work. The Sun Devils open the season on the cusp of the Top 25 and host Sacramento State on Thursday night. Stanford hosts San Jose State in the Bill Walsh Legacy Game. The Cardinal opened the season ranked No. 4 but got bumped down to No. 5 for their Week 1 laziness.
  • Off and running: The Pac-12 had seven players rush for at least 100 yards in Week 1, headlined by Washington’s Bishop Sankey. He and the Huskies are off this week prepping for their game against Illinois on Sept. 14. Three of those seven came from Oregon -- a school record with De’Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Marcus Mariota all eclipsing 100 yards. The other 100-yard rushers were Jordon James (UCLA, which is off this week), Daniel Jenkins (Arizona) and Tre Madden (USC).
  • 2-oh? Colorado snapped an eight-game losing streak last week with its win over Colorado State. The Buffs host Central Arkansas on Saturday with a chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
  • Crazy eights: Stanford and San Jose State are both riding eight-game winning streaks dating back to last season. That’s the first time in all of the years the schools have played that both have enjoyed simultaneous streaks.
  • Dominating the MWC: The Pac-12 went 5-0 against the Mountain West last week with Utah (Utah State), Colorado (Colorado State), USC (Hawaii), Washington (Boise State) and UCLA (Nevada) all scoring victories. The Pac-12 has three more games against the Mountain West this week with Arizona traveling to UNLV, Hawaii visiting Oregon State and San Jose State at Stanford. It was a rough opening weekend for the West Coast’s little brother league, which went just 3-9.
  • Road warriors: No. 2 Oregon goes on the road for the first time this season and is riding the nation’s best winning streak away from home. The Ducks have won 15 straight road games. Alabama and Northern Illinois are tied for second with nine. Oregon’s last road loss was at Stanford in 2009.
  • Strong debuts: The three new coaches in the Pac-12 went 2-1 in their season openers. Mark Helfrich (Oregon) rolled over Nicholls State (no shocker there). Mike MacIntyre led Colorado to an emotional win over an in-state rival in Colorado State, and Sonny Dykes’ California team put up a gritty effort in defeat against Northwestern.
  • Suspensions lifted: After being suspended for Week 1, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher last season, will make his debut against UNLV. Daniel Jenkins filled in quite nicely, rushing for 139 yards on 12 carries, including a 91-yard touchdown run. Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was also suspended for Week 1, is expected to be on the field when the Huskies return to action next week. Cal linebacker Chris McCain had his suspension rescinded after he was ejected per the NCAA’s new targeting rule and will play against Portland State.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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