By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.
The evaluation: In spite of a Division 1 secondary that periodically busted more coverages than a high school team and had more holes in it than a salt shaker…
In spite of a defense that gave up 578 total yards and six TD passes (a new opponent record) to a prolific offense…
In spite of an offensive line that created untimely penalties and couldn’t make consistent center snaps…
In spite of 12 penalties for a whopping 124 yards and a general lack of discipline…
And yet in spite of it, a 48-28 shellacking of the Trojans by No. 18 Oregon on a near frigid Saturday afternoon in a wild Autzen Stadium in Eugene…
Clay Helton's (above photo) unranked USC Trojans (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12 South) will host the No. 22 UCLA Bruins (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12 South) in the Coliseum this Saturday (12:30 p.m. PT/ABC or ESPN2 depending on the region of the country) for the Pac-12 South Division Championship and the right to play in the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game on Dec. 5 in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
The evaluation – Offensively speaking: If you’re looking for a silver lining in the crunching loss to Oregon, look no further than junior tailback Justin Davis, who gave his heart and soul in grinding out 141 yards. Davis was outstanding even though none of his yardage directly resulted in a touchdown. If Davis can duplicate or exceed his totals against UCLA next Saturday, the Trojans have a very good chance against the Bruins. Backup Ronald Jones again flashed his potential with a sizzling 12-yard winding TD jaunt in the third quarter, but, he too, was stoned too many times at the point of attack.
As for quarterback Cody Kessler, he had a workmanlike day and threw some nice balls for 238 yards and two TD passes, and what more can you continue to say about sophomore receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster other than he is simply a warrior, playing in constant pain. Good news continues, as the tight ends are now nicely part of the offense, as evidenced by freshman Tyler Petite’s 12-yards scoring reception.
The evaluation – Offensively speaking – Part 2: Then there was the reconfigured offensive line, which was a mixed bag of results. Although the Trojans surprisingly outrushed Oregon 186-171, there were flags in crunch time, center snaps that continue to be an adventure, and a critical personal foul in the fourth quarter by veteran left tackle Chad Wheeler, which was a drive killer. Overall, call it a lack of discipline. Give a team like Oregon those advantages and the outcome for success becomes problematic. But perhaps the biggest issue was line protection for Cody Kessler, who was sacked five times, and that won’t cut it against the Bruins next weekend. It was all a direct combination of youth, inconsistency in effort, and poise inside that wall of sound known as Autzen Stadium. The Trojans lost their poise.
The evaluation – Defensively speaking: So what did you expect with the Trojans missing two of their frontline inside linebackers, and their defense, in general, not having the experience of facing the schemes of an Oregon offense since 2012? Well, what you didn’t expect was a Trojans secondary that looked like a Chinese fire drill and had more confusion than a high school junior taking the math portion of the SAT. It was painful and exasperating to watch. Aside from trying to stop standout Oregon receivers like Bralon Addison and Darren Carrington, it was quite evident near the end of the game that the Trojans simply didn’t apply enough intense pressure on Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and allowed the fifth-year transfer from Eastern Washington to establish a new record for touchdown passes against the Cardinal and Gold.
The evaluation – Defensively speaking – Part 2: While I’ll leave it to WeAreSC defensive guru Kevin Bruce to break it all down, one thing is quite apparent was that too many times the Trojans defensive line either individually or collectively would not bring maximum effort either by playing to the whistle or allowing the nimble-footed Adams to get outside the pocket and look downfield. When the defense finally got to Adams late in the game, he was a completely different quarterback. It’s also quite apparent, IMHO, that true freshman Iman Marshall is really the object of opposing quarterbacks and that his future should be as a strong safety to best fit his talents. You can bet the Bruins and the fleet receivers will have No. 8 in their crosshairs.
The bottom line: Despite the overall domination of the Ducks over the Trojans, the game meant nothing from a standings point of view, given the fact that the winner of the USC-UCLA will win the Pac-12 South Division title. Even the players afterward said as much. The humiliation from the Ducks, however, will mean something if the Trojans don’t clean up their act on defense and don’t correct their errors, both mental and physical, in time for the Bruins.
The big question: How much momentum did the Bruins get from their victory at Utah and how much damage and baggage did the loss at Oregon affect the Trojans for next Saturday’s rivalry game? One thing seems certain, if the Men of Troy play like they did against Oregon, they will fall again to the Bruins and Helton’s chance of being the Trojans head coach will fade as fast as a shooting star.
The Trojans perspective: After the Oregon game, Trojans interim head coach Clay Helton said, “The guys played with tremendous effort and that’s all I can ask of them. We have an opportunity to go against a great rivalry opponent next week with a lot on the line. We’ve got to get a lot corrected in a short amount of time.”
The Oregon perspective: After the game, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said, “They (USC) are just so talented. A couple times we got lucky, but we responded. We always respond the right way. We learned what happens when you line drive it down the middle to Adoree’ Jackson, who is a phenomenal player. Just a huge win.”
Kessler comments: Afterward the Oregon game, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler said, “Obviously, it’s still there (the Pac-12 South Division title) for us. That was our ultimate goal at the end of the season, but that doesn’t mean that we’re okay with today at all. This hurts just as bad as any other loss. That’s a very good football team, but so are we. I believe that.
“We’ve got to make our plays and we’ve got to play better. This one’s going to hurt today and tomorrow, but we’ve got to have a mindset to come in Monday and be ready to go. We’re playing to win the South. Guys are going to be excited about that, and it’s going to be a great week of preparation, but it definitely hurts with any loss.”
Mr. Adams: After the game, Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. said, “I was a big USC fan growing up, being from that area. It is an awesome feeling. They (USC) didn’t really talk trash. They told me to stay still so they could get to me. They are friends that I grew up with. After they game, we were able to talk and take pictures, so it was fun.”
Su’a speaks: Trojans All-Pac-12 linebacker Su’a Cravens said afterward, “We let Vernon (Adams) scramble a lot in the pocket. We knew all week that he was going to make plays on the fly. We let him get out of contain and he just threw the ball down the field. He made a lot of great throws. We were jumping in and out of gaps, and weren’t very disciplined in the run game. They got whatever they wanted in the first half.”
A missed recruit: After the game, Ducks standout wide receiver Darren Carrington revealed, “I was a USC fan growing up. I’m from San Diego. We came to Oregon and we got it done. I was really hyped to play against USC. They didn’t recruit me and I was sad about that. I had some drive this week to show them it doesn’t matter where you go.”
Totaling the offense: In the final stats, the Ducks outgained the Trojans 578-424.
Tackling the issue: Leading tackler for the Trojans against the Ducks was sophomore linebacker Olajuwon Tucker with nine tackles followed by true freshman Rasheem Green with five stops. Both are former teammates at Gardena (Calif.) Serra High.
The offensive barometer: On Saturday afternoon, the Trojans scored 28 points against the Ducks. The Trojans entered Saturday’s game averaging 36.4 points per game.
The defensive barometer: On Saturday, the Trojans defense gave up 48 points to the Ducks. The Trojans entered Saturday’s game allowing 22.7 points per game.
TOP: For those into time of possession, the edge went to the Trojans (34:54-25:06).
From the press box…No show: Trojans starting placekicker Alex Wood did not play due to a concussion occurred against Colorado last week. His backup, sophomore Matt Boermeister, did not attempt a field goal on Saturday but did convert all four PAT attempts.
The barometer: Temperature at kickoff at Autzen Stadium was 41 degrees. The Autzen Stadium press box is an “open” press box, which means it has no windows to keep out the cold. Typing with the numb fingers is quite a challenge.
Thanksgiving dinner: Members of the media were treated to a pregame Thanksgiving “lunch” complete with turkey, stuffing, string beans, and salad. Well, it beats hot dogs, especially after the recent report saying hot dogs cause cancer.
The tattoo: Don’t know if you could see it on TV, but Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams was wearing an interlocking “SC” tattoo on his right throwing arm. Before the game, Adams said he got it because he’s from Southern California, but his friends say he grew up a USC and Reggie Bush fan.
Counting the house: Announced attendance at Autzen Stadium was 59,094. Capacity is listed at 54,000.
The post-game show…Tommy is covered: In anticipation of next Saturday’s Trojan-Bruins game in the Coliseum, the statues of Tommy Trojan and John McKay were covered last week to avoid any UCLA sabotage. The Trojans also covered the sword and its base leading down the ramp into the locker room of the John McKay Center.
Whoa Nellie: The broadcast level at Rose Bowl Stadium will be named the Keith Jackson Broadcast Center in honor of the legendary broadcaster. Jackson has an attachment to the Trojans as a parent of a former USC grad.
More connections: Offspring of famed sportscasters Jim Nance and Dan Hicks currently have children attending USC.
Get well: Former Trojans quarterback Max Wittek’s career has ended his University of Hawaii career prematurely with a knee injury that required surgery. So in this season, the Rainbow Warriors not only lost their head coach, Norm Chow, who was fired, but their starting quarterback, as well.
The Outland: Ron Yary (1967) is the only Trojans lineman to win the Outland Trophy as the best lineman in the nation. The Outland Trophy released its 2015 semifinalists and of the five players named, two were former USC recruits: Stanford guard Joshua Garnett (Puyallup, Wash.) and Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Just asking: So whose brilliant idea was it that two major Pac-12 games of interest – USC at Oregon and UCLA at Utah– would both kick off at 12:30 PT?
Congrats: Former Trojans athletic director Mike Garrett has assumed the same responsibility as the new athletic director for the Cal State Los Angeles Golden Eagles. FYI, back in the day CSULA was known as the Diablo’s.
Crosstown forecast: The long-range weather forecast for next Saturday afternoon’s crosstown rivalry against the Bruins in the Coliseum calls for partly cloudy with a high of 64 with a low of 47 degrees.
The last word: And a happy Thanksgiving Day to you and yours.
Garry Paskwietz (1966-2019)
Garry Paskwietz was a pioneer in bringing team-specific sports coverage to the internet. He founded WeAreSC in 1998 and was an Emmy winner for his work with Fox Sports West. Always generous with his time, knowledge, and compassion, he touched the lives of countless USC and high school football fans.