Across the Country

The 14th week of the 2014 college football season is in the books and the stakes are going up as we are now less than a week away from the final four teams being selected for the first College Football Playoff on December 7th. There is no better time in college football than Rivalry Week the last weekend of November. Three of the top 10 teams were rolled up and out of contention for a shot at the playoffs last weekend. In the Iron Bowl, #1 Alabama surged late with a 21-point 4th quarter to take down #15 Auburn 55-44 in Tuscaloosa which was the highest scoring game ever in the series. In the Civil War, #2 Oregon demolished 5-7 Oregon State 47-19 in Eugene. #3 Florida State overcame Jameis Winston’s four interceptions to beat 6-5 Florida 24-19 in Tallahassee for their 28th straight win. Winston has the dubious stat of 13 first-half interceptions this season which is tied for the worst in the country but they have found a way to win ugly all season against inferior competition. #19 Ole Miss stunned rival Mississippi State 31-17 in the annual Egg Bowl at Oxford which knocked the Bulldogs out of contention. #5 TCU pounded 6-6 Texas 48-10 in Austin to make a strong case to move into the “Final Four.” #6 Ohio State lost quarterback J.T. Barrett with a season ending leg injury but they outlasted bitter rival Michigan 42-28 in Columbus which sealed the fate of Wolverine Coach Brady Hoke. In the newest rankings, it was interesting to see the committee move Ohio State up to #5 even with the loss of Barrett because their handbook mandates that they consider key injuries that can make a difference. They decided to see how they stack up on their title game against Wisconsin. #7 Baylor held on for dear life against 4-8 Texas Tech in their 48-46 win in Arlington. #17 Missouri locked up the SEC East with their 21-14 win over 6-6 Arkansas in Columbia. #16 Georgia Tech upset #9 Georgia in a 30-24 in overtime at Athens. #13 Wisconsin clinched the Big Ten West Division with their 34-24 win over 8-4 Minnesota at Camp Randall. As we climb into December, conference championship games for the Power Five conferences are here as well as a crucial Big-12 matchup. The committee shook up the most recent rankings with TCU jumping up to #3 over undefeated Florida State which fell to #4. In the SEC Championship Game, #1 Alabama takes on #16 Missouri in Atlanta. #4 Florida State and #11 Georgia Tech collide in the ACC Championship Game and #5 Ohio State and #13 Wisconsin clash in the Big Ten Championship Game. In the other consequential game, #9 Kansas State travels to Waco to take on #6 Baylor. It will be a huge final weekend to determine who gets invited to the first big dance but it is clear that there is no wiggle room for Florida State, Alabama must win to have an SEC team in the final four, and there is a distinct possibility that two Big-12 teams could get into the big dance if any higher ranked teams slip.

PAC-12

The long and windy road in the PAC-12 South Division race came down to last Friday with #8 UCLA controlling their destiny against 7-5 Stanford at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins were riding high after their dominant win against cross-town rival USC the Saturday prior. UCLA under Jim Mora had not beaten Stanford or Oregon since becoming head coach and this was his opportunity. Stanford punched UCLA in the mouth and they shut the Bruins out in the 2nd half to win decisively 31-10 at the Rose Bowl. With UCLA losing, it was winner take all in Tucson with #11 Arizona hosting #13 Arizona State. The Wildcats clinched the South Division in a shootout 42-35 over the Sun Devils. #25 Utah needed a pick-six to rally past an improved 2-10 Colorado team 38-34. The Buffaloes finished 0-9 in conference play but lost to Cal and UCLA in double overtime and were edged by Oregon State and Utah. Cal finished 5-7 with their 42-35 loss to 8-4 BYU denying the Golden Bears bowl eligibility. However, Cal was also very improved from their 1-11 campaign a year ago and with sophomore quarterback Jared Goff coming back, they will be dangerous next year. Washington moved to 8-5 and kept the Apple Cup with their 31-13 demolition of Washington State in Pullman. First year Coach Chris Petersen is reinforcing discipline in Seattle and he is putting his stamp on the Washington program in his first season. USC and Notre Dame renewed the greatest intersectional rivalry in the country and it was only the 12th time in 85 games that neither team was ranked. Both teams entered with identical 7-4 records with only pride to play for but USC hammered Notre Dame 49-14 at the Coliseum, ending a two game slide to the Irish. Arizona and Oregon meet again this Friday at Levi Stadium with the PAC-12 Title on the line. The Wildcats are the only team that beat Oregon this season and they did it in Eugene. They also pounded the Ducks in Tucson last year 42-16 so this game has some extra meaning and interest. Marcus Mariota is the Heisman favorite and he and the Ducks will be extremely tough to beat a third time straight time, this time on a neutral site.

Notre Dame Recap

USC and Notre Dame limped into last Saturday’s matchup with the Trojans getting trounced by cross-town rival UCLA the week prior and Notre Dame having lost four of their last five games after a 6-0 start. It was well noted that Notre Dame was plagued with injuries to key players at several positions but it was also a fact that USC was starting three true freshmen on the offensive line and two true freshmen starting in the defensive backfield. The game had a rare, non-primetime start at 12:30 by virtue of pedestrian records of both teams. It was also Senior Day at the Coliseum and Heisman winner Matt Leinart led the Trojans out of the tunnel. USC started the scoring barrage on their 2nd possession with Cody Kessler finding a streaking George Farmer for 48-yard touchdown strike and a 7-0 lead. The Trojan defense harassed and frustrated Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson from the start and the Irish offense struggled to sustain drives. On the next possession, Kessler found all-purpose standout Adoree Jackson in the seam for a 16-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead. Following a Notre Dame three and out, Kessler again found George Farmer for a 31-yard streak in the back of the end zone for a 21-0 Trojan lead. It was a coming out party for George Farmer who had very high expectations when he arrived from Gardena Serra and he is making his presence as a redshirt junior. After a Gerald Bowman interception and 24-yard return to the USC 49-yard line, the Trojans went 51 yards in six plays with Kessler hitting Darreus Rogers for a six-yard touchdown pass and a 28-0 lead. Trojan outside linebacker J.R. Tavai forced a fumble that was recovered by Hayes Pullard and Kessler went to work again with a14-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor for an astonishing 35-0 first-half lead. Kessler and the Trojans scored on five consecutive possessions with five touchdowns in one half against the Irish. Golson was pulled from the game with 5:09 left in the half and he was replaced by sophomore Malik Zaire who was seeing his first action for the Irish. Zaire quickly led the Irish on a three-play, 64-yard touchdown drive capped by his 11-yard TD run and a 35-7 score. After a Trojan punt, Notre Dame mounted another drive but they missed a 44-yard field goal to go in 35-7 at half. USC opened the 2nd half with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with Cody Kessler’s nine yard strike to Randall Telfer which broke the all-time record against Notre Dame with six touchdowns passing. After a Notre Dame punt, USC put another 11-play drive together with Justin Davis slashing for a 16-yard touchdown run and a 49-7 lead. The Irish countered with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and a 49-14 score. Trojan quarterback Max Brown and Anthony Neyer played in the 4th quarter and the Trojans ran out the clock with a dominant 49-14 win over Notre Dame.

Offense

Cody Kessler took his next step as a Trojan quarterback last Saturday. He came into the game with impressive statistics, ranked fourth nationally in completion percentage and he had amassed 30 touchdown passes with only four interceptions on the season. However, he was 0-3 against his arch-rivals over the last two seasons so this was a huge win regardless of the circumstances. A dominant win against the Irish raised the bar for Kessler and his body of work positions him for early Heisman conversation going into the 2015 season. Notre Dame may have been depleted by injuries but Kessler still stepped up on the big stage against his arch-rival. He finished his epic day 32-40 for 372 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. He also spread the ball around to nine different receivers and the Trojan offense converted 13-18 on 3rd down. He showed urgency and decisiveness in the pocket moving away from pressure or scrambling toward the line of scrimmage with his eyes downfield. He delivered passes that were very accurate when he was in the pocket and on the run. He threaded the needle to Randall Telfer on his last touchdown pass and he threw the deep ball with precision. After a tough game against the Bruins, the Trojan offense went back into attack mode taking shots downfield with different receivers and they did not let up.

The receiving corps was led by Nelson Agholor’s 12 catches and 120 yards and one touchdown. He shook off his forgettable night against UCLA with a workmanlike performance, attacking the Irish defense. Juju Smith plays beyond his years and he finished with five catches for 48 yards. George Farmer reveled in his best day as a Trojan with four catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Darreus Rogers had two catches and a touchdown and the tight ends were rediscovered after being non-existent against the Bruins. Senior Randall Telfer had three catches for 28 yards and he caught his first touchdown of the season which was fitting on Senior Day. True freshman Bryce Dixon also had three catches and Buck Allen had one grab out of the backfield for 17 yards.

The offensive line rebounded from a very tough outing against the Bruins. True freshman Damien Mama started at left guard next to true freshman left tackle Toa Lobendahn. The Trojans controlled the line of scrimmage from start to finish and they were able to push the Notre Dame front around both running and passing. The movement off the line was much more effective and they were able to hit and pick up 2nd blocks consistently after getting pushed around by UCLA. It was a great game to build on for a young offensive line that is just getting started. USC utilized a balanced attack rushing for 205 yards and passing for 372 for a total of 577 yards. The Trojans employed a quick tempo against the Irish defense and it was evident that the speed took its toll against them as the game wore on. USC had 93 plays, its highest output since the opener against Fresno State with 105. Not only did they run a fast tempo, they also controlled the clock for 37:39 minutes and they ran for 15 first downs. Buck Allen rumbled for 93 yards on 19 carries for a 4.9 average and Justin Davis had 19 carries for 85 yards and a 4.3 average with one touchdown. The Trojans surrendered two sacks on the day.

Defense

The Trojan front seven was led by senior J.R. Tavai on the outside. He has been the best natural pass rusher on the team all season and he saved his best for his last game at the Coliseum. Tavai finished with four and a half tackles for losses including three and a half sacks. He also hit Golson and forced a fumble that was grabbed by Hayes Pullard. Leonard Williams had a pretty quiet day but he finished with five tackles and he is a force with the leverage he plays with inside or at end. On several plays, he disrupted the quarterback and opposing offenses always has to game plan around him. Antwaun Woods and Claude Pelon both played big up front. Woods finished with four tackles and Pelon had a hurry on the quarterback and half a sack.

Su’a Cravens continues to show tremendous athleticism and versatility with his quickness in getting to the quarterback or making plays in the backfield against the run. He finished with six tackles including one for a loss. Hayes Pullard was the catalyst causing a lot of distraction up front. With Notre Dame being vulnerable against the blitz, Coach Wilcox was effective in moving Pullard around, up near the line of scrimmage threatening the A-gaps on both sides of the center. This was a different look than USC had shown and Pullard did his best job of the season timing the snap count and disrupting the attention and rhythm of Notre Dame’s offense. He only finished with three tackles but he had one tackle for loss, forced a fumble and broke up a pass. Anthony Sarao finished with five tackles and he showed good quickness getting down the line of scrimmage. The defense still has a tendency to give up contain too often but it did not play a factor since the Irish got down early and their running game was not the primary focus.

The defensive backs were active in the running game with true freshman safety John Plattenburg and senior safety Gerald Bowman each recording seven tackles. Bowman also intercepted a pass on a deflected ball that he returned 24 yards. Adoree Jackson continues to be the best cover corner on the team but he did get beat on the Zaire’s pass before halftime that set up their first touchdown. He has been a lock down corner all season with rare versatility and he was rewarded this week with the PAC-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honor. Senior Josh Shaw got his first start of the season but was pretty quiet with one tackle. The Trojans were fortunate that Golson was out of sync and missed on several passes and the Irish receivers also dropped several passes by Zaire that stalled drives. Overall, it was a huge turnaround from the UCLA game and it started up front with more consistent pressure on the quarterback. They limited Notre Dame to 245 yards passing with a 41% completion percentage and two turnovers.

Special Teams

USC’s special teams units performed well with the kickoff coverage team getting the most action with the prolific scoring of the offense. The Trojans limited Notre Dame’s kickoff return average to 18.8 yards per return. USC only punted twice in the game with Cody Kessler pooching into the end zone after the first possession and Kris Albarado hitting another punt for 36 yards inside the 20-yard line right before halftime. Junior all-purpose special teamer George Katrib had two tackles and Leon McQuay III had a vicious hit on kickoff coverage as well.

Looking Ahead

The Trojans stopped a two game skid to Notre Dame with their 49-14 romp over the Irish. USC narrowed the overall record in the series to 45-36-5 in favor of Notre Dame. More importantly, the Trojans bounced back after an ugly loss to their cross-town rival the week prior and they showed up for the senior’s last game at the Coliseum. There were a lot of recruits at the game which certainly bodes well for next year’s recruiting class. USC got huge games from seniors J.R. Tavai, Gerald Bowman, Hayes Pullard and Randall Telfer. Five Trojans were recognized this week for all PAC-12 first team honors; Buck Allen, Su’a Cravens, Max Tuerk, Nelson Agholor, and Leonard Williams. Cody Kessler was named a finalist for the Manning Award after his incredible year which included better numbers than Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart the year they won Heismans. It is a foregone conclusion that Leonard Williams played his last home game as a Trojan with the strong likelihood that he will be a top five pick and possibly first overall in next year’s NFL draft. There is also a strong possibility of losing Nelson Agholor and Buck Allen early to the draft even with Cody Kessler’s persuasive techniques. The future is bright with three true freshmen offensive linemen starting most of the season. Two defensive backs started in the last game. Three true freshmen had catches against the Irish. There are several other true freshmen that were in the two-deep rotation for the Trojans that either started or played significant minutes this season.

It was a season with a lot of highs and lows for the Trojans but Coach Sarkisian was able to blow through the “7-win Sark” label that followed him from Washington. With a win in the bowl game, it will exceed his best 8-win season at Washington (they won 9 last year but he had already moved to USC). Coach Sarkisian did not duck the media or minimize expectations when he took the job at USC. He promised that the Trojans would compete for championships now not in a year or two. He and the program encountered numerous distractions from Josh Shaw and Anthony Brown at the start of the season to Pat Haden at Stanford, to Lendale White at Colorado, to the L.A Times printing a story about Ed Orgeron’s desire to return to Troy at the wrong time. On the field, it was a tumultuous season with a great start in the opener pounding Fresno State at a lighting pace and upsetting Stanford at the Farm in week two. The wheels came off in Beantown and the middle of the season was up and down but very frustrating not closing out winnable games vs. Arizona State, Utah, and almost Arizona. The final stretch was ugly getting beat by their cross-town rival with a conference championship on the line. The Notre Dame game righted the ship and gave the team and coaching staff some momentum going into bowl season and the crucial final stages of recruiting.

I have said it before and I will say it again, there are no excuses. The NCAA is a corrupt, biased, and injudicious organization that had a personal vendetta against USC. There is no disputing the sanctions levied against USC were egregious and heavy-handed. The lack of numbers were not cited by Coach Sarkisian but they were emphasized by USC’s sports information department often. The Trojans practiced and played with less scholarship players available for the last several seasons. However, opponents typically play with numbers in the 50’s not the 80’s. There are only 11 players on the field at one time and the NFL plays with 53 players so it is possible to prepare and play at the highest level with numbers in the 50’s.

Coach Sarkisian has had a lot of critics and a lot of “fans” and former players that have taken a wait and see approach. This is not what being a Trojan is about. It is time to get behind Coach Sarkisian right now, not once he has 11 wins. It is easy to find fault but Pete Carroll started 6-6 in year one and he did inherit a Paul Hackett team but he did not have “vice grip” sanctions to deal with. There are improvements that need to happen. The intensity and focus for finishing football games must improve. The schemes need to improve, especially in crunch time at the end of football games. The Trojans cannot go into a shell and play not to lose; they must be the attacker not the victim. They must become a better 2nd half team that makes adjustments. Coach Sarkisian says he approaches every game the same way but he cannot sweep the UCLA and Notre Dame games under the rug. Recruits will be swayed by the outcome of those games so embrace it, don’t minimize it. It is time to develop mental toughness, physicality and a never say die attitude. It is time to mold the psyche of the USC Football Team into the mindset of a champion. It is time to trust your players and go after teams. USC is not about being average. Seven or eight wins will not suffice here. The history and tradition of USC is about being a champion. It is about winning with class and humility, teamwork and discipline, leadership and heart. It is about getting to work and always striving to get better; as student athletes and as young men. It is time to support the program and we will always Fight On!

THE FOLEY REPORT, Week 13, 2014

The National Picture

The 13 week of the college football is in the books and the march toward the first College Football Playoff is heating up with the final selection day coming up on December 7th. #1 Alabama rolled over a cupcake that the SEC likes to schedule in late November with their 48-14 romp over Western Carolina in Tuscaloosa. #2 Oregon pounded 2-9 Colorado 44-10 in Eugene. #3 Florida State won its 27th straight game with another nail biter over 6-5 Boston College 20-17, winning on a last second field goal in Tallahassee. #4 Mississippi State bludgeoned 3-7 Vanderbilt 51-0 in Starkville. #6 Ohio State clinched a berth in their conference title game by overcoming 3-8 Indiana 42-27 in Columbus. #7 Baylor kept rolling with their 49-28 win over 5-6 Oklahoma State in Waco. Don’t look now but 6-5 Arkansas shut out its second straight conference opponent with their 30-0 beat down of #8 Ole Miss in Fayetteville. #25 Minnesota came from behind to stun #23 Nebraska 28-24 in Lincoln, setting up a Big Ten West showdown with #16 Wisconsin this Saturday at Camp Randall. 7-4 Notre Dame dropped its third straight game in its loss to #24 Louisville 31-28 in South Bend. Harvard moved to 10-0 with its eighth consecutive win vs. Yale 31-24 in the 131st edition of The Game. Thanksgiving weekend marks rivalry week with #1 Alabama hosting #14 Auburn in the Iron Bowl. #2 Oregon travels to Corvallis for its annual clash with 5-6 Oregon State in the Civil War. #3 Florida State hosts in-state rival Florida. #4 Mississippi State travels to Oxford to take on 8-3 Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. #5 TCU plays at 6-5 Texas on Thanksgiving Day and #6 Ohio State hosts its bitter rival Michigan in Columbus.

PAC-12

#15 Arizona scored a surprising route over #17 Utah 42-10 in Salt Lake. #13 Arizona State overcame a slow start to roll over 3-8 Washington State 52-31 in Tempe. Washington moved to 7-5 by demolishing 5-6 Oregon State 37-13 Oregon State in Seattle. In the Big Game, Stanford kept the Axe with their 38-17 win over California in Berkeley. In the Cross-town Rivalry game, #9 UCLA pounded #19 USC 38-20 at the Rose Bowl for their third consecutive win in the series. This week, #8 UCLA hosts Stanford at the Rose Bowl on Friday and a win will send them to a rematch with Oregon in the conference championship game. Jim Mora has flexed his might in the South Division but he is still looking for his first win against Stanford and Oregon since coming to Westwood. #13 ASU travels to Tucson to take on #11 Arizona on Friday with the winner advancing to the PAC-12 title game if UCLA falters to Stanford. 7-4 BYU travels to 5-6 Cal, 7-4 Utah travels to 2-9 Colorado, and Washington and Washington State play for the Apple Cup in Pullman. 7-4 Notre Dame and 7-4 USC only have pride left to play for in what has historically been the best intersectional rivalry game in the country at the Coliseum on Saturday.

UCLA Recap

USC and UCLA renewed the Cross-town Rivalry game last Saturday at the Rose Bowl for the 84th time in a series that commenced in 1929. UCLA came into the game ranked #9 and had won two straight in the series under Jim Mora and starting quarterback Brett Hundley. The Trojans came into the game ranked #19 and they had bounced back from a stinging last second loss to Utah to win two straight games. The stakes were high with the UCLA controlling its own destiny and USC having a chance to play in the title game with a victory and an Arizona win over ASU. UCLA entered as a 3 ½ point favorite but many of the pundits picked USC to come out on top. The Trojans got off to a strong started with a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Anthony Sarao on Brett Hundley’s first pass to put USC up 7-0. After the Trojans got a stop on the Bruins next drive at the USC 48-yard line, USC punt returner Nelson Agholor uncharacteristically mishandled the punt which set up the Bruins at the USC 8-yard line. On 3rd and goal from the USC 10-yard line, Trojan safety Leon McQuay III fell down and Hundley threw a strike to Devin Lucien to tie the score at 7-7. After a USC three and out, Hundley drilled a pass to a wide open Thomas Duarte who made a cut which sent McQuay to the turf and he outraced the rest of the Trojans for a 57-yard touchdown and a 14-7 UCLA lead. After a Hundley sack on 3rd and five, UCLA was forced to punt and the Bruin punter dropped the ball but was able to avoid a tackle and get off a 13-yard punt which set USC up at the UCLA 30-yard line. From 4th and two at the UCLA five yard line, Coach Sarkisian opted to go for it but right tackle Zach Banner was stuffed in the hole and Buck Allen was stopped for no gain. After the Trojans forced a Bruin three and out, USC engineered a 7-play, 46-yard touchdown drive to tie the score at 14-14. UCLA answered with a 13-play, 62-yard drive and the Bruins settled for a 32-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-14. After driving 42 yards in five plays, Kessler was pressured and threw a high pass to fullback Jahleel Pinner that was picked off by UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks. It was a great play by Kendricks but both TV commentators and their go to rules official thought the call should be reversed with his foot on the line but the call was upheld. UCLA put together an 11-play, 68-yard drive and Hundley again beat McQuay on a throw in the seam for a touchdown with 11 seconds left and a 24-14 halftime lead. After Hundley’s interception on his first attempt, he responded with 15 completions to nine different receivers and three touchdowns. Two USC turnovers led to 14 UCLA points and one UCLA turnover resulted in a USC touchdown. Kessler finished the half 10-19 for an anemic 119 yards with one touchdown and one interception. USC has not been a 2nd half team all season and last Saturday was no different. The Bruins received the 2nd half kick and promptly drove 9-plays, and 84-yards that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown run by Paul Perkins and gave UCLA a commanding 31-14 lead. The Bruin defensive front pinned their ears back and dominated the USC offensive line in the 2nd half and USC’s first drive ended in a three and out and an eight-yard sack. After two costly USC penalties by Leonard Williams and Gerald Bowman, Hundley ran the read option to pay dirt for a decisive 38-14 lead by keying on Su’a Cravens misread on the fake. After five consecutive punts by both teams, a UCLA drive was thwarted at the USC two-yard line on a fumble by Hundley which was recovered by Leonard Williams. USC answered with a deliberate 15-play, 91-yard scoring drive with Buck Allen scoring from three yards out. The two-point conversion failed and UCLA won their third straight game over USC in dominant fashion 38-20.

Offense

The Trojans came into last Saturday night’s showdown riding high with the 4th most efficient passer in the country with Cody Kessler and the PAC-12’s leading rusher with Buck Allen. USC’s receiving corps boasted an arsenal of weapons led by All-American candidate Nelson Agholor who was coming off back-to-back 200 plus receiving yards in the last two games and they also had freshmen sensations Juju Smith and Adoree Jackson at their disposal. George Farmer and Steven Mitchell had also climbed into the rotation so there would be no shortage of options. Freshman tight end Bryce Dixon had also been cleared for the game. The offensive line under offensive line coach Tim Drevno had shown improvement all season even with true freshman Toa Lobendahn sliding out from left guard to left tackle in place of the injured Chad Wheeler. The results against the Bruins were abysmal with the Trojan offense well below their average in all categories. On the season, they had averaged 27.9 points but only mustered 20, rushing yard average was 162.8 but they finished with 62 net yards, passing yards were 247 on the season but Kessler only had 214, and their total yard average of 410 was reduced to 276 against the Bruins. Big players play in big games and great teams play their best in rivalry games. For the third straight year, the Trojans were out coached, out played and out willed.

Cody Kessler was pressured early and UCLA was effective with tight coverage and some early blitzes. Kessler looked to his favorite target Nelson Agholor early but it was apparent that UCLA was focused on taking away free releases an open looks for the USC receivers, especially Agholor. They played an aggressive style of defense and played in tight coverage against the USC offense. There were no pass-plays called to stretch the Bruin defense early in the game and there was some early pressure by UCLA to make Kessler uncomfortable. The first half included missed opportunities with Nelson Agholor dropping a touchdown catch on 2nd and five with from the UCLA 25-yard line and the Trojans down 14-7. USC then passed up an easy field goal to get stuffed on 4th down and two at the UCLA five-yard line. It is pretty telling when your running back is the leading receiver on the night. Buck Allen finished with seven catches for 42 yards and Nelson Agholor was stifled with a paltry three catches for 24 yards and a long of 11 yards. Juju Smith had four catches for 79 yards but he was never asked to get vertical even though he is 6-2, 210 lbs. USC finished with an anemic 9.7 yards per completion and Cody Kessler dropped a notch to fifth in the country in passing efficiency and more importantly, is now 0-3 against UCLA and Notre Dame.

The USC offensive line play was one of the most disappointing areas in the game. It has been well documented that this is a young offensive line but they had shown improvement over the course of the season, even with two or three true freshmen in the starting rotation. The Bruins dominated the line of scrimmage and the under achieving line play was a key contributor to the final score. Khaliel Rodgers at left guard was beaten in the gaps early or mauled by UCLA’s interior line. On one particular play, he missed his assignment and gave Kessler the old “lookout block.” He was replaced early by Damien Mama who also struggled with gap control as did right guard Viane Talamaivo. The pad level by right tackle Zach Banner was too high all night and he was consistently getting pushed around by a defender that weighed 70 pounds less than him and he also got beat to the outside by a quicker pass rusher. Max Tuerk was also beaten more than he won on the night and on several plays he was catching defenders and he was pushed around. The Bruins were also keying on the Kessler’s snap count and they were getting excellent jumps on the ball when the cadence or snap count was not being changed by Kessler. It was apparent that UCLA had game planned the Trojans very well and the smaller details can often make a big difference. In the 2nd half, when UCLA took control of the game after the first touchdown, the Bruins started pinning their ears back, consistently teeing off on the offensive line and on Kessler. It was a collective effort. UCLA had five players with sacks and they finished with six on the night to improve on their conference low of 16 on the season. The Bruins blitzed and stunted early but they did not need to in the 2nd half and they dominated the trenches.

The USC running game for the second week in a row was non-existent. Buck Allen had three touches on the opening drive, none on the second drive, and he was replaced by Justin Davis on the third drive. He had a few more carries in the second quarter and several catches but he only had 14 carries for 60 yards on the night for a 4.3 average and one touchdown. Justin Davis finished with 37 yards on nine carries for a 4.1 average. USC abandoned the run after they got boat raced to start the 2nd half going down 31-14 after the first drive. For his efforts, Buck Allen dropped to third in the conference and for the game; the Trojans were rendered one dimensional. With the six sacks, USC netted an atrocious 1.9 yards per rush.

Defense

UCLA has baffled the Trojan defense for three consecutive seasons under the play calling of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Two seasons ago it was Monte Kiffin and his Tampa 2 defense, last year it was Clancy Pendergast and his 52 defense, and this year it was Justin Wilcox’s 34 defense that got beat up. Brett Hundley is now 3-0 against the Trojans and he has been the difference in all three games. After Sarao’s huge interception return on the USC’s first defensive series, Hundley shook off the play and came back with a vengeance. He showed a mental toughness and resolve in his play and he distributed the football with precision. Missed opportunities again plagued the Trojans to start the 2nd half with Anthony Sarao dropping a pass that hit him in the gut deep in UCLA territory and the Bruins marched 84 yards in nine plays to seize control of the game 31-14. The Trojan defensive front disrupted Hundley early and Williams was getting loose penetrating gaps but there was no consistent pressure from any of the other players on the defensive line or outside linebacker. USC best true pass rusher J.R. Tavai was back but he was not visible as a disrupter bringing pressure and outside linebacker Scott Felix had no tackles recorded in the game. Anwaun Woods had one sack on a scramble by Hundley and safety Gerald Bowman had a sack on a safety blitz.

Hayes Pullard finished with a team-high nine tackles including two for losses and Su’a Cravens finished with four and one tackle for a loss. Cravens did give up contain chasing the running back on Hundley’s read option touchdown that extended UCLA’s lead to 38-14 in the 3rd quarter. Anthony Sarao only finished with three tackles and Tavai only had one tackle with no impact rushing the passer. Turnovers and third down conversion were going to be key indicators in this game and UCLA won the turnover margin plus one and they converted 9-16 on 3rd down. On a night when Brett Hundley beat the Trojans with his right arm, the Bruins still managed 135 yards rushing and Paul Perkins moved to the top of the conference after gaining 93 yards on 24 carries for a 3.9 average. The USC defense attacked and swarmed the UCLA running game early but as the Bruin passing game opened up, the Trojans were counter punching and getting caught on their heels. There were numerous plays with missed tackles by linebackers and defensive backs sometimes going for the ball instead of wrapping up or hitting the receiver.

Mazzone dialed up a dizzying passing game against the Trojan defense with Hundley spreading the ball around to 10 different receivers on the night. Like last year, UCLA utilized a very effective bubble screen game with big, physical receivers that get a hat on a hat and willed their way for 10-12 yard gains. They also found wide open receivers in USC defense either by blown coverages or defenders falling down. Leon McQuay III was torched on three different touchdown passes in the first half to three different receivers. It was an extremely tough outing for McQuay on a very big stage in a game with very high stakes. Gerald Bowman finished with six tackles and he had a sack on a blitz. The best pass defense is a great pass rush at any level and the Trojans could not put consistent pressure on Hundley. His one negative is the tendency to hold the ball too long but without pressure, this was not a factor and he exposed the Trojans pass defense. He finished 22-31 for 326 yards and three touchdowns passing, one running and one interception. He also showed the mental toughness that you need to overcome adversity and to win in big games. Adoree Jackson recovered and broke up a pass in the 2nd quarter but it was a play that could have intercepted. Hundley also took advantage of looser coverage by the Trojans and it was easy pickings for Hundley with wide open targets.

Kicking Game

The Trojans did not capitalize on opportunities in the kicking game. On a fumble by UCLA’s punter late in the 1st quarter, the Trojans had an opportunity for a safety or blocked punt but it was another missed opportunity. The Trojans got the ball on the UCLA 30-yard line and Agholor dropped a touchdown on a play that has to be made. On 4th and two at the UCLA five-yard line, Buck Allen was knocked backward by Zach Banner being stood up. The Bruins converted their only field goal attempt in the game and USC did not have an attempt. USC missed on their two point conversion late in the 4th quarter after the Trojans burned a timeout looking confused with personnel and formation. Kris Albarado did have a decent night averaging 42.4 yards on seven punts and he placed one inside the 20-yard line and Kessler pooched a punt inside the 10-yard line after USC’s first drive that set up the interception return by Sarao. UCLA’s kicker had four touchbacks on kickoffs and USC’s had none.

The Aftermath

USC has now lost three straight in the Cross-town Rivalry game and UCLA does indeed own L.A. for now. There is no disputing it. Jim Mora took a UCLA team that lost to USC 50-0 at the Coliseum in 2011 and beat them the following year 38-28 at the Rose Bowl. That game was dismissed largely because of the collapse of the USC program under Lane Kiffin. However, the Bruins served notice last year when an inspired USC football team that was playing for more than bragging rights was punched in the mouth 35-14 sending Coach O packing after Coach Sarkisian got the job the following Monday. Sark put together a very strong recruiting class, promised no excuses, and touted competing for championships right now, not next year or the year after. However, the result was the same against the Bruins for the third straight year. The Trojans were out coached, out played, and out willed. Although Trojans hate to admit it, Jim Mora is similar to Pete Carroll in that he gets his team to ready to play their best game of the season against their rival. He has his team prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally and they play better in the second half than they do in the first. The Bruins played with more emotion and looked hungrier than the Trojans early in the game, during timeouts and unequivocally in the second half. USC was consistently beaten in the second half of games this year and they never developed an ability to finish. It is a mindset issue and they have been the hunted all season not the hunter. USC has coached and played tight down the stretch of close games and there is a lack of direction and leadership when coaches are still searching for answers to fix it 11 games into a season. Fifth year senior tight end Randall Telfer stated following the game, “We have a young team playing in a stadium for the first time. It’s hard being down at halftime to come out with fire.” Is this the mindset of the Trojan football team right now? How is it possible to not be fired up to comeback in the 2nd half? What do Trojans do? They Fight On regardless of circumstances or challenges. There is no quit… ever! It is very difficult to lose in heart breaking fashion by very close margins at the end of games but it is unacceptable to be dominated in a rivalry game with conference championship possibilities still at stake. Sark stated that “we need to coach better and we need to play better” but we need to do this right now, not in the off season. It is coaching and playing better against your rivals today. There are no excuses or moral victories and being dominated by your cross-town rival late in the season does not bode well for USC or the coaching staff. It also does matter to recruits if you win against your rivals and to think otherwise is naïve and foolish. There are other important factors to consider when getting an education but impressionable young men want to compete and win. That is why Pete could recruit and attract talent from anywhere in the country.

There is a lot of chatter going on these days about “7-win Sark” but he will be given some time to show what he can do. He took over a program left for dead at Washington when he arrived in Seattle and the Huskies improved immediately but they were a pedestrian 34-29 over five seasons and this type of record will not fly in the land of Troy. We all know the statistics of low scholarship numbers and the number of true freshmen in the lineup but it is time to develop the right mindset now. Texas under Charlie Strong has gotten better and tougher in one season. Brett Bielema and Arkansas is perhaps the most dangerous team in the country right now. It does not have to be about winning the College Football Playoff right now but it is about becoming a mentally and physically tough football team that plays with heart, desire and energy and finishes games with a never say die attitude. It is about seeing improvement and development now, not next spring. The potential problem is that mediocrity can descend upon a program and it can happen quickly sometimes before you even see it and it can be hard to shake off. It is easy to look at our rivals with the dead period between Lou Holtz and Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, between Bob Toledo and Jim Mora at UCLA, and at our own USC between John Robinson (first term) and Pete Carroll.

Notre Dame

USC and Notre Dame renew their preeminent intersectional rivalry in all of college football for the 86th time at the Coliseum on Saturday. USC holds a 34-45-5 record against the Fighting Irish and Brian Kelly is trying to move to a 4-1 record against USC in his fifth year has head coach at Notre Dame. It is only the 12th time in the series that neither team has been ranked coming into the game. Only two Trojan coaches have won their debut games against the Irish. The Trojans and Irish are both 7-4 this season with the Irish losing three straight and USC coming off a beat down to cross-town rival UCLA. This is the first time in five years that the game will not be played in prime time and both teams are in search of a much needed win. Notre Dame is led by senior quarterback Everett Golson who has thrown for 3,280 yards on the season with 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He is averaging 289.2 yards per game which is 16th in the country and his top target is wide receiver Will Fuller who is second in the nation in receiving. Their running game is led by sophomore Tarean Folston who has rushed for 802 yards on 150 attempts and five touchdowns. Defensively the Irish are led by linebacker 6-3, 230 lb. Jaylon Smith. With 24 career starts, Smith has the most starts for the Irish of anyone on the defense. Sophomore defensive lineman Jacob Matuska will be making his first career start and linebacker Greer Martini his second against USC as the Irish seek to avoid a four-game losing streak after a 6-0 start. The Irish have been decimated by injuries and the players left have struggled. The Irish defense has given up 30 or more points for six straight games, the longest such streak in school history, and is giving up an average of 40 points a game during that span. The Trojans have their own challenges after getting blown out to rival UCLA last week. It a rivalry filled with history and tradition but right now it is about a team looking for a win. It is the last game of the regular season in 2014 and it is time to finish and to always Fight On!

Beat the Irish!

Cross-town Rivalry 2014

Crosstown-Rivalry

There are many great rivalries in college football today that span decades. Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama, Texas-Oklahoma, Army-Navy, Harvard-Yale, Stanford-Cal just to name a few. USC-Notre Dame has the preeminent intersectional rivalry in the country dating back to the 1920’s. Changes to the college football landscape have been dramatic with the movement of teams into different conferences and the emergence of the Power Five conferences. In an era of conference realignments, huge television contracts, and the inaugural College Football Playoff, the sanctity of century old rivalry have faced extinction. Texas-Texas A&M ended their annual matchup which dated back to 1894 and this is just one of many rivalries that has gone by the wayside. There is only one rivalry in the land with two teams from the same city; USC and UCLA. Both major universities are located in Los Angeles and are only separated by twelve miles. There is no other rivalry in the country that has so much overlap in the same geographic region, often with family members, great friends, and co-workers on opposing sides of the rivalry. On one day every year, Los Angeles is divided into Trojan cardinal and gold and Bruin blue and gold. It is a special rivalry and one the players and fans love to be a part of. There is a certain energy to this game that is unique to all others. As a player on game day, it is amazing to arrive on the team bus to the Coliseum or Rose Bowl and see the enormous crowds with the clash in colors, and the passion of rabid fans. USC’s rivalry with Notre Dame has a national following but there is nothing like the USC-UCLA rivalry within the city of Los Angeles. The classic series will be renewed this coming Saturday at the Rose Bowl with increasing confidence by the Bruin faithful, a sold out stadium, and a national audience. The bands will be blasting their fight songs and the USC Song Girls and cheerleaders will be dancing. The Bruin brass vetoed the tradition of Tommy Trojan stabbing the Rose Bowl turf a couple of years back but the awesome Spirit of Troy Marching Band will be there in all its glory. UCLA will be leading their eight-clap and the energy will be electric with a sea of light blue except for the end zones. USC and UCLA will again both be in their home jerseys which. This season both teams have more riding than just pride. UCLA, under third year coach Jim Mora, is 8-2 overall, 5-2 in conference and ranked 9th in the country in the College Football Playoff rankings. USC has climbed back up to #19 and they sit at 7-3 overall and 6-2 in the South Division. The Bruins control their destiny with a win against USC and Stanford and the Trojans with a win would need an ASU loss in one of their last two games to advance to the conference title game vs Oregon. A win by the Bruins would silence the critics after back-to-back, mid-season losses and solidify UCLA’s place on the national stage. The Trojans are looking to end their two-game losing streak vs. the Bruins, shake off the shackles of the sanctions and make a statement that they are back under first year head coach Steve Sarksian.

USC and UCLA, just the two names stir up contrast. It is the antithesis of the rivalry with USC-Notre Dame which is based on similarity and tradition that still stands today from decades past. USC is steeped in their tradition of cardinal & gold, no names on the backs of their jerseys, Traveler, Tommy Trojan, the Coliseum, and the Trojan Marching Band blasting Conquest and Fight On. UCLA’s football program started playing more than 40 years after USC’s first season and they have always had a chip on their shoulder with the Trojans. UCLA’s football program has a newer, less structured tradition of their own with powder blue and gold, white cleats, names on their backs, the Bruin Bear, the Sons of Westwood, and the Rose Bowl with the Eight Clap and the Bruin Marching Band. They have also adopted the latest fad of changing uniforms and helmets throughout the season. The matchup between these two great universities has created many great games and memories over the years.

Proud Traditions

There have been many epic battles played in this series over the years. The all-time series is currently 46-30-7 in favor of the Trojans. Although there have been runs of dominance, this is truly a rivalry in which the records can be thrown out and anything can happen on any given Saturday, with many games going down to the final seconds. Since the formation of the Pacific Coast Conference in 1916, USC has won or shared 38 conference titles and UCLA has won or shared 17 titles. Washington is third in overall conference titles with 15. Since the 1959 season, when the Pacific 8 conference (later the Pacific 10 in 1978) was formed through the 2008 season, the schools have won or shared 34 of 59 conference titles. USC has won 18 championships outright, shared eight, and has gone to the Rose Bowl or BCS bowl 22 times. UCLA has won six championships outright, shared five and gone to the Rose Bowl eight times. The schools have shared the championship three times and they have both played the spoiler role for the other derailing conference and national title hopes. The Rose Bowl and conference championship has been on the line for both teams 20 times now and at least one team 37 times. USC’s all time record is 803-326-54 and they are 32-17 in bowl games including 24-9 in the Rose Bowl. UCLA’s all time record is 572-389-37 and their bowl record is 16-17-1 and 5-7 in Rose Bowl games.

The Victory Bell

This rivalry is played for bragging rights for Los Angeles. The victor is awarded the Victory Bell, which was originally from an old Southern Pacific railroad locomotive. It was originally given to the UCLA student body by the UCLA Alumni Association in 1939 but was later “borrowed” by the Trojan Knights in 1941. During the opening game of the 1941 UCLA football season, six USC students stole UCLA’s Victory Bell right out of their rooting section and loaded it onto a truck. They hid the Bell for over a year, first in a frat house basement, then at several private homes, and even under a haystack. The prank wars continued until a truce was called and it was decided that the bell would be awarded to the winner of the annual USC-UCLA football game.

The Early Days

The Trojans were already an established football power under legendary Coach Howard Jones and had a major rivalry with Notre Dame when UCLA joined the Pacific Coast Conference in 1929. UCLA did not open as the University of California Southern branch until 1919, some 39 years after USC was founded. UCLA began as a two-year institution, developed into a four-year school in 1924, and came of age quickly enough by 1929, that they were ready take on its cross-town rival for the first time in football. USC was already established and they had just won their first of 11 National Titles in 1928. USC dominated the first two games over the fledgling Bruins 76-0 and 52-0, respectively. In the first game, USC piled up a staggering 712 yards rushing! The game was suspended for five years 1931-1935 until UCLA was able to improve and they squeezed out a 7-7 tie and some much needed respect in 1936. The rivalry began to flourish through the years, especially as UCLA’s athletic prowess developed. By the late 1930’s, UCLA started getting star players such as Kenny Washington, Jackie Robinson, and Bob Waterfield which enabled UCLA to compete.

Shifts of Power

The series began to run in cycles, with USC’s Thundering Herd teams dominating one era and Red Sander’s devastating single-wing teams consistently beating the Trojans in another. The Bruins won their first game over the Trojans in 1942. In the 1950’s, the power shifted with the hiring of Hall of Fame Coach Henry “Red” Sanders and UCLA held the advantage 7-3-1 during the decade with the climax coming with their one National Championship in 1954. One of Red’s famous quotes was “beating SC is not a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that.” Coach John McKay came on the scene in 1960 and restored a struggling USC program to national prominence, finishing with four National Titles and a 10-5-1 record against the Bruins from 1960-1975. For the majority of seasons from the mid 1960’s to the end of the 1970’s, the two programs were the top powers on the west coast. What many people don’t remember is that in that era there was not a proliferation of bowl games so you played to win the conference and go to the Rose Bowl or you stayed home. In the 15 Rose Bowls played from 1966-1980, USC or UCLA played in twelve of them. Even with the rise of Washington’s program under Don James in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, USC or UCLA still went to the Rose Bowl seven times between 1981 and 1995. UCLA dominated the series in the 1990’s winning eight straight from 1991-1998. USC won seven straight from 1999-2005 and 12 of the last 13 going until 2012 but the Bruins have won two straight under Coach Jim Mora.

The Coaches

There have been some legendary coaches that have been part of this huge rivalry. UCLA had Red Sanders, Tommy Prothro, Pepper Rodgers, Dick Vermeil, Terry Donahue, and first year coach Jim Mora, Jr. UCLA had been mired in mediocrity since Bob Toledo’s departure in the late 90’s and they have been working to get back to being a consistently competitive program. Coach Mora has brought a toughness and discipline that seemed to be missing from the Bruins in the last decade. Coach Donahue had a record of 151-74-8 and Red Sanders led the Bruins to their only National Championship. USC had greatness as well with Howard Jones going 121-36-13 with 4 National Championships in 16 years. John McKay was 127-40-8 with 4 National Titles in 16 years. There was also John Robinson, Jess Hill, Pete Carroll, and now Steve Sarkisian. Pete Carroll finished his career 97-19 and led the Trojans to 7 consecutive PAC-10 Titles, 7 straight 11 or more win seasons, 2 National Championships, and 3 Heisman Trophy winners (later 2 with Bush’s being stripped) in this his 9 seasons. It was arguably the best nine year run in the history of college football. There has been controversy in the Reggie Bush aftermath but there is no disputing the dominant run that Carroll created in the modern BCS era. Coach Sarkisian, in his first season as the USC head coach and he is looking to finish strong in a season that has had some heart breaking losses and too many stories off the field.

The Games to Remember: Good, Bad, and Ugly

The 1967 game is known as one of the defining games of the 20th century. It matched No. 4 USC with O.J. Simpson against No. 1 UCLA with Gary Beban for the Conference Championship, National Championship, and Heisman Trophy. With the Trojans losing, USC quarterback Toby Page audibled to “23-Blast” on 3rd and 8, a straight blast up the middle. Simpson took the handoff right up the gut, cut to the left sideline, and then cutback to the middle of the field going 64 yards for a 4th quarter touchdown that proved to be the difference in a 21-20 Trojan victory and a game for the ages.

The 1929 game had USC just coming off an undefeated National Championship season under legendary coach Howard Jones. In the opening game of the season, the USC “Thundering Herd” crushed UCLA 76-0, the most lopsided game in the history of the series.

In 1952 UCLA was ranked No.3 and USC was ranked No. 4. Both teams were undefeated and untied. USC defensive lineman Elmer Willhoite intercepted a Paul Cameron pass and returned it 72 yards to the Bruins eight-yard line. Four plays later, tailback Jim Sears threw a pass to Al Carmichael for the touchdown that won the game, clinching the conference title and a trip to Pasadena, 14-12.

The 1954 game included the best team in UCLA history. The Bruins capped their perfect season by overcoming a tight game 7-0 after 3 quarters, to pound the Trojans 34-0. UCLA went on to win their only national title.

The 1965 game was dominated by USC and Heisman Trophy winner Mike Garrett for most of four quarter but a couple of late fumbles by USC, let the Bruins back in. Gary Beban, a future Heisman winner as well, fired two long touchdown bombs in the final four minutes to stun the Trojans, 20-16 and led the “Gutty Little Bruins” to the Rose Bowl.

1969 pitted #6 and undefeated UCLA (8-0-1) against #5 and undefeated USC (8-0-1) with the 1970 Rose Bowl on the
line. Trojan wide receiver Sam Dickerson pulled in a last second 32 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jimmy Jones for a heart-stopping 14-12 victory.

In 1976, Undefeated #2 UCLA (9-0-1) vs. #3 ranked USC (8-1) met to determine the Rose Bowl, and an outside shot at the National Championship that year. USC won 24-14 in the first rivalry game for both John Robinson and Terry Donahue.

In 1980 UCLA quarterback Jay Shcroeder’s pass was deflected by USC defensive back Jeff Fisher right into Freeman McNeil’s hands who raced 58 yards for a touchdown that stunned the Trojans 20-17.

In the 1986 season just before halftime with UCLA leading 24-0 at the Rose Bowl, UCLA pulled a fake kneel down and threw a Hail Mary pass to go up 31-0 at halftime. The play became known as the “Hail Mary and In Your Face.” UCLA pounded the Trojans 45-25.

The 1987 game had UCLA leading 10-0 before half with the Trojans in position to score at the UCLA goal line. On the last play of the half UCLA cornerback Eric Turner intercepted a Rodney Peete pass and looked like he would take it all the way back but Peete chased him down and caught him on the USC eleven yard line with no time on the clock. The play changed the momentum and Erik Affholter’s juggling catch in the Peristyle end of the Coliseum in the 2nd half sealed it for the Trojans 17-13.

The 1988 game matched #2 ranked and undefeated USC (9-0) and Rodney Peete against 9-1 and #6 UCLA led by Troy Aikman. Rodney Peete was stricken with the measles the week before the game and it was not known if he would even be able to play. He did and led the Trojans to a 31-22 victory at the Rose Bowl. Peete and Aikman finished second and third respectively in the Heisman balloting to Barry Sanders that year.

1990 was a shootout at the Rose Bowl with Tommy Maddox of UCLA and Todd Marinovich of USC. It was a back and forth struggle and truly looked like the team with the ball last would win, which it did. In the end USC receiver Johnnie Morton came down with a fingertip catch with 16 seconds left to lift the Trojans to a 45-42 victory.
In 1992 John Barnes, a fifth string walk on for UCLA emerged from obscurity to throw for 385 yards and three touchdowns, including a 90 yard bomb to J.J. Stokes with three minutes to play to upset USC, 38-37 at the Rose Bowl.
In 1996, UCLA came back from a 17 point deficit with six minutes to play and beat USC in overtime 48-41 at the Rose Bowl. Skip Hicks’ 25-yard touchdown in overtime overshadowed a record day for USC wide receiver R.J. Soward, who finished the game with 260 yards and three touchdowns.

In 1999, USC won 17-7 breaking the Bruins winning streak of eight straight.

In 2005, USC had been ranked #1 all season and faced a one-loss eleventh ranked UCLA (9-1) team as its last obstacle to the dream 2006 BCS Championship matchup with #2 Texas. USC featured Heisman trophy winner Matt Leinart and eventual winner Reggie Bush. USC mugged UCLA 66-19 in one of the most lopsided games of the series since the first matchup in 1929. Bush finished with 260 yards and the Trojans pounded UCLA with 430 yards rushing.

The 2006 game gave further proof that you can throw the records out in this rivalry. UCLA finished 7-5 that season but pulled off one college football’s biggest upsets of 2006 by defeating the Trojans 13-9. The Bruins not only ended the Trojans streak of 63 games of scoring 20 or more points, but also dashed the Trojans’ hopes of playing No.1 ranked Ohio State in the 2006 national championship.

The Game

So now the 84th game in this classic Cross-town Rivalry resumes this Saturday at 5 pm in prime time at the Rose Bowl. Over the last decade, the game has often played for bragging rights compared to the glory years of competing for conference championships and Rose Bowls. This game is much different with both teams still in the hunt to capture the PAC-12 South Division to play Oregon in the PAC-12 championship game. UCLA has rebounded from back-to-back losses at home to Utah and Oregon to win four straight and they enter with confidence after beating the Trojans in consecutive years for the first time since 1998. Two years ago, UCLA stomped on the Trojans early running up a 24-0 lead before cruising to a 38-28 win at the Rose Bowl. Last year, the Bruins and Trojans traded punches early but UCLA pulled away for a decisive 35-14 win over USC at the Coliseum. USC has not had an answer yet for Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley and he will again be on the attack throwing and passing. He is coming off his best game this season two weeks ago against Washington. He is leading the country with a 72.1% completion percentage and he has thrown 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions but the Bruins have become a better team with him running and passing. Bruin offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will widen the splits of the offensive line to provide bigger lanes and they will also attack the perimeter and go side to side to work on exhausting the Trojan defense. The Trojan defense must stop UCLA on third down by controlling the line of scrimmage, playing disciplined football, keeping contain on the edge and gang tackling. Hundley can get rattled and the Trojan defense has to get pressure on him and smother him with four or five rushers or more if needed. Su’a Cravens will play a huge role and he has the quickness and size to spy Hundley in situations. Leonard Williams is a game changer and he needs to be an impact player vs. UCLA on Saturday. The Trojans have weapons on offense at the skill positions and a quarterback that makes good decisions and can distribute the football. The young offense line will need to get a better push running the football and they need to continue with their improved pass protection. Kessler was sacked five times last season and the Trojans were beat on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Adoree Jackson will get touches on offense and Nelson Agholor will be moved around in different formations to create matchup issues for UCLA. The Bruins have had two weeks to prepare for USC’s different looks and they will be keying on Agholor wherever he goes. Juju Smith will have some one-on-one opportunities and Buck Allen will be featured catching the ball out of the backfield.

The Trojans have had and up and down season with many dramatic finishes this season and after 10 games, they are still looking to develop into team that knows how to finish games. They have been fast starters all season but their inability to finish has made them the hunted not the hunters in the 2nd half this season. This must change these last two weeks. History has shown that anything can happen in a rivalry game. This game will come down to wining the turnover battle, playing more physically, winning individual battles and ultimately wanting it more.

This is one more opportunity for the Trojans to get back to the gridiron, establish the right mindset and finish. This game always has one player from either side that rises up and changes the course of the game. That player has been Brett Hundley that last two years. Who will be the player this season that will step up and make the play, be a difference maker, and lead his team to victory? As a Trojan, it is about stepping up in big games against your arch-rival and finishing. It is time to dominate your opponent in the trenches, to block downfield and to gang tackle. It is time to get stops on 3rd down and it is time to pound the football when they know you are running. It is time to swarm their quarterback with sacks and turnovers. It is time to thrive on pressure and step up when the going gets tough. It is time to make a stop with the game on the line. It is time to play like Trojans; with desire, heart, inspiration, and confidence. As Trojans, we never retreat, never surrender, and never underestimate our opponent. It is about Fighting On no matter the circumstances or opposition. It is time to play like Trojans and to always Fight On!

Beat the Bruins!

THE FOLEY REPORT, Week 12, 2014

Across the Nation

The 12th week of the college football season is in the books. Last weekend saw three top teams fall with #1 Mississippi State dropping to #5 Alabama 25-20 in Tuscaloosa. #6 Arizona State stumbled in Corvallis 35-27 in a classic trap game against 5-5 Oregon State. #9 Auburn ‎was hammered 34-7 by #15 Georgia in Athens in the Deep South’s oldest rivalry. #3 Florida State navigated another first half deficit with ‎their 30-26 comeback win at 6-4 Miami to win their 26th straight game and remain as the only undefeated team from the Power Five conferences. #4 TCU survived a scare from 3-7 Kansas but came back to win 34-30 in Lawrence. #8 Ohio State moved to 9-1 behind J.T. Barrett’s three touchdowns and Buckeye quarterback-record 189 yards rushing in their 31-24 win at Minnesota in the snow. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon set the major college record for yards in one game with 408 yards rushing in the Badgers’ 59-24 beat down of # 16 Nebraska in Madison. Gordon’s record was achieved on an astonishing 16.3 yards per carry in only three quarters and his performance will catapult him into serious contention in this year’s Heisman race. #17 LSU was shut out 17-0 at 5-5 Arkansas, snapping the Razorback’s 17-game SEC losing streak and giving Bret Bielema his first conference win. It also handed LSU coach Les Miles back-to-back losses for only the second time in his tenure at LSU. #18 Notre Dame was stunned at home in a 43-40 loss to 4-6 Northwestern in overtime for back-to-back losses which sent them tumbling out of the College Football Playoff’s top 25. South Carolina moved to 5-5 with a 23-20 overtime win over Florida in the Swamp that sent Gator coach Will Muschamp packing. This week’s coveted top 4 has Alabama at #1, Oregon #2, Florida State #3, and Mississippi State fresh off their 1st loss staying close at #4. TCU and Ohio State are first out and #5 and #6 respectively. Several key matchups this week include #3 Florida State hosting 6-4 Boston College, #8 Ole Miss travels to a dangerous Arkansas team that is 5-5 and coming off their first SEC win in two years and picking up momentum. #12 Kansas State kicks off the weekend action playing at 6-4 West Virginia on Thursday night.
PAC-12

#23 Utah ended a two-game losing streak with a gritty 23-17 win in double overtime win at 5-5 Stanford who ‎dropped back-to-back games for the first time since October 2009. #14 Arizona won 27-26 on a last-second kick over 6-5 Washington after Coach Petersen called a handoff with time running out rather than taking a knee. The play resulted in a fumble which set up the 47-yard winner. USC beat Cal last Thursday night 38-30 to move the Trojans to 6-2 in conference and back into the top 25 at #19. ASU’s shocking loss in Corvallis sets up a high-stakes game with #19 USC and #9 UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday evening. Rivalry week kicks off for several teams this week with USC-UCLA renewing their classic Cross-town Rivalry with the Bruins in control of their destiny in the South Division race with a win and USC advancing with a win if ASU loses at least one of its last two. Hard to believe, but Stanford and Cal bring identical 5-5 records in to the Big Game at Berkeley. #15 Arizona travels to #17 Utah in a matchup of top-20 teams, 3-7 Washington State plays at #13 ASU‎. #2 Oregon hosts 2-8 Colorado coming off their bye week and 5-5 Oregon State plays at 6-5 Washington.

USC-Cal Recap

USC and California renewed their rivalry for the 101st time last Thursday night with the Trojans looking to extend their winning streak to 11 games in the series. The Golden Bears under 2nd year coach Sonny Dykes have been one of the most improved teams in the country year over year and were looking to become bowl eligible with a win. The Trojans, as they have all season, got off to a fast start with a 14-play, 85-yard opening drive for a touchdown culminating with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Cody Kessler to Nelson Agholor. Cal must have remembered Nelson Agholor’s punt returns for touchdowns last season and they punted away from him most of the game. After a quick three and out, USC again went to work in the passing game with three straight completions to Agholor which set up a 32-yard touchdown strike to George Farmer that put the Trojans up 14-0. On the next Cal drive, a penalty on Antwaun Woods put the Bears near the 50-yard line but the Trojan defense forced a punt by Jared Goff which was pooched and downed at the USC one-yard line. The Trojans dangerously attempted a stretch play from the shot gun formation to Justin Davis who was tackled for a loss in the end zone resulting in a safety which cut the Trojan lead to 14-2. USC scored again on a quick four-play, 61-yard drive that was capped by a three yard touchdown run by Justin Davis to extend the lead to 21-2. After exchanging turnovers in the 2nd quarter, Cody Kessler bounced back from his third interception of the season with a nine-yard strike to Agholor to give the Trojans a commanding lead at 28-2. The Trojans mounted another drive late in the 2nd quarter that ended with an Andre Heidari line-drive field goal that put USC up 31-2 with 1:39 left in the half. USC had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, one of 14 penalties on the night, that gave Cal great field position at the Cal 40-yard line. Jared Goff dinked and dunked on the Trojan defense, finishing with a six-yard touchdown pass that cut the lead to 31-9 at halftime. On Cal’s first drive to start the 2nd half, a sack and fumble caused by Scott Felix was negated by a penalty but USC was able to force a punt. Momentum began to shift when Cal scored on a five-yard Daniel Lasco touchdown run capping an 11-play, 79-yard drive that cut the lead to 31-16. USC answered with a time consuming 16-play, 78-yard drive that extended the Trojan lead to 38-16 with 11:09 left in the 4th quarter. Once again, it was a lot of time left with a seemingly big lead. California charged back with a touchdown drive converting two fourth downs along the way to make the score 38-23. USC picked up a first down on the next drive but were forced to punt after a Kessler sack on 3rd down. With 3:38 left in the game, Cal quickly sliced through the Trojan defense for another touchdown; a 29-yard strike from Jared Goff to a wide open Steph Anderson which gave the Trojans a precarious 38-30 lead with 1:36 and an inevitable onside kick coming. Darreus Rogers secured the onside kick and the Trojans ran out the clock to give USC a 38-30 win over California and a 2-0 record in November.

Offense

Cody Kessler quietly but steadily has continued his ascent this season. His accuracy and efficiency have been a consistent theme throughout the season. He has also found ways to stretch the field in recent weeks which makes defending the Trojan offense much more difficult. He finished his night 31-42 for 371 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Kessler threw the ball with precision into very tight windows and he was also throwing receivers open. His timing with his receivers has continued to improve and he is anticipating his receivers coming out of breaks and he is also doing a good job of ball placement, throwing the ball to the back shoulder where only his receivers can make a play. It is this type of detail and fundamentals that set the good apart from the great. He did underthrow an open receiver that was intercepted in the red zone, a rarity this season in which he has only three interceptions compared to 29 touchdowns, 2,919 yards and a 70.2% completion percentage. If you compare his numbers to Marcus Mariota, who is the leading candidate in the Heisman race, the numbers are very similar. Mariota has thrown for 29 touchdowns, two interceptions, and 2,780 yards and a 67.1% completion percentage. Kessler is currently fourth in the country in passing efficiency. While Kessler has not been mentioned in Heisman conversation, he was recognized recently as a Johnny Unitas Golden Award finalist along with Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota, Bryce Petty, and Dak Prescott. It is good company to be keeping and some deserved respect after flying under the radar but the next two weeks will be crucial for the Trojans and Kessler’s season. As Coach Sarkisian has stated, these last two games provide Kessler and opportunity for a signature win which is what Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart were able to do on their way to Heisman trophies. USC quarterbacks are a rare breed and they are often remembered for how they played against their arch-rivals.

The offensive line did a tremendous job giving Kessler a lot of time to throw the football. They afforded him plenty of time to scan through his progression and find the open holes in the Cal defense. The Trojans finished 9-16 on 3rd downs and they had 29 total first downs. Toa Lobendahn has made a smooth transition to left tackle and he compensates for being undersized with great feet, quickness, and strength. Redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers started at left guard and true freshman Viane Talamaivo has settled in at right guard. Offensive line coach Tim Drevno has made a big difference coaching this group and they have continued to improve all season long. The anchor is 6-6, 285 lb. junior center Max Tuerk and mammoth sophomore Zach Banner at 6-9, 350 lbs. fills out the right side. The interior line was susceptible to gap penetration by defensive tackles shooting the gaps and both guards were beat to the inside by the aggressive Bear front. They only gave up one sack but it was late in the game which gave Cal the ball back for their final score. The Trojans must improve in running the football the next two games. Cal held the Trojan running game to 79 net yards rushing and anemic 2.3 yards per carry. Buck Allen, the conference rushing leader, was held to 60 yards in 21 carries for a 2.9 average and they will have to improve on this if they are going to finish games down the stretch. With only one healthy tight end, all-purpose lineman Nathan Guertler saw extended action as a blocking tight end in short yardage situations and he will likely see more opportunities this Saturday.

The receiving corps was led by Nelson Agholor and he had a dominant performance. He finished with 16 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time in Trojan history that a receiver had consecutive 200+ yard games receiving. Agholor is electric with the football in his hands and his first step is explosive. He attacks a defense with his acceleration and he is also nasty when separating from defenders in the open field. His route running has continued to elevate finding zone holes or running away from defensive backs in man coverage. It is special as a quarterback when you can get the ball to a receiver regardless of coverage or who is defending him. Cal did not walk a defender up on him all game and the Trojans continued to take what they were giving them. The coaching staff is doing a nice job moving players into different positions which create matchup problems for defenses. Agholor was used out of the backfield on a couple of underneath routes and he also played in the slot as well as his outside position. Juju Smith continues to be a big-play complement to Agholor and his size and speed make him a dangerous target. He finished with four catches for 30 yards and he just missed on a diving catch that epitomized his heart and toughness. George Farmer continues to show improvement and resiliency from some nagging injuries and he finished with two catches for 40 yards including a 32-yard touchdown behind two Cal defenders. He did have two costly holding penalties that negated big plays. Adoree Jackson saw his first action on offense in five weeks and his presence was immediate with a 42-yard touchdown catch and 14-yard run that were snuffed out by penalties. Look for him to have more touches on Saturday. Buck Allen bounced back from an off-day catching the ball in Pullman with four catches for 49 yards and he had a great 3rd down catch on a wheel route out of the backfield on his back shoulder. His pass catching will play a big role this Saturday. Senior tight end Randall Telfer finally got into the end zone this season with a 15-yard touchdown catch. He has been in the program a long time and he continues to block and hustle without getting much mention. He is a consummate team player and he just might have an opportunity to make a few more plays in the next two games

Defense

The Trojan defensive line had their best movement of the season against Cal. Leonard Williams is a man among boys and he continues to make big plays. He again finished near the top in tackles on the night with eight inlcuding 1.5 for loss and he also finished with 1.5 sacks. He is a beast on the interior at tackle or on the outside at end. He has tremendous strength for a tall player and he can move 320 lb. defenders with one arm or a shoulder shrug and he uses leverage to move into gaps and throw off linemen. He also has a rare combination of strength and speed for a 6-5, 300 lb. defensive lineman and it allows him to penetrate gaps with quickness or make moves from the end position in rushing the passer. He will also lift up a back trying to block him and throw him into the quarterback. There is no question on his motor or his ability to play with pain and he continues to make plays with constant double teams and game planning around him. Claude Pelon showed great anticipation and quickness getting through the offensive line on a tackle for loss and Greg Townsend had great movement on the outside even though he did not have a sack. The interior line needs to stay low consistently and get a more consistent push against opposing offensive lines. They make plays at times but they do not dominate consistently. Look for senior J.R. Tavai to return to the lineup at outside linebacker which will be a big boost as he is the Trojans best natural pass rusher. The Trojans are rotating the defensive line often to keep them fresh and their ability to get stops on third down and force turnovers will be crucial on Saturday.

The linebackers were led by the versatile Su’a Cravens on the outside and he finished with 10 tackles, a sack, and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Cravens has the speed and strength to rush the passer or drop in coverage. He still has a tendency to peak into the backfield at times when he needs to focus on playing his man. He is an impact player and he will play a big role in the Trojans’ success the second half of November. At 225 lbs., he has the ability to run with and tackle Brett Hundley and his play will be crucial to the Trojans success. Anthony Sarao and Hayes Pullard finished with eight and seven tackles respectively and they will be counted on for great games on Saturday against a dangerous quarterback that can run. Quinton Powell had two tackles and a solo sack which might help him get more reps at outside linebacker. He is light but has good quickness off the edge. Scott Felix is a tough player that has improved in rushing the passer and he finished with three tackles including a half tackle for loss and half a sack. He also caused a fumble to start the 2nd half but was negated by a penalty. The Trojans must keep contain on the outside and not give up the perimeter which buried them last year against the Bruins. The Golden Bears converted 5-6 fourth down conversions which kept touchdown drives alive for them in the 2nd half. The Trojans will have to get stops on Saturday and tackling the quarterback will be one of the keys to the game.

The defensive backs were put to the test and responded well. Adoree Jackson is already a top cornerback in the conference as a freshman and he is a big player for USC in all three phases of the game. He is fearless, relentless and he continues to attack receivers and ball carriers. He also is not afraid to come up and hit and he finished with five tackles and two broken up passes. Kevon Seymour has continued to improve at the opposite corner and he is playing more physically than he did earlier in the season. He finished with eight tackles, one for a loss and he recovered a fumble. He does have a tendency to hold receivers or grab them and he escaped a pass interference penalty against Cal. Senior safety Gerald Bowman is the best tackler in the secondary and he wraps up in the open field and he delivers big hits. He finished with nine tackles with a half tackle for loss and a break up. He did get caught looking on Cal’s last touchdown pass and all of the defensive backs need to be more disciplined in this area. Leon McQuay III played the other safety spot and finished with a quiet two tackles. The Trojan defense did hold Cal’s prolific quarterback Jared Goff to 279 total yards passing. They sacked him four times and disrupted his rhythm, especially in the first half. USC did not intercept him but they made Cal work for their scores as evidenced by their 9.6 yard average per completion. The big news off the field this week was Josh Shaw being exonerated by the Los Angeles Police Department and being cleared to play. Look for Shaw to play on special teams, nickel packages and also support at cornerback if needed.

Special Teams & Flags

The Trojans did not do much on special teams. Kris Albarado has had an average season and he finished the night with a 36.7 average with no 50+ yard punts and none inside Cal’s 20-yard line. Alex Wood has been handling the kickoff duties and has shown a propensity to put the ball deep into the end zone this season but he had none vs. Cal. The Trojans will need every edge they can get in the last two weeks of the regular season. Senior Andre Heidari booted a line drive field goal to close the 1st half and he will need to be at his best in the rivalry games. Special mention needs to be made on Su’a Cravens on kickoff coverage with three tackles in coverage. Adoree Jackson does not need much room to break a kickoff but he was bottled up against Cal.
USC was flagged for 14 penalties for 159 yards in the game and the Trojans are now ranked 123rd in the country in penalties. The Trojans had several big plays called back including three touchdowns. They must improve on not holding and grabbing especially when a play is past them. It has been noted that the PAC-12 refs are among the lowest paid in the country and it reiterates the fact that you indeed, get what you pay for. They need to let players play the game rather than constantly making their presence felt. The game was chippy from start to finish but the referees need to let player’s play and not control football games on borderline calls.

UCLA

USC and UCLA clash for the 84th time in their classic Cross-town Rivalry game this Saturday at the Rose Bowl. USC has a 44-30-7 overall lead in the series but the Bruins, under third year coach Jim Mora, hold a two game winning streak in the storied series. Coach Mora has done a great job changing the culture at UCLA and he has implemented a toughness that had been missing in Westwood for over a decade. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was featured on Sports Illustrated covers at the beginning of the season and the Bruins were the popular pick of many experts to qualify for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Back to back home losses to Utah and Oregon mid-season derailed those hopes but they have bounced back with four consecutive wins to an 8-2 record which has propelled them to #9 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings. UCLA controls their destiny and wins over USC and Stanford at home the next two weeks would provide a rematch vs. Oregon at Levi Stadium in the conference championship game. Brett Hundley leads the nation in completion percentage at 72.4% and he has thrown for 17 touchdowns with only four interceptions. His top target is 6-1, 215 lb. junior receiver Jordan Payton who has 58 receptions on the season for 839 yards and seven touchdowns. UCLA’s running game has been led by 5-11, 200 lb. sophomore running back Paul Perkins who has emerged as the conference’s 2nd leading rusher behind Buck Allen and he has amassed 1,169 yards on the ground a 6.2 average per carry. Overall the Bruins are 2nd in the PAC-12 with 215.8 yards per game. The versatile two-way player Myles Jack is a load at 6-1, 230 lbs. and he has brought an added dimension of power and speed at running back and he is a sure tackler at linebacker. Senior linebacker Erick Kendricks spearheads the Bruin defense and he has 111 tackles on the season and two interceptions. Junior defensive back Ishmael Adams is a dual threat at defensive back and as a kick returner.

USC answers with Cody Kessler who has been under the radar all season but is starting to get his due as one of the premier quarterbacks in the country. He is having a tremendous year statistically but games against your rivals are where the rubber meets the road. Buck Allen has had eight 100 yard games this season but the Trojan running game was neutralized against Cal. They will need to win both sides of the line of scrimmage on Saturday. USC was on the losing end in the trenches last season and the offensive line has been much improved this season, even with three freshmen in the starting lineup. USC has an arsenal of weapons at receiver with Nelson Agholor, Juju Smith, George Farmer, and look for Adoree Jackson to get touches on offense this week as well. Defensively, the Trojans start up front with Leonard Williams who has the ability to make big plays. Su’a Cravens needs to play a big role at linebacker and safety and Adoree Jackson will be tasked to lock down Jordan Payton. The Trojans have started strong this season but have had a tough time finding a killer instinct to put teams away. Who will be the player to change the course of this football game? This game is unlike any other and even when you approach it as any other game, the intensity and emotion is palpable. It is time for the Trojans to play their best game and they will have to pressure and tackle Hundley. It is time for gang tackling and winning in the trenches. It is time to put pressure on the quarterback and to win the turnover battle. It time to outhit, outhustle and pound your opponent. It is time to play big in the clutch and to finish. It is time to play like Trojans and to always Fight On!

Beat the Bruins!

THE FOLEY REPORT, Week 11, 2014

The National Picture

The 11th week of the college football season is in the books. As we climb into mid-November, the haves and the have nots will continue to separate. The College Football Playoff is in its infancy but this season will likely once again show that is better to lose early in the season than late. One thing to be sure, there is a lot of football left. Last weekend saw four of the top-10 teams going down in defeat. In the shocker of the weekend, 23-point underdog Texas A&M stunned #3 Auburn 41-38 at Jordan-Hare on two late Tiger fumbles that finally put a crack in Cinderella’s glass slipper but they are still clinging to life at #9 in the most recent poll. #1 Mississippi State disposed of cream puff UT Martin 45-16 at home as they gear up for a huge trip to Alabama on Saturday. #2 Florida State rallied back from a first quarter deficit to win their 25th straight game with their 34-20 win over Virginia in Tallahasse but they dropped a spot to #3. #5 Alabama drove 55 yards in the final 50 seconds of regulation for a tying field goal and Blake Sims threw a six yard touchdown pass in overtime to lift the #5 Crimson Tide to a 20-13 victory over #16 LSU in Baton Rouge. It is very difficult to win in Death Valley at night but Alabama is now 18-4-1 at LSU since 1970. #6 TCU rolled over #7 Kansas State 41-20 in Manhattan giving the Horned Frogs back to back wins over ranked opponents and it leapfrogged them up to the coveted #4 slot in this week’s rankings. #14 Ohio State took control of the Big Ten East with an impressive 49-37 win over Michigan State in East Lansing and they jumped six spots to #8. Ohio State is now 21-0 in conference games under Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes rolled up 568 yards against the Spartans’ vaunted defense. #12 Baylor overcame a 14-3 first quarter deficit by scoring the next 45 points in their 48-14 thrashing of #15 Oklahoma in Norman. The win snapped the 37-straight losses to ranked opponents on the road and it creates some debate as to who is the top team is in the Big 12 since they beat TCU head to head. Texas moved to 5-5 with their surprising 33-16 win over #23 West Virginia in Austin and the Longhorns are one step closer to being bowl eligible under first-year coach Charlie Strong. This week College Game Day rolls down to Tuscaloosa for an epic matchup between #1 Mississippi State and #5 Alabama. Mississippi State is 1-20 vs. when Alabama has been ranked and it is a huge opportunity for the Bulldogs and Dak Prescott who will also be playing for Heisman votes. Florida State dropped to #3 this week and they travel to Sun Life Stadium to take on 6-3 Miami. #16 Nebraska heads up to Camp Randall to play #20 Wisconsin and #8 Ohio State travels to #25 Minnesota.

PAC-12

#4 Oregon scored 24 points in the 2nd and 4th quarters to pull away from #17 Utah 51-27 in Salt Lake City but the game was much closer. Utah receiver Kaelin Clay had a costly error when he dropped the football prior to crossing the goal line that would have put the Utes up 14-0 but his fumble was returned 100 yards for an Oregon touchdown to make the score 7-7. Utah closed to three points early in the 4th quarter before the Ducks snuffed out their hopes with 21-straight points. With the win, the Ducks catapulted still undefeated Florida State to #2 in the most recent College Football Playoff poll. In the other huge game #9 Arizona State withstood a frenzied, 2nd half Notre Dame rally to wallop the #10 Irish 55-31 in Tempe. ASU coach Todd Graham is the most undervalued coach in the country and the Sun Devils efforts landed them all the way up to #6 in this week’s poll. #18 UCLA returned to coach Jim Mora’s alma mater and the Bruins took care of business with a 44-30 win over 6-4Washington to stay in contention for the PAC-12 South. UCLA annihilated Arizona State early in the season 62-27 which was the Sun Devil’s only loss and a tie would go to the Bruins if ASU stumbles and UCLA wins out. With their win, they jumped the furthest week over week coming up seven spots to #11 this week. #19 Arizona took care of business with 38-20 win over improved Colorado in Tucson and that lifted them to #14. 3-7 Washington State defeated 4-5 Oregon State 39-32 in Corvallis behind Cougar quarterback Luke Falk who replaced injured Connor Halliday. USC and Cal both had a bye in anticipation or their nationally televised matchup on ESPN Thursday night at 6 pm PST.

USC-Cal

The California Golden Bears come to the Coliseum as one of the most improved teams year over year under 2nd year coach Sonny Dykes. Cal finished a dismal 1-11 last season but enter Thursday’s contest at 5-4 overall and 3-4 in the PAC-12 North division, one win away from being bowl eligible. They lost to Arizona by four points on a last second Hail Mary pass and they came up two points short to UCLA in week 7. In the series USC leads 65-30-5 and the Trojans have won the last 10 straight, including a 62-28 win last year in Berkeley. Cal snapped a three game losing streak with their 45-31 win over Oregon State in Corvallis two weeks ago. The Bears are led by sophomore quarterback Jared Goff who is ranked fourth in the country in passing yards with 3,119 and he is also fourth in touchdowns with 27 against only four interceptions. As a team, Cal is ranked fourth nationally in passing with 361 yards per game, seventh in scoring at 41.9 points, and 10th in total offense at 509.1 yards per game. The Bears can run the ball as well and their ground attack is led by 6-0, 210 lb. junior running back Daniel Lasco who has rushed for 796 yards, 10 touchdowns with a 5.4 yard average per carry. California will run a tempo offense and they will attempt to put the USC defense on its heels. The Bears are 4-1 on the season when scoring more than 45 points. Cal is balanced at receiver with junior Bryce Treggs who has 40 receptions and five touchdowns and junior Stephen Anderson who has 34 catches for 509 yards and three touchdowns. They have an arsenal of weapons with six different players that have at least 21 catches. Cal’s defense is their Achilles Heel. They are ranked 122nd in the country in yards given up with 525.9 per game and they are 119th in scoring defense with 39.9 points per game.

The Trojans enter into their 10th game of the season with three games left in November. This game is the crucial first step before squaring off against their rivals in back to back weeks. The Trojans bring a balanced attack with Cody Kessler’s 25-2 touchdown to interception ratio and a 69.7% completion percentage. Junior running back Buck Allen leads the conference in rushing with 1124 total yards and 124.9 yards per game with eight touchdowns. The wide receiver combo of Nelson Agholor with his 66 catches for 863 yards and eight touchdowns and JuJu Smith who has 38 catches for 501 yards and five touchdowns has emerged as one of the best receiving duos in the country. True freshman Toa Lobedahn will get his 2nd start at left tackle. The Trojan defense will have Su’a Cravens available and he will be 100% after tests on his knee were negative following the Washington State game. Senior Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay III will get the start at the safety spots and Adoree Jackson and Kevon Seymour will line up at the corner. This will be a big test for the young Trojan secondary but on the season, they have as many interceptions as touchdown passes given up with 11.

Look for USC to pound the ball early with Buck Allen carrying a heavy load and a Trojan offensive line focused on winning the line of scrimmage. The running game will open up the pass which has been a weakness for Cal and USC will take some shots downfield. The Trojan defense needs to put pressure on Jared Goff early in the game and disrupt his rhythm and create some turnovers. With a week off, the Trojans should come in healthier than they have been and they should be ready to go on the national stage. USC has had a tough time finishing this season and this game provides another opportunity to finish an opponent. The Trojans must be the attacker not the attacked. Coach Sarkisian has talked a lot about coaching and playing with the right mindset and mental toughness to play for 60 minutes and to put a game out of reach. There were more distractions this week with a Coach Orgeron article appearing in the L.A. Times about his desire to return to USC. It is peculiar why this would be appearing with three games left in the regular season. It is one more opportunity to get focused on controlling what you can. November is the month when champions are made. It is time to shut down the distractions, to fight to the finish, to play with heart and toughness, and to always Fight On!

Beat the Bears!

THE FOLEY REPORT, Week 10, 2014

Across the Country

The 10th week of the 2014 college football season is in the books. As we move into November in the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff, the contenders will continue to separate from pretenders. Three teams in the playoff ranking’s top 12 were rolled out of contention on Saturday. #1 Mississippi State remained perfect at 8-0 with a 17-10 win over pesky 4-5 Arkansas in Starkville. #2 Florida State overcame a slow start to stay unbeaten in their 42-31 win over 6-3 Louisville last Thursday. #3 Auburn delivered a knockout blow to #4 Ole Miss 35-31 in Oxford by recovering a fumble on the goal line to drop the Rebels to 7-2 and out of the top-10. #7 TCU needed a 37-yard field goal with no time left to beat #20 West Virginia 31-30 in Morgantown. #9 Kansas State demolished 5-4 Oklahoma State 48-14 in Manhattan to set up a crucial game against TCU on Saturday in Fort Worth. TCU has moved up to #6 and Kansas State jumped up to #7 in this week’s poll. 4-3 Florida flattened #11 Georgia 38-20 ending the Bulldogs three-game winning streak in the series, and possibly giving embattled Gator coach Will Muschamp a glimmer of hope. The stakes go up on Saturday with College Game Day traveling to East Lansing for #8 Michigan State’s clash with #14 Ohio State. #5 Alabama and #16 LSU both come off bye weeks for their showdown in Baton Rouge on Saturday night. Les Miles has a career record of 46-4 at night in Death Valley but will that be enough to keep the Tide from rising? #15 Oklahoma squares off against #12 Baylor in Norman. The biggest surprise of the 2nd College Football Playoff poll was Arizona State’s jump from #14 to #9 and they host #10 Notre Dame in Tempe which will be a decisive game for both teams.

PAC-12

#5 Oregon snapped their Stanford curse with a dominant 45-16 win over the Cardinal in Eugene, handing David Shaw his worst loss since becoming the Stanford head coach. The Ducks gained a stranglehold on the North Division and stayed in contention for the first College Football Playoff moving into the #4 slot. 6-3 Washington, behind Shaq Thompson’s 174 yards rushing, rolled over 2-7 Colorado in Boulder. California moved to 5-4 on the season with a resounding 45-31 win over 4-4 Oregon State in Corvallis. #14 ASU needed a 36-yard field goal in overtime to beat #17 Utah 19-16 in Tempe to seize control of the South Division. #22 UCLA utilized a strong defense and ground control offense to dispose of #12 Arizona at the Rose Bowl. USC moved to 6-3 overall and 5-2 in conference with their dominant 44-17 win over 2-7 Washington State in Pullman. This week #18 UCLA and head coach Jim Mora return to his alma mater to take on 6-3 Washington, #4 Oregon takes on the dangerous #17 ranked Utah in Salt Lake, #19 Arizona hosts Colorado, and Washington State plays at Oregon State. USC and Cal both have byes.

USC-Washington State Recap

The Trojans came into the game against Washington State looking to rebound from their shocking 10-7 loss to the Cougars last year at the Coliseum. They also needed to find a way to finish against an opponent and gain momentum entering into the ever-so-important month of November. The telecast stated that the Trojans were 21-23-2 in games played in the rain and the Palouse offered an opportunity to improve on this record. The Trojans started the scoring after forcing a Cougar punt on their first possession with Nelson Agholor’s 65-yard punt return for a touchdown that moved him to the top of the USC record book with four career punt returns for touchdowns. On the ensuing drive, Hayes Pullard picked off a Connor Halliday pass on 2nd and 13 and returned it 19 yards to the Washington State 19-yard line. After a false start and bogus chop block call on Zach Banner, Cody Kessler hit JuJu Smith for a 22-yard strike and a 14-0 Trojan lead. On the next Washington State drive, the Cougar’s record setting quarterback Connor Halliday was injured on a tackle by Leonard Williams which unfortunately was the last play of Halliday’s collegiate career. Early in the 2nd quarter, USC struck again with a 37-yard Andre Heidari field goal to make the score 17-0. Mike Leach, the PAC-12’s mad scientist, decided to go for a 4th and two from their own 36-yard line but the pass fell incomplete. Kessler cashed in on the second play with another 22-yard strike for a touchdown to JuJu Smith to put the Trojans up 24-0. On the next drive Washington State dinked and dunked for an 11-play, 81-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 24-7 going into halftime. Washington State started off the scoring with a 27-yard field goal which cut the lead to 24-10 but Cody Kessler caught the Cougar defense peeking and he connected with Nelson Agholor for an 87-yard touchdown; a career best for both players and it gave the Trojans a commanding 31-10 lead. USC added to the lead with an 8-play, 72-yard drive that was culminated with JuJu Smith’s third TD of the game from the 7-yard line. Heidari missed the point after and the Trojans led 37-10. USC finished the scoring with Steven Mitchell’s five yard touchdown catch to put USC up 44-10 with 12:18 left in the 4th quarter. After Buck Allen uncharacteristically fumbled at the USC 8-yard line, WSU quarterback Luke Falk threw a 12-yard touchdown pass from 4th and goal to make the final score 44-17 USC.

Offense

The Trojans came out firing and they showed early that they intended to attack the Cougar defense. Cody Kessler drilled his first two passes to George Farmer for 20 and 24-yard gains and Farmer showed his ability to break tackles after catching the ball in space. The arsenal of weapons that the Trojans have at wide receiver and running back make it very difficult to defend when they are attacking on all cylinders. Coach Sarkisian dialed up some plays to stretch the WSU defense and Kessler delivered. He finished 21-32 for a career-best 400 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions for a whopping 19 yards per completion. On the season he has moved up to #6 in the country in passing efficiency with a 70% completion percentage and 25 touchdowns with only two interceptions.

It was apparent early in the game that Washington State was intent on loading the box to neutralize Buck Allen and the potent USC rushing attack. The Trojans quickly exploited the Cougar pass defense with explosive plays against their zone defense with their big play receivers. Nelson Agholor torched the Cougars with eight catches for a career-best 220 yards and one touchdown to go along with his record setting 65-yard punt return. True freshman JuJu Smith finished with six catches for 74 yards and three touchdowns. Smith’s size and strength as a true freshman are a perfect complement to Agholor’s quickness and explosiveness. Both players have the ability and speed to separate. George Farmer is just getting warmed up and he finished with three catches for a career-best 61 yards and he has the ability to break tackles and run over smaller defensive backs. We are still waiting to see him have an opportunity to stretch a defense. Steven Mitchell had two catches for 28 yards including his second touchdown on the season. He also showed his speed catching Buck Allen on a running play and deftly running interference between the defender without blocking him in the back but the play was negated by a penalty.

The offensive line saw a big shift with true freshman Toa Lobendahn sliding out from left guard to left tackle to replace the injured Chad Wheeler. This was a huge vote of confidence in Lobendahn since senior Aundrey Walker had 18 career starts. Redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers moved into the left guard spot to replace Lobendahn. Another true freshman Viane Talamaivo is also playing beyond his years and has cemented his position at right guard alongside sophomore right tackle Zach Banner. Junior Max Tuerk continues to hold down the center position and he is responsible for recognizing fronts, making line calls, and directing traffic at the line of scrimmage. His unorthodox snapping style again put the ball on the turf, this time with a high snap that Pau Gasol would have had a tough time fielding. It is not easy to change personnel and shift players midway through the season, especially young players getting their first starts at different positions. Under the circumstances, the offensive line played well against an experienced defensive front. Kessler had ample time to throw the ball most of the game but they did give up three sacks, one of which was on Kessler sliding in the pocket into pressure. It was Rodgers’ first start and it showed at times with him not always getting his head across a defender and being a half step behind at times. Tight end Randall Telfer continues to do a stellar job blocking but he had a challenging time catching the football, dropping three passes. He and Bryce Dixon need to continue to get more involved in the offense and execute with consistency when called upon.

The running game started slowly but got rolling in the 2nd half. The Trojans only had 25 yards in the first half but Buck Allen finished with 114 yards on 19 carries for a six yard average and Justin Davis rushed for 44 yards on nine carries for a 4.9 average. Buck is a patient runner than sets up his blocks and he has great vision, cutting ability and toughness. Allen has rushed for at least 100 yards in six straight games which is the most since Marcus Allen’s 11 straight in 1981. The Trojans were only 2-11 on 3rd down which was inconsequential in this game since there were so many big plays early in the game but their 3rd down conversion percentage will have to improve dramatically in L.A. over the next three games. Allen did not have his best game catching the ball and he had a key drop on 3rd down on a seam route and he also had an uncharacteristic fumble when USC was backed up in their own territory that led to the final Washington State touchdown.

Defense

There was no doubt going into the game that Washington State would bring a relentless passing attack in Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” offense. Their “gun slinger QB” Connor Halliday had already set the NCAA single game passing mark earlier in the season with 734 yards passing and six touchdowns in a 60-59 loss to Cal. Halliday was knocked out of the game with 8:36 left in the first quarter on a freak play when Leonard Williams landed on his legs which resulted in an agonizing broken ankle. It is always unfortunate to see an injury, especially one to a tremendous competitor like Halliday. The defense had a workmanlike effort against a pass-happy team that keeps coming regardless of score. The Trojans started junior Greg Townsend at nose guard for Antwaun Woods and he made his presence felt early. He finished with a sack and tackle for loss and he also got loose on another play but missed his opportunity for a sack. Leonard Williams finished with three tackles, forced a hurry on the quarterback, and got up high to knock down a pass. The Cougars ran 92 plays on offense but there was consistent rotating of defensive linemen and Delvon Simmons and Charles Burks each recorded a sack. The Trojan defensive line continues to default to a two-arm bull rush which is very difficult to get pressure on a quarterback, especially against shotgun formation. The Trojans do not run many stunts and they have had a difficult time getting sustained pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Backup quarterback Luke Falk was sacked three times and intercepted once but he had a lot of time to throw the ball most of the afternoon. The Trojans need to find a couple of JC players in the offseason that can make an immediate impact like Morgan Breslin.

Linebacker Hayes Pullard again finished with the most tackles with nine and he also intercepted a Halliday pass on Washington State’s second possession and returned it 19 yards to set up USC’s second touchdown. Junior Anthony Sarao finished with five tackles and Scott Felix had three tackles and recovered a fumble. Outside linebacker Quinton Powell had more meaningful minutes and he finished with two tackles at outside linebacker. The Trojans did not give up much against the run limiting the Cougars to 34 net yards on 26 carries for an anemic 1.3 yard average. There are still too many plays where the defense gives up contain on the edge and this will be crucial to correct quickly in November against quarterbacks that will make you pay. It is not always easy to defend against the run when a team averages 60 plus passes a game but the Trojan defense neutralized the Cougar running game.

The defensive backs had the biggest challenge of the day and they answered. Adoree Jackson is the best cornerback on the team as a true freshman. He may be a freshman but he has taken on the best receivers in the conference on a weekly basis and he has not given up a touchdown this year. He finished with eight tackles and broke up a pass against the Cougars. Kevon Seymour also had a solid game with seven tackles and a breakup and he looks like he is gaining confidence. Su’a Cravens had four tackles and a tackle for loss before leaving the game with an injury that turned out to be a sprained knee with no structural damage; welcomed news for the Trojan faithful. Walk on redshirt freshman Matt Lopes stepped in and showed no hesitation finishing with three tackles and a desire to hit. Overall the USC secondary managed the game well. They did not give up anything deep and they made the Cougars earn every yard with their 8.8 yards per catch.

Special Teams

The Trojans’s special teams play was a difference maker against Washington State. Nelson Agholor’s punt return for a touchdown set the stage for the game. He has the innate ability to make the first guy miss and to see holes being formed by his blockers. Punter Kris Albarado combined traditional punting along with a running to the right squib punt that has come into vogue. He did put one punt inside the 10-yard line and Kessler pooched a punt early in the game to back the Cougars up. Andre Heidari attempted his first field goal in four games, connecting on a 37 yarder but he missed a PAT as well. Two players that deserve mention are junior defensive back Ryan Dillard who finished with three tackles covering kicks and all-purpose special teamer Georg Katrib who is consistently around the football in the kicking game.

November

It was a good first step for the Trojans in the month of November but the stakes are going up. USC hosts Cal a week from Thursday before a national audience before going back to back against their rivals. Finishing games has become a season long story line for the Trojans but they put the game out of reach against Washington State. The offense answered with a touchdown when the Cougars cut the lead to 24-10 and they finally showed that they could finish. Coach Sarkisian addressed the issues prior to playing Washington State saying “I’m going to continue to search and continue to work and find the best way to motivate our players to play to the best of their ability for 60 minutes. That’s my job.” The Trojans under Pete Carroll were always known as a 2nd half team and they consistently made adjustments at halftime and came out and took control of football games. Too often this season in the 2nd half, the Trojans have not made the adjustments necessary to win and they have played tight with play calling that has been too conservative on both sides of the ball.

There were games this season the Trojans won that they could easily have lost and games they were in control of and found a way to lose. There is no need to talk about should have, could have. It is November and the bar has been set extremely high at 29-1 which the Trojans did under Pete Carroll. He also owned UCLA and Notre Dame with matching 8-1 records against his rivals. This is the month that champions are made! There are three games left and the Trojans have the talent to win all of them but do they have the desire, mindset and mental toughness to do it? Can the Trojans rise to the occasion in November and play inspired football when they have had tough losses and are not in College Football Playoff conversations? There will never be excuses or moral victories. As Trojans, we Fight On, not just when we are winning 34-straight games and winning national titles. No, we Fight On when the outcome has not yet been determined, when the world is against us, when the tide is rising, when the enemy is coming. It is time to get ready for the Bears, to play as a team, to finish and always Fight On!

Beat the Bears!

THE FOLEY REPORT, Week 9, 2014

The National Scene

The 9th week of the 2014 college football season is in the books. The College Football Playoff selection committee’s 12 members had their first assignment on Tuesday night for determining their top 25, and most importantly, their top 4. There is a lot of football left as we climb into November, but the first ever vote by the handpicked experts revealed their top 4: Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss. Meanwhile in the AP, #1 Mississippi State rolled into Lexington and disposed of a much improved Kentucky team 45-31. College Game Day went on the road to Death Valley and #24 LSU defeated #3 Ole Miss in Baton Rouge giving “the Hat” an emotional 10-7 win a day after his Mom’s passing. The headline story with #4 Alabama trip to Knoxville was Bama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin returning to coach against his former team but the Tide rolled at Rocky Top with a 34-20 win over the Volunteers. #5 Auburn outlasted 4-4 South Carolina 42-35 at home sending the “Head Ball Coach” to 2-4 in the SEC East. #8 Michigan State knocked out their “big brother” Michigan 35-11 at East Lansing for the 5th win in six years over the Wolverines. #10 TCU annihilated Texas Tech 82-27 behind Trevone Boynkin’s seven passing touchdowns. #13 Ohio State avoided disaster with their 31-24 double overtime win over Penn State at Happy Valley. #11 Kansas State pitched a 23-0 shutout over Texas in Manhattan. With the new and more important rankings intact, #2 Florida State travels to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium to take on #25 Louisville on Thursday night, #7 TCU travels to Morgantown to take on #20 West Virginia, and #1 Mississippi State hosts 4-4 Arkansas with Razorback head coach Brett Bielema still looking for his first SEC win. In an SEC West matchup with huge stakes, #4 Ole Miss will try to bounce back at home vs. #3 Auburn.

PAC-12

#6 Oregon kicked off the conference weekend last Friday with a 59-41 win over 4-4 Cal at Levi’s Stadium behind Marcus Mariota’s five touchdown passes. #25 UCLA got up early and then held on for dear life with a 40-37 double overtime win over 2-6 Colorado at Folsom Field. Coach Mora spent the day after the game defending his program, reminding everyone “that the last game UCLA played before this whole thing started was a 50-0 ass kicking.” 5-3 Stanford rebounded from their loss to ASU with a 38-14 romp over 4-3 Oregon State at the Farm. #15 Arizona continued their winning ways with a 59-37 shootout over 2-6 Washington State in Pullman. #14 Arizona State moved to 6-1 with their 24-10 over 5-3 Washington at Husky Stadium for their ninth straight win in the series. In a top 20 showdown, #19 Utah edged #20 USC on a last second touchdown pass at Rice-Eccles Stadium in a game that dimmed the hopes of a conference title shot for the Trojans. This week’s key matchups are Stanford traveling to #5 Oregon, #17 Utah playing at #14 Arizona State, and #12 Arizona taking on #22 UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Washington plays at Colorado and USC travels to Pullman to take on dangerous Washington State and their prolific passer Connor Holliday.

USC-Utah Recap

The Trojans and Utes came into their game last Saturday with stakes running high for both teams. USC came in atop the South Division at 4-1 with Utah looking up at 2-1. The Utah faithful were hungry packing Rice Eccles Stadium with its largest crowd ever at 47,619. USC got the ball first and quickly spotted the Utes the first touchdown of the game on a quick pass from Cody Kessler to Darreus Rogers on a play that was ruled a lateral after it bounced off his chest. While Rogers and the rest of the Trojans stopped on the play thinking the play was over, Utah defensive back Davion Orphey scooped up the live ball and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with only thirty three seconds gone in the game. The Trojans answered on the next drive with a 10-play, 75 yard drive that was capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass on 3rd and goal to JuJu Smith for a 7-7 tie. Utah responded with a 14-play, 74 yard drive but on 3rd and goal from the 1-yard line, USC outside linebacker J.R. Tavai forced a fumble on Devontae Booker that was recovered by Leon McQuay III. USC engineered a 14-play drive that stalled on a fumbled snap at the Utah 27-yard line on 4th down. After exchanging punts, Utah converted a 24-yard field goal for a 10-7 Utah lead with 5:06 remaining. On the ensuing kickoff, Adoree Jackson, at the request of JuJu Smith, took the ball out from six yards deep in the end zone and cut to the right sideline and went untouched for a 100-yard kickoff return and a 14-10 Trojan lead that quieted the Utah crowd. USC held a 14-10 halftime lead with Utah getting the ball to start the 2nd half. The teams started the 3rd quarter by punting on six consecutive possessions but dangerous Utah punt returner Kaelin Clay returned a 51-yard USC punt 53 yards to the Trojan 16-yard line with 4:50 left in the 3rd quarter. The USC defense came up with another big play in the red zone with Adoree Jackson ripping the ball away from Utah receiver Tim Patrick at the USC 1-yard line and recovering the ball in the end zone. The receiver was ruled down and the play was blown dead even though Jackson recovered and had a lot of running room. On the next series, Cody Kessler threw a pass behind Nelson Agholor that was tipped and intercepted at the USC 41-yard line. Utah quickly capitalized on a 24-yard Devontae Booker touchdown run to put the Utes up 17-14. The Trojans and Kessler responded with a resilient 12-play, 73 yard drive that culminated with a four yard touchdown pass to Darreus Rogers that put USC back up 21-17 with 10:10 left in the 4th quarter. After the Trojans forced a Utah punt, USC went to work from their own 11-yard line with 7:00 left in the game and they mounted an 11-play, 62 yard drive that burned 4:52 off the clock. However, with a 3rd and two from the Utah 28-yard line, Cody Kessler threw a pass that slipped and skipped short to fullback Jahleel Pinner in the flat that stopped the clock. On 4th and two, Kessler faked inside and quick pitched to Nelson Agholor who was forced wide and stepped out of bounds before picking up the first down that would have put the game out of reach. With 2:08 left in the game, Utah marched to the USC 1-yard line and with 12 seconds left, they used their last timeout. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson hit Kaelin Clay on a pick play for the decisive touchdown and a 24-21 final score that gave the Trojans another last second, stinging defeat.

Offense

The Trojans knew that they were going to be in a battle against the stout front seven of Utah. This game was slated to be a war in the trenches and the terrain was rugged for both offenses to navigate. Utah came in leading the nation in sacks and tackles for losses. Running the football did not come easily for the Trojans. USC netted 100 rushing yards on 37 carries for an anemic 2.7 yards per carry with Buck Allen leading the way with 101 yards and a 3.7 yard average. The Trojan offensive line gave up two sacks and there were several hurries but the pass blocking was solid the majority of the game. The first sack came on a missed assignment by true freshman guard Damien Mama. Sophomore left tackle Chad Wheeler left in the 1st quarter and is gone for the season with a torn ACL. Senior Aundrey Walker replaced Wheeler and did a solid job combatting Utah’s top pass rushing threat Nate Orchard. The offensive line had a tendency to get beat on blocks when they went low to cut block a hard charging pass rusher without getting into them and making sure they got them down. Max Tuerk continues to struggle snapping consistently from shotgun formation in a hostile environment and Cody Kessler was again forced to field bad snaps which affects timing and rhythm and can cause turnovers. Tuerk and Kessler also had a fumbled exchange on a crucial 4th down in the red zone early in the 4th quarter. The O-line was aggressive early in the game getting low off the ball but they struggled to create holes in the 3rd quarter when they needed to separate. The Trojans converted 5-5 on 3rd downs in the first quarter but they were only 3-10 the rest of the way. The also had seven plays of 15 plus yards and had 181 yards in the first quarter alone. USC needed to come out and take control of the game in the 2nd half but the monotonous play calling and lack of execution allowed Utah to gain confidence and it once again sent a game down to the wire. For USC to compete for titles, they have to develop into a better 2nd half football team that can make adjustments, execute, and dominate. There is nothing more demoralizing for a defense than knowing the offense is running the ball and not being able to stop it.

Cody Kessler did not have his best game statistically but he bounced back from adversity and made big plays when they were needed. Kessler has a strong pocket presence and he does a good job “feeling” the rush and avoiding pressure to buy time and he is also doing a good scrambling toward the line of scrimmage to find receivers. After his interception in the 3rd quarter that led to a quick touchdown run by Booker, Kessler shook off the play and responded by going 7-7 on the next drive and recapturing the lead on a 4-yard touchdown to Darreus Rogers on 3rd down. He has shown physical toughness by taking hits in the pocket and mental toughness overcoming negative plays and bouncing back. On the season, he has thrown for 2,148 yards 20 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He did miss a wide open JuJu Smith in the 3rd quarter on the only deep ball that the Trojans attempted and he also threw late and behind to Nelson Agholor on his interception. The turnover battle loomed large in this game and both Trojans turnovers led directly to touchdowns for Utah with Booker’s touchdown run and the backward lateral on the 2nd play from scrimmage that put USC in hole from the get go.

The receivers were led by Nelson Agholor and his 10 catches for 110 yards. He consistently attacks a defense and he has the ability to recognize man or zone coverage either sitting in zone holes or running away in man coverage. He also can stop and start on a dime but he did lose his footing on more than one occasion. His surprising lack of effort on Kessler’s interception was very uncharacteristic. JuJu Smith caught six passes in the first quarter for 77 yards including the 10-yard touchdown for the Trojans first score. All of his catches came in the 1st quarter but he inexplicably did not catch a pass for the rest of the game. Smith is a big, physical receiver at 6-2, 210 lbs. with great hands and he is making an impact as a true freshman. He is a great complement to Agoholor and they need to find ways to keep getting him the football. Darreus Rogers had two catches including a touchdown pass that put the Trojans up 21-17 in the 4th quarter but he had the dropped pass that led to Utah’s first touchdown and he had no awareness that the play could be ruled a lateral. Rogers has to be more consistent catching the ball when his number is called. The tight ends were underutilized again with Randall Telfer’s one catch for 21 yards.

Defense

The Trojan front seven stacked up the middle most of the night limiting Utah’s Devontae Booker to 102 yards in 26 carries for a 3.9 average and one touchdown. They also opportunistically caused four fumbles and recovered two of them, both on the 1-yard line in the red zone. Leonard Williams finished with six tackles including one for loss and he also forced two of the fumbles. He also made his presence felt on a big hit on Travis Wilson and he had a huge hit on a tackle for loss right before the half. Antwaun Woods finished with six tackles and Delvon Simmons finished with five. The Trojans are still lacking a consistent pass rush by the front three and they continue to default to a two-arm bull rush technique. Utah’s quarterback Travis Wilson completed 18-32 for 194 yards but too many of this throws were uncontested, especially down the stretch with the game on the line. He was also able to get out of the pocket and pick up some big yards running the ball, none bigger than at the end of the game when he set up the final touchdown.

Su’a Cravens had a huge game rushing the passer from the outside linebacker position. He finished with two sacks on the night for 22 yards in losses and the Utes had no answer for his speed and strength off the edge. He is a disrupter rushing the passer even when he was not making a tackle. He finished with seven tackles. J.R. Tavai made several big plays on a tackles for losses and he is a natural pass rusher. After Tavai tweaked his knee, he was replaced by Scott Felix who lead led the team in tackles with nine and he had 1.5 tackles for losses and pass break up. He was very active but he still needs more discipline playing contain at his outside position. Felix lost contain on the 18-yard run by Travis Wilson to set up the final touchdown. Inside linebacker’s Anthony Sarao finished with eight tackles and Hayes Pullard finished with six tackles. Pullard has always diagnosed well and has been a consistent leader in tackles but he strangely dropped back and out of the play on Booker’s 24-yard touchdown run at the end of the 3rd quarter and he also did the same thing in the 4th quarter which was very uncharacteristic.

Adoree Jackson was the player of the game making plays all over the field. Not only did he return a kickoff for a touchdown to change the momentum in the game, he also was dominant at defensive back. He forced a fumble on the USC 1-yard line and recovered it himself shutting down the Utes after a punt return by Clay had set up a starting drive in the red zone. He also broke up a pass on the last drive and he finished with four tackles. True freshman John Plattenburg started in place of injured senior Gerald Bowman. He finished with four tackles but he did get caught on the final touchdown playing man against the pick play. It was a very good play call by Utah from the 1-yard line going in with no timeouts and it exposed the Trojans vulnerability in that situation. Safety Leon McQuay III finished with four tackles and also recovered the first fumble early in the game. Kevon Seymour defiantly defended the pass all night and he challenged the Utes receivers with aggression but he was fortunate not to get called for pass interference on more than one play. He was flagged for pass interference on the last drive when the Trojans that gave the Utes an automatic first down near the USC 50-yard line. The Trojan pass defense will have their work cut out for them on Saturday.

Special Teams

Utah came into the game with the top special teams group in the country. Adoree Jackson had flirted with breaking a kickoff return this season and he broke free for a 100-yard return for a touchdown from six yards deep in the end zone that silenced the crowd. Utah’s Kaelin Clay had a 51-yard punt return deep into USC territory but the Trojan defense forced a turnover. Utah averaged over 46 yards per punt and Tom Hackett placed three punts inside the 20-yard line. USC punter Kris Albarado averaged 32 yards per punt and the Trojans lost the field position battle most of the game. He also struggled to pin the Utes inside the 20-yard line on two punts. Utah’s kicker “Automatic Andy” drilled a 24-yard field goal which proved to be the difference in the final score.

Washington State

USC has an overall record of 57-9-4 against Washington State. They have not played at Pullman since 2010 and they have only lost three times there dating back to 1921. The Trojans do have the memory of an ugly 10-7 home loss to Washington State last season that elicited “fire Kiffin” chants that reverberated in the Coliseum. The Cougars are led by senior quarterback Connor Halliday who has thrown for 3,833 yards with 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He threw for an NCAA record 734 yards earlier in the year in a losing effort vs. Cal. He leads the country in total offense, completions, passing touchdowns, passing yards and points responsible for. Washington State is averaging 489.9 yards per game through the air per game and they are 7th in the country in total offense. Mike Leach and the Cougars are trying to bounce back from their third straight loss, most recently to Arizona at home last Saturday. The Cougars running game is ranked 127th in the country with only 45.9 yards per game. The Cougars receivers have a staggering number of receptions led by Vince Mayle who has 71 catches for 926 yards and eight touchdowns and Isiah Meyers who has 59 catches for 722 yards and nine touchdowns. The Cougar defense is giving up 38 points per game which ranks 117th in the nation. Washington State will throw the ball all over the yard and the Trojans will have to get a pass rush on Halliday and disrupt his rhythm. The best pass defense is a great pass rush and that must improve this week. The Trojans are 2-2 on the road this season and they have experienced two heartbreak losses in come from behind situations in the last seconds.

Finishing

It was another painful loss for the Trojans. Utah was a physical, well coached football team that did not give up and played to the final whistle. The stakes were huge for both teams with both teams having an opportunity to compete for a conference title. USC once again could not find a way to close out a game and finish off an opponent. The Trojans did battle and attacked with seven minutes left from their own 11-yard line, up by four but they stalled on 3rd and two at the Utah 28-yard line. In retrospect, a run on third down would have forced Utah to burn their final timeout but Coach Sarkisian took a shot with his trusted quarterback that has made big plays all season. On 4th down, the fake to Buck Allen and quick pitch to Agholor to the short side was there for the taking but again the execution was not and Utah capitalized. The Trojans could not separate by putting the game out of reach. This is a very young football team and it has been well documented that there are less than 50 scholarship players available. Chad Wheeler is done for the season and J.R. Tavai is out for several weeks. The challenges are plentiful but nobody said this was going to be easy. One last second loss is painful and two can be demoralizing. It is crucial for a coach to have awareness of what his football team needs and it is imperative to keep the mindset of a football team positive, together and buying in. There will very likely be more close games this season and the Trojans need to be loose and ready when that time comes without feeling on some level like “here we go again.” There was talk about USC being tired down the stretch on defense but the offense controlled the football for 9:42 of the fourth quarter and the Utes only had 74 total plays. The Trojans were not gassed and they played hard through the final whistle. Players have to make plays when they count and the coaches need to put them in position to win and they have to start finishing. As Trojans, there will never be excuses, moral victories, or justifications. There is a lot of football left. November is the month when champions are made. Pete Carroll was unparalleled in November going 29-1 including 16-2 against his rivals but he was still 1-4 and 2-5 on his way to 6-6 his first season in 2001. Dan Mullen at Mississippi State was 36-28 before going 7-0 this season but rarely does a coach get more than two or three seasons without conference titles before they are run out of town. This is a big month for the Trojans and Coach Sarkisian. In his own words, Coach Sark admitted that the Trojans need to develop a “killer instinct.” It is time for this team to make second half adjustments, to use timeouts wisely, and find ways to finish. USC needs to break the chain and take control of this game on the road against a dangerous opponent. It is time to play together, to shut out the critics, and always Fight On!

Beat the Cougars!

THE FOLEY REPORT, Week 8, 2014

Across the Country

The 8th week of the college football season is in the books. Undefeated teams continue to dwindle with two more top 10 teams going down last Saturday and the SEC West now has four of the top five teams in the AP poll. In the game of the week, #2 Florida State outlasted #5 Notre Dame 31-27 in Tallahassee to extend their winning streak to 23 games with a clear path to the first College Football Playoff. Jameis Winston continues to win while Florida State and Head Coach Jimbo Fisher continue to employ a win at all cost policy. #1 Mississippi State had the weekend off but get back into action Saturday at 5-2 Kentucky. #3 Ole Miss put any doubts to rest, with their 34-3 demolition of Tennessee in Oxford. #4 Baylor ran out of bullets in their surprising 41-27 defeat to 5-2 West Virginia in Morgantown. Alabama made a huge statement with their 59-0 annihilation of Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa. Michigan State moved to 6-1 with their 56-17 drubbing of Indiana in Bloomington. #10 Georgia stayed on top of the SEC East with their 45-32 win over Arkansas in Fayetteville. #11 Oklahoma was handed their 2nd loss with their heartbreaking 31-30 loss to #14 Kansas State in Norman. #12 TCU rebounded from their loss to Baylor with a 42-9 pounding of #15 Oklahoma State in Fort Worth. College Game Day travels down to the Bayou for #3 Ole Miss playing at #24 LSU, #5 Auburn hosts 4-3 South Carolina, and #8 Michigan State hosts a sagging 3-4 Michigan team with a coach whose seat has already melted.

PAC-12

#17 Arizona State defied their critics with a 26-10 win over Stanford in Tempe. #20 Utah beat Oregon State 29-23 in double overtime last Thursday night. #9 Oregon ran their win streak over the Huskies to 11 straight with their 45-20 win over 5-2 Washington in Eugene. UCLA moved to 5-2 with their narrow 36-34 win over an improved 4-3 Cal at Berkeley. USC’s Cody Kessler threw a Trojan record seven touchdown passes as #22 USC throttled an overmatched Colorado team at the Coliseum. This week, #6 Oregon plays at California on Friday night. #15 Arizona plays at dangerous Washington State, #14 ASU travels to Washington, and Oregon State plays at Stanford. #25 UCLA plays at Colorado and #20 USC heads to Salt Lake for a showdown with #19 Utah.

Colorado Recap

The Trojans returned to the Coliseum for their Homecoming game against 2-4 Colorado. After back to back heart pounding finishes, USC was expected to take care of business against the very young Buffaloes. It was a 3:00 PM start and 74,756 fans showed up to see Cody Kessler put on an aerial firework show. USC started the scoring frenzy on their first possession with a 10 play, 84-yard drive that ended in a 16-yard Kessler touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor. Su’a Cravens intercepted a Colorado pass on the next drive that he returned 16 yards to the Buffalo 47-yard line. Kessler again found Agholor for an 18-yard strike and a 14-0 lead. A roughing the punter on Colorado set up Kessler third touchdown, this time to Juju Smith for seven yards and a 21-0 lead. It was Juju Smith’s first touchdown as a Trojan. The onslaught continued with a 2nd interception on a perfectly timed hit by safety Gerald Bowman that Kevon Seymour picked on the sideline and returned 23 yards. It only took Kessler two plays to find Bryce Dixon for a 15-yard touchdown catch and a 28-0 lead at the end of the 1st quarter. Colorado got on the board in the 2nd quarter with a time consuming, 18-play drive that finished with a one yard touchdown run and a 28-7 score. After a Justin Davis fumble and a Colorado punt, the Trojans again struck with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Dixon with gave Kessler five first half TD’s and a 35-7 halftime score. On USC’s first possession in the 2nd half, Cody Kessler aired it out on 2nd and seven for a 75-yard touchdown strike to Nelson Agholor and a commanding 42-7 lead. After exchanging punts, Colorado scored on an eight play, 40-yard drive to make it 42-14. USC answered with a Kessler scramble and a diving Steven Mitchell catch for a 24-yard touchdown, Kessler’s USC record seventh touchdown and a 49-14 lead. It was also Mitchell’s first collegiate touchdown. Colorado responded with a five yard Sefo Liufau touchdown pass to Nelson Spruce to cut the lead to 49-21. Buck Allen rumbled for 39-yard touchdown to go up 56-21. Colorado finished the scoring with 13-play, 91 yard touchdown drive against USC’s 2nd team defense and a 56-28 final score.

Offense

The Trojans made it clear from the get go that they were going to put the ball up. On USC’s first drive, Cody Kessler threw the ball eight times with the finishing touch being a 16-yard touchdown strike to Nelson Agholor to start the passing barrage. Kessler finished the day 19-26 for 319 yards and a USC record seven touchdowns. For his efforts, he was named PAC-12 player of the week. One of the most important differences in the passing game was stretching the Colorado defense with 16.8 yards per completion. Seven different receivers caught passes including Agholor who finished with six catches for 128 yards and three touchdowns and Juju Smith hauled in four catches for 104 yards and one touchdown. Smith’s most impressive catch was the one handed grab on the Trojan’s first drive on a 3rd and eight which kept the drive alive. The tight ends also got in on the action with tight end Randall Telfer’s four catches for 19 yards and Bryce Dixon with two touchdown catches for 24 yards. On the season Kessler has thrown for 18 touchdowns against only one interception and this game was a reminder that they can go deep. However, it does not need to be feast or famine. The USC offense has an arsenal of weapons at wide receiver and tight end and backs that can catch the ball out of the backfield. As the Trojans climb into the 2nd half of the season, the mindset must be about attacking a defense for four quarters and taking whatever the defense gives them.

Cody Kessler is still flying under the radar, even after a record setting performance. The historic day did come against an overmatched Colorado team that is still in the building phase under 2nd year coach Mike McIntyre but it was a game to build on. Kessler moves very well in the pocket and he has the ability to buy time while keeping his eyes downfield. He threw the ball on the money for a touchdown rolling to his left, he stood and delivered a touchdown with pressure in his face, and he scrambled toward the line of scrimmage with his eyes downfield and drilled his first touchdown pass to Agholor for a 7-0 lead. Kessler’s ability to create and buy time in the pocket will be critical this week and his ability to make some plays with his will also be important. Max Browne was able to get some live action in the 4th quarter which has been limited this season but it is valuable for the “just in case” situation.

The offensive line continues to improve and their mettle will be tested against the Utes this Saturday. The talk about their youth is diminishing with more experience and improvement. They are becoming a more consistent, cohesive line that is playing better as a group. The true freshman, three guard rotation of Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivo, and Damien Mama has continued to improve in execution and they have good movement off the ball. Max Tuerk anchors the line in the middle and he has very good feet getting out and pulling on the stretch play that the Trojans run regularly. The bookends at tackle with 6-9 Zach Banner and 6-7 Chad Wheeler have good feet and are pass blocking well but they must get their pad level down run blocking. Bryce Dixon did a nice job catching the football but his blocking technique and desire must improve. The Trojans gave up two sacks against Colorado but otherwise they gave Kessler exorbitant time to throw all game.

Buck Allen had a workmanlike performance playing second fiddle to the passing game for the first time since the opener. He finished with128 yards on 15 carries for an 8.5 yard average and he put the exclamation point on the scoring with a 39-yard touchdown run to end the game. Allen is the first USC running back to rush for over 100 yards in six of his first seven games since 2000. Justin Davis finished with 97 yards on 11 carries for an 8.8 yard average but he fumbled for the 2nd game in a row fighting for extra yards. He showed focus in the 2nd half holding onto the ball with two hands when he was in a crowd. With Tre Madden officially being held out this season, Davis is a critical component in the running game and he must focus on ball security the rest of the way. Winning the turnover battle will be huge in the 2nd half of the season.

Defense

USC did not look overly impressive on the defensive side of the ball. On Colorado’s first possession, the Trojans gave up 18 and 12 yards rushing before Su’a Cravens stepped in and intercepted a pass to shut down the drive. They did rotate often and Leonard Williams only played 54 plays which gave him a break going into this week’s showdown in Salt Lake. He did finish with seven tackles and he shared a sack with J.R. Tavai who also finished with seven tackles and one and a half sacks. The Trojans did get good productivity in the rotation from Cody Temple for Antwaun Woods and Greg Townsend made an impact at defensive end with two tackles including one for a loss and a sack. Delvon Simmons finished with seven tackles and he is getting better movement rushing the passer. Claude Pelon recorded his second sack in as many games. The Trojans did yield 172 yards rushing but they limited the Buffaloes to 3.7 yards per rush. On Colorado’s first touchdown, the Trojans gave up a methodical 18-play drive for a touchdown. USC must get a better push against the run and they must be consistent rushing the passer.

Linebacker Anthony Sarao led the team in tackles with 12 and Hayes Pullard finished with nine. Scott Felix finished with four tackles on the outside. This group was productive on Saturday but the dominant front seven that Coach Sarkisian envisioned prior to the season has not yet developed. They have been vulnerable this season in man coverage against backs out of the backfield and they have to play bigger consistently against the run. Quinton Powell and Michael Hutchings both saw more significant action and both finished with four tackles. Coach Sarkisian has been reluctant to play Powell citing lack of size but he does look quick on the perimeter and they will be facing more pressure on the perimeter against Utah. Look for Su’a Cravens to being playing closer to the line of scrimmage this Saturday. He does a tremendous job getting into the backfield but he must wrap up and tackle when he has the opportunity vs. coming in with his shoulder only.

The secondary gave up 231 yards passing but they had two interceptions and limited the Buffaloes to 7.5 yards per completion. Colorado’s standout receiver Nelson Spruce finished with nine catches and a touchdown but he was limited to 69 yards. Freshman safety John Plattenburg got his first start and he finished with eight tackles. Both he and Leon McQuay III need to do a better job coming up, breaking down and tackling receivers in the slot. Plattenburg also got picked on goal line for a touchdown on a well thrown pass. Chris Hawkins finished with nine tackles including one for a loss and he also broke up two passes. He has consistently been called for holding and pass interference during the season and this must improve going forward. Adoree Jackson left the game early after a big hit on kickoff return and his presence will be a key to the game against Utah. Kevon Seymour had one of the interceptions on a vicious hit by safety Gerald Bowman that popped the ball in the air that he returned 23 yards.

Special Teams

The Trojans did not have any field goal attempts but kicker Alex Wood was 8-8 on extra points and he also had four touchbacks on kickoffs. The kickoff coverage was improved against Colorado. Special team contributor George Katrib finished with four tackles. Punter Kris Albarado punted five times for a 36.2 average and he did place two inside the 20-yard line. He did shank a 15-yard punt that led to Colorado’s 2nd touchdown.

Distractions

There has been yet another off the field incident related to USC this past week with all-time leading scorer Lendale White making a lot of noise about getting escorted off the field at the end of the last game. This was after dropping F-bombs on his Twitter account regarding the current coaching staff following the Arizona game the week prior. His removal prompted further social media activity by White calling Pat Haden a coward. Lendale, no one is disputing what you accomplished on the gridiron when you were at USC but is time to put the university and program first and settle your differences outside the media. Whether it was handled well or not, it is time to be a bigger man. It is time to put your alma mater’s future ahead of your ego. Life is about service not entitlement.

Utah

The #20 Trojans get back on the road on Saturday night to take on #19 Utah and Rice-Eccles Stadium is expected to be sold out for the 29th consecutive time. USC holds a 9-3 overall record with Utah dating back to 1915 which was a 20-13 win for Utah. The Utes have not beaten USC since they moved to the PAC-12 but Head Coach Kyle Wittingham has built a unit that is predicated on defense and toughness. Utah had a couple of extra days to prepare since they beat Oregon State in Corvallis last Thursday in double overtime. The Utes have the PAC-12’s second best run defense only giving up 114.2 yards per game. Utah has only given up three rushing touchdowns on the season and they give up a paltry 2.8 yards per carry which ranks 6th in the country. They not only stuff the run, they also have dominated against the pass. Their 33 sacks lead the nation and they toyed with UCLA at the Rose Bowl with a jaw-dropping 10 sacks on Brett Hundley. They also lead the country in tackles for loss and they also rank in the top 20 in turnover margin. The Utes are led by 6-4, 255 lb. defensive end Nate Orchard who is ranked 2nd in the country with 10 ½ sacks on the season and also in tackles for loss. 6-3, 270 lb. DE Hunter Dimick also has six sacks. On offense, Utah is led by junior running back Devontae Booker who has rushed for 742 yards and a 6.2 average with seven touchdowns and he rumbled for 229 yards in their win over the Beavers. Junior quarterback Travis Wilson will get the start for the Utes and he has completed 56.8% of his passes for seven touchdowns on the season with no interceptions. Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson has also played this season and he was effective against UCLA but he struggled in the first half against Oregon State last week and was replaced by Wilson. Utah ranks 2nd to last in the conference in passing 191.8 yards per game. They also have a dangerous return man in wide receiver Kaelin Clay who is fourth in the nation in punt returns and he has returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns this year.

The Trojans have a strong rushing attack with five games of 200-plus yards and Buck Allen is the PAC-12’s leading rusher and all-purpose yardage leader. He is the only player in the country with over 900 yards rushing and at least 250 yards receiving. Cody Kessler is coming off a career day and he has completed 69.5% of his passes on the season and he has multiple weapons at wide receiver led by Nelson Agholor. The Trojan defense is led by All-American DE Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard, and hybrid linebacker/safety Su’a Cravens. The Trojans lead the conference with nine interceptions.

This game will be won in the trenches. Utah has been dominant between the tackles much of the season and the Trojan offensive line will face its biggest challenge. The Trojans have grown a lot since their embarrassing meltdown on both sides of the ball at Boston College. USC is 5-2 and 4-1 in conference but their losses have been ugly with 452 yards given up on the ground to Boston College and 510 yards passing to ASU. The offense did not help with ball control three and outs that signaled “let’s hope for the best.” USC has responded with two straight wins but Utah will be a different animal. This will be a physical football game and the Trojans will need to play their best game. The stakes are high for both teams with the winner staying on track for a potential PAC-12 title. Coach Sarkisian had a tough time getting over the hump at Washington going 34-29 over five seasons even though the rebuilt on 0-12 football team. This game offers USC and its head coach a huge opportunity to take the next steps in getting back the program back to respectability and competing on a national stage. It is time for the Trojans to play a physical football game against a tough opponent. To be the best, you have to beat a good opponent standing in your way. There are no excuses or shortcuts. It is time to go to war in the trenches, to attack to the final whistle, to take what a defense gives you and to always Fight On!

Beat the Utes!