As the 2011 college football heads into late November, the shakeout in the Top‐10 continues. Formerly undefeated and #2 ranked Oklahoma State was shocked on Friday in two overtimes falling at Iowa State 37‐31. Robert Griffin III threw for 479 yards and four touchdowns to lead 25th ranked Baylor to its first win ever in 21 meetings over #5 ranked Oklahoma 45‐38. “RGIII” jumped back into the Heisman race with this victory and with season stats of 72.9% completion percentage, 33 touchdowns passing, five interceptions, and 550 yards rushing. #7 Clemson fell to 9‐2 with a demoralizing 37‐13 defeat to North Carolina State in Raleigh. #1 LSU remained perfect at 11‐0 with their beat down of Ole Miss 52‐3 at home. Arkansas moved to 10‐1 by dismantling Mississippi State 44‐17 at home. Houston moved to 11‐0 and #8 in the AP poll by beating SMU 37‐7. #20 Michigan rolled #17 Nebraska 45‐17 at Ann Arbor and Penn State won their first game since 1965 without Joe Pa in beating the Buckeyes 20‐14 at the Horseshoe. Michigan State clinched a spot in the first Big Ten championship game with their drubbing of Indiana 55‐3. 9‐2 Georgia clinched the SEC East with a 19‐10 win over Kentucky at home. In an unprecedented situation, the SEC West has the top three BCS ranked teams in the most recent standings. More change is coming with the 10‐1 and #3 ranked Razorbacks traveling to top ranked Baton Rouge on Friday. The Iron Bowl will be revisited this Saturday with #2 ranked Alabama traveling to Auburn. 9‐2 Wisconsin hosts #20 Penn State for a showdown to win the Legends Division and a shot at the first Big Ten championship game Dec. 3rd. Michigan and Ohio State renew their rivalry at Ann Arbor and Florida State travels to “the Swamp” to take on struggling Florida.
The huge matchup on the West Coast pitted the #18 ranked and 15‐point underdog USC Trojans traveling to Autzen stadium to take on the #4 ranked Oregon Ducks. Oregon had won 19‐straight conference wins, had a home winning streak of 21 games and had also beaten the last seven Top 25 opponents at home. Much to the dismay of the NCAA and Larry Scott, a Trojan victory over the Bruins following their upset victory of the Ducks will render the inaugural conference championship game meaningless. UCLA bounced back from their ugly loss to Utah with a 45‐6 demolition of the hapless Colorado Buffaloes at the Rose Bowl. Arizona handed rival ASU their 3rd straight loss with a 31‐27 win at Tempe. Washington was upset by Oregon State 38‐21 in Corvallis and Utah beat Washington State in one overtime 30‐27 in Pullman. With the Trojans ineligible to play in the first ever conference title game, ASU holds the tiebreaker if they beat Cal at Tempe, Utah defeats Colorado on Friday, and the Trojans beat UCLA Saturday night. UCLA controls its destiny and will play in the championship game if they can find a way to beat the Trojans at the Coliseum. Oregon hosts Oregon State in the Civil War at Eugene and must prevail to win the North Division. 8‐3 Notre Dame travels to Stanford to take on Heisman hopeful Andrew Luck and the 10‐1 Cardinal.
The Trojans came into the Eugene last Saturday riding a five‐game losing streak in the state of Oregon and had lost 4 or their last 5 games to the Ducks. Oregon came in 9‐1, winning nine straight games and had just pounded #4 Stanford 53‐30 at the Farm the week before. In the previous two years, Oregon had outscored the Trojans 100‐52, they averaged 606 total yards and had 45 plays of 10+ yards. In many of the “expert minds,” why would this game be any different? USC was installed as 15‐point underdogs which moved to 16 . by kickoff. The Duck offense came in ranked 5th in the country in rushing offense with 284 yards per game, 8th in total offense with 496 yards per game, 3rd in scoring offense with 45.64 points per game and Heisman candidate LaMichael James led the nation with 150 yards rushing per game.
Monte Kiffin took a lot of heat last season after the Trojan defense gave up late touchdowns, big plays, tackled poorly, and could not defend the pass. This year, the coaches made specific decisions to simplify the defense and revamped their style geared to quickness, speed, attitude, and instincts. This defense was designed specifically to play against the Oregon Ducks lightning paced, spread offense and their arsenal of weapons. Some of the key moves was moving Devon Kennard back to defensive end and converting Dion Bailey from safety to outside linebacker who has responded as the leading tackler and best all‐purpose defender throughout the season. Hayes Pullard earned the other outside linebacker spot this season and was the MVP against the Duck attack. Lamar Dawson played a limited role early in the season but won the middle linebacker role in the 9th week. These three linebackers are all freshman with very bright futures in Cardinal & Gold. Chris Galippo and Shane Horton back up the linebacker positions and they provide depth and a lot of game experience. Galippo plays much better when he is fresh and he tends to provide a spark in a more limited capacity. On the interior defensive line, Christian Tupou returned from injury last year to bolster the middle along with DaJohn Harris. These are the only seniors on the defensive front and redshirt freshman George Uko stepped in against Washington and Oregon without losing a step. Junior Nick Perry has shifted into another gear with a team leading eight sacks, three forced fumbles, and two pass break ups. On the other side Devon Kennard keeps his motor running full speed all game and Wes Horton has developed his pass rushing and has done a great job getting his hands up and knocking down passes. TJ McDonald has focused on wrapping up on his tackling and his physical presence is imposed every week. Jawanza Starling is the most improved player on the defense and has vastly improved against the run and pass. True sophomore Nickell Robey is a huge force in a small package. He can come up and tackle, defend bigger receivers, and can return punts and kicks. On the other side, JC transfer Isiah Wiley rose from 3rd string due to injuries and has emerged as a physical corner that makes plays. Backup junior safety Drew McAllister is a hitter with a nose for the football and he can play at strong safety and free.
The underdog Trojans came into the game last Saturday with an “us against the world mentality” on prime time television in one of the loudest, most hostile stadiums in the country. Nike founder and Oregon alum Phil Knight flew in NBA all‐stars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony to be on the Oregon sideline to increase visibility and to attract more recruits. The game had an electric setting and one the Oregon faithful were feeling confident about. The game got off to a sloppy start with both teams trading early turnovers but Matt Barkley and the Trojan offense struck first on a 59‐yard touchdown pass to true freshman Marqise Lee who had a one‐on‐one matchup with the corner. This shot came immediately after an Oregon shanked punt for 21 yards that gave USC field position on their own 41‐yard line. The defense swarmed the Duck attack matching speed and stuffing the middle. On the very next offensive series, Barkley found Robert Woods in another one‐on‐one matchup on 3rd and four for a 12‐yard fade for a touchdown capping a 66‐yard, nine play drive. Oregon scored next on a pass to DeAnthony Thomas who got behind the Trojan linebackers and secondary for a 29‐yard touchdown. Marqise Lee took the kick out to the 50‐yard line and also hauled in a 31‐yard post corner route to set up a rollout 4‐yard touchdown to Robert Woods to go up 21‐7. The Ducks drove into the USC red zone before halftime but redshirt defensive tackle George Uko stripped LaMichael James which was recovered by Jawanza Starling to end the half. To start the 2nd half, the Trojan defense stuffed the Duck attack to force a punt which was blocked by TJ McDonald. This play set up an Andre Heidari field goal to go up 24‐7. DeAnthony Thomas took the kickoff back to the Trojan 44‐yard line and kicker Heidari came up with a huge touchdown saving tackle. The Trojan defense gave up the edge to Kenjon Barner for a nine‐yard touchdown run to cut the lead 24‐14. Barkley answered on the very next drive with a clutch drive capped by a three‐yard touchdown run by Marc Tyler to extend the lead to 31‐14. After the Trojan defense forced another three and out, the offense chewed up 4:59 on the clock with a tough, methodical drive capped by five‐yard touchdown strike to tight end Randall Telfer to go up 38‐14 with 3:28 left in the 3rd quarter. After this score, the Duck onslaught got underway. The “black mamba” DeAnthony Thomas took the kickoff back for a 96‐yard touchdown return and the 2‐point conversion failed. After a Trojan punt, the Ducks put together a 9‐play, 75‐yard drive with Barner scoring to cut the lead to 38‐27. On the next series, Barkley’s pass to Woods was tipped and intercepted which resulted in a 1:27 touchdown drive and two‐point conversion to bring the score to 38‐35 Trojans. Barkley and the Trojans took the ball from their own 27‐yard line to the Duck 15‐yard line but Barkley and Tyler had a miscommunication resulting in a fumble recovered by Oregon. With 2:31 left in the game, the Ducks mounted their drive, avoiding timeouts to keep the pressure on the Trojan defense. With the clock running out, Chip Kelly opted for a 37‐yard field goal which was hooked left and the Trojans completed a huge upset over the 4th ranked Ducks.
Matt Barkley jumped back into the Heisman chatter after leading the Trojans to the biggest win in the Lane Kiffin era and the biggest win of his career. Barkley’s attitude and leadership were never questioned even during the dark days when the sanctions were generously doled out with a new president, athletic director, and coaching staff coming in before his sophomore season. What had been a question was a tendency to force balls, throw interceptions, and press too much in big ball games. This season, Barkley has left no doubt about his development, maturity and readiness to go to the next level if that is what he chooses to do. If you take a look back at Carson Palmer’s statistics at USC, in his junior year he completed 58.6% of his passes for 2,717 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In his Heisman winning senior season, he completed 63.2% of his passes for 3,942 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Looking at Barkley’s sophomore season, he completed 62.6% of his passes for 2,791 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. With one game left in his junior season, he has completed 67.6% of his passes for 3,105 yards with 33 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. The talk of Heisman trophies and to return or not return can be curbed for one more week. Right now the focus needs to be about finishing and helping the Trojans get to 10 wins. On Saturday, Barkley and the Trojans took the hostile crowd out of the ball game early with a 14‐0 lead early in the 2nd quarter. His composure and pocket presence have never been better and he stood and delivered for the Trojans completing 26‐34 for 323 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He led the Trojans to five of six scores in the red zone, including four TD’s and he converted 7‐13 on 3rddown. It is the little things that sets quarterbacks apart. Barkley’s accuracy was crucial in beating the Ducks. His ball placement to receivers with defenders on top of them was consistently thrown where only the receiver could catch it. It was making these throws that kept the chains He did have an interception in the 4th quarter but it looked like his receiver was being held. He recognized when he had single coverage on his explosive receivers and he capitalized by throwing touchdowns over the top. On two occasions on 3rd down in the red zone, Barkley threw strikes for touchdowns to Robert Woods. He also showed tremendous pocket presence on touchdown drive late in the 1st quarter with a drop back pass looking left, he came back to the right side to Woods on a crossing route and delivered a strike over a linebacker while taking a hit in the pocket. This was a big time football play. He also led the Trojans on a time consuming drive to bleed the clock at the end of the game but a miscommunication between he and Tyler put the ball on the rug which did give the Ducks their shot that sailed wide left.
O‐Line and Running Game
At the beginning of the season, the offensive line was considered the weak link of the offense. What a difference a season makes! The line protected Barkley all night and opened holes in the running game for Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler to pound the football. We reiterated last week that the Trojans needed to win in the trenches and this would open up the passing game. The Trojans utilized balance attack passing 34 times and rushing 38 times. They did just enough and finished with 139 yards net rushing with a 3.7 yard average. McNeal continues to be a workhorse at running back, consistently bouncing off tackles and carrying defenders for extra yards. He finished with 94 yards in 20 carries for a 4.7 average. Tyler was a perfect complement in the backfield, using his 230 lb. frame to grind out tough yards on key short yardage situations and he finished with 54 tough yards in 11 carries for a 4.1 average and one touchdown. The big boys up front continue to warrant praise. Coach Cregg also deserves credit for developing a young group and turning them into a quick, ornery, athletic group. The O‐line pounded the Duck front even when they moved eight up into the box. The Trojans out willed the Duck defense and the running game created the one‐on‐one matchups in the passing game that Barkley and the receivers exploited. Both sides with Mat Kalil and Marcus Martin on the left and John Ramirez and Kevin Graf on the right with Khaled Holmes in the middle have developed into a fluid unit that can drive block off the football and they have proven that can pass protect with only seven sacks all season.
Receivers & Tight Ends
Nine receivers caught passes for the Trojans and true freshman Marqise Lee led the way with eight catches for 187 yards including a 59‐yard touchdown catch for the first score. Lee finished with 325 total yards for the Trojans with return yardage on kickoffs, including a big run back to the 50 yard line after Oregon’s first score. He has become a huge second option for Barkley and he consistently makes big catches and gets tough yards after the catch. He is physical but he is also an intelligent football player, consistently finding the first down marker. For his efforts he was named PAC‐12 offensive player of the week. Robert Woods shook off his injuries to finish with seven catches for 53 yards and two clutch touchdowns. He now has 99 catches this season, only three short of Keyshawn Johnson’s 102 catches. He has also been named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award for the top receiver in the country. Rhett Ellison caught three balls and he continues to be a selfless team player that does whatever he can to help the Trojans win games. His blocking at full back and tight end is tenacious and he is consistently in the right position. Redshirt freshman Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer continue to get game experience and will continue to improve. Telfer’s touchdown catch in the 3rd quarter put the Trojans up 38‐14. He has shown this season that he is weapon out in space.
The defensive effort was strong for three quarters and for the first three quarters the Trojans played like warriors. They made it clear early that were not going to be pushed around in the trenches. They needed to come up and play physical football at the point of attack and hit them in the mouth and they did for three quarters. It was evident that the strength in the middle and the speed at defensive end and linebacker surprised the Ducks and their staff. After all, it was just last week that Stanford hung 53 points on the undefeated Cardinal at the Farm and just last year that they dropped 53 on the Trojans at the Coliseum. It became clear early that this was not going to be the same old story. On the first five Oregon drives, the Trojans only gave up 71 total yards, forced three punts, one fumble, and stopped a 4th down. This game was proof that the Trojans have improved immensely, that the schemes can work, and that there is a bright future looking forward. There is only one game to go against their rival but this night validated progress being made. Freshman linebacker and Crenshaw graduate Hayes Pullard dominated the Ducks with 14 tackles including two for losses and two sacks. He earned PAC‐12 player of the week for his efforts and he got the last word with former Crenshaw teammate De’Anthony Thomas. TJ McDonald came up and played physical football with eight tackles and he is driving through tackles and wrapping up. He did let De’Anthony Thomas slip behind him for the first Duck score. Dion Bailey shook off some injuries to record seven tackles. The defensive front led by junior Nick Perry with four tackles, two for losses and a sack and forced fumble. Redshirt freshman George Uko got his 2nd start at defensive tackle and he had a huge strip on LaMichael James in the red zone before halftime to preserve a 21‐7 half time lead. The defense finished with three sacks and Duck QB Darron Thomas finished with 25 yards rushing but lost 20 on sacks for a net of only five yards. Nickell Robey came up with six tackles and he is constantly around the football. Improved strong safety Jawanza Starling had six tackles including beating a block and stuffing a screen on the perimeter. He also had a heads up fumble recovery on James’ fumble at the end of the first half. The coaching staff studied the tape of the 2010 BCS title game with Auburn last year and the LSU game in week 1 and they realized that they needed a big, physical effort from their front seven. The Trojans did play tough football for the three quarters but they got victimized by the Duck deluge and a big momentum swing down the stretch in the 4th. The Trojan D stuffed LaMichael James all night only giving up 78 yards and a 3.9 average. However, Kenjon Barber ran for 123 on 15 carries for an 8.2 average. The defense also gave up a couple of passes to the tight end, including one great catch that set up the final Duck score.
Coach Baxter and his boys had an up and down night. TJ McDonald had a huge blocked punt at the start of the 2nd half that jump started the 3rd quarter. Punter Kyle Negrete averaged 41‐yards per punt and he put one inside the 20 yard line and the punt coverage team was solid all night. Kicker Andre Heidari made a touchdown saving tackle in the first half on dangerous De’Anthony Thomas but it gave them field position on the USC 44 yard line. Later in the game, after a delay penalty of game prior to the kickoff, Nickell Robey missed an open field tackle on Thomas who faked a reverse and took it 96 yards to the house. Matt Kalil jumped on the last play moving the Duck’s field goal up to 37 yards. However, the hooked field goal ended the comeback and the upset win was in the books.
As the season has unfolded, the work of the coaching staff has begun to crystallize. The Lane Kiffin detractors have suddenly gotten quiet. When Kiffin was hired and brought his staff, I stated that I thought this was the best coaching staff from top to bottom in the country. The coaches recognized the need for change on defense and implemented speed and athleticism in their front seven. They made moves to remove players on the team with “me first” attitudes that were detrimental to the team and the task at hand. There is one game left and the coaches and players need to be recognized for the job that they have done in the face of a warped NCAA system and a now a “PAC‐11″ championship game that has lost its luster. There was never any complaining or whining about the sanctions that were one step away from the “death penalty.” The Trojans have stayed focused on playing together and winning games in spite of the doubters, critics, and naysayers. They are teachers as well as coaches and they have worked with these young men about being great young men and not just great players. Coach Baxter has implemented his Academic Game plan to help his players prioritize and focus on getting an education. There have been some players that have not bought into what it means to be a Trojan and they have moved on. The decisions to play so many young players was questioned early in the season but as they have grown during the course of the season and the team has risen, the strategy is all starting to make sense to the people on the outside looking in. Even the Kiffin haters are admitting now that he can coach. With other perennial powers that were at the top of the country just a few years ago, Florida is 3‐5 in the SEC, 6‐5 overall and lost four straight for the first time since the 80′s. Texas is 4‐4 in the BIG‐12 and 6‐5 following an embarrassing 2010 campaign when the Longhorns went 5‐7, 2‐5 in conference and Mack Brown dismissed his assistant coaches. As a Trojan, it is not about comparing but it does help illustrate how difficult it is to stay at the top of the country for an extended period in college football today. In the wake of the heavy‐handed, biased sanctions that the NCAA handed out, the Trojans were left for dead. The Trojans has not only endured the sanctions, they have improved in the 2nd half of the season with a multitude of freshman and sophomores and less than 50 players contributing. The play calling by Coach Kiffin has been tremendous and the defense has improved vastly from the last two seasons. There is one crucial game to finish but Coach Kiffin needs to be considered for coach of the year honors.
There are plenty of other areas to focus on after this weekend. This is rivalry week with USC playing their cross‐town rival UCLA at the Coliseum at 7 pm this Saturday for the 81st time in this storied series. At stake for UCLA, is the opportunity to play in the inaugural PAC‐12 Championship Game. For the Trojans, it is for bragging rights and a 10‐win season. USC leads the series 45‐28‐7 and the Trojans are vying for the 5th straight win and 12th of their last 13th. This streak is following UCLA eight straight wins from 1991‐1998. The Bruins have had an up and down season but have improved down the stretch after their ugly lost to Arizona in the desert. They got big wins at home over Cal and ASU but were hammered by Utah two weeks ago. They dismantled Colorado last week at the Rose Bowl 45‐6. The Bruins will be led by quarterback Kevin Prince who has thrown for 1202 yards for 57.4% with eight touchdowns and six interceptions. They run the Pistol offense and Prince has also run 390 yards and 5 yards per carry. Running backs Jonathan Franklin, 10th on the school’s career rushing yardage ladder, and physical Derrick Coleman are the key ground gainers. The leading receivers are WR Nelson Rosario, in the Top 10 on UCLA’s career receptions and receiving yards, TE Joseph Fauria and WR Taylor Embree, seventh in career receptions. On defense, MLB Patrick Larimore is the top Bruin tackler and he is joined by the likes of CB Aaron Hester and WLBs Eric Kendrick and Sean Westgate. This is a game like any other with two schools in the same city. It is a day in which the city is divided. Families, co‐workers, and fans choose their sides and wear their Cardinal & Gold or Baby Blue & Gold. The best marching band in the country, the Spirit of Troy, will be pumping out Tribute to Troy, Fight On, and Conquest and the Bruins will be playing their Sons of Westwood and doing their eight clap. The Trojans have grown up before our eyes this season but there is unfinished business to be done. It will be the seniors last time running out of the Coliseum tunnel and it will be an opportunity to compete against your rival. As a Trojan football player, this is why you come to USC… to beat your arch rival, to win the conference championship, and to win national championships. The young Trojans have not yet tasted being on top and many have never played in this game. It is time to focus on the game, to get ready for battle… Conquest is near. It is about playing the game you love, going to war with your teammates and coaches, playing with confidence and class, make the Trojan Family proud, and always Fighting On!
Happy Thanksgiving & Beat the Bruins!
P.S. Please remember to support Kiff’s Kids with an unwraped gift Saturday at the Coliseum for underprivileged children. A link is listed below.
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Shane Foley played quarterback for the Trojans from 1986-1990. He is a Private Banker for Wells Fargo in Pasadena, CA. He serves on the Executive Board for Pete Carroll’s A Better LA, Board of Councilors USC Dornsife College, USC Alumni Association Board of Govenors, and is involved in several other charities. He can be reached at TheFoleyReport@gmail.com, or at The Foley Report on Facebook