• John Skinner

2015 Article Compilation

Pre-Season Preview

Highly touted Freshman QB Ricky Town transferring:  Despite graduating early and participating in spring football, true freshman QB Ricky Town has struggled in fall camp while fellow true freshman QB Sam Darnold has impressed with a strong arm and ability to run with the ball.  Town committed to SC early in the recruiting process and stuck with the Trojans even though SC received a commitment from Darnold.  Some scouts were surprised Town stuck with SC as word got out that Sarkisian and the offensive staff loved Darnold’s athleticism and felt he had more upside than Town in the SC offensive scheme.  However, Ricky called “SC” his dream school and felt with a head-start in the spring he would be in the driver’s seat.  The plan sort of backfired as Darnold has impressed both the staff and pro scouts during the first week of camp while Town has thrown a bevy of interceptions and looked out of sync. 

Before fall camp started, a source close to the program expressed concern about Town’s ability to totally focus on football with the distractions that go with being a high-profile student athlete.  The same source also wondered if Town would ever eventually get a fair shake at starting since Sark spoke so glowingly about Darnold and a potential multi-threat QB SC has a strong shot at landing in this year’s recruiting class. That said, Town is a very talented QB with a great football mind.  He should have a good career wherever he ends up.

Heisman talk is about Kessler and Jackson but don’t forget about JuJu:  Two pro scouts who have been to multiple SC practices this week both raved about Sophomore Juju Smith-Schuster (added Schuster to his last name this summer to recognize his step-father).  He has been “dominant against an improved SC secondary and could be a 1st team All-American” stated one scout while the other said “Smith has the rare “it” quality that you see in future all-pros…if Kessler ends up in New York it will be due to the dominance of Smith”.  

Tight End Bryce Dixon will most likely be back on the team:  Sophomore Tight End Bryce Dixon was reinstated to the University by Superior Court Judge Robert O’ Brien after being expelled from school for supposedly sexually assaulting a female athletic trainer.  SC is very serious when it comes to assault cases and even though one could interpret the judge’s order that he also be allowed back on the football team, the school would rather have it directly coming from the judge so the University can’t be accused of favoritism toward a student-athlete.   A few more things have to be worked out academically as he was not able to finish the spring semester but since he had no way to take his finals it can be argued he should still have eligibility.  The logistics including some type of game suspension from the coaching staff need to be worked out but SC should have its stud #1 tight-end back for the majority of the season which would be huge when it comes to a position with little to no experience without him.  

A healthy Lamar Dawson is a welcome site at linebacker:  We stated last year that middle linebacker Lamar Dawson was sorely missed at linebacker (knee injury) and his play this summer and in camp has proven that.  The defensive coaches are happy with his instinctual play and strong physical presence which was sorely lacking at the position last season.   Dawson is playing with a chip on his shoulder after some questioned his toughness for not making it back last season.   It will be great to see the storied #55 back on the field. 

Speaking of linebackers…what was a weakness last year will be a strength this year- No unit on the roster will be as deep or as versatile as the linebackers.  What was an underperforming group last year, they should be one of the better linebacking corps in the conference, which SC will need with a weaker defensive line.  Besides Lamar Dawson coming back at middle linebacker, All-American candidate Su’a Cravens will line up again at strong side with Jabari Ruffin coming off injury and probably overtaking Scott Felix at the rush-end position.  Anthony Sarao showed improvement throughout the season last year but he will be challenged by Olajuwon Tucker and true freshman Osa Masina.  Masina has matched the 5-star hype he came into fall camp with and could overtake that position by mid-season.  Fellow true freshman Cameron Smith blew away the coaches in the spring drawing comparisons to former Trojan great Lofa Tatupu and he will most likely back-up Lamar Dawson.  Stud true freshman Porter Gustin looks strong and has an endless motor but he projects to be more of a defensive end…a really good defensive end.  

Quick Hitters-

*Now that SC is off sanctions and has closer to a full roster of scholarship players along with a coaching staff now in its second year together, the practices are more fluid and physical compared to last year.

*WR’s Darreous Rogers and Steven Mitchell look great.  Rogers looks like he will be a very reliable #2 receiver and Mitchell is poised for a breakout campaign.

*SC will be fine at running back. Justin Davis (out with hamstring injury) and Tre Madden will handle the bulk of the load early but freshman RB’s Dominic Davis, Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware all look great.  Ware is the most well-rounded and advanced of the freshman group when it comes to blocking and limiting mistakes.  **Tre Madden looks explosive and could be the starter week 1.

*The offensive line will be much improved and have the depth necessary to move at the quicker offensive pace that Sark promised. However, they have looked shaky at times this week and they will need to be a more consistent group by the time the Stanford game rolls around.

*True freshman cornerback Inman “Biggie” Marshall will make an immediate impact. He has the tendency to over-run plays and try to make the big-time play instead of the right play but that should dissipate with more experience.  Thus far he is matching the hype surrounding his high school career.

*Not to rain on the Cardinal and Gold parade but pro scouts who have been to both SC and UCLA practices are stating this is the most talented the Bruins have looked in a very long time.  The overall talent in Westwood rivals that of SC.  Despite probably starting a true freshman at QB, the Bruins return 10 starters on offense to go with one of the best defenses in the country.  A pro scout joked that the NFL should put an expansion team in Los Angeles made up of the current talent on both rosters.


Arkansas State

Adoree’ Jackson is a legitimate Heisman candidate- A few sources close to the program feel that Adoree’ Jackson is every bit the athlete former Heisman Trophy RB Reggie Bush was and I have not heard that comparison from them since Bush left SC.  Jackson will be in a unique situation to make plays in all three phases of the game.  Adoree’ is a once a decade type player.

Under the radar Trojan to watch- Redshirt Sophomore WR Steven Mitchell Jr.- Mitchell has fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in June of 2013 and he has looked terrific.  He has elite cutting ability and quickness and if he gets the ball out in space he has the ability to make big-time plays. With opponents focused on containing JuJu Smith- Schuster and Adoree’ Jackson, Mitchell should draw favorable match-ups.

Offensive and defensive lines are a concern- The offensive line has struggled in camp and need to really make some strides when it comes to picking up blitzes and being a little quicker before Stanford visits the Coliseum in three weeks.  Left Tackle Chad Wheeler, who suffered a torn ACL mid-way through last season, is still struggling to get back to full strength.  The depth of the offensive line is much better which should help with improving the tempo of the offense. 

The defensive line has some talent but they are banged up and with Claude Pelon out due to a minor knee procedure and Antuan Woods dealing with lingering shoulder pain.  It will definitely be a group effort to replace former All-American Leonard Williams and the unit needs to be more physical or they will be outmatched against Stanford and ASU.  Greg Townsend Jr. had a great fall camp but still doesn’t rate very high in the eye of pro scouts.  Look for stud freshman linebacker Porter Gustin to play some defensive end this year to help with depth concerns and to provide more back-field pressure.  

Improved downfield blocking will be the key to passing game success- SC receivers have worked diligently in this area so they can turn short throws into big gains thanks to the tremendous speed they have at the position.  It will also take some pressure off the offensive line.

Top Freshman to watchDefensively- #7 Marvin Tell will rotate in regularly at the safety position. He had a phenomenal camp.  #8 Iman “Biggie” Marshall lived up to the hype of being one of the biggest national recruits and will rotate in regularly at cornerback.  The emergence of Marshall and Tell helps make the SC defensive secondary one of the best in the Pac-12. #35 Cameron Smith is expected to start in place of the injured Lamar Dawson at inside linebacker.  Smith has blown away the coaches with his maturity and ability to pick up the defensive schemes so quickly.  Even when Dawson returns, expect to see a lot of Smith this season.

Offensively- #25 Ronald Jones II will rotate in at running back and has elite speed once he gets into space. With Justin Davis out with a hamstring injury look for Jones to have a chance to make an immediate impact.#82 Tyler Petite will be the pass catching threat from the tight-end position. Though his blocking needs to improve, his pass-catching ability is phenomenal and he provides a 6’6 target in red zone situations. 

Kessler still needs to prove he’s a true Heisman candidate- Senior QB Cody Kessler is being mentioned as a top Heisman trophy candidate and it is easy to understand why with the numbers he put up last season.  However, the Trojans offensive production against the better defensive teams on the schedule was more than two touchdowns below the team’s average against the rest of the schedule.  They also had trouble acquiring key first downs in key situations.  Kessler was sacked six times and picked once when the UCLA defense dismantled SC. His performance against Notre Dame was great but they were an average defense dealing with major injury issues at the time.  If SC is going to be elite this season, Kessler will need to be a playmaker and move the Trojan offense in the big-time games.  Throwing for 7 touchdowns a game against the likes of Arkansas State, Idaho, Washington State and Colorado is great for the stat sheet but the season will be defined by his performances against top 25 teams.

Sark- The time for Sark to prove that he can coach and lead at an elite level has probably decreased due to the Salute to Troy incident.  Sark’s hiring was a bit of a head scratcher since his job security at Washington was being discussed heading into a game with Washington State along with some in the Seattle media privately questioning if Sark had some personal issues he needed to deal with as the Salute to Troy wasn’t the first time Sark has been seen in such a state. 

Sark’s reputation within the coaching community is mixed.  He is well thought of as a recruiter and offensive mind but he burned some bridges for the poor ethics he displayed when he orchestrated the defection of Cal’s lead recruiters Josh Wilcox and Tosh Lupoi to Washington, 16 days before the 2012 signing day, and decimating a potential top 10 recruiting class for Cal.  Cal’s head coach at the time Jeff Tedford never recovered.  It isn’t a coincidence that despite having the entire offensive line returning along with a great recruiting class behind it that SC could not attract a top-tier offensive line coach this past offseason and instead hired journeyman Bob Connelly who has been at 12 schools over the past 19 years.

Sark- The flip side- Players feel connected with Sark and want to play for him.  He self-scouts and is trying to improve as a leader.  He has handed most of the play-calling duties over to offensive coordinator Todd Helton making it easier to direct the team. His back is against the wall and he’s a fighter which could be what this team needs to meet the expectations of the season.  Also, the journeyman o-line coach Connelly has been well received by the players with both Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler saying he’s one of the best coaches they have ever played for.

Arkansas State Preview- The Red Wolves have been to a bowl game for three straight years but they do not have the talent to ultimately overcome a top tier program.  However, they will give the Trojans some defensive headaches.  They love to run tick plays and are not afraid to go for an onside kick early in the game.  The have a dual-threat QB in Fred Knighten who completed 62.7% of his passes last year while running for almost 800 yards and 11 touchdowns.   Arkansas St. was ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring and total offense last season and they have most of the offense returning including 1,100 yard rusher Michael Gordon.   While the up-tempo offense will be a good opening test for the Trojan defense, SC should shred the Red Wolves defense.  The allowed over 420 yards and 30 points per game last year and they lost three of their top four tacklers. 


Idaho Preview

Adoree is fine but not worth playing him much on Saturday-  Adoree’ Jackson has bounced back well from the abdominal strain he suffered on Saturday and has participated in practices.  If Adoree does play this week, expect it to be on defense with a few limited snaps on offense, if any.   Playing him on special teams where he could get hit hard or end up taking a cheap shot wouldn’t be very smart.  The Trojans need him to be at full speed entering Pac-12 play.

Offensive line is still the main concern- Despite having an offensive line that has over 68 combined starts, the Trojans gave up 5 sacks in the first half to an Arkansas State team that is below average across the board defensively.  Some of the blame falls on Kessler for holding the ball too long on some of the sacks but the line did not do a great job of picking up blitzes and seemed confused with how Arkansas State was attacking.  The concern throughout fall camp is the line lacks quickness and they were not communicating well.  Improving in these areas will be a key factor to the success of the season.  The good news is the line did not give up a sack in the second half and they rotated a lot of players throughout the game which may have been the cause for some of the communication breakdown.  At the pace that Sark wants the offense to play, they will be rotating constantly through the two-deep and the lineman need to be on the same page especially when they head into a very hostile Sun Devil Stadium in two weeks.

Not so fun fact- Offensive line coach Bob Connely’s Oklahoma State offensive line allowed 40 sacks last season and ranked 113th nationally.

Defensive line needs to be more physical- SC only gave up 6 points but they allowed an outmanned Arkansas State team to rush for 208 yards and amass 400 yards of offense.  Looks for the defensive line to play a more physical brand of football against Idaho as they need to get ready for one of the most physical teams in the Pac-12 in Stanford.   

Look for Ruffin and Gustin to overtake Scott Felix at Rush End- Though junior Scott Felix has improved, junior Jabari Ruffin and freshman Porter Gustin  are special players that will begin to figure more prominently in the rotation as the Trojans play higher level competition.  Ruffin is completely healed from the knee injury he suffered last year and both he and Gustin bring an energy and physicality to the defense that Felix just can’t match.

McNamara takes the early lead in Tight End battle- Nebraska transfer junior Taylor McNamara took 36 snaps in the first three quarters while true freshman Tyler Petite and sophomore Connor Spears split 15 snaps.  McNamara appears to be the best blocker but look for Petite’s role to increase, especially in passing situations where his long/wiry frame (6’6) provides another big target for Kessler.

Fun Fact- An ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called “Trojan War” which is a look at the Pete Carroll years at SC, with a focus on the SC vs. Texas national championship will air on October 13th at 6 pm. 

Justin Davis will return at RB- Junior back-up running back Justin Davis practiced this week without any pain since suffering a rib injury in fall camp and will make his debut on Saturday.  It will be interesting to see how he stacks up to true freshman Ronald Jones II who made a statement last Saturday that he is ready to make an impact this season.

Lamar Dawson update-  Senior inside linebacker Lamar Dawson didn’t fully participate in practice this week and he will probably be held out to make sure he is ready to go against Stanford. This will allow true freshman Cameron Smith another opportunity to start and get plenty of snaps under his belt and be in a position to regularly rotate with Dawson throughout the season. 

SC will be in ball-hawking mode vs. Idaho- Sark wants to see the defense create 30 or more turnovers this season. They had four against Arkansas State and they want to continue that theme against and Idaho team that threw 20 interceptions last year. 

Picking up the pace on offense- Though SC averaged 8 yards per play, the Trojans only ran 64 total plays which is far lower than the 90+ that Sark would like to run.  Sark has mentioned several times this week he wants the offense to move faster and that will be emphasized on Saturday.

Keys to the Idaho game- NO MAJOR INJURIES- Nothing is a sure thing (SC fans learned that the hard way when Stanford was a 41 point underdog and beat the Trojans in the Coliseum in 2007) but this games sets up as a second pre-season game against a vastly inferior opponent.  Idaho will probably finish the season as one of the bottom 5 teams nationally among the nation’s 128 FBS football teams.   The Trojans are a 42.5 point favorite and some feel that is giving Idaho too much credit.  SC needs to make sure they head into next week’s battle with Stanford at full strength and avoid any major injuries. 

CONSISTENCY ON OFFENSE- Kessler’s accuracy was a little off last week and the offense was 3 for 10 on third down.  Kessler needs to get his timing down on intermediate and deep routes while the offense needs to have more success on 3rd down conversions before Pac-12 play starts next week. 

CONTINUE TO PLAY THE FRESHMAN- The more in-game snaps the talented freshman can get the better, especially on the defensive side of the ball where Marvin Tell, Inman Marshall, Rasheem Green, Cameron Smith, Osa Masina and Porter Gustin will all need to make big plays this season.  The talent of this recruiting class is special and they need to get as much experience as possible for SC to be ready to maximize its potential in big-time games this year.


Stanford Preview

We find out Saturday if Kessler is a true Heisman candidate- Kessler has put up great numbers during his career against the below-average defensive teams on the schedule.  He needs to show he can make the right read and put the ball on the money against a reputable defense. Last year against Stanford, SC only had 135 passing yards with one pass attempt over 15 yards.  Stanford has a talented secondary but they are young and should be susceptible to big play opportunities if the offensive line performs well. 

Look for Ronald Jones to start catching the ball out of the backfield- True freshman RB Ronald Jones is electric and the coaches are working on expanding his role in a talented and crowded backfield. He could be a nightmare match-up against a linebacker when receiving a pass and has looked pretty fluid catching the ball out of the backfield in practice so keep any eye on this potential offensive development.

Depth and talent making a big impact in practice- The amount of talent and athleticism on the scout team really jumps out when comparing this year to the last few years.  They are hitting hard and making plays that really challenge the 1st and 2nd string.  This is a major positive development when it comes to game prep.  The lack of depth and athleticism for the scout team during the NCAA sanctions was a major problem when it came to game preparation.  Great coaches will tell you a high level scout team is an extremely important if you want to play championship football.

Pro scouts negative on SC offensive line…Positive on linebackers-  After watching film and attending some practices, a few pro scouts were pretty negative when talking about the SC offensive line.  Compared to what they have seen from other top level schools, they both felt SC’s line play was average at best and they would have a real tough time against the top programs in the country. They are surprised they have not improved more compared to last year.  One scout stated “If SC were to play UCLA today Kessler would take a beating”. 

On the flip side, scouts continue to heap praise on the upgrade in talent at the linebacker position compared to last year.  They feel SC has 4 or 5 possible NFL players and this should help take some pressure off the defensive line.

#55 is finally back!- Inside linebacker Lamar Dawson will see his first action of the year after being out with a rib injury. He will most likely split snaps with true freshman Cameron Smith who started the past two games.  It will be nice to see “55” flying around the field again for the Trojans as he missed all of last season and was sorely missed.

Don’t be fooled by Stanford’s bad loss at Northwestern-  Vegas insiders will tell you that one of the best bets to make in college football is when a west coast team plays an early kick-of game on the east coast.  Stanford played a solid Northwestern team at 9am west coast time.  Stanford players were up by 5am west coast time.  Stanford isn’t as good as they were during the Andrew Luck years but they are still a talented and smart football team.  They can easily come into the Coliseum and beat the Trojans if SC’s line play is not physical enough.

Quick look at the game plan for Stanford-

When SC has the ball- Look for the Trojans to try and establish a strong running game right off the bat as Northwestern ran for over 200 yards on the Cardinal. SC also ran the ball very well at Stanford last year.  Expect quite a bit of play-action and fly-action sweep when Adoree’ Jackson is in the game. He will get his touches early but should be used as a decoy deeper in the game to open up more 1-1 opportunities for other Trojan playmakers (Davis, Jones, JuJu, Mitchell, etc).   SC wants to establish a quick tempo as the Trojans are deeper than Stanford and they want to wear the Cardinal defensive line down which is only rotating four players through three spots.

Potential offensive star of the game- He might just be the star of every facet of the game…#2 Adoree’ Jackson steps up in big games and this is a good match-up for him to take advantage of his remarkable speed and balance out of the back-field, running routes and on special teams....oh and if he does this while making big plays on defense he will be a top 5 Heisman candidate.

Potential under-the-radar big-time offensive performer-  WR Darreous Rogers (#1) has had a quiet start to the season but SC’s #2 receiver can flat out play and Stanford will probably look to double-team JuJu.

When Stanford has the ball- The Trojans need to contain sophomore Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey (#5). He will get the ball a lot and has the ability to make big plays as a runner, pass catcher and on special teams.  Look for LB Sua’ Cravens to spy on him.  Stanford senior QB Kevin Hogan (#7) is struggling throwing the ball downfield (6 of 27 on throws 10 yards or longer) so expect SC corners to play bump in run coverage and the SC defense to send a myriad of blitzes at him.  He also likes to take off and run with the ball so it is very important the young SC linebackers and safeties play solid assignment football and don’t over-pursue.  Expect Stanford to try and slow the game down and grind out long offensive drives. They will run and run and look to use play action and exploit the middle of the field behind the linebackers.

Potential defensive star of the game- Linebacker Su’a Cravens (#21) will most likely spy Stanford RB McCaffrey and also be unleashed on some big blitzes.  He will be a key factor in a Trojan victory.

How SC could lose the game- If the Trojan line play is not physical and Stanford wins the battle in the trenches SC will not be able to take advantage of the amazing skill position talent they have and Stanford will grind out long offensive drives.  The Trojans play on special teams has been lackluster dating back to last season.  Giving up big kick returns and not converting field goals could easily lead to a 0-1 start in the Pac-12.  Though Stanford QB Kevin Hogan has struggled lately he is a gamer and in a close game he usually finds ways to give his team an opportunity to win.

Why SC should cover the 10 point spread-  From a talent standpoint, Stanford is trending toward becoming a middle of the Pac-12 team while SC is at/or near the top.  The media has not talked enough about how SC’s improved depth will pay off, especially late in games. No longer will SC be the ones with tired players trying to hang onto a victory.  Finally, SC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has dominated Stanford in his last three games against them, dating back to his time at Washington. His defenses have only given up four touchdowns in those three games and shut out Stanford in the 4th quarter in everyone of those games. 

Quickhitters-

-The Gold Sheet out of Las Vegas predicts at 23-20 SC victory over Stanford. The spread is 10 points. 

-Due to a ruling by the NCAA, the Stanford band is not allowed to travel to road games and will not be performing at the game. 

-Look for true freshman cornerback Inman “Biggie” Marshall (#8) to potentially start against Stanford or at least get the majority of the reps on the opposite side of Adoree Jackson. 

- Stanford Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan has never thrown a touchdown against USC while SC QB Cody Kessler has only thrown one against the Cardinal.  

- Stanford has not had a 100-yard rusher since Dec. 7, 2013…16 games.


Arizona State Preview

Leonard Williams proving to be a devastating loss- If SC did not have All-American Leonard Williams last season, it would have easily been a 6-6 team.  He consistently occupied two players and still made big-time plays. SC also misses Coach O leading the defensive lineman.

Green will be the next great defensive lineman- As true freshman Rasheem Green (#94) gets healthier, his athleticism and strength jumps out at you on the practice field and pro scouts feel he has the potential to be special.  Look for his role to increase throughout the season.

Kessler proves the doubters wrong- Many people have questioned whether QB Cody Kessler can step it up against a big-time opponent.  He completed 25/32 passes for 3 td’s while also making a great QB scramble that set up a Trojan score. If SC had a stronger defense he would rightfully be considered a Heisman candidate right now. He will need another good performance against ASU which has the 14th best pass defense in the country.  

JuJu Smith-Schuster isn’t shy to get in a teammates face-  The overblown TMZ report about a scuffle in the tunnel may have to do with WR JuJu Smith-Schuster getting in the face of fellow teammates for what he perceived was a lack of effort in the Stanford game on defense.  JuJu is an elite competitor (Kobe Bryant/Tom Brady like) and despite only being an 18 year-old sophomore, he is not be shy to let people know his feelings.  The future top 10 pick is 4th in the nation in total receiving yards with 434.

Disappointing effort from the linebackers- Pro scouts have been praising the young talent at linebacker but the lack of experience and rust of Lamar Dawson was evident.   Stanford did a great job of confusing the SC linebackers and they seemed to be thinking more than reacting. This will need to change for the SC defense to turn things around as the defensive line will need all the help it can get this season.  

Wilcox deserves some blame but not all of it- Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox could have made more adjustments and attacked on defense, especially in the second half, but the SC defense is VERY young and the coaches know they have an average at best defensive line.  The game plan wasn’t as bad as it is being made out to be.  Sark felt SC could outscore Stanford and he wanted the defense to employ a bend but don’t break philosophy and make Stanford score touchdowns in the red zone where they have really struggled going back to last season.  Unfortunately, Stanford QB Kevin Hogan played one of his best games and he did a phenomenal job of attacking the freshman in 1-1 situations.  A few other things happened that are outside of Wilcox control.  The touchdown Stanford scored at the end of the first half was the result of Adoree’ Jackson slipping in coverage.  As a true freshman last year, Jackson only had 1 TD thrown against him.  Midway through the 4th quarter when Stanford had the ball outside of field goal range on a 3rd and 8,  LB Sua’ Cravens blitzed but fell for a Hogan pump fake and jumped into the air instead of pursuing the QB and Hogan ran right by Cravens for a first down. Freshman CB Inman “Biggie” Marshall had good coverage on three balls that he got a hand on but he was not able to wrestle it away from the receiver.  Those balls will be knocked down or intercepted in the future.  Finally, untimely unsportsmanlike penalties early in offensive drives negating a first down opportunity put a tired defense is right back out on the field. 

Wilcox doesn’t communicate well with players: We touched on this last season and it keeps popping up in conversations with those close to the program.  Players continue to privately question Wilcox’s ability to properly motivate them.  He routinely corrects players in a negative and personal manner that has led to one potential All-American threatening to transfer on multiple occasions.  Will this impact the players overall motivation especially when things aren’t going well? Though players have complained about how he has treated them, they are also quick to defend him as the coordinator and feel he has them properly prepared and is up to the players to make plays.

Sark bounces back after a loss- While at Washington and SC, Sark’s teams have bounced back well after losses.  Unfortunately he has yet to sustain a long string of consecutive wins but he has mostly avoided losing streaks.  If the Trojans play poorly and undisciplined at ASU tonight then concerns about the programs coaches will take center stage. 

Quick look at what to expect in the ASU game:

This is a must-win game for both teams who had high pre-season expectations.  The 7:30pm kick will foster a boisterous Sun Devil Stadium crowd that will let Sark know they have plenty of cold ones available for his enjoyment. 

Offensively- ASU has struggled offensively this year but they have two important playmakers back in RB Kallen Ballage (#9) and WR/RB De’Chavon Hayes (#1).  They will immediately make the offense more dynamic with ASU immediately trying to establish a consistent running game with lead RB Demario Richard (#4), mixed with Ballage and Hayes.  Hayes and Richards are big pass-catching threats out of the back-field.  Senior QB Mike Bercovici (#2) is very accurate inside ten yards but gets a little wobbly on longer throws inviting opportunities for an interception. He torched the Trojans last year with over 500 yards passing and 5 touchdown passes.  Look for SC to pressure Bercovici up the middle and Bercovici may take off and run in the same manner that Hogan did against the Trojans last week. The ASU offensive line had been underperforming and has given up 11 sacks in three games.  Bercovici’s top wide receiver to watch will be DJ Foster (#8).   

SC will look to establish a strong running game early and the effectiveness of the passing game will depend on whether the offensive line can protect Kessler. If the line plays well, SC will escape the desert with a shoot-out type victory with 500+ yards of total offense.  

Defensively, ASU returns 9 starters from last year and will be a tougher test than Stanford. They currently rank 9th in the nation against the pass.  The ASU defensive line is its major strength. The Trojans should be able to attack the outside for solid gains as the Sun Devil defensive backfield is average.  ASU has been sloppy with its tackling so yards after initial contact will play a big factor.  

Look for SC to mix-up blitzes and pressure ASU in more exotic ways especially if Nose Tackle Woods does not play. 

Special Teams- Both teams have dynamic returners and solid punters but place-kicking remains a mystery for both teams. The game could easily come down to who steps up and hits the big field goals.

A few things to look for from SC on offense tonight- *SC WR Jalen Greene (#10) is a former QB that could get the ball on a backward pass and throw it down the field…FB Soma Vainaku (#31) should get his hands on a few passes...

 Quick-Hitters-

*Running back Tre Madden is expected to play despite a calf injury but expect to see plenty of Justin Davis and Ronald Jones.

*CB Kevon Seymour is a game time decision with a knee injury and Nose Tackle Antawun Woods will probably attempt to play but will be limited with a shoulder injury.

*Scary Stat- SC was outscored 31-10 to close out the Stanford game…at home as a ten point favorite…ouch!

*Per the SC media guide, Sarkisian has three “significant losses” in 16 games where SC lost as double digit favorite. Pete Carroll did not suffer his third significant upset until his sixth season.

*In 2011, SC committed four turnovers in a 43-22 defeat in Tempe and two years ago, ASU scored four unanswered third-quarter TD’s leading to a 62-41 Sun Devil victory and the end of the Lane Kiffin era.

*The Gold Sheet picks ASU to defeat SC, 35-30.  They don’t feel the young Trojans are ready for a hostile environment with SC being 2-5 against the spread in its last seven road games.


Washington Preview

Realistic review of the ASU game- ASU hurt themselves with a couple of devastating turnovers late in the first half that led to SC creating an insurmountable lead. The defensive coaching staff did a good job of having the team ready after the poor performance against Stanford but they received a lot of help from ASU and ASU QB Bercovici was woefully inaccurate, which was not the case against UCLA.

A key positive development in that shouldn’t be overlooked is SC converted 10 of 16 third downs despite the average distance needed being 10 yards.  The Trojans had entered the game with only a 31% third down completion percentage.

Kessler’s footwork has improved quite a bit- QB Cody Kessler has thrown for 1297 yards, 15 TD’s and just one interception (which was the receivers fault) while completing 73% of his passes. The most impressive improvement in Kessler’s game has been his ability to allude the rush with good footwork in the pocket.  Last season his feet were a little more stuck to the ground and he was easier to sack.  He has also made a few big plays on the run to keep a dive alive in key situations.  As the Trojans enter a stretch of playing three great defensives back to back, Kessler will need to deliver Heisman like performances for SC to get back into the national playoff conversation.

Is the SC offense too explosive?- USC is averaging just 66 plays per game. Only Washington, at 59.8, average fewer among Pac-12 teams. The Trojans time of possession ranks 124th out of 128 FBS teams and SC must be able to grind out drives to rest the defense and burn time off the clock late in a game to protect a lead.  On the bright side, the Trojans lead the conference in total offense with 532.0 yards per game and they rank second in the nation in yards per play (8.06) and “long” plays of 10 yards or more.  Having a big play offense is fantastic but they need to do a better job with time of possession with the goal of winning championships.

SC’s run defense is the key-  They couldn’t stop Stanford and despite blowing out ASU, they gave up over 180 yards of rushing with ASU’s lead back Demario Richards averaging 9.4 yards a carry.  This area must improve drastically as the Trojans enter the most difficult part of the schedule. The only chance Washington has tonight is if they are able to run the ball.

On the flip side, SC also has to be able to run the ball consistently- SC struggled to run the ball against ASU’s attacking front seven only netting 76 yards on the ground (though ASU did shut down UCLA’s top rated rush offense as well).  SC needs to be able to sustain longer drives and establish some type of grit and physicality along the offensive line with a good running game. This will be essential as they face a tough three game stretch next week of at #15 Notre Dame, home vs. #5 Utah and at #23 Cal. 

Expect even more Adoree’ on offense in the coming weeks- Washington, Notre Dame and Utah all boast top level defenses that will give the Trojan offense all they can handle.  Jackson looked great against ASU (3 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown) and operated at another level when he had the ball in space.  Look for this trend to continue and don’t be surprised if he gets the ball on a few pitch plays out of the back-field as well.  With a struggling offensive line, SC will do everything they can to give playmakers like Smith-Shuster, Jackson and Mitchell the ball in space to see if they can turn a 5 yard pass into a much bigger gain.  Also, Jackson’s playmaking ability on special teams will probably figure prominently in a few victories by the end of the season.

What you need to know for the Washington game- Defensively, Washington leads the Pac-12 in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense.  Washington is averaging more than seven tackles for loss per game and have held all three FBS opponents to under three yards a carry while holding teams to an inefficient 57.4% pass completion total.  Linebacker #42 Cory Littlejohn has 22 tackles with a team-leading 4.5 tackles for loss.  Despite coming into the season as a strength of the team, the secondary could be vulnerable with Safety #32 Budda Baker questionable with an ankle injury.  Baker is also a big return threat on special teams with a 76 yard punt return vs. Boise State.

Though SC would like to have a balanced attack, look for SC to put the ball in Kessler’s hands early and attack this defense through the air before attempting to establish a running game.

Offensively, it is a vastly different story for the Huskies. They only return one offensive line starter from last season and rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in scoring offense (9th), total offense (11th) and rushing offense (12th).  They have allowed 11 sacks and expect to SC to employ a number of different blitz packages to get after freshman QB  #3 Jake Browning early and often.  Browning is an accurate passer (65% completion percentage) but has struggled getting acclimated to the speed of the Pac-12.   Despite having a poor rushing offense, expect the Huskies to try and establish their running game early.   Browning has completed 65% of his passes but has already thrown 4 interceptions.  Expect Washington to use back-up QB #5 Jeff Lindquist a few times as he is quick with his feet and gives the offense a different look. He has appeared in every game this year for the Huskies.

The players to watch offensively for the Huskies will be a pair of tailbacks in freshman #9 Myles Gaskin and junior #12 Dwayne Washington who have combined for 347 yards rushing and six touchdowns in four games.  Washington also leads the team in receiving, averaging 13 yards a reception.  WR #1 Jaydon Mickens is Browning’s top playmaker at receiver. 

Why the game could be closer than the 17 point spread…but SC will prevail- Though the Huskies (2-2) have struggled this season, they have only lost by a combined nine points in their two losses.  They are a very physical team and will do everything they can to punish SC’s mediocre offensive and defensive lines.  Washington head coach Chris Peterson loves the underdog role and while at Boise State, they beat quite a few top ranked teams.  This is also a potential look-ahead game for the Trojans with a date at Notre Dame next week.  When you combine that with a week filled with mid-terms, SC could be vulnerable to an upset.  If Washington wasn’t playing a struggling freshman QB, the wise guys in Vegas would be all over the Huskies.  The overall talent and experience heavily favors SC which should swing a victory in SC’s favor even if the Trojans are caught looking ahead to its battle with Notre Dame and struggle offensively against a stout Husky defense.   As long as SC doesn’t accumulate unnecessary turnovers and turn the ball over multiple times, SC will be fine.

Quick-Hitters-

*True Freshman linebacker Cameron Smith leads the team in tackles and true freshman Ronald Jones, despite being the third tailback to enter games, is leading the team in rushing.

*Nose tackle Claude Pelon injured his ankle and will most likely miss the Washington game. This hurts the depth on an already struggling defensive line.

*It is apparent to scouts who follow the Trojans the freshman linebackers are better than their older counterparts.       


Notre Dame Preview

Sark deserves your thanks and support- He wasn’t the right fit to lead the SC program at this time and deep down he knew that.  The pressure and expectations while going through a tough divorce when dealing with substance abuse demons was a lethal combination.  That said, in Sark’s brief tenure he did what he does best and that was recruit top rate talent.  The recruiting classes he put together the last two years led to superstar talent making major contributions early in their careers and is something the next coach will gladly inherit.  Furthermore, his head start on this year’s top rated class has created a strong foundation to sign another great class.  He also gave SC an inexpensive way to move in a better direction without having to pay out his full contract.  SC will probably eventually give him some sort of confidential settlement but it won’t be nearly as much as if they just fired him for his performance on the field.  The money saved in this situation can be used toward the new staff which is very important if you want to lure an NFL talent to SC.

Why SC will make the right hire- AD Pat Haden is facing a firestorm of criticism right now and justifiably so.  From the beginning both Sark and Enfield were puzzling hires.  How the Sark situation was handled will end up being a case study in business schools on how not to handle substance abuse issues with employees. 

That said, Haden is a very smart man that you don’t want to bet against.  As frustrated as Trojan fans might be, President Nikkias is standing by him and the athletic department has a chance to get this right.  

SC is about to embark on a huge fundraising campaign to upgrade the Coliseum and Haden will be the point man. Hiring a coach that instantly brings credibility and notoriety to the program is crucial to the success of the campaign.  The program is also positioned well to attract a great talent with the sanctions behind them, phenomenal young talent and the Pete Carroll era firmly in the rear-view mirror.    

Haden is also adjusting.  The athletic department has reached out to some influential former players for input in the hiring process and Pete Carroll’s influence on this hire is far less. 

Lastly, Mike Garrett was heavily criticized for his coaching choices before he hired Pete Carroll and Tim Floyd and Garrett looked pretty darn impressive during the run of those two coaches…

Three key qualities needed in the next SC coach- 1- Be careful about getting excited about coaches who have consistently done well at mid-level Power 5 conferences. They have the great skill of motivating two and three star talents to rise up and knock off the top-level Power 5 teams. It is a totally different and a highly advanced skill set to be able to psychologically relate four and five star players and get them to perform at a high level while focusing on the greater good of the team.   2- SC is always going to have a target on its back and they need to have a tough/defensive minded coach that is going to bring physicality back to the program.  You can hire a great offensive coordinator and do well on that side of the ball (i.e Pete and Chow) but championships are still won in the trenches and with a physical mind-set.  3- SC must hire a polished leader the players respect in and out of the locker room.  A stabilizing force with a winning track record that also knows how to deal with a major media market.

Who the top candidate should be- It is way too early to get excited about anyone in particular. However, SC will be speaking to intermediaries and agents of top coaches to gauge any potential interest when the season ends. Please note, any active coach is going to publicly deny any interest in the SC job so the focus remains on the team they currently represent.

SC is in a phenomenal position to attract a great coach as it is considered one of the top 10 jobs in all of football and if they are serious about playing with the big boys, the #1 coach on the wish list should be John Harbaugh. He would be a home run hire even if SC essentially had to match or slightly exceed the 10-year deal his brother has at Michigan while partially buying out his Ravens contract. It would be a huge investment but his presence would pay off by making the Coliseum renovation an easier sell to fans and he’s a stabilizing force that would bring big-time legitimacy to the program.  It is safe to say that SC would immediately go from a team that looks great on paper and underperforms to a legit national playoff contender.

I brought his name up last time the job was open but it was too premature. It still might be a reach as his contract with the Ravens has two more years on it and he has a good relationship with the owner.

On the flip side, he has expressed to people close to him an interest in leading a major college program. He loves being a mentor.  Personally, his wife prefers the college lifestyle as it is a little easier on the family and his father was a college coach.  His brother Jim raves about the fun he’s having at Michigan.  He was also passed over by UCLA when they hired Rick Neuheisal. . . The Ravens are struggling (1-4) and the roster needs help.  It is worth SC’s time to see if they can hit a grand slam…    

Other names that should be on initial short list…yes, some of these are reaches-

Jon Gruden- Apparently actually interested this time around?; Greg Schiano; Chip Kelly- only if the Eagles let him go; Mike Tomlin- only if the Steelers let him go; Jeff Fisher;  Kyle Whittingham-So Cal native but can he coach and recruit a 5-star talent?; Kevin Sumlin; Mike Dantonio; Pat Fitzgerald; Clay Helton- Really well liked by players and alums of the program…

Washington punched SC in the face and the Trojans had no answer: It was clear SC had more talent but Washington physically dominated SC. They continually roughed up Cody Kessler (did he get concussed early in the game?) and hit him late on quite a few occasions.  SC never responded to its leader being targeted and that must change for SC to be taken seriously.  You have to figure out ways to return the favor within the course of a game and show you are a fully united.  Also, SC desperately needs to shed the “soft” label that some analysts are currently using.   

Time to give Ronald Jones III the ball: If SC continued to hand the ball off to true freshman Ronald Jones on the final drive, instead of inexplicitly throwing it three straight times they may have escaped the Coliseum with a win over Washington.  Jones seems to have the “it” factor that will make him an All-American type back.  This isn’t a knock on the other capable SC backs but he seems to be a notch above.  Tre Madden has a sore knee this week so this is a great opportunity for Jones.

Keys to SC vs. ND-

Can SC’s defensive line and linebackers play physical enough?: If SC is going to leave South Bend with a victory, SC’s front seven will have to play at a higher level than they have shown this season.  Notre Dame’s rushing attack will be similar to what SC struggled mightily with when it faced Stanford.  The starting offensive lineman for the Irish weigh over 300 pounds and they are very physical.  SC has given up over 550 yards rushing over the past three games and the Irish will attack SC early with RB C.J. Prosise.  Prosise averages 7.1 yards a carry and has scored 11 touchdowns.  The Irish are 14th nationally in total offense and 13th in rushing offense (238 yards a game).  

Limit the mental errors: SC has played undisciplined all year and untimely penalties and players deviating from the game plan created huge momentum swings that contributed to both Trojan losses.  Defensively, Notre Dame will incorporate a short play-action passing game to compliment the rushing attack so it is paramount SC’s young linebackers and secondary don’t overplay the run and blow assignments.  Potential All-America WR Will Fuller is the primary target of Irish QB DeShone Fizer who is a conservative and consistent young QB who has completed 66% of his passes.  RB Prosise is also a strong receiver out of the backfield.

SC must be able to run the ball: The Irish have a middle of the road defense that has struggled against the run.  They also have not faced a passing attack the caliber of the Trojans.  Though SC has lost All-Conference Center Max Tuerk for the year due to a knee injury, back-up Toa Lobendahn is solid and some scouts feel he will end up being better than Tuerk. Like ND, SC will look to establish the running game to loosen up the ND defense so they have more success getting the ball to JuJu and Adoree’ in space.  The SC offense must keep the Irish Linebackers off-balance as they are the strength of the defense with with Butkus Award finalist Jaylon Smith and middle linebacker Joe Schmidt, the team’s defensive MVP last year leading the way.  The ND defense isn’t great but much better than the injury riddled unit SC faced last year.

Adoree’ Jackson has to make an impact: With three wide receivers out (Darreous Rogers, Steven Mitchell and Issac Whitney), Jackson should figure more prominently on offense.  Whether it is on offense, defense or special teams, Adoree’ will need to make a big-time impact.

Play for Helton and themselves: The players seem genuinely enthusiastic about having Helton as their leader and if they have any interest in making him a viable candidate for the full-time position, it starts with a win this weekend.   It is no secret the Trojans have the talent and athleticism to beat ND.  They need to play with a chip on their shoulder and get people talking about their greatness on the field and not what is happening off of it.

Quick-Hitters

SC arrived in South Bend around 1:30am on Friday morning due to players needing to attend class on Thursday.  Will this impact player performance?  They have typically arrived earlier for the cross-country battle.

The Gold Sheet has Notre Dame winning the game 34-20.

The game time temperature will be around 40 degrees with a 10% chance of rain

SC coaches are winless in six games when the first contest is in South Bend


Utah Preview

Why SC is 3-3 despite having the most talent in the Pac-12: In its simplest form, it comes down to a lack of leadership and playing experience.  This is a prime example of how important it is to have a great coaching staff.  The staff Sark assembled and mostly brought from Washington was/is considered “weak” by a myriad of sources from the NFL to Heritage Hall.  They recruited well but that is only one part of the equation.  Clay Helton and Tee Martin are the only coaches that are considered high-level Pac-12 assistants.  Last October we reported that when Chris Peterson took over at Washington he told friends in the coaching ranks that he was “shocked” at the lack of discipline and organizational structure he inherited. It is safe to say that we now know that wasn’t typical coach speak to lower expectations.

Let’s not forget that SC is also playing with a ridiculously young team. The two-deep depth chart is dominated by freshman and sophomores with as many as 12 true freshman making significant contributions.  They are going to make mistakes as they get acclimated to the physicality and speed of college football.  The good news is with the experienced gained and a better technical staff next season a major improvement on the field should be expected.

Don’t worry about recruiting: SC has lost two major commitments to its recruiting class since the Sark firing.  Some who follow recruiting have a “sky is falling” mentality.  DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT! If SC hires the right coach, the talent pipeline will be alive and well.  Even if the new coach is not known for recruiting, they will have great recruiters on staff and at the end of the day, SC is one of the easiest places to sell in the country.  Was Peter Carroll known as a great recruiter before coming to SC? 

Sark did a great job recruiting but you have to wonder if SC had been patient and hired Jack Del Rio after his super bowl run as defensive coordinator of the Broncos, with a guy like Ed O staying on board to handle recruiting, would SC be in a much better position as a program?  (I have been told that if Ed O knew a guy like Del Rio was getting the job as opposed to Sark he would have been more likely to stay on board).  Instead, SC was so concerned about recruiting and wanted someone to take over right when the season ended.  Interestingly, in talking to some of the top recruits in that class (JuJu/Adoree’, etc), they were coming to SC as long as a competent coach was in place.

Del Rio Part II: Those people who considered Del Rio to be too stiff and not a good recruiter obviously haven’t spent time with him.  Players and coaches who were with him in Jacksonville and Denver loved working with him and felt the way he commanded the room would play very well at the college level. SC got a taste of that at the SC Hall of Fame Banquet last year with some donors wondering aloud why he wasn’t the current coach as he had a “Pete” type presence.  Unfortunately that boat has sailed with him firmly entrenched in a four-year contract to lead the Oakland Raiders.

Info on the coaching search from the SC perspective: Obviously it is very early in the process with mostly fact gathering and informal conversations taking place.  A select group of former players is providing input and representing the university in some informal conversations with candidates.  A few athletic department Board of Trustees members are also assisting in the process.  SC plans on taking its time, as it should, to see how things shake out both on the NFL and college sidelines.  Some of the guidelines we are hearing is that only coaches with head coaching experience (preferably some in college) will be considered.  Haden is in charge of this search with the full blessing from Max Nikkias and that will only change if Pat decides to step away.   The only names we have heard any substantive talk of is Kyle Whittingham.  I have been told a few NFL TV analyst have expressed interest and could be intriguing options but didn’t get any names.  **If Clay Helton knocks off Utah and finishes the year strong, he could get the job especially if SC isn’t able to get strong interest from a name it covets.  The athletic administration is very high on Clay and he’s well respected by the players.

What agents of top tier coaches are saying:  The SC coaching job is coveted but not at the level that SC may think it is.  The turbulence the program has faced over the past decade is concerning as well as whether Pat Haden and his administration will be around long-term to support the hire.  SC must overcome these objections and SELL coaches on why the SC brand is a great fit for them and outline the type of success they can enjoy while taking advantage of being located in Los Angeles.  Two different sources stated that SC can land a top tier candidate but it will not happen if they aren’t “aggressive” and “enthusiastic” about what they have to offer. “Don’t be Notre Dame when they arrogantly thought Urban Meyer would automatically be the coach….SC needs to be relentless in its pursuit of who they want much like the Florida AD was in going after Meyer”

Update on the NFL names being thrown around:   John Harbaugh: Intermediaries from both camps supposedly spoke and initial indications are that unless Harbaugh is let go by the Ravens, SC has no chance.  Obviously SC will be welcome to go after him if he’s let go but the odds are slim that he will happen and even if he does he will be offered other NFL jobs that will be difficult for SC to compete against. 

Sean Peyton: He might be available after the season but he could be a bad fit for a college campus in ways that SC is all too familiar with.

Mike Tomlin: Would have to be let go by Pittsburgh and would also be pursued by other NFL teams.  Some feel he would “kill it” as a college coach but probably wouldn’t care for the fundraising aspects of the job.

Jack Del Rio: Has four year contract with Raiders…Not gonna happen.

**No current NFL head coach is a serious option unless they are fired.

Kessler struggling when it matters most: In high-pressure situations, QB Cody Kessler has been unable to lead comeback drives when necessary as Kessler has not thrown a touchdown pass when SC has been down by ten or more points.  When SC is ahead, Kessler throws for almost ten yards per attempt but it drops to six yards per attempt when behind. SC has only converted 35% of its third downs this season (98th in the country).  This is not all on Kessler as many things factor into these numbers but it has been awhile since SC came back to win a football game.  The two minute offense also needs some work, especially when trailing.  When you are trying to score quickly, you can’t rely on five yard outs and flips to the running back while still taking 8-10 seconds off the play-clock before snapping the ball.

Adoree’ will play a lot more on offense vs. Utah: CB/WR Adoree’ Jackson practiced 90% of the time with the offense this week as he will focus on playing wide receiver with Steven Mitchell and Issac Whitney out and Darreus Rogers slowed with a nagging hamstring injury.  He will still be used in key situations on defense but this will be our first real extended look at him on the offensive side of the ball. 

Freshman RB Jones III could see the most carries on Saturday: Ronald Jones is one of the 10 best running back in the nation in average yards per rushing attempt. The coaches need/want to get the ball in his hands more often. His pass protection is improving which should allow him to stay on the field longer.  He will split carries with Madden, Davis and Dom Davis but look for him to possibly get the majority of the carries especially with Madden nursing a sore knee. 

KEYS TO THE UTAH GAME

1- SC must force Utah QB Zach Wilson to beat them with his arm- If Utah is able to run the ball consistently, SC will not have much of a chance to win the game.  Utah RB Devonte Booker is the best running back SC will face all year. He is a physically violent runner who is great at gaining yards after initial contact. SC must have a gang-tackling mentality to corral him.  He is third in the Pac-12 and 10th in the nation in rushing averaging 130.5 yards per game and touches the ball about 30 times a game.   SC’s defense allows 167.5 yards of rushing per game and surrendered a season high 214 to Notre Dame last week.  The Trojans will need to sell out to stop Booker and make the inconsistent Wilson be the focal point of the offense.  He has a tendency to get rattled if SC can pressure him and force him into 3rd and long situations.  Utah ranks a lowly 101st in the nation in passing offense and Wilson is also missing a favorite passing target in Tight End Siale Fakailoatonga who was injured vs. ASU and is out for the year.  Wilson isn’t a bad runner and not afraid to be physical with his 6’7 frame so SC will need to contain him on the ground as well. 

2- Play Disciplined- It has been said all year but a lot of SC’s issues have stemmed from players either deviating from the game plan or untimely penalties and turnovers. 

3- Cody needs to deliver in the clutch against a fierce pass rush- Kessler will need to make some big boy throws and get the ball in the hands of Adoree’ and JuJu to pull out a victory against a physical Utah defense that will look to heavily pressure the young SC offensive line and take SC’s running game away.   With both Max Tuerk and Chad Wheeler out, Kessler will have to use his improved footwork in the pocket to buy time.  

Quick Hitters

-Left tackle Chad Wheeler is out with a concussion.  Right tackle Zach Banner will move to left tackle and freshman Chuma Edoga will start at right tackle.

- Advanced stat systems, including Football Outsiders’ S&P ratings and ESPN’s Football Power Index, both have the Trojans ranked higher than the Utes despite Utah being ranked #3 in the nation by the AP.

- The Gold Sheet has Utah pulling out a 23-22 victory.  Utah is 7-2 in its last nine as an underdog.


California Preview

Cameron Smith’s ability to graduate high school early and attend spring practice led to his historic evening:  Linebacker Cameron Smith was named Pac-12 defensive player of the week thanks to his three interception and nine tackle performance against Utah. Smith, who leads the team with 62 tackles, could be the first true freshman to lead SC in tackles since records were kept in 1954.  If you asked the SC coaches and recruiting analysis after national signing day which freshman would have the biggest impact at linebacker their freshman year,  the consensus choice would have been Osa Masina or Porter Gustin.  Both Masina and Gustin were rated at the top of the linebacker class and though both have made a strong impact, it is nowhere near the level of Smith.  Smith was no slouch as a 4-star, top 150 nationally rated recruit, but not considered at the level of Gustin and Masina.  However, he was able to graduate high school early and participate in spring practice where he immediately made an impression on the coaches without the other recruits around to share the spotlight.  He was able to showcase an incredible football IQ and unexpected speed. He was so impressive that he went from a potential redshirt candidate to a legitimate potential starter that would wear legacy #35.   Middle linebacker is one of the toughest positions to play and for him to do what he is doing as a true freshman is phenomenal.   This is another reminder that until recruits get on campus we really have no idea how great they will be…oh and being able to arrive in the spring before your freshman year doesn’t hurt either.

Helton’s future: If interim head coach Todd Helton wins out, he will most likely get the job as he has a long list of supporters in and out of the program.  The majority of the staff will be replaced or as some would like to say “upgraded”.  If the team falters and he is no longer a candidate, expect the SC administration to do what they can to have the new coach retain Helton as an associate head coach if Helton was interested in sticking around. 

Helton has made a strong impact on the culture of the program: Under Helton, practices have emphasized technique over scheme and physical play isn’t just talked about but demanded.  He is also spending more time with the defense to make sure they are accomplishing what he wants.  Will see what type of a lasting impact this has but it is nice to see Helton have the confidence to put his imprint on the program in a situation where it is difficult to pull off.

Coaching search update: Not much to report right now other than one of the ESPN personalities that is being discussed is Herm Edwards.  Many in the football community feel he would be great in the living room of recruits and he has a tireless work ethic.   Tom Herman from Houston and Justin Fuentes from Memphis are coaches SC is keeping track of and probably being sold hard on by agents.  The concern with Herman is despite being from Southern California and being Urban Meyer’s OC at Ohio State, this is his first year as a head coach at Houston and it is tough to determine whether the success they are having is totally related to his influence.  Fuente has been at Memphis for three years and was named a finalist for the Eddie Robinson coach of the year last year.  He is highly thought of but doesn’t have very many west-coast ties and he might be a better fit at a Big-10/12 type school.  I have heard a lot of great things about him though so it will be interesting to see if he becomes a serious candidate or not.  

Hue Jackson, former SC offensive coordinator and Raider head coach is a hot name right now as the offensive coordinator of the Bengals. Some feel he was never given a real opportunity as the Raiders coach. 

Jim Mora should not be considered a serious candidate: Though rumors persist that Mora has sent feelers out about the SC job and that some former SC players and influential (i.e. big donors) alumni would like to see him on the SC sidelines, it will NOT happen.  Mora is firmly entrenched in the UCLA job. He has given his own money to the new football facilities being built at UCLA and will be at UCLA as long as Josh Rosen is the QB unless the NFL comes calling.  The controversy that would evolve for both Mora and SC is not worth it and frankly if SC does try and pursue him, Mora publicly turning down the SC job would help UCLA with recruiting.

Ronald Jones is playing great but don’t forget about Justin Davis: RB Ronald Jones III looks like he has the “it” factor to have a great career at SC but Justin Davis deserves credit for making some great runs and blocks in the victory over Utah.  Davis has improved nicely this year and deserves his fair share of carries.

Special Teams must improve for SC to have a chance to win out: Outside of a few big punt returns and good kickoff coverage, the special teams unit has underperformed.   The kickoff return team has disappointed despite having two of the most explosive players in the Pac-12 in Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster.  A punt has been blocked in the last two games and they allowed a 40-yard return that set-up a Utah touchdown. Kicker Alex Wood is inconsistent and if SC doesn’t make improvements with this unit it will be costly.

What the Gold Sheet and oddsmakers say about the Cal game- When SC was announced as favorites to beat Utah last week, despite Utah being #3 in the nation, many people were scratching their heads.  The scratching intensified when the spread jumped from 3.5 to 6.5 by game time.  Quite a bit of “sharp” money bet SC big and that ended up being the correct play.  This week, SC opened up a 4 point favorite vs. Cal and the spread has since jumped to 6.  The Gold Sheet has SC winning by 17 points (48-31) and are marketing it as one of their “key releases” of the week.  SC has covered against Cal in 8 of the last 10 meetings.

What SC needs to do to beat Cal: SC must be able to pressure Cal QB Jeff Goff consistently while not losing contain against the run game. Whereas Utah was one dimensional, Cal has a solid run game to compliment the best pro quarterback prospect in the Pac-12 in Goff.  Though Cal struggled to run against UCLA, the Bruins has a better defensive line than SC and Cal RB Daniel Lasco is no slouch.  Goff has completed 65% of his passes and is a very accurate mid to long range passer which will seriously test the young Trojan secondary.  Cal has given up 20 sacks this season, and Goff was especially rattled and pressured repeatedly in their losses to Cal and UCLA.  In those games, the Bears gave up 8 sacks and only averaged 6.4 yards per pass compared to the 9.1 yards they were averaging in the first five games.  Goff threw 5 interceptions against Utah. If SC is not able to get to Goff, it will be a long afternoon as Cal has the best Wide Receiving core in the Pac-12.  Six different Bears receivers have 19 or more receptions, led by Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs. 

The Bears will blitz SC in obvious passing situation early and often to try and take advantage of SC’s injury-riddled offensive line that gave up four sacks in the Utah game.  Cal ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in pass defense and are weak defending the mid-range pass over the middle.  If SC can protect Kessler and establish a solid running game that keeps the Cal linebackers honest, Kessler should have a field day finding JuJu and company open in the middle of the field.  Both teams are positive in turnover margin with Cal ranked the best in the nation.  Winning the turnover battle most likely equals winning the game.   

Quick-hitters

* WR JuJu Smith-Schuster has been nursing a leg injury the past few weeks and is something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.  He caught 8 passes for 134 and a touchdown against Utah.  He has 47 receptions for 901 yards and eight touchdowns…if he goes down, it will be devastating for the offense.

* RB Tre Madden ran well in practice this week and will be ready to play against Cal. He is one of the best pass blocking running backs and his return can’t come soon enough with Cal expected to blitz early and often on Saturday.

* WR Steven Mitchell is back from his ankle injury which is important with Adoree’ Jackson headed back to spending the majority of his time on the defensive side of the ball. 

* SC is 6-6 in Halloween games all-time and this will be their 13th contest on the day. The last time the Trojans played on Halloween, Oregon defeated SC 47-20 in 2009.

* Junior Khaliel Rogers, who filled in admirably for Toa Lobendahn, who suffered a season-ending knee injury, will be the third starting center for the Trojans this year. He started three games last season at left guard.

*Left tackle Chad Wheeler will play against Cal after missing the Utah game  due to concussion-like symptoms.  Zach Banner will move back to right tackle.

* Despite being 3-3 and unranked, the SC game vs. Utah drew 3.3 million television viewers making it the most watched college football game on Fox this year.  This is yet another example of the power of the SC football brand.


Arizona Preview

SC is ranked 5th in the nation in ESPN’s power index- Despite having three losses, the computers love SC ranking them 5th in the nation ahead of undefeated and one-loss teams vying for a national playoff spot.  The power index gives SC a 33% chance of winning out and a 31% chance of winning the conference.  Stanford is given a 51% chance of winning the Pac-12.  Utah (14%) and UCLA (3%) are hardly given a chance despite currently being ranked ahead of the Trojans in the standings.

Jalen Greene making a big impact on offense: The redshirt freshman QB turned WR has the ability to throw accurate passes off the reverse (3-4 on the season) while being a legitimate pass catching threat (10 receptions). His completions have gone for big-time plays that have resulted in a major momentum shift in favor of the Trojans.  Without his big completion in the Cal game would SC have pulled out the victory?  Opposing defenses always have to account for where he is on the field which allows SC to use him as a decoy and open up other options.  Greene should be praised for being a team player and doing what is necessary to help the team as a wide receiver even though his dream was to play QB.  He took a difficult situation and made the most of it and could be right back in the battle for the QB position next year depending on the offense the next head coach will run.  

Jalen Greene Part II: SC should put together a package of plays with Greene at QB and let him run the single read option.  It could be effective with the plethora of weapons SC has on offense…would be interesting to break that out against a team like UCLA especially if Kessler is struggling a bit at that point in the game.

How will the passing game fare without JuJu Smith: JuJu is as tough as they come and may very well play this Saturday despite having surgery this week on his hand to put a plate and pin in his hand to secure a fractured bone.  However, it is probably wise for him to sit out a game or two and make sure he is available to play at Oregon and the finale against UCLA. He would also be able to rest a sore leg that has hampered his speed in the last few games. 

If JuJu does sit out, it will most likely hamper the passing game.  Kessler has relied heavily on one go-to receiver the past two seasons.  Last year, 33% of the balls went to Nelson Agholor and this year 29.5% have gone to JuJu.  He has 52 receptions with Adoree’ Jackson, who mainly plays cornerback, second in receptions with 19.  The good news is 13 Trojans have caught at least five balls, but will Kessler be comfortable throwing to them in key situations? He tends to focus on JuJu when a play has to be made and without that safety blanket will the passing game take a severe hit?  Though Adoree’ has been practicing mainly with the defense this week, look for him to possibly play an expanded role on offense if they are struggling. 

This provides a great opportunity for JC transfer De’Quan Hampton and freshman Deontay Burnett and Dominic Davis to expand their roles and make an impact as they have spent extra time after practice with Kessler all week.  Steven Mitchell and Darreous Rogers are back from leg injuries but both appear to be a step slow.  Burnett has been a stand out in practices and before JuJu got injured this week some observers felt he could be the #2 receiver by the end of the season.

Big NFL name will be in play for SC if the chips fall correctly: A reliable source who is well connected in NFL circles stated SC will indeed have a shot at a certain high profile NFL coach as he is ready for a new challenge and feels he could be a dead man walking at his current job due to a lack of personal that he doesn’t see getting any better next season.   Though he is exclusively known as a pro coach, the idea of being able to have control over his roster and the type of players he can recruit is appealing.  He would have to privately get comfortable with Pat and JK which will take some time and SC would have to exercise patience. Both parties would have to convince each other they have a long-term commitment to each other as SC’s chief concern is that NFL teams would come after him on a yearly basis.  For any of this to happen, this coach will need to be released from his NFL contract but the odds of that happening are better than originally thought.  

Coaching Search Part II: Mum is the word around the athletic department offices.  Outside of a few “home-run” type names, SC probably will not formulate a true list of candidates for a few more weeks. Lots of things will shake out in both the college and pro ranks in November.  Plus, the administration wants to show they are supporting Helton right now and if he finishes strong, he will be considered a top candidate for the job.

Getting you prepped for the Arizona Game- Here’s what you need to know:  Though SC is a 20 point favorite, they still need to play well to pull out a victory as Arizona’s offense is explosive enough to turn this game into a shoot-out which SC will want to avoid since they will most likely be without its biggest offensive weapon in JuJu Smith Schuster. 

Defensively, look for SC to employ a similar game plan used against Utah and force the QB to beat them. Arizona’s rushing attack is one of the best in the nation, ranking second in the Pac-12, 2nd nationally in rushes of 30+ yards and 4th nationally averaging 6 yards a carry.  They are second in the conference in overall offense (512 yards) and scoring offense (37.4 ppg).   At first glance these numbers look amazing, but since the beginning of conference play, the rushing attack struggled against three of the Pac’s best defenses in UCLA (56-30 loss), Stanford (55-17 loss) and Washington (49-3 loss).   Arizona sophomore QB Anu Solmon has not looked the same after being knocked out of the UCLA game with a head injury.  He now shares about 30% of the snaps with senior Jerrard Randall who has rushed for 685 yards at a 9.9 yard per carry average.  Leading rusher sophomore Nick Wilson isn’t expected to play due to a foot injury but Senior Jared Baker has rushed for 560 yards on 6.2 yards per carry and is no slouch with a 207 yard performance against Colorado.   Arizona does have a capable receiver core led by junior Cayleb Jones and senior tight end David Richards who is a favorite target in the red zone. 

Arizona employs a hyper-fast offense and wants to run over 90 plays a game.  If the Trojans can stack up the box and force Arizona into obvious passing situations and into a few quick 3 and outs, SC will be able to dominate the time of possession and wear down a weak Arizona defense leading to a blow-out win for the Trojans.  The defense must always have a spy on the QB and make sure they contain Randall and Solomon from making big plays with their feet.  Randall should be considered running threat #1 when he is in the game.   Arizona is missing two starting offensive lineman which will help the SC defensive cause.

On the offensive side of the ball, SC should have no problem moving the ball against a Wildcat defense that has been decimated by injuries this season with 25 different Wildcats starting a game this season. The heart of the defense, All-American linebacker Scoopy Wright is out for the year. The Wildcats rank 11th in the Pac-12 in pass defense, total defense and scoring defense.  Arizona’s best defensive ranking is against the run but that still is only good for 7th best in the conference, giving up 177 yards per game.  On paper, this sets up perfectly for the SC offense to employ a ball-control offense that will eventually wear down Arizona leading to some big plays in the second half.  Though SC will have plenty of opportunities through the air, still look for SC to establish its committee of running backs as Stanford, UCLA and Washington all ran for over 200 yards in victories over Arizona. 

Why SC is might not be a great bet in Vegas as a 20 point favorite:  Arizona possesses a great running QB which always seems to be an issue for Trojan defenses.  SC is possibly missing its leading tackler in true freshman Cameron Smith (hamstring) and top offensive playmaker in WR JuJu Smith Schuster.  The past eight SC-Arizona games have been decided by a touchdown or less.  The Gold Sheet predicts a 36-23 SC victory stating the Wildcats have covered in eight of its last ten match-ups with the Trojans.

Non-football related- SC is getting ridiculous hard to get into: SC admitted 2,949 freshman from a pool of 51,925 applicants (5.6%).  The average enrolled freshman has taken 8 or more AP classes and the average underweighted grade average is A-.  The SAT composite is up to 2200 from 1980 and the ACT composite is up to 33 from 30. Legacy students make up 19% of the class with about 500 awarded high merit scholarships.  Private schools that sent the most students to SC: Harvard-Westlake, Harker School, Archbishop Mitty, Oaks Christian and Loyola of Los Angeles.  Public schools that sent the most students to SC: Arcadia, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Mira Costa, Saratoga and La Canada. 


Colorado Preview

Thanks to some nice adjustments SC avoided disaster against a depleted Arizona squad: SC was on the verge of falling behind 21-3 before Arizona QB Anu Solomon inexplicably threw what appeared to be a no-look pass which was intercepted by SC Safety John Plattenburg.  Fortunately on the next play, the Trojans scored on a perfectly thrown bomb by Cody Kessler to JuJu Smith Schuster and SC went onto control the game.  It was great to see the defense make some in-game adjustments and show more of a 4-3 look after starting off in a 3-4.   Offensively, the offense was able to finally establish a solid rushing attack despite Cody Kessler having an off night. The slow start was a reminder that SC still has consistency and focus issues that go along with having a young team but the in-game adjustments since Helton has taken over are an improvement from earlier in the year.

JuJu is truly on another level: A source close to WR JuJu Smith-Schuster stated that JuJu wanted to play against Arizona but the pain from his hand surgery was so fierce he would probably sit out as even JuJu didn’t know how he was going to catch the ball.  Well, he not only played, he made big plays and showed that he is the undisputed leader of the team.  He operates at a “special” level and has the rare attributes you see in “Hall of Fame” type players.  It is clearly evident that without him on the field, Cody Kessler and the Trojan offense does not operate at near the level they do with him.  He is averaging 121.6 yards receiving per game, ranking fourth nationally. 

The rumor mill regarding Pat Haden’s future is on over-drive: It is tough to decipher fact from fiction regarding the tenure of Pat Haden.  The amount of talk about Haden this week has increased significantly.  I have heard from a myriad of some well-connected sources this week that Haden is getting close to stepping down while others have told me that is simply not true. Nothing concrete to report other than the rumors of him stepping down in the next week definitely outweigh those who say it is not happening.   If it is true that Pat will not be involved in the hiring of a new coach as the AD, one would suspect he will step down sooner rather than later and not deal with all the stress of the position without the power to hire his own people.  

Haden rumors Part II:  Former Syracuse AD Daryl Gross has been in the LA area and was even spotted on campus.  Some people are stating he might be coming back.   It would be surprising if SC brought him back since he had NCAA issues under his watch at Syracuse but he is the one who convinced Mike Garrett to hire Pete Carroll and he is a charismatic individual which some would say is lacking in Heritage Hall.  He and Steve Lopes would be a great team…

SC hoping to make a coaching hire by early December?: The only serious coaching news this week according to multiple sources is that SC is hoping to make a hire by early December which means they already have a few serious candidates already in mind and that would exclude current NFL head coaches.  Now if Haden does in fact step down, SC will probably have a plan to hire someone like Steve Lopes ASAP as the new coach probably wouldn't accept the job without knowing who the AD is going to be.  In fact, he would want to be tied to the new AD as opposed to being hired by an old regime.

Along the lines of an early December hire, it is undeniable the players respect and want Coach Helton to get the job.  However, that should not play a major factor in whether he is hired and nor should his win/loss record.  The #1 question the administration should be asking themselves is, “will this candidate have SC football in a better position in four to five years?” If they truly feel Helton will have the program back on the Mt. Rushmore of college football under Helton than he should be hired regardless of how they finish the season or how much the roster is enamored with him. 

Fun coaching rumor of the week: I don’t know where people come up with this stuff.  *Pete Carroll wants to come back for four/five more years and then hand over the team to his defensive coordinator Kris Richard and oversee the football program like a general manager.  I can only say…LOL. You really think ultra-competitive Pete Carroll is going to leave the NFL after the way last year’s Super Bowl ended…maybe he comes back in administrative role one day at SC but I don’t see it happening right now. However if this does magically happen, it would make for a helluva story.  The football program goes on major sanctions under his watch and then he comes back after the sanctions are over and never has to deal with them.  Now that would make for a helluva of an ESPN 30/30. 

I Hope to have info on who the serious candidates are in the next week or two since things should be heating up on the interview front now that we are in the middle of November. I know one big-time NFL name is in play but as it was stated last week, a lot will need to happen for that to become reality and that would not be able to happen until after the NFL regular season is over. 

Temperature should not be an issue for Kessler and Trojans vs. Colorado: With temperatures expected to dip below 30 degrees after kickoff Friday night, one might expect the Trojans to struggle in a cold weather game.  However, in 2013, the kickoff temperature in Boulder was 29 degrees and the Trojans led by 30 in the third quarter before winning 47-29.  Kessler completed 19 of 28 pass attempts for 184 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.  The temperature were in the low 40’s at Notre Dame earlier this year and the Trojans played fairly well in a tough loss to the #4 ranked Irish.   Kessler and the wide receivers have also practiced throwing and catching with “very cold” hands this week.

Colorado…another game probably worth staying away from at the sportsbook- Here’s what you need to know: If this game wasn’t on a Friday night and the week before a big game at Oregon, I would feel great about the Trojans covering the 17 point spread.  SC matches up well against a Buffs defense that ranks last in the conference in rush defense (110th nationally) and has given up over 200 yards rushing in 5 of its last 6 outings. The Buffs offense is solid behind QB Sofa Lifau (62% completion percentage while also being a good runner) and a good WR core led by Nelson Spruce (all-time Pac-12 leader in receptions) and deep threat Shay Fields. However, they struggle when it matters most as they are one of the Pac-12’s most ineffective teams in regards to third-down effectiveness, red zone efficiency and sacks allowed.   Despite these shortcomings, as Clay Helton stated earlier this week, “This is a different Colorado team than we’ve faced over the last couple of years. They are in almost every game they play.”  

Though Colorado’s record is only 3-5, they are well-coached and the talent level has increased.  They should have beaten UCLA in the Rose Bowl and let one slip away against Arizona at home.  The Buffs still have slim bowl aspirations and SC is always considered a big game for them.

Look for Colorado to try and test the young SC secondary early and often despite being more of a running team.  Arizona had success through the air last week and Colorado believes they have better receivers than the Wildcats.  Don’t be surprised if the Trojans employ the opposite game plan and exert its will on the ground and grind away at the Buffs weak defensive line in a similar ball-control style that Stanford used in defeating Colorado 42-10 last week.  Though it is a great match-up on paper for the Trojans, this sets up perfectly for SC to come out flat and if turnovers rear their ugly head (Buffs have a talented ball-hawking secondary that is 24th in the nation in turnovers), it could turn into a Friday the 13th horror show for the Trojans.  

Ronald Jones could become national news this week: With RB Tre Madden out and true freshman sensation Ronald Jones II in line to take the majority of the snaps, the Trojans leader rusher with 710 yards on 8 yards per carry could be in for a huge night against the Buffaloes.  With SC is set on establishing a strong running game against a porous Buff rush defense,  Jones could follow up his 177 yard performance against Arizona with a 200 yard+ performance Friday night and that will become a talking point on ESPN Game Day.

Quick-Hitters:

*QB Cody Kessler should be commended for doing such a good job with fielding lots of low snaps this season without making critical errors. 

*A few NFL scouts were pretty high on true freshman DL Rasheem Green when talking about the young talent SC possesses on the defensive side of the ball.  The defensive line has shown some nice improvement the past few weeks.

*Fun NFL stats regarding Trojan alumni- Carson Palmer is tied with Tom Brady as the highest-graded QB; Tyron Smith is the #1-rated offensive tackle. Ryan Kalil is the #1-rated center in the league while his brother Matt is only the 30th best at his position; Leonard Williams is the highest-rated rookie defensive lineman.


Oregon Preview

Helton’s genuine style and ability to make in-game adjustments positively impacting players: Helton appears to be a finisher and we are seeing in-game adjustments that haven’t been this effective in about a decade.  The competition the Trojans have faced lately has not been the most challenging so will see if this trend continues against Oregon and UCLA.  SC will also need to start better for a shot at a Pac-12 championship but in speaking to a few players this week, also mentioned the confidence they have in Helton’s willingness to adjust the game-plan and that it is a different locker room under his leadership. They also gave Helton high marks for his genuine attitude.  He is well respected in the locker room and the players understand his role as the head coach whereas the line would get blurry with Sark and Wilcox. 

Old-School Helton prefers substance over vanity: A major difference in the coaching styles of Helton and Sark is that Sark is willing to gamble more with younger players with the feeling that game experience will prepare them for a brighter future and it also impresses recruits who want to play right away.  Sark is a great recruiter and explosive plays by tremendous athletes excites top talent.  Helton’s approach since taking over is solely concerned with winning the game and whether the player clearly understands his position.  True freshman LB Osa Masina has gone from playing 36 snaps against Notre Dame to only playing three snaps in the past three games. He made some key mental errors against the Irish and Helton didn’t feel he was putting SC in the best position to win games despite his athleticism and raw talent (with the injuries to Smith and Dawson, Masina will get on the field this week).  Against Colorado, freshman sensation Ronald Jones didn’t pick up a blitz properly when the offense was struggling and Justin Davis started to play a much bigger role.  Helton has no problem playing a true freshman as many have made a significant impact this year but they better perform or they will be replaced...Is the Always Compete mantra making a comeback at SC?

Masina could play important role this week:  Oregon’s mis-direction read-option offense is extremely difficult for a young linebacker to defend but Masina has the type of speed and athleticism that will be important to have in the rotation against the fastest offense SC has seen all year.

Justin Davis continues to be un-sung hero at running back: Lost in the hype of true freshman RB Ronald Jones II (we fell prey to it last week proclaiming he could run for over 200 yards…oops), Justin Davis has continued to make big plays in the backfield.  With Jones struggling against a Colorado defense stacked against the run, Davis ran for 85 yards and gained 13 yards on a 3rd and 8 late in the fourth quarter that enabled SC to run out the clock.  He is getting good yards after contact and continues to be SC’s best pass protection back. 

Coaching search update: Like I stated a few weeks ago and Colin Cowherd noted today on his radio show, SC has the inside track on a top level coach that would bring instant credibility and stability to the program.  A lot of moving parts are still in play and this opportunity could break down if the media begins to poke around and his current situation is disturbed.  Cowherd may have given a little additional info to cause some confusion to protect his source.  The odds of this situation working out are about 60/40, so still considered difficult to pull off but much better odds from when SC initially spoke to this candidate.  Sources close to SC and in the coaching world are being extremely tight lipped. 

If Haden and the administration are able to pull this off, it will be a huge financial commitment that will also be expressed in having the highest paid coaching staff in the country. 

If this falls apart, a few things to keep in mind-  Clay Helton continues to gain steam as a viable candidate if SC can’t get its top target

James Franklin (Penn St) has been mentioned but his buy-out is $5 million and he currently has a top 10 recruiting class.  He wasn’t hired the last time the job opened and it seems unlikely it would happen now.

Tom Herman (Houston) was given a substantial pay-raise from $1.25M  to $3M per year.  This essentially takes him out of the race and with a non-power 5 school committing that much money to its coach, it is not out of the question for a program like SC to have to pay around $8M a year for a top tier candidate.

Keys for the Trojans vs. Oregon- Defensively, SC is going to continue to focus on taking away the team’s offensive strength which has served them well on this four-game winning streak.  The goal this week will to force Oregon into obvious passing situations which will be quite difficult especially with inside linebackers Lamar Dawson and Cameron Smith lost for the season due to injuries suffered vs. Colorado.  Oregon ranks first in the Pac-12 in total points (41.8 ppg), total yards (532 ypg), and rushing offense (297.4 ypg).  The focus for SC will be Oregon RB Royce Freeman who leads the Pac-12 in rushing and is 5th nationally with 1,392 yards.  He is also the Ducks second leading receiver with 19 receptions.   His ability to run between the tackles and gain yardage after contact is very impressive.  He can turn a three yard dive into a 50 yard touchdown run.  SC believes that if they are able to contain Freeman and Oregon’s ability to run between the tackles, their chances at a victory greatly increase.  Another key element will be the play of the Trojan cornerbacks and safeties.  They will need to play physical and stick to assignments.  Oregon is one of the best wide receciving blocking teams in the country and prey on defenders getting out of position against their screen passes and they routinely turn a pass around the line of scrimmage into a huge gain.  They also fake the screen and then go up-top when a safety cheats in and can’t recover.  The Ducks lead the conference in pass yards per completion (14).

Ultimately, SC wants to turn Oregon QB Vernon Adams into a true passer.  He’s barely six feet tall (pass deflection opportunities) with average at best arm strength. He will be susceptible to mistakes if put into a position where you take the read-option away in third and long situations.  Adams is not a great scrambler like the Duck QB’s before him and they rank 9th in the conference in passing.   He ‘s not very smart and SC will mix up its defensive looks in hopes to confuse him. 

SC will need a huge performance from Sua’ Cravens as he will be attacking from multiple defensive positions and needs to rattle Adams.

Offensively, SC needs to get the passing game going early and often to exploit a weak Oregon secondary and to avoid a slow start against an Oregon team that is 80-9 in their last 89 games in which they led through the first quarter.  A successful passing game early should open up opportunities for the run game to eventually grind out long drives which will keep the Oregon offense off the field.   The Ducks are at or near the bottom of the conference in passing defense, scoring defense and total defense so the Trojans should be able to put up plenty of points.  Oregon is quite susceptible to passes between 10-20 yards over the middle. Oregon is second in the conference in sacks (29) so the offensive line and running backs will play a key role in whether Kessler has the time to take advantage of those downfield opportunities.   Kessler will need to play one of the best road games of his career for SC to leave Eugene with a victory. 

The Gold Sheet predicts Oregon to rout SC 40-24:  Since SC is 3-7 in the last 10 as and underdog and SC does not have Smith and Dawson they are predicting a big Oregon victory.  This is short-sided.  Oregon barely beat Stanford despite Stanford turning the ball over three times.   The Oregon defense is one of the worst in the conference and though QB Adams is efficient, he is a mid-level at best PAC-12 QB.  As long as the Trojans play disciplined football (1 turnover at most, limit penalties) they should be in the game…whether they can actually win will depend on Kessler and special teams.  Oregon has a more consistent kicker but are susceptible to big returns and SC will need to take advantage of that.

Quick-Hitters-

*SC has been outscored 56-20 in the first quarter and 48-35 in the fourth quarter.

*Guard Viane Talamaivao has a torn meniscus so Chris Brown will start at guard.

*Next week’s game vs. UCLA game will start at either 12:30, 4:30 or 5. 

*SC overcame a double-digit deficit for the first time since 2005 with its victory over Colorado. 

*LB Cameron Smith led SC in tackles, Interceptions and passes deflected before his season-ending knee injury vs. Colorado.

*WR JuJu Smith-Schuster was named one of 10 semifinalsits for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver.  He leads the Pac-12 and ranks sixth in the nation with 116 yards receiving per game. He has 11 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns the past two weeks despite playing with a broken bone in his right hand.


UCLA Preview

SC Hoops much improved and worth checking out at Galen Center: Embattled coach Andy Enfield entered the season on the hot seat with the team languishing at the bottom of the Pac-12 his first two seasons.  The program needs to show marked improvement for him to retain his job and it looks like that will happen.  Thanks in-part to the recruiting prowess of assistants Tony Bland and Jason Hart, the Trojans have landed two solid recruiting classes and are starting to turn the corner.  They have the athletes and shooters to run Enfield’s up-tempo style and they are fun to watch which was a key reason Haden initially hired Enfield.  SC is capable of scoring over 100 points on multiple occasions this year and have solid victories over Monmouth (beat both UCLA and Notre Dame) and Wichita State (didn’t have best player but a pre-season top 10 team).  Sophomore point guard Jordan McLaughlin is a one of the better point guards in the Pac-12 and Junior Forward Nikola Jovanovic should be a candidate for All-Conference honors.  6’10 freshman Bennie Boatwright can flat out stroke the 3 and had 22 points in the victory over Wichita State. Junior guard Julian Jacobs and 6’11 freshman forward Chimezie Metu are top-tier athletes giving SC the ability to match-up with most teams.  Though the Trojans have improved, they still need to play more disciplined on both sides of the ball while rebounding much better if they are going to realistically challenge for an NCAA tourney birth.  

Defensive game-plan backfired vs. Oregon…but: SC wanted to force Oregon QB Vernon Adams to beat them and unfortunately that is exactly what he did. He had a career day against the Trojans and its beat-up defense going 20/25 for 407 yards and 5 td’s.  According to a few scouts, SC’s defense looked completely out of sync on five different occasions with two of the blown coverages resulting in two Oregon touchdowns.  The young Trojan secondary with only two healthy safeties, also mis-played a few balls that should have been interceptions and instead went for big gains.   SC may have pulled out a victory or made it much closer if Kessler didn’t have that key fumble early in the fourth quarter with the Trojans down 10 and driving after stopping Oregon on consecutive drives. 

Athletic Department making an announcement next week?: Hearing strong rumors SC will be making an announcement very soon regarding either Pat Haden or the football coaching vacancy.   A victory over UCLA would delay any announcement until after the PAC-12 title game.

Why Les Miles might be the next head coach: If an announcement naming the new head coach is going to happen right after the regular season, it could be Les Miles as NFL types and conference championship coaches would not yet be available.   The LSU coach has been a consistent 10-game winner at LSU while also winning a national title.  He currently has the #1 recruiting class in the nation and typically has one of the better defenses in the country.  Paired with a great offensive coordinator and his current defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, this would be a splash hire.  Ed and Les would be the top recruiting pair on the west coast.  This would also match the chatter in the coaching world about three weeks ago that a big-name Power 5 coach was eyeing a move west. 

Or…Tom Herman…maybe Jimbo Fisher?: I noted last week that Houston Head Coach Tom Herman had signed an extension with Houston for around $3M a year.  However, he was just offered the contract and did not formally agree to it.  He is the hot young name in the coaching world and is rumored to be the top target of South Carolina.  Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has a relationship with Pat Haden and Meyer has told Pat that he couldn’t go wrong with Herman.  Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher is apparently on the SC short list and would be interested in the SC job if SC is willing to pay his $5 million buy-out.  LSU will also make a make a run at him as well. 

Coaching search Part III: Still pretty tight lipped around Heritage Hall. We still hear from those in the coaching community outside of SC that a specific “top-tier” candidate has been identified and conversations are on-going with the coaches’ representatives.   Strong rumors persist that SC wants to make a hire in early December.  If that doesn’t happen, the longer the process drags out in December, the more likely the Trojans will hire an NFL type coach like Harbaugh, Kelly, etc.  The issue with the NFL scenario is it would require a lot of patience and trust the candidate is truly coming to SC.  If SC were to strike out, SC would be left without a head coach in early January and devastating the recruiting class just a month before national signing day.  

It is worth the chance if John Harbaugh has strong interest via his representatives.   If given the financial ability to hire a great staff with a top tier recruiter on board, SC would have a tremendous coaching advantage in the Pac-12.

Key Trojans returning to action: Right guard Viane Talamaivao was practicing with the first team offense this week and will play against UCLA. He was sorely missed in the Oregon game.  Running back Tre Madden will also be back and that will give the Trojans fresh legs along with one of its better pass blockers against the blitz.  The secondary will get a big boost with the return of Safety Marvin Tell who missed the last four games with a broken clavicle.  SC only had two healthy safeties against Oregon. 

Prep for the UCLA game: UCLA is 4-1 in their past five games with the only loss coming in the last minute to Washington State.  Bruin true freshman QB Josh Rosen is a stud who has thrown for over 300 yards in three of the last five games and he has not thrown an interception in the last five games.  He has thrown for 3,124 yards and 17 td’s with a 60% completion percentage on the season and is ranked third in the conference in passing offense.  He is considered the #1 pocket-passing pro prospect in college by many NFL scouts.  Rosen has a pair of receivers in Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte who are great playmakers that will make it difficult on the young SC secondary.  Running back Paul Perkins is another excellent weapon who has run for 1,187 yards on 5.7 yards per carry.  The Bruins will most likely look to establish its ground game early before they open up the passing game.  The Trojans will need to stifle the UCLA running game early so they can take advantage of a pass rush that ranks 13th nationally in sacks and harass the young Bruin QB. If not, Rosen is good enough to shred the Trojans young secondary.  Overall, look for SC to employ a bend but don’t break philosophy against the Bruins and keep UCLA out of the end zone and kicking field goals.  Though Rosen is a highly rated QB, the true freshman has had issues making big throws in the red zone. 

Defensively, the Bruins are pretty banged up with four future NFL level players out for the season.  They give up almost 400 yards a game with 183 coming on the ground.  The Bruin secondary is its strength so SC will need to avoid 3rd and long situations and establish the running game. 

Look for Coach Helton to open up the playbook and do whatever he can to get the ball in the hands of Jackson, Smith, Mitchell and Jones II.  Don’t be surprised to see WR Jalen Greene throw or run out of a reverse and possibly take a direct snap.  The Trojans will need to score early and often as this has the makings of another classic SC-UCLA shoot-out in the Coliseum.   The Bruins hold a substantial advantage in the field-goal kicking department, which could be the difference in a close game.   

Gold Sheet predicts a 27-26 UCLA victory:  The Gold Sheet states the SC offensive line won’t be able to handle the UCLA defense, stating SC has given up 30 sacks while UCLA has only given up 11 sacks.


Stanford Preview, Part 2 (2015 Pac-12 Championship)

How and Why Clay Helton became the permanent SC football coach:

*Despite the loss to Oregon, President Max Nikias made it clear to the athletic administration last week that he felt Helton should be the man for the job since he is a mature, no-nonsense leader who wouldn't overshadow the program. Helton understands the USC way and won’t embarrass the University as they work to conclude an ambitious $6-billion dollar fund-raising campaign.  Helton’s interaction with the team, influential alums and media also impressed Nikias.   

*A search committee of former players (Keyshawn Johnson, Ronnie Lott, Matt Barkley, Marcus Allen and possibly a few others) was heavily involved in talking to potential candidates and fielding inquiries from interested coaches. Prior to the Oregon game, the committee told Nikkias they would fully support the hiring of Helton and felt he might be the best candidate when compared to who SC could realistically hire at the end of the season.  The committee wanted a leader of men who preached physical football as the foundation of the program which wasn’t the case under Sarkisian or Kiffin. They were highly impressed with the changes that Helton made to the culture of the program with an emphasis on player fundamental development to go with a genuine care for the players.  Helton’s ability and willingness to make adjustments during games was another impressive factor.   Keyshawn Johnson is heavily involved in Los Angeles high school recruiting (his son is a top recruit in the 2017 class) and noticed that Helton was well received by recruits and felt with the right staff Helton would have no problem securing top talent.

*Economically, Both Nikias and the athletic administration did not want to pay a coach over $7M+ on top of having to pay for a top-level staff.  Due to the cost of living in Los Angeles, SC spends an enormous amount of money on assistant coaches.  Being able to pay the head coach south of $4M is a big savings and allows them to spend the money necessary on great assistants. Every department at SC is expected to break even or turn a profit.   Having a winning football program is important for a myriad of reasons but financially they still get the same amount of money from the Pac-12 television deal whether they win the conference or not.

*From a fundraising perspective a big-splash hire wasn’t necessarily needed.  According to sources close to the athletic department, half of the new luxury boxes for the renovated coliseum have been sold with a fair amount of the commitments at $10 million per box.  They are confident the necessary funds for the renovation will be raised and Helton’s genuine attitude is already playing well with major donors.  

*Another factor in Helton’s favor is the University is confident he will assemble a high-level staff.  Helton is well liked in the coaching community.

*Though SC will say the victory over UCLA didn’t have anything to do with Helton being hired, it definitely played a role in sealing the deal for him to become the coach.  The administration was extremely happy with the victory over UCLA and the emotion of that situation was a key factor in his strong interview on Sunday.  

Candidates that were contacted about the job:  Unfortunately the timing wasn’t right for most of the candidates that SC was interested in.   A chance existed for a big-name NFL coach after the NFL season but it was too risky to wait until the end of December and possibly not have a coach a month before signing day.  A few NFL targets with teams that were struggling started to win and get into playoff races which created concern as to whether they would be available.   Jack Del Rio gave a prompt "No Thank You, would have loved the job two years ago".    SC spoke with John Harbaugh's people on multiple occasions but he’s more like 3-5 years away from coaching in college if he ever decides to go that route.  Pat Haden was interested in Jimbo Fisher and his reps talked to SC but it didn't go anywhere.  Haden has a personal relationship with Urban Meyer and reached out to him and Meyer tried selling SC on Houston coach Tom Herman.  Talks with Greg Schiano went well but SC didn't think he would be an upgrade over Helton.  BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham were intriguing candidates but SC didn’t feel it would be the right fit.  The committee of former players pitched Herm Edwards and Bengals OC Hue Jackson early in the process.  SC spoke with Chip Kelly's agent but Chip is still trying to hang on in Philly and SC is not the right fit for him. Interestingly, James Franklin of Penn State wanted the job despite not getting the job two years ago.  SC had productive talks with Les Miles agent but his age (63) and whether he would fit in Los Angeles were concerns.   Miles may have become more of a legitimate candidate had SC lost to UCLA. 

A look at who might join Helton’s staff next season:  Though Helton and defensive coordinator Josh Wilcox have a good relationship, it is pretty clear that Wilcox will be replaced.  Current defensive line coach Chris Wilson is rumored to be leaving for Miami.  A high-level source stated that Helton has already contacted a “big-time” defensive coordinator that is also known as a great recruiter.  Another name being thrown around is former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.  Boosters are pushing Helton to bring back Pendergast but the issue with Pendergast is he is not much of a recruiter.   Helton’s brother Tyson is the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky which had one of the top offenses in all of college football this year.  It sounds logical that Tyson might be brought to SC in that fashion but Helton wants to retain Tee Martin and Martin will most likely need a promotion to offensive coordinator or QB coach/passing game coordinator to stick around.  Martin will be highly pursued by other colleges as he is considered a rising star as a recruiter.  Tommie Robinson, the current running backs coach at Texas might come back to SC in the same position as he and Helton coached together at both Memphis and USC.  Kennedy Pola is another name to keep an eye on.  Ed Orgeron will be contacted about coming back but the odds are slim unless Les Miles ends up leaving LSU.  He is currently about to help land the #1 recruiting class at LSU and is trying to position himself for another head coaching opportunity.    

Kiffin to coordinate the UCLA offense?: If Lane Kiffin doesn’t get a head coaching job, strong rumors in the coaching world have him headed to Westwood as he will most likely be parting ways with Alabama at the end of the season. Jim Mora wants to bring in more of a pro-style offensive coordinator to work with Josh Rosen and Rosen’s parents are apparently close with Kiffin.  Mora has been going after donors to raise the money necessary to bring Kiffin on board.  Talk about adding another layer to the SC-UCLA rivalry…

Trojans dominate the Pac-12 All-Century Team: A panel of 119 former players, coaches and members of the media picked 50 players to make up the conference All-Century team.  Of the 50 players chosen, 23 of them were Trojans, a tribute to SC’s lasting dominance of the conference.  UCLA and Stanford each had had only four players selected.

Five Trojans named 1st team All-Conference: Su’a Cravens, Adoree’ Jackson and Antwaun Woods were 1stteam all-defense and Zach Banner and JuJu Smith-Shuster were 1st team all-offense.  Chad Wheeler and Delvon Simmons were named to the 2nd team.  Linebacker Cameron Smith was named Pac-12 Freshman Defensive player of the Year.

Unsung hero RB Justin Davis finally getting his due and return of Tre Madden is key: We have been talking about Justin Davis impact all year as a tough runner and solid pass blocker but his performance has been overshadowed by the big-time play ability of true freshman Ronald Jones II. However, the UCLA game was another example of how important Davis is with the old-school approach to the SC offense of running the ball and looking to win the time of possession battle.  Davis ran for over 100 yards in the 4th quarter alone as SC grinded the game away.   Tre Madden’s return to the line-up bolstered pass blocking and provided the Trojans with its best catch passing threat out of the backfield.   Look for Madden to make a big impact in the Stanford game.

What to look for in the Pac-12 championship game vs. Stanford:  Controlling the line of scrimmage and playing disciplined/smart football will determine the winner. This has the makings of a smash mouth/grind it out game. However, this could easily become a shoot-out.  Both defenses are susceptible in the secondary to big plays and the turf in Levi’s stadium is in poor condition which usually creates a big advantage in the passing game as cornerbacks can fall down easily defending the moves of a receiver. Offensively, the Trojans need to make 1st and second down count with a good mix of runs and short passes.  This was a strong point of emphasis in practice this week.  Defensively, SC will focus on containing Stanford running back and Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey who had 249 all-purpose yards in Stanford’s 41-31 victory in the Coliseum.  This will leave SC susceptible to QB Kevin Hogan having man to man coverage on his receivers.  However, SC would rather make Hogan have to beat them as opposed to McCaffrey and Hogan can be inconsistent and lose his confidence at times…but if he’s playing well, it will be a long day for the Trojan defense as he is also a threat to run for big chunks of yardage.  SC will need to create turnovers on defense and stay away from the penalty issues that have plagued them on the road this year.   If SC comes out undisciplined like the first half of the Oregon game, this could get ugly as Stanford will do whatever it can to get style points with the college football playoff committee.  On the other hand, if SC plays smart and can get it’s playmakers open in space, they will be headed to the Rose Bowl which no one thought would be a possibility after the Washington game.  

The Gold Sheet predicts Stanford 31-23: The betting publication out of Vegas states that SC is too inconsistent to knock off a Cardinal attack that has jelled behind another high-quality offensive line and the leadership of Hogan and McCaffrey.

Check out this great article written by a Bruin fan about the rise of USC and how California’s public universities can learn a thing or two from Fighting On: Why can’t we all fight on like old USC


Wisconsin Preview (2016 Holiday Bowl Preview)

Assistant coaching update: With Tee Martin being promoted to offensive coordinator, Tyson Helton, the younger brother of Clay and the Western Kentucky offensive coordinator (avg. over 40 ppg), might be on his way as the quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator unless a power 5 school wants to bring him in as the coordinator, but he hasn’t received that offer. 

The offensive line job could go to grad assistant Mike Goff who was a 12-year NFL vet and all-pro.  Helton is extremely high on him and his abilities.  The other name being thrown around is former Fresno State coach Pat Hill who was the Falcons offensive line coach in 2013-14 and loves running a pro-style offense.  I am sure SC is in the running with quite a few big name OL coaches since the talent level is very high and Helton is well-thought of to coach with compared to Sark. 

SC might be facing its new defensive coordinator: Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, a finalist for the Broyles Award (given to college football’s top assistant coach) and architect for one of the best defenses in the country this year, is rumored to be a finalist for the SC defensive coordinator position.  He is from Redlands and very familiar with Southern California.  Many in the coaching industry believe he would be a great hire for SC.  He is a “mad scientist” known for constantly giving offenses different looks.  The players at Wisconsin respect him a great deal and are extremely positive when speaking about him.

The other name we are hearing for the defensive coordinator position is former SC defensive backs coach and UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. Walker is currently the defensive backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Former SC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast would prefer to stay in the NFL but might become available if he is let go by the 49’rs.  The concern with Clancy is that he might not be into it for the long haul if he comes back to SC, and he doesn’t care for the recruiting aspect of the job.

The new defensive coordinator will most likely have a say in who the defensive line coach will be.  It doesn’t sound like a return of Ed Orgeron is in the cards. 

Will see how much bowl practice matters: Wisconsin has practiced regularly the past three weeks while SC will have only held nine practices, with some of them lasting only about an hour.  SC is nursing many injuries and Helton felt the most important thing to do was get guys healed up and have fresh legs heading into the game.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The concern about the lack of practice is that SC will be somewhat rusty and the penalty and execution issues on both sides of the ball could continue to cause problems. 

The win over a banged up UCLA team isn’t looking all that good: With a 5-7 Nebraska team man-handling the Bruins during most of the Foster Farms Bowl,  SC’s victory over UCLA doesn’t seem as big of an accomplishment as was originally thought.  If the Trojans lose to Wisconsin, Helton’s 5-3 record with a guy like Chip Kelly now available, will once again make Trojan fans restless.  That said, Helton was the choice that was made and he fully deserves the support of the fan base while he builds his coaching staff and finalizes this year’s recruiting class.   

Why not play Max Browne a quarter in the Holiday Bowl to prepare for next season?: With an extremely difficult opener next year against Alabama and then road trips to Stanford and Utah for three of its first four games, SC will face the toughest opening schedule in the nation with a new QB in either Max Browne or Sam Darnold.  With Darnold redshirting this year, wouldn’t it be a good idea to give redshirt sophomore Max Browne some live action against a good defense?  It is nice to perform well in a bowl game, but at the end of the day, having a quarterback with some real game experience would be more important entering next season.  Kessler has had a solid career and would play the majority of the game, but giving Browne some real snaps when the outcome is not cut-throat would be smart. 

Browne and Darnold Part II…: More than a handful of SC players have quietly stated that both Browne and Darnold possess more overall talent than Kessler.  They are complimentary of Kessler but have stated that Browne’s arm strength and ability to throw the deep ball is at another level while Darnold seems to have the moxy of a big-time QB.  As one stud Trojan defensive player stated: “Kessler is a solid college QB at this level but if Browne learns to check down faster, he is a big-time NFL talent and Darnold is a real playmaker. The future is bright with both of those guys.”

Browne and Darnold Part III- Could SC lose a graduating Browne?  It will be interesting to see if the former National Gatorade High School Player of the Year, Max Browne sticks around after spring ball if he hasn’t been named the starting QB heading into the summer and fall camp.  Browne is a good student and will graduate this year (3-years), giving him the ability to transfer to another school and immediately be eligible.  He was recruited by Lane Kiffin and is now essentially onto his third coach and third offensive coordinator.  If Helton and new OC Tee Martin stick to a more traditional power offense with a drop back QB, Browne seems to be the ideal choice.  However, Martin loves Darnold’s dynamic ability to make plays both as a passer and runner and Sark told some boosters during fall practice that he felt like SC now had a bigger version of former Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel on its hands. 

Stay tuned.  Browne loves being a student at SC but ultimately this is a business for a player like him.  He needs game experience if he wants to have a legitimate shot at the next level.  If he expressed interest in transferring, he would have several top programs jockeying for him and guaranteeing a starting spot in the fall.  Hopefully SC retains both QB’s as if one did leave, depth would become a serious problem with Ricky Town already transferring to Arkansas earlier this year.

SC vs. Wisconsin Preview- Probably up to Kessler if SC is going to win the Holiday Bowl:

With SC focusing on establishing a strong rushing attack under Helton, Wisconsin will look to play to its strength by shutting down the run and forcing Kessler to put SC’s offense on his shoulders.  Against the run, the Badgers rank fourth in the country at just under 98 yards allowed per game.  Overall, their defense is first with just over 13.1 points allowed per game.

This should be one of the best defenses SC has faced this year, but can Wisconsin’s secondary handle SC’s talented receivers? They have not faced a talent like WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (1,389 yards receiving, 10 TD’s) and when you throw in Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell Jr., who are finally healthy, SC should have success in the passing game as long as the offensive line holds up.  SC ranks 27th in the nation at 8.3 yards per pass attempt while Wisconsin has only faced two top-50 passing teams in Nebraska and Illinois and those teams do not have near the offensive talent of SC.

This will be a great test for the SC offense.  The Badgers have only allowed 14 touchdowns in their last 11 games and they are also in the top 10 nationally in red-zone defense and third-down defense. The front seven is one of the best in the country and whether the SC offensive line can contain the stud linebacking crew of Joe Schobert (9 sacks - Big 10 linebacker of the year), T.J Edwards (team leader in tackles) and Vince Biegel (8 sacks) will play a big factor in the game. 

Though they are known historically as a smash-mouth running team, Wisconsin has attempted the most passes in school history this year and are led by QB Joel Stave. They have two solid tailbacks in Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal, which SC will see a steady diet of (despite the increased throwing, Stave only averages 205 yards passing per game), but the key will be SC’s linebackers and secondary staying disciplined and containing wide receivers Alex Erickson (72 rec, 924 yds) and Robert Wheelwright who is finally back from an injury.  Wheelwright is a strong talent with big-play ability.  QB Stave is not a running threat so if SC can get pressure on him and keep the Badgers’ tailbacks from their normal production, SC should win the game.  

One wild-card in all of this is that injured Badger RB Corey Clement is expected to play.  We don’t know how much, but he ran for just under 1,000 yards last year while splitting carries. He operates at another level compared to Ogunbowale and Deal. 

If it is a tight game, SC should hold a special teams advantage with team MVP Adoree’ Jackson looking to return a punt for a TD in his fourth straight game.  The Wisconsin punter has a knack for kicking short, low punts which is right in Jackson’s wheelhouse.  Also, the Wisonsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone has made only 15-24 field-goal attempts while SC’s Alex Wood is 13-17. 

The Gold Sheet predicts a tight Wisconsin victory: The Gold Sheet betting publication out of Vegas picks Wisconsin to defeat SC, 27-26, stating that Wisconsin’s defense is stronger than SC’s which is allowing 433 yards and 4.5 yards per carry away from home.

Men’s basketball team set to make run at NCAA tourney…the women are 12-0 and #1 in the RPI!:  The Galen Center should be a fun place to visit this season with both basketball teams performing very well in non-conference action.  Now, both teams have played fairly soft schedules but they are both much better than last year.  The men are 11-2 and currently #34 in the RPI and both Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm- NCAA Bracketologist- consider SC having a good shot at being in the NCAA tourney field with a top 5/6 finish in the conference.   The men tip off at Washington State and Washington this weekend while the women play tonight at #19 UCLA with a tip-off at 7pm and it will be televised live on the Pac-12 network.  

Quick-Hitters

*Though Wisconsin is 9-3, they have not defeated a team with a winning record this year. However, those three losses came against opponents with a combined record of 34-4 (Alabama, Iowa and Northwestern) with the two Big Ten losses coming by a combined ten points.  They were a goal line fumble away from beating Iowa.

*SC is +12 in turnover margin while Wisconsin is -2.

*SC is 13-0 against the Big Ten in the 21st Century and is 6-0 against Wisconsin…though SC hasn’t played the Badgers in 49 years.

*SC is riding a two-year bowl win streak.  SC last had a three-bowl win streak after finishing the 2009 season with an Emerald Bowl win.

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