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IMHO Sunday: Again, it comes down to…you-know- who

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.

IMHO: At least for the first half, did you enjoy that flogging of Washington State? I know, you’re already feeling some anxiety and wondering if your beloved USC Trojans will score a third quarter touchdown next week in the rivalry game against you-know-who. Thinking of you-know-who, are you feeling a little nauseous perhaps because we’ve been down this crosstown rivalry road before? That’s to be expected when you come to realize that after the No. 17 USC Trojans (4-0 overall, 3-0 Pac-12 South) dispensed the Washington State Cougars, 38-13, in the Coliseum, all that stands in the way of the Men of Troy winning the Pac-12 South Division is you-know-who, the improving and competitive UCLA Bruins (3-2 overall, 3-2 Pac-12 South) next Saturday (4:30 p.m. PST/ABC) in the Rose Bowl.

IMHO – Part 2: Yes, sir, life may be abnormal in the COVID present, but next Saturday in the Arroyo Seco it will feel quite normal – like the good old days – when the Trojans and the Bruins both had something to play for: As for the present, the Men of Troy will be trying to win the Pac-12 South and advance to the conference championship game while the boys from Westwood will be hoping to again destroy those cardinal and gold dreams, administer another gutty little Bruins upset of the Trojans, and a chance to parlay their own advancement into a bowl invitation.

IMHO – Part 3: And, BTW, undefeated Colorado (4-0) hosts Utah (1-2) next Friday night in Boulder (6:30 p.m. PST/ FS1). If Colorado loses, the Trojans advance to the conference title game. However, the good news is that the Trojans control their own fate…if they can defeat UCLA, which Saturday night accomplished a late fourth quarter comeback – sound familiar – over ASU, 25-18, in Tempe. The Bruins look very much of a challenge for the Cardinal and Gold. As an early comparison, both the Trojans and Bruins had to rally from behind in the final quarter to defeat the Sun Devils (0-2), or perhaps you’ve already forgotten the Trojans needed a series of fortuitous events in the final minutes to escape ASU, 28-27, in the Coli.

UCLA (photo above) will be a challenge for the Trojans next Saturday in the Rose Bowl. (photo by Joe Andras)

IMHO – Part 4: Make no mistake about it, UCLA will be the best opponent the Trojans will have played in this COVID season, especially when you consider that the combined record of the Trojans’ previous four victims, which includes Washington State, is 1-9. That’s right, one win and nine losses. Does that put things into a little post-Washington State celebration perspective?   

IMHO – Part 5: Yeah, beat the Blue and Gold next Saturday and Gentleman Clay’s team advances to the Pac-12 title game on Friday night, Dec. 18. And you want to know the potential really exciting part? Of course, you do. With Oregon (3-2) losing for a second time this past weekend at Cal and North Division leader Washington (2-1) suffering its first loss on Saturday to Stanford in Seattle, if the Trojans can seal the deal against UCLA and finish undefeated, they’ll likely host the Pac-12 Championship Game in the Coliseum.

IMHO – Part 6: FYI, next Saturday, North leading Washington (2-1) finishes its regular season at Oregon (3-2), and the winner of that game (1 p.m./FOX) will be the North Division champs. So, it should be a great final regular season weekend in the Pac-12.

Washington will battle Oregon (photo above) on Saturday in Eugene for the Pac-12 North Division title. (Photo by Bleacher Report. com)

IMHO – Part 7: Before the beginning of this wacky season, the Cardinal and Gold were expected to run the regular season Pac-12 South Division table, but you just knew it would come to the final game against the Bruins. Of course, had USC played Colorado and the game not been canceled because of COVID-19, we’d might be having an entirely different conversation. One thing we can repeat, if the Trojans beat the Bruins, it doesn’t matter what Colorado does against Utah next Friday night.  

IMHO offensively: As for the WSU game, starting offensively,first five Trojans possessions and five touchdowns.Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with Kedon Slovis’s arm after throwing for five touchdowns and at one point in the first half completing 17 passes in a row. The Trojans’ offense in the first half made Washington State’s secondary look like a high school JV team, and for the most part Troy’s offense did whatever it wanted – except for running the ball (shocking).

Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis (photo above) threw for five first half touchdowns against Washington State on Saturday night. (Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

Now for some eye-opening stats. In the first half, the Trojans outscored WSU 35-6. In the second half, WSU outscored USC 7-3. The Trojans have now gone without a second half touchdown in its last two games (Utah and WSU). Houston, we have a problem. Digging deeper, the Trojans had only five yards rushing the ENTIRE WSU game. In fact, the Cougs had a “whopping” 73 net yards on the ground, which means WSU outrushed the storied Trojans and its running heritage by 68 yards. How does that happen? To sum it up, Clay Helton’s Trojans had a total of just 66 total offensive yards in the second half.   

The big recipient of the first half offensive explosion was junior wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown who had a big night (65 yds. rec./ 4 TDs) or should we say first half with four touchdown receptions. Ironically, it was the first touchdowns for St. Brown in 2020. Amon-Ra must have thought he was back in the Trinity League; he was so accomplished. His receiver buddies Drake London (92 yds. rec.) and Tyler Vaughns (69 yds/1 TD) also enjoyed their evening against the weak Cougars secondary, which had members missing because of COVID.  

As for the Trojans’ offensive line, they protected Slovis (25 of 32 for 287 yards, 5 TDS, 0 int.) until late in the third quarter when the sophomore QB got sacked and banged up his funny bone, so backup Matt Fink came in, but Slovis later returned. The big question, however, is why was Slovis still in the game in the final quarter, especially with such a big game with UCLA next week? Slovis continued to take a pounding. It made no sense.

When Trojans’ QB Kedon Slovis hurt his arm in the second half of the Washington State game on Saturday night, backup senior Matt Fink (photo above) stepped in to keep the offense running. (Photo by Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

The Cougars defensive line played with a lot more aggression in the second half, and Slovis paid the price. FYI, WSU had three sacks on the evening. Of course, the Trojans still couldn’t convert short yardage with the run, so what else is new? Another question: Is the USC offense under Graham Harrell that good? It certainly was in the first half on Saturday night, but Washington State got down so fast with turnovers and ineffective offense that the Trojans toyed with the Cougars and coasted the rest of the first half. The second half another matter.  

The second half was predictable. Once again, the Trojans couldn’t score a touchdown in the third quarter. The Trojans still haven’t scored a third quarter touchdown this entire brief season. Needless to say, second halves have been a challenge during the Clay Helton era. And we’d be remiss not to mention again that the Trojans had just five yards rushing after Gentleman Clay has said he wanted to average around 170 yards per game. Maybe he should have asked Graham Harrell if he agreed. Remember when the Trojans in their championship seasons could grind out the clock on the ground? That’s not what these Trojans did in the second half with the game in hand. It doesn’t appear they could do it even if they wanted.   

IMHO defensively: Given the Trojans see the Air Raid offense at practice, apparently when it comes to Washington State’s run-and-shoot philosophy, they were equally ready to go. With a little Coliseum intimidation, SC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had to be euphoric over the super aggressive play of his unit that tossed the Cougars around for the most part like a stuffed animal. Late in the first half, the Cougars mounted drive, but it was too little too late. Junior safety Talanoa Hufanga had a monster game, which included an ESPN highlight interception (his 3rd for the season) in the first quarter. The Trojans defensive line still showed some softness on defending the run, although WSU offensive line won’t be confused with Alabama. It should be noted that Trojans sophomore safety Chase Williams had a third quarter fumble recovery.  

Trojans junior safety standout Talanoa Hufanga (photo above – No. 15) was a terror on defense against Washington State. (Photo by John McGillen via USC Athletics)

The Trojans linebackers were led by junior Kana’i Mauga, who played with his most controlled aggressiveness in memory. The Trojans secondary – for the most part – played well against the run-and-shoot of head coach Nick Rolovich, although corner Chris Steele was again called for a hold pass interference in the first half.

The Trojans pretty much kept the WSU run-and-shoot offense from exploding although the Cougars blew some first half opportunities. Cougars true freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura rarely was in a comfort zone and finished 18 of 29 for 134 yards and 2 interceptions. However, Todd Orlando’s aggressive defense rewarded the coach with four sacks, three from redshirt junior Nick Figueroa, who is having one heck of a season.         

IMHO special teams: Trojans placekicker Parker Lewis probably had to ice down his powerful right leg, converting four first quarter extra points. Parker did make an impressive 48-yard field goal early in the third quarter but missed a 31-yard attempt later in the quarter. Kicking off, Parker had seven kickoffs including four touchbacks. There were some big hits on kickoffs like one hit by reserve running back Quincy Jountti. The Trojans even recovered a second half onside kick (Chase Williams) attempt by the Cougs. Punter Ben Griffiths punted just twice and averaged 40.0 yards (long of 44 yds.).    

True freshman placekicker Parker Lewis (photo above) had a good night against Washington State, hitting on a 48-yard field goal, five extra points, and had seven kickoffs that included four touchbacks.

Bottom Line: The Trojans played either as well as they can play or played above their heads or Washington State played as bad as they can play and helped contribute to the rout, but objectively the Trojans were vastly the superior team. The Trojans offensively still can’t play a complete game. We’ll find out more about these Trojans next week when they take on the Bruins, which will be the best team they will have played up to this point.

Infirmary:  Greg Johnson (leg)

Game video highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POMObAjQUIc  

Next Saturday: The Trojans travel up the Pasadena Freeway to play crosstown rival UCLA (3-2 overall, 3-2 Pac-12 South). Kickoff time is 4:30 p.m. PST on ABC.

USC/WSU quotebook…

Clay Helton comments: “Good game for our football team. 1-0 on the week. Have to start off by commending our defense. Once again, I thought they led the way right from the start. We talked about really trying to make Washington State one-dimensional and try to shut down a back that had 119 yards per game and all of a sudden you look up and they have 73 total rushing yards. That allowed us to have some third-down situations where we could get after the quarterback and produce. Though we really started out hot and the playmakers did an amazing job.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton (photo above) reaches out to congratulate tight end Josh Falo (No. 83). (Photo by Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

Helton on Amon-Ra: “There’s a reason that ‘C’ is on Amon-Ra St. Brown’s chest because he is an unselfish player. You go three games and you’re not in the end zone, we talked about it and don’t change a thing. Touchdowns come in bunches and he’s just played the same, unselfish, physical game each and every week. And you look up and he has four touchdowns on the day and really set the tone on being able to separate from a good Cougar football team.”

Helton on Slovis: “I thought Kedon (Slovis) was extremely accurate in this game 25-of-32 including five touchdowns. We didn’t play our best ball in the second half, so there’s always some stuff that we can crack down on offensively, but to get a 25-point win, 16 point win last week and 25-point win this week, I think we’re making progress each week. 1-0 on the week, but now we turn the page. We’ve got a short week coming up against a really good team that’s hot right now. UCLA has done a really good job and we’ve got a lot to play for and that’s what you want in December.”

Helton on just five yards rushing: “I wish we could have run it better in the second half. But with a 7-8-man front we were looking at, cover-1 cover-3 and some zone pressure they really challenged us early. We have not seen that much. I thought the guys hit on all cylinders. I look forward to watching the film in the second half where I thought we could have run it better, especially towards the end. But again, you win by 16 last week, you win by 25 this week; the offense is really starting to click. Want to be able to have that run game go along with it and take some pressure off Kedon (Slovis). I know it will. One thing I’ll credit Graham (Harrell) with is he loves taking what the defense gives you and so we took advantage of it early. I wish we could have taken a little more advantage of the run game.”

WSU head coach Nick Rolovich comments: “Congratulations to USC. They played much better football than us, took advantage of our mistakes, turnovers. Offense never got in rhythm. I’m glad the defense kept fighting and woke up a little bit in second half. We had horrible field position, most of the game. We kept battling and I appreciate it. We’ve got to execute better offensively no doubt.”

Washington State head coach Nick Rolovich (photo above) says his team never gave up against the Trojans even when down big in the first half.

Nick Rolovich on the second half defensive performance: “Well, I think the defensive staff deserves a lot of credit for getting those guys going. I don’t know if the rushing yards ended up, but no that’s a great battle, especially up front in the box for us on defense. I think credit goes to the defensive line, and the defensive box players and the whole defense really and to the defensive coaches to keep their guys going.”

Nick Rolovich on the performance of Amon-Ra St. Brown: “He was the guy they called on. He responded when they called on him. He made some really nice catches. He’s a strong player too; he’s not just an athlete. He’s got some real strength.”

Kedon Slovis and his connection with Amon-Ra St. Brown: “For us offensively, I think Amon-Ra had three or four receptions and four touchdowns. It wasn’t like he was getting the ball every play. It was awesome that he got to score every time, but at the same time we were getting the ball to everyone and everyone was just executing and playing excited.”

Trojans QB Kedon Slovis (photo above) was on target with wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown for four first half touchdowns against Washington State.. (Photo by Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

Kedon Slovis on his improvements in this game: “Not just for myself, I think across the board everyone was doing their job and playing excited. Especially in that first half, the offensive line were blocking well. Having a nice pocket to step into and the receivers were doing their job getting to their spots, that makes my job easy. So it’s a testament to how well everyone else played around me.”

Kedon Slovis on how the bye week affected him: “I was really excited to get to the Colorado game. I felt against Utah not my worst game in the world, but I felt we left a lot on the table as an offense. So, I was really looking forward to the Colorado game and I think that carried over to this week. I think as a whole offense we were looking forward to going out there and putting a lot of points up. With our situation up front we knew we were going to throw the ball and the looks we were going to get, and those opportunities presented themselves.”

Amon-Ra St. Brown on his four TDs in the first quarter: “
The last game where I had four touchdowns was actually my first game in high school as a junior. That’s the last time I had four touchdowns in a game. So, for it to come today, in college, was crazy because it’s very uncommon. I’m just glad my teammates and coaches trusted me.”

In a huge first quarter performance, Trojans wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (photo above – No. 8) was unstoppable. (Photo by Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

Amon-Ra St. Brown on his third TD and the fun they were having: “As an offense we were just clicking. I feel like this is the first time as receivers we were getting more man coverage looks early on in the game. First two games, we went against a lot of zone, and couldn’t play man. As receivers we love one-on-one’s and we just came out and played great ball.”

Amon-Ra St. Brown on how the bye week affected him: “For receivers who run a lot, the week away was a time for us to get our legs back under us. You know we don’t like being away for so long, but I think the few days off really helped us get our legs underneath us. I remember coming back on Tuesday for practice, and my legs felt good and I felt fast. I felt great that whole week. Obviously, we had some lineman out, so it was a different practice for us but as receivers we were able to get a lot of routes in and throws in. Some one-on-ones, so coming back it wasn’t too bad for us.”

WSU DE Brennan Jackson on USC: “You gotta give credit to the opponent. They had a good scheme. They make great plays here and there. Credit to the defense in the second half. Coach always says you don’t tally wins by halves or quarters; it’s gotta be a four quarter game.”

Brennan Jackson on limiting the USC running attack: “It’s just swarm tackling. You got to stack monsters, you got to be able to come out and sprint to the football. Everyone swings the ball, so they weren’t getting a lot of yards after contact and I think that’s a big thing that we worked on over the offseason and some of these games are trying to build a culture of guys that go 100% till the whistle blows, maybe after that, too.”

WSU offensive tackle Abraham Lucas at halftime: “We try to be as vocal as we can. Guys, we had guys still walked in, for the most part and still willing to come out and battle as best they can you know sometimes the fight doesn’t end in victory. But I thought that coming out in the second round was a lot better of a fight than the first one.”

Abraham Lucas on playing in the Coliseum: “Obviously we are here at USC in a historic place.”

From the press box…

Pac-12 Weekend Results

Saturday, Dec. 5

Colorado 24, at Arizona 13
UCLA 25, at ASU 18
Stanford 31, At Washington 26   
At Cal 21, Oregon 17
At Utah 30, Oregon State 24

Sunday, Dec. 6

At USC 38, WSU 13

Pac-12 Standings

South Division
USC……. 4-0

UCLA…… 3-2
Utah……. 1-2
ASU……  0-2

North Division
Oregon……… 3-2
Stanford…….. 2-2
Oregon St…… 2-3
WSU………   1-2
California….   1-3

Temperature: Coliseum temperature at kickoff was partly cloudy and 69 degrees.

Cover boys: On the cover of the digital official game program were Alijah Vera-Tucker, Marlon Tuipulotu, Brandon Pili, Brett Neilon, and Jalen McKenzie.

The official digital game program cover (photo above) for the Washington State home game.

Scheduling logjam:
The Trojans, including Sunday’s victory over Washington State, could be playing three games in 13 days with UCLA next Saturday and a potential Pac-12 title appearance on Friday night, Dec. 18.

This is a test:
At one point last week, Clay Helton said that the Trojans went through five rounds of COVID-19 testing in three days.

No salute:
Due COVID-19 and in the interest of health, there was no traditional senior introductions and recognition prior to kickoff.

Media meal restrictions: Because of the recent state and county COVID-19 health order prohibiting indoor or outdoor dining, the media meal could not be eaten inside the Coliseum.  The rational: Research has found that eating in close proximity is one of the leading causes of the spread of COVID-19. Media was given food option upon the media entrance but the media had to return to their car, eat their meal, and then re-enter the Coliseum.  

Because of county and state health restrictions, there are no inside the Coliseum media meals (photo above) that can be eaten. All food must now be eaten inside your car before you can return to the inside fences of the Coli.

Media meal restrictions – Part 2: The media was asked not to bring food into the Coliseum, and beverages were not provided in the press box or photo work areas due to recent health edicts. However, media was given the option of bringing their own water in a plastic bottle.

In memory: Marv Marinovich, who captained USC’s 1962 national championship football team, passed this week of national causes. Marv, who was 81, died on Thursday (Dec. 3) of natural causes in Mission Viejo, Calif. He is the father of former USC QB Todd Marinovich.

The Trojans lost one of its 1962 national championship captains, two-way tackle, Marv Marinovich (photo above), who passed last week.

New Pac-12 Bowl Game: The Pac-12 will meet the SEC in the 2020 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on the Fort Worth, Texas campus of TCU on Thursday, Dec. 31, with an 11 a.m. kickoff. Just which teams from the Pac-12 and SEC will be announced following the conference title games and final regular season standings. An ESPN event, there will be limited fan attendance inside Amon G Carter Stadium (47,000).

New Pac-12 Bowl Game – Part 2: Pac-12 teams this season are required to be .500-or-better to be considered bowl eligible.

The post-game show numbers…

Tackling the issues: Against WSU, junior safety Talanoa Hufanga led the Trojans with nine tackles. Redshirt freshman safety Max Williams followed with seven tackles.  

Trojans redshirt safety Max Williams (photo above No. 4) had seven tackles against Washington State. (Photo by Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

Upward trend: Against WSU, the Trojans scored 38 points. Prior to the WSU game, the Trojans were averaging 31.67 points per game.

Downward trend: Against WSU, the Trojans allowed 13 points. Prior to the WSU game, the Trojans were allowing 24.67 points per game. 

Downward trend: Against WSU, the Trojans had 287 yards in total offense. Prior to the WSU game, the Trojans were averaging 470.3 yards on offense. 

Downward trend: Against WSU, the Trojans defense allowed 263 total yards in total offense. Prior to the WSU game, the Trojans were allowing 418.0 yards in total offensive yards per game.

The Trojans defense (photo above) held the Washington State offense to 263 total yards. (Photo by Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics) Washington State

Downward trend: Against WSU, the Trojans had 5 net yards rushing. Prior to the WSU game, the Trojans were averaging 147.0 rushing yards per game. 

Downward trend: Against WSU, the Trojans allowed 73 net rushing yards. Prior to the WSU game, the Trojans’ defense was allowing 178.3 rushing yards per game.

Downward trend: Against WSU, the Trojans had 282 yards passing yards. Prior to the WSU game, the Trojans were averaging 323.33 passing yards per game.  

Trojans sophomore sensation wide receiver Drake London (photo above – No. 15) helped contribute to 282 passing yards against Washington State. (Photo by John McGillen via USC Athletics)

Downward trend: Against WSU, the Trojans allowed 190 passing yards. Prior to the WSU game, Trojans’ were allowing 212.0 passing yards per game.

Time of possession: The Trojans had the ball for 24:27 minutes while WSU had the ball for 35:33 minutes.  

Downward flag waving: Against WSU, the Trojans had five penalties for 50 yards while WSU had three penalties for 15 yards. Prior to the WSU game, the Trojans were averaging 72.67 penalty yards per game while Trojans opponents are averaging 55.33 penalty yardage per game.

The post-game call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Greg, so you still think the Trojans are going to win the Pac-12 South?   

Caller No. 1, I said before games were played that I believed the Trojans would run the regular season table undefeated, win the Pac-12 title, and play in a major bowl game. Although this abbreviated season hasn’t looked all that pretty and certainly not dominating in performances, it’s still about the scoreboard, and the Trojans remain undefeated heading to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA. I am not going to change my prediction at this point, but I am concerned about UCLA.  

The last time the Trojans won the Pac-12 title was 2017 (photo above). The Trojans are hoping to do it in 2020.

Caller No. 2: GK, of the choices remaining, which bowl game would you like to see the Trojans play in and against what opponent?

Caller No. 2, I would like to see the Trojans play in the Fiesta Bowl and play an SEC opponent. The Fiesta Bowl would allow immediate family of the two teams to attend the game. FYI, the Fiesta Bowl is schedule for Saturday, January 2, in Glendale, Arizona, and will be played at State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL.  

Caller No. 3: Gregory, is there anything thus far in the season that has surprised you?  

Caller No. 3, I am surprised that there hasn’t been more cancellation of USC games due to COVID-19. It seems like everybody I know has somebody who has or had the virus. It’s out of control and dangerous. I don’t think I should be surprised, but I am somewhat surprised the Trojans haven’t figured out a way to run the football, although they continue to talk about it.  

One of the surprises of the 2020 season has been the inability to run the ball with any consistency (photo above) like against Washington State when the Trojans finished the game with only five yards rushing. (Photo by Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

Caller No. 4: Katzman, is there anyway that UCLA can upset the Trojans next Saturday?

Caller No. 4, if you watched the UCLA’s victory over ASU on Saturday night from Tempe, it’s quite evident the Bruins have what it takes to beat the Men of Troy. The Trojans better be ready to play and play flawlessly. The Bruins will make some mistakes, and the Trojans will need to take advantage of them. Offensively, UCLA presents a balanced attack while USC does not. That could be an issue. Defensively, both teams have their respective strengths and weaknesses.  

Caller No. 5: Sir, given that everything seems to be shutting down again, if you could go out to dinner for a “normal” meal, which restaurant would you make reservations?

Caller No. 5, Oh man, what a tease. I guess on the bright side, not being able to go out to dinner has certainly saved me money. However, I would say if you give me one restaurant, I would say Wood Ranch BBQ.

The last word: Bring on the Bruins!

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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