23 min Read

IMHO Sunday: All over the Bruins in Pasadena

Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

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

Evaluation: An exhilarating, pulsating combination of the USC Trojans 36-14 waxing of the UCLA Bruins last night at the Rose Bowl and Oregon’s earlier heart-pounding, last second miracle pass to defeat the Utah Utes, 30-28, the Men of Troy are just one Colorado loss to Utah next Saturday afternoon in Boulder from claiming their second consecutive Pac-12 South Division Title, and wouldn’t that be lightening in a cardinal and gold bottle.

Evaluation – Part 2: So, after dispensing of the Bruins, the Trojans (8-3 overall, Pac-12 South 7-2) are knocking relentlessly on the Pac-12 South Division doorstep and need Utah to rebound from their devastating home loss and bring their “A” game to Colorado next Saturday (4:30 p.m. PT/FOX). With the Trojans Coliseum kickoff with Notre Dame (4-7) slated for 12:30 p.m. PT (ABC), the Men of Troy, now No.12 in the AP rankings, will have to wait until after their game with the Irish, rush back to their respective viewing spots, to find out their Pac-12 South Division title fate.

Evaluation – Part 3: As for Saturday night’s second consecutive Trojans victory over the Bruins, Clay Helton’s team was clearly not ready emotionally to play in the early going. On the other hand, UCLA was ready to go, but they were given fool’s gold. After the initial Bruins scare, it was too much Sam Darnold, too much tailback Ronald Jones ll, too much talented USC receivers, too much offensive line physical play, and way too much Trojans defense, which tightened up in the second quarter and for the balance of the game, making life miserable for UCLA senior quarterback Mike Fafaul and the rest of the Bruins’ offense. The Trojans again proved they are continuing the upswing. Now things really get interesting with a doubleheader of the arriving Irish rivalry and the Utah at Colorado Pac-12 South title scenario coming next Saturday afternoon.

Offensively speaking: The Trojans offense rang up the scoreboard and the stat sheet, but nobody had a bigger impact than backup senior wide receiver De’Quan Hampton with two touchdown receptions and a key TD block. The former Compton Dominguez High and Long Beach City transfer burned the Bruins in both halves and finished with three catches for 51 yards and two devastating touchdowns (31 and 6 yds.). Despite of two interceptions in the first half, unflappable redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold (25-36-2/257 yds./2 Tds./2 PIs) gave UCLA’s defense fits with his scrambling and Darnold is like trying to tackle Jello. No question that sophomore tailback Ronald Jones ll (121 yds./2 TDs) is coming into his own with each game. RoJo continues to show toughness inside the tackle and is the ultimate compliment to Darnold. As for the Trojans’ offensive line, they did an outstanding job of turning UCLA’s standout NFL-bound defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley into the invisible man. However, things were not totally perfect with the O-line, which continues to be plagued with untimely penalties of false starts and holding. The line, however, also continues to be physical and many of the Trojans lineman leaving the Rose Bowl locker room said this is the tightest the line has felt since the start of the season.

Defensively speaking: After starting slow and making UCLA’s offense, both running and passing, look better than they have for much of the season, Clancy Pendergast’s defenders slowly adjusted and began to methodically shut down the Bruins offense. Although the Bruins were a game group, the Trojans caught on to what Bruins offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu was trying to do and basically turned the UCLA offense into a slow dribble. For the second game in a row, Trojans nose tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu turned the opposition’s center into a car stuck in reverse. UCLA center Scott Quessenberry had a night to forget, thanks to Mr. T. It wasn’t a perfect performance by the defense, as Trojans standout corner Adoree’ Jackson (photo above) did get burned on a second quarter 7-yard touchdown strike, and then there was a missed tackle by Ajene Harris on the Bruins’ first possession, resulting in a 56-yard TD strike to UCLA wide receiver Jordan Lasley. However, both got off the immaculate Rose Bowl turf and played UCLA receivers tough for balance of the evening.     

Special team speaking: Certainly a mixed bag of results. There was the first half USC blocked field goal attempt by the Bruins, but there was also a missed extra point by kicker Matt Boermeester, who later connected on field goals of a 30, 32, and 25 yards. Either by design or error, Boermeester opening kickoff was a wounded duck, what gave UCLA good field position to start the game. The Trojans only had to punt twice compared to the Bruins seven punts.

The bottom line: One rivalry win down and one to go. The Trojans did what they had to do against the Bruins. Now it’s up to Utah to take the Trojans home to the Pac-12 South title game by beating Colorado. But first up on Saturday afternoon, it’s Notre Dame in the Coliseum, and don’t count out the Irish. Although incredibly the Irish are no longer bowl eligible, their meeting with the Trojans will be their bowl game, and they have enough firepower to pull the upset. Although the Trojans can’t control the Pac-12 South race anymore, a win over the Irish can control the type of bowl game they will attend, and the Rose Bowl is still in play – albeit still somewhat of a longshot.

The key to the game: After a slow start against UCLA, the Trojans got untracked on all three phases of the game, and the score could have and should have been worse – like in the 40 Club. The Trojans, however, did outscored the Bruins 16-0 from the end of the first half to the conclusion of the game.

IMHO: Okay, I relent, I am starting to see similarities between Pete Carroll’s 2002 Trojans and Clay Helton’s 2016 team. It’s quarterbacks, although different in styles, Carson Palmer and Sam Darnold, running backs Justin Fargas and Ronald Jones ll, improving offensive lines, and lethal receivers. Defensively, I would give the nod to the 2002 team because of the D-line and All-America safety Troy Polamalu, but both clubs are fast and were in the late production stages of taking their new respective schemes to an elite level.

The infirmary: JuJu Smith (hip pointer).

Next up: In their final regular season game, the Trojans return to the Coliseum next Saturday (12:30 p.m./ABC) to host the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-7) in the nation’s premier college football intersectional.

The quote book…

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments: “Really good win for our football team. A win that was obviously much needed for us to continue for the Pac-12 South, and we were able to stay alive today with a Utah loss and this was a much, much-needed victory. What stood out to me was that it was a big man’s game. We have come into the last couple weeks saying, you know, run the ball, stop the run and you look up and you hold UCLA to 55 yards rushing compared to 260 yards rushing offensively, I thought that was the key to the game. And it enabled us to basically hold the ball for 43 minutes and 47 seconds in the game. You look up and you have 95 total plays, comparably, to 51. So, credit to our big men.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments – Part 2: “I thought the defense, who really all of a sudden has a hit to them in that first drive, they take a deep breath and they really showed great, great poise. We had a couple early mistakes by our young quarterback, but I was really proud of him for how he reacted to making mistakes and the way he came back in the second half. Obviously, Ronald (Jones) is going some really special things. Thank you to our team captain here (Michael Hutchings), who is leading our defense and doing a great job. Good victory for us. We’ll take a deep breath tonight and then we’ve got another rivalry game next week in Notre Dame that we have to prepare for.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments – Part 3: Regarding the Trojans slow start against the Bruins, Helton said, “You know, we have really started fast in some of our other games. It really shows the maturity of this team. I did not see any panic with any of the guys. You saw on the next drive, we came right back down and you tie the score. We knew there would be a lot of emotion with this game. That’s a good football team. They’ve been in some close games against Utah and Colorado and Washington State. They’re a proud football team. They came out and hit us in the mouth early. And I really am proud of the kids for how they stepped up and reacted and didn’t panic and went on about their business, to do their job and to win the game.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments – Part 4: On being aware of the other meaningful Pac-12 games, Helton said, “Well, they were over before we even got on the bus. We’re in and out of meetings and walk-throughs, and you get score updates and stuff like that and peek in on it. You know, it was good for us. We needed one of those teams to lose to stay alive. Oregon came through for us. And now, there is a big game in Colorado next week between Colorado and Utah, and we still need a little help, but we have set our mark at 7-2. That was our last conference game. Now, we have to get ready to do our job and that’s to go prepare for Notre Dame.”

UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr. comments: “Congratulations to Clay (Helton) and his team. They’re a great football team. Sam Darnold is a heck of a player. He gave us fits. One thing we’ve done well this year is affecting quarterbacks. We just couldn’t get him down. He’s a heck of a football player, and that’s a heck of a football team. They are a good defense, first of all. We’ll give them credit where credit is due.

UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr. comments – Part 2: “Against mobile quarterbacks this year, we have done a nice job. But a guy as mobile as he (Darnold) is, as heady as he is, keeping his eyes down the field the way that he can – that’s what makes him special. He can elude the rush, keep his eyes up and find receivers down the field. I’m seen him on film and on TV, and I had a lot of respect for him coming into this game. In person, he’s a truly special one. I’ll tell you, he reminds me of a younger Tony Romo. He is bigger, but that type of ability, he’s smart and poised and confident. He’s a heck of a player.”

Sammy speaks: On whether the Trojans made adjustments against UCLA after starting off slow offensively, Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold said, “I don’t think we made any specific adjustments. I mean our coaches always do a great job of game planning, so we kind of stuck with it, and eventually it was going to work out. Once we got the pass game going a little, it’s easier to run. It softens them (UCLA) up a little bit, so it made it easier for us to run the ball. Whenever our defense can hold them to three-and-out, stop them on a fourth down, you saw, it always gives us that confidence and then we (the offense) can go in there and do what we do.”

Sammy speaks – Part 2: On the UCLA win and next week’s game with Notre Dame, Darnold said, This win (UCLA) means a lot, but at the same time we have to move on and the next game is Notre Dame, and they’re coming to the Coliseum and we’re looking forward to playing them and earning that shillelagh back. It’s going to be a great one.”

Ground game halt: Asked about shutting down UCLA’s running game (55 yds.) and the evolution of the defense, senior inside linebacker and captain Michael Hutchings said, “It was huge tonight to stay level headed and to be tested the last two weeks. Each week our defense has come together. Our front was coming off strong and taking what we do on the in practice and bringing it onto the playing field. We have grown each week. The past few weeks show what we’ve been doing as a team – staying level headed and maturing each week. We didn’t make any big adjustments tonight after they (UCLA) came out strong. They had one big play (56-yard TD pass), a deep slant and a throw-back. They tried pounding the ball and we were okay. We were in a hostile environment and it was their senior night. We took some of their best punches when they came out with that type of emotion. I think we did that.”

RoJo speaks: On his long 60-yard touchdown run, sophomore tailback Ronald Jones said, “The offensive line did a great job and the block coming off the edge, the receiver (De’Quan Hampton), I don’t know who it was, all I had to do was cut up field and it was off to the races.”  

Spreading the wealth: Asked what it was like that Sam Darnold used 11 different receivers against UCLA, senior wide receiver Darreus Rogers (3 catches for 34 yds.) said, “Every receiver wants the ball on every play, so you go into each game knowing that he (Darnold) is going to get you your touches. So when it comes, you have to make the play. This offense is more dangerous when a JuJu (Smith-Schuster) goes down and a De’Quan (Hampton) steps up and gets two touchdowns for us. That shows you how dangerous our offense is. ”

Hampton Inn: On finally getting some quality playing time after JuJu Smith-Shuster got hurt and scoring two big touchdowns against UCLA, back-up senior receiver De’Quan Hampton said, “You have to siege your opportunity when it comes and it came and I did my thing. It felt (2 touchdowns) felt like a dream. The first one really felt like a dream because throughout my SC career I haven’t scored and now getting my first two, it really felt great, especially doing it for my team when one of my man’s (Smith-Schuster) went down, JuJu, so I knew I had to step up.”

Hampton Inn – Part 2: De’Quan Hampton was asked if it was all worth it waiting so long to have this UCLA moment, Hampton said, “It was worth the wait.”

Hampton Inn – Part 3: On his key block to spring Ronald Jones on his 60-yard touchdown run, Hampton said, “That felt great, too, because I just know the key to my job is to make that happen. I was just looking out for my brothers, especially against UCLA. Beating UCLA gives me a lot of bragging rights. They’re a good team, but we came out and executed our job and did what we are supposed to do, do our thing.”

Watching like a hawk: On paying attention to the Oregon/Utah game earlier in the team hotel before playing UCLA, junior DB Chris Hawkins said, “We were watching the Utah/Oregon game and believe it or not, when Darren (Carrington) caught that (winning touchdown) pass it was like an earthquake. The whole hotel had to have the security guards come to our floor. We were all outside (our rooms) going crazy. It was a fun experience finally seeing somebody win that we really wanted to win. We watched the Washington State/Colorado game, but it didn’t go in our favor, so we just have to keep doing what we do.”

Tailback talk: On the UCLA victory, senior tailback Justin Davis said,” This feels special. I’ll remember this game forever. Now we’ll be praying (for Utah to upset Colorado next Saturday afternoon).”

The Big T: On the difficulty of getting up for Notre Dame after playing two highly emotional games with Washington and UCLA back-to-back, Trojans junior starting offensive right guard Viane Talamaivao said afterward, “It’s difficult but not different if we were playing any other team. We do, however, understand the whole rivalry aspect (Notre Dame) and it’s big emotionally for our team, but I think our head coach has done a great job of just letting us get emotional about it but having us control the emotions and not let the environment and whatever is at stake get to us. It’s the same (practice) schedule every week to prepare for a game.”

The big Wheeler: On watching Ronald Jones 60-yard touchdown run, Trojans huge offensive left tackle Chad Wheeler said, “He’s too fast to be caught and that’s a good feeling.”

The big Wheeler – Part 2: On the Trojans’ seasonal turnaround and seven-game winning streak, Wheeler said, “It’s been a learning experience and I am really proud of our guys putting everything out there.”

The big Wheeler – Part 3: Whether he was watching the Oregon/Utah game, Wheeler said, “Yep, yep. I couldn’t believe that catch. It was unreal. As far as playing Notre Dame and losing concentration (regarding Colorado playing Utah right after the Notre Dame, which will determine if the Trojans win the Pac-12 South Division), not at all. We’ve got to focus on our game and hope for the best.”

Adoree’ addresses: With the Trojans now playing a high level of ball, All-Pac-12 CB Adoree’ Jackson gave his assessment of whether the 2016 USC football team is living up to the expectations of a Trojans football team. Jackson said, “I don’t know if this what people expect, but this is what we expect. Honestly, it’s important that we focus on us and not what everybody else wants or thinks. We just have to make sure that we look out for each other and focus on what we need to be doing and we’ll be fine.”

Adoree’ addresses – Part 2: After playing two extremely emotion games the past two weeks (Washington and UCLA), will the Trojans have a problem staying emotionally high for Notre Dame? Jackson said, “I wouldn’t say that. We still have to go out there and compete. We know that they (Notre Dame) are going to bring their best game and we have to be ready.”

Adoree’ addresses – Part 3: With next week’s Utah/Colorado game being playing after the Trojans play Notre Dame, will that create a concentration issue against the Irish? Jackson said, “We got to stay focused on our game and not worry about how the chips may fall. We have to worry about ourselves and not worry about somebody else or we won’t do as well. We have to go out there and play the game we know how to play.”

From the press box…

Memories for life: De’Quan Hampton’s great block that sprung Ronald Jones ll on his 60-yard TD scamper followed later by two impactful touchdown receptions, is the beauty of the USC/UCLA game.  There seems to be a De’Quan Hampton who comes out of nowhere to etch his name in the legendary lore of the series.

Tackling the issue: Leading tackler for the Trojans against UCLA was DB Ajene Harris with 5 stops followed by LB Porter Gustin, DL Rasheem Green, CB Adoree’, and S Jackson, S Leon McQuay and S Marvell Tell with four tackles, respectively.

Counting the house: The official Rose Bowl attendance on Saturday night was announced as 71,137. Capacity is listed as 91,136, but the historic venue was far from full. There were plenty of empty seats behind the end zones and into the fourth quarter  the stands looked a Pasadena/Muir Turkey Tussle rivalry game.

NFL evaluations: Scouts in attendance included the Redskins, Bears, Colts, Cowboys, Dolphins, Lions, Saints, Chiefs, Buccaneers, and Chargers. Listed as the Dolphins representative was Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino.

Bowling: There were no bowl representatives in attendance.

Temperature: At kickoff, the temperature was a chilly 59 degrees with a 15mph wind.

First impressions: Prior to kickoff this week, UCLA junior defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes commented on the Trojans offensive line being the best the Bruins will have faced this season, Vanderdoes said, “They’re an NFL-type offensive line, so of course it’s going to a battle up front. Going into this game, there’s definitely going to be extra fire on both sides of the ball.” After the Trojans ran for 260 yards against Vanderdoes and his Bruins D-line teammates, his quotes regarding the Trojans offensive line weren’t just propaganda.

A finished product: The game ended at 10:55 p.m. PT, so what time did you get home? Okay, I’ll start first. Of course, the media spent time after the game interviewing and writing. By the time I pulled into the garage, it was 2:10 a.m.

The fireworks alarm:
Like they do in the Coliseum, the UCLA management fires off fireworks and explosions into the sky to remind tailgaters that kickoff is within the hour.  

Deep freeze: The only thing colder than sitting in the outdoor Rose Bowl seats was sitting in the Rose Bowl press box that was so cold you could hang meat. Burr.

Tweeting Trojans: Before the game, a number of former Trojans players tweeted out words of encouragement for the current Trojans playing the Bruins. Included in some of the tweets were former DL Nick Perry and DB Shareece Wright. One would have to imagine that the Trojans football alumni were quite pleased with Saturday night’s result.

The post-game show…

Pac-12 Network *#^: One of the key games for the Trojans was the Oregon/Utah game result on Saturday, but unless you had a special cable company that allowed you to watch the game on your computer, all your local area cable got on the Pac-12 Network was local L.A. coverage. So instead of many L.A. Trojans fans being able to watch the Oregon/Utah game, past highlights of USC/UCLA games were being shown. And you wonder why the Pac-12 Network doesn’t get rave reviews by many.  

Mr. Honesty: Prior to knowing the results of the Washington State/Utah and Oregon/Utah games, Clay Helton said, I’ll be focused on our job (UCLA), but you know you’re only human, so I’ll definitely look at the score(s).” And that’s why Helton is a media favorite because he speaks from the heart and doesn’t do a song and dance routine.

Taking a stand: Props to Michigan for saying it would not play Friday night TV games. Okay, Mr. Swann, it’s your serve.

The navigator: So how many fans at the Rose Bowl last night felt after the game like they needed a GPS systems to find their car in the darkness of the Brookside Golf Course?

The Simpsons:
Former Trojans Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinart will make a guest appearance tonight (Sunday night) on The Simpsons. The episode, “Dad Behavior,” airs tonight on FOX and Lefty tosses the pigskin around in the Simpson cartoon world. Check your local listings for time of the show.

Remember the Alamo: If the Trojans can defeat Notre Dame next Saturday and the Cardinal and Gold don’t make it to the Pac-12 Championship Game, the best odds are that they will play in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Thursday night, Dec. 29, at 8 p.m. CST.

The Call-In Show numbers…

Above the mean: The Trojans scored 36 points against UCLA. Prior to Saturday’s game with the Bruins, the Trojans were averaging 31.4 points per game.

Below the mean: The Trojans defense allowed 14 points to UCLA. Prior to the Bruins game, the Trojans were allowing 22.5 points per game.

Chains domination: The Trojans had 31 first downs compared to UCLA’s 10.

Pasadena real estate: The Trojans had 527 yards in total offense against UCLA. Prior to the Bruins game, the Trojans were averaging 468.8 yards in total offense per game.

Suppression: Against UCLA, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 266 total offensive yards. Prior to the Bruins, the Trojans were allowing 363.4 yards per game.

Ground swell: Against UCLA, the Trojans rushed for 260 yards. Prior to the Bruins, the Trojans were averaging 202.0 rushing yards per game.

Meager movement: Against UCLA, the Trojans defense allowed 55 net yards rushing. Prior to the Bruins, the Trojans were allowing 139.5 net rushing yards per game.

Hitting the stride: Against UCLA, the Trojans passed for 267 yards. Prior to the Bruins, the Trojans were averaging 266.8 passing yards per game.

Air control: Against UCLA, the Trojans defense allowed 211 passing yards. Prior to the Bruins, the Trojans were allowing 223.9 passing yards per game.

The red zone: The Trojans were 5 of 6 in the red zone while UCLA was 1 of 1.

Sacking: The Trojans officially did not sack UCLA QB Mike Fafaul once while Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold was officially sacked one time by the Bruins’ defense.

Flagging down: The Trojans were penalized 7 times for 39 yards on Saturday. Prior to UCLA, the Trojans were averaging 68.4 yards per game in penalties per game compared to its opponents’ 42.4 yards per game. UCLA was penalized 3 times for 44 yards on Saturday.

The last word: Whew, that was a lot happening on Saturday, but now comes the perfect ending to a resurrected season…Here Come the Irish…and Trojans fans and the team will be ready. Let’s just hope that stunned Utah will cooperate and send the Trojans to the Pac-12’s Big Dance against Washington or Washington State.    

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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