By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.
The evaluation: Lost in the struggle to put the heavy underdog Arizona Wildcats away in the USC Trojans 38-30 victory in the Coliseum on Saturday night was the accomplishment that with their sixth win of the season, the Cardinal and Gold (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) are now officially bowl eligible. What wasn’t lost in the struggle was tailback Ronald Jones ll, the true freshman whirlwind from McKinney, Texas, who literally ran the Trojans into post-season play with a game-high 177 yards rushing and one glorious fourth quarter 74-yard SportsCenter touchdown run.
The evaluation – Offensively speaking: After almost suffocating themselves on bubble screens and playing defense on themselves by passing the ball in the first half against one of college football’s worst rushing defenses, the offense finally decided in the second half to run the ball, and that’s why in the final quarter the Men of Troy outscored Arizona 21-10 and as they say, “Game Over.” On a night when the Trojans honored its first Heisman Trophy winner, tailback Mike Garrett, Ronald Jones ll looked more and more like the next legendary Trojans running back when they gave him the ball, as illustrated by that 74-yard touchdown jaunt in the final quarter. However, let’s not overlook the hard running of junior Justin Davis (85 yds., 2 TDS), whose effort was to be admired.
More offense: Sophomore wide receiver JuJu “Superman” Smith-Schuster, playing in intense pain from early week right-hand surgery, produced a minor medical miracle with 138 yards in receptions and one breathtaking 72-yard TD reception from senior quarterback Cody Kessler, who passed for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The Trojans offensive line, which seemed to have some issues protecting Kessler and was consistently challenged by Wildcat blitzes, still managed to get untracked in the second half and allowed both Jones and Justin Davis to grind and sprint through a progressively tiring Wildcats defense in the final stanza to make a difference.
The evaluation – Defensively speaking: Defensively, the Trojans were, well, the Trojans, and many of the same old issues popped up. They had difficulty early dealing with Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez’s vaunted spread-option attack, which included a chess-game, run-pass option. However, like the offense, when it counted, the Trojans defense adjusted and ended up by impressively holding the Wildcats rushing attack to just 60 yards, although they did give up 30 points and 412 yards.
More defense: The Trojans got the usual great effort from junior All-Pac-12 linebacker Su’a Cravens, as well as some impressive play by safety John Plattenburg, who quickly came off the bench and contributed a critical 22-yard interception return with the Wildcats driving in the second quarter. Again, even though the Cardinal and Gold appeared to have salted the game away late, perhaps it was scheme that allowed Arizona to drive the ball 65 yards to narrow the margin to 38-30 with just 10 seconds remaining in the game. With all due credit to the late Yogi Berra, one thing you can say about the Trojans defense in the late going, it’s never over until it’s over.
The bottom line: The Arizona win not only allowed the Trojans to stay within striking distance of Pac-12 South Division leading Utah (a 34-23 winner at Washington), it kept alive any hope of beloved Trojans interim head coach Clay Helton attaining the permanent Trojans head coach position. It would be safe to say that if the Trojans had lost Saturday night to the Wildcats, Helton’s chances of being in legitimate contention for one of college football’s most coveted jobs would have been slim and none.
The game changer: No question about it, the 74-yard electrifying touchdown run by true freshman Ronald Jones ll in the fourth quarter completely turned the complexion of the game. Not only did Jones finished with a game-high 177 yards rushing on 19 carries, but he also “averaged” 9.3 yards per carry.
Ronald Jones ll speaks: On his 72-yard TD run, Jones said, “The offensive line created openings for me and then it was off to the races.”
Blocking for No. 25: Mammoth Trojans starting right tackle Zach Banner didn’t mix words in describing the running of tailback Robert Jones ll. Big Zach said, “You know if you do your job, he’ll hit the hole, and he’s gone.”
Staying real: After the game, Robert Jones ll, whose 177 rushing yards for a game broke the USC freshman record previously held by LenDale White in 2003, put things into perspective regarding his ability. Jones said, “I am still not hitting the holes like I should. A lot of stuff I still need to get better.”
Staying real: – Part 2: Asked about his current weight, 40 time, Robert Jones ll revealed, “I am right now at 192 but I would like to get to 205. Last time I checked, I ran a 4.41 in the 40.
Why the Trojans: Revealed Ronald Jones ll afterward, “I came to USC because of the legend of those great running backs. Forget all that nonsense, I still think Reggie Bush is the greatest Trojan ever.”
Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments: “ What a great victory for our team. Not the prettiest of victories, but I love how this team is playing. Every time they were faced with adversity, they stayed poised. And in the second half to stay consistent and stop the ball was just tremendous. Great story lines in the game, about 100 of them, but that is a premier running team (Arizona) and to hold them to 32 carries for 60 yards is just amazing to me. A freshman record by Ronald Jones, and I’ve never in my life been associated with more a warrior than No. 9 (JuJu Smith-Schuster), for him to do what he did and commit himself to his team. They’re really the heroes in this game.”
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez comments: “We battled. We didn’t execute when we needed to. I am not happy. We blitzed more today. We have to because we can’t get pressure without blitzing. We made a few plays on a veteran quarterback (Cody Kessler), but we have to maintain it over four quarters. We can’t let a guy run for 72 yards.”
King Solomon: Regarding the Trojans defensive strategy, Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon said, “They (USC) had eight men in the box last week. Today was different, they were confident in their defensive line against the run. We just didn’t execute well enough.”
Celebration time: Excited over the victory over Arizona, fullback Jahleel Pinner ran up the famous Coliseum players’ tunnel yelling, “It’s party time!”
Tackling the issue: The Trojans were led in tackles by linebacker Su’a Cravens and safety John Plattenburg with eight tackles apiece.
Reflections: Asked about the way the defense and the team is general is now playing, Trojans linebacker Su’a Cravens said, “I feel like we could have played like this in Week 1. Tonight we executed and tonight we grew.”
Echoing Su’a: Following the game, Trojans senior defensive tackle Delvon Simmons said, “Holding them (Arizona) to 60 yards (rushing) for the game is a big achievement for us.”
Man it hurts: When questioned about how much it hurt to play after having surgery on his right hand on Monday, wide receiver JuJu Smith said, “I was in a lot of pain. I cried each night (after surgery). I was in so much pain.”
Analyzing the defense: Trojans senior linebacker Lamar Dawson was forthcoming regarding his defense. Dawson said, “Everybody did their job. We knew they were going to run the same play over and over.”
Homecoming victory: With its victory over Arizona, the Trojans are now an all-time 61-26-4 for games played homecoming.
Third down success: The Trojans were 10 of 18 in third down conversions.
Sack exchange: The Trojans recorded six sacks against Arizona.
From the press box…
The barometer: On Saturday, the Trojans scored 38 points against Arizona. The Trojans entered Saturday’s game averaging 37.4 points per game.
The barometer – Part 2: On Saturday, the Trojans defense gave up 30 points to Arizona. The Trojans entered Saturday’s game allowing 21.6 points per game.
The flag is up: The Trojans were penalized eight times for 70 yards. The Trojans come into Saturday’s game averaging 68 penalty yards per game.
Tunnel runner: Leading the Trojans out of the Coliseum tunnel prior to kickoff was former Trojans defensive line standout Lawrence Jackson.
Cover boys: Saturday’s official program cover featured Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith and wide receiver/corner Adoree’ Jackson.
The thermometer: Temperature at kickoff was a comfortable 64 degrees with clear skies.
Scouts honor: NFL scouts in attendance on Saturday included Vikings, Redskins, Bears, Lions, Panthers, Rams, and Jets.
Bowling for dollars: In attendance on Saturday night were representatives from the Alamo and Holiday Bowls.
Counting bodies: Attendance for Saturday’s game against Arizona in the Coliseum was 76,309. The last time the Wildcats played in the Coli (2013), the attendance was 64,215.
The post-game show…
Pat Haden speaks: On the response from fans regarding the Coliseum renovation plans, this week Haden said, “The response has been generally positive.” I guess it depends how you define “generally.”
Pat Haden speaks – Part 2: On the recent performance by the football team, Haden said, “Beating Utah, the No. 3 team in the nation at the time and a physical opponent, by running the football and playing defense was really encouraging to me. And then, the coaching staff did a great job against Cal and Jared Goff, who will be a top pick in the NFL Draft. I loved how we were able to run the ball in the last three minutes of the game to secure the victory.” But how will that play out when Clay Helton is considered for the permanent head coaching position?
Pat Haden speaks – Part 3: Haden added, “Even though Clay Helton is known as an offensive guru, he has spent a lot of practice time with the defense. They feel his presence, and so they view him as a head coach instead of an offensive coordinator.” Hmmm, I wonder whom that could have been a veiled reference to?
Another practice change: With Clay Helton now in charge as the Trojan interim head coach, he has changed the Monday practice routine of weight training, getting over the “bumps and bruises,” and watching game tape to a short practice to increase development of the younger players as well as the older ones. Helton says, “It’s just 45 minutes of good work.” Helton says he can see the development of the players since the Notre Dame game.
Another practice change – Part 2: According to Clay Helton, “If you take those Mondays and take those 13 or 14 weeks in the year, it’s like having a spring practice.”
Help wanted: If you’re a student and you have always dreamt of being on the Trojans football team, now is your chance. Postings are up for future football student managers. Benefits are working every football practice, traveling with the team on the road, and getting to watch games from the sidelines. And, of course, wearing Nike clothing. You must be a full-time student. For more information, contact head manager Anthony Machado in the John McKay Center.
Planning ahead: If you’re getting optimistic regarding the Trojans national title hopes the next two seasons, you probably want to know that the next two CFP Championship games will be held in Glendale, Arizona (2016) and the following season in Tampa, Florida (2017).
Planning ahead – Part 2: Now if you’re really getting optimistic regarding the Trojans national title hopes the next last three years of the decade, you probably want to know that the three consecutive CFP Championship games after the 2017 championship will be held in Atlanta (2018), Santa Clara (2019), and New Orleans (2020).
The last word: Well, it’s now down to three regular season Pac-12 games and on to Colorado in Boulder for a Friday night affair. If you think it’s the same old Buffaloes team as in the past, just ask UCLA, which struggle to a 35-31 victory in the Rose Bowl.