In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Seattle.
IMHO: Being here in the chilly Emerald City, maybe it was appropriate – with all due apologies to the Wizard of Oz – that the No. 21 USC Trojans (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12 South) left their losing locker room, heads down, and almost heard muttering, “Interceptions, turnovers, and blown red zone opportunities, oh my.” Or maybe following the conclusion of their Pac-12 battle with the No. 16 Washington Huskies (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12 North), the Trojans knew they had received a reality check, as the Huskies gave the Men of Troy a full “CAT scan,” revealing a no-rebuttal-necessary, 28-14, defeat before 66,975 mostly barking UW fans.
IMHO – Part 2: What the Trojans were surprisingly able to get away with against Utah last Friday night at the Coliseum came back to – excuse the old UW Dawg expression – bite them in the posterior. Washington exposed the Trojans, and none of it was refutable. Again, it was poor tackling on defense, penalties, inconsistent execution of plays, and deadly missed red zone opportunities. Some evidence? Washington was 4 of 4 in the red zone, and the Trojans were 1 of 3 in the land of scoring opportunity. The score could have been worse if Washington didn’t settle for field goals twice instead of touchdowns. The Trojans were also penalized 80 yards while UW had 44 penalty yards. The real killer? The Trojans had three Matt Fink interceptions while UW QB Jacob Eason had zilch (AKA none). Clay Helton’s team had warned us of previous shortcoming in its previous four games. Unless Helton can get his team to address these and other obvious issues, the Men of Troy could have a very unpleasant future, as they continue to navigate through a difficult schedule. One thing all Trojans fans should agree, the Cardinal and Gold played their hearts out on Saturday, weren’t out-hit, but didn’t play error-free football while coach Chris Petersen’s Huskies did for the most part.
IMHO offensively: The Trojans’ offense outgained the Huskies (375-373), out-rushed the Huskies 212-193) and were narrowly out-gained passing-wise (163-180). It certainly wasn’t an inept offensive performance by any means. However, despite all the statistical positives, the only numbers that really counted were inexperienced quarterback Matt Fink’s three critical interception, two of which were scoring opportunities that could have changed the complexion of the game, especially the pick as it appeared the Trojans were about to punch it in as the first half was nearing the end. Fink’s interception moments later turned into a Payton Henry field goal as time expired in the first half, and the Huskies went to their locker room with a 20-7 halftime lead. BTW, Fink did run the ball six times but accounted for just seven net yards. But three of those yards was a TD keeper in the second quarter.
To his credit and given his inexperienced situation, Fink did what he could and didn’t crawl into a fetal position after each mistake. The young man battled, but his performance (19 of 32 for 163 yards and one nice 44-yard, third quarter quarterback TD pass to Michael Pittman) couldn’t offset those three interceptions. On the good news front, the Trojans running game came alive, and one could argue that the Men of Troy should have run the ball more. Followers of redshirt back Markese Stepp had to be excited to see the big fella churn for 64 yards (6.2 avg.) including one explosive 35-yard jaunt. Junior Stephen Carr also had a noticeable day, running for 98 yards, including an exhilarating 60-yard ramble. Credit should go to an offensive line that played with toughness and never packed it in when things got dicey.
I thought that UW did a good job of covering the Trojans receivers for most of the day, although they gave up that long strike to Pittman. Amon-Ra St. Brown, the Trojans’ talented sophomore, was held to 31 yards and junior Tyler Vaughns had just 44 quiet yards. Tight ends Erik Krommenhoek and Josh Falo combined for three receptions but for a meager 16 yards.
IMHO defensively: The Trojans did a relatively good job against UW’s heralded quarterback Jacob Eason (16 of 26 for 180 yards) to no passing touchdowns. The USC front attacked Eason, who remained very poised. The problem with Eason for the Trojans was that they couldn’t get the Georgia transfer to turn the ball over. As it were and despite the effort, the Trojans could only sack Eason only once – a Jay Tefele wrap. Still, the UW offense did account for 180 yards passing and keep the Trojans off balance with a grinding and well-conceived running attack. The backbreaker for the defense was when UW junior tailback Salvon Ahmed slithered through all three levels of Clancy Pendergast’s defense and raced 89 yards to the promised land. Considering Ahmed’s run was last in the third quarter, it was a key moment in the game. Neither team scored in the final stanza.
Given the fact that the Trojans were playing without star strong safety Talanoa Hufanga and improving corner Olaijah Griffin, the USC secondary did a pretty good job given the circumstances. After all, the Huskies didn’t execute a passing touchdown and even while UW had Lady Luck in their corner when in the first quarter running back Ahmed fumbled at the Trojans’1-yard line and Husky wide receiver Andre Baccellia fell on the pigskin in the end zone. No doubt, good fortune played a role in UW’s deserved victory over the Men of Troy.
IMHO special teams: In the battle of Australian punters, the Huskies’ Joel Whitford edged his USC counterpart Ben Griffiths, as both punted six times each. Whitford averaged 44.3 while Griffiths averaged 41.0. A difference-making aspect of the game also was the field goal competition. Actually, there was no competition, as Trojans’ placekicker Chase McGrath did not attempt a 3-pointer while UW’s Peyton Henry was 2 for 2 (28, 35 yds.). For the most part, Trojans’ kick coverage was adequate but again there was no real punt return yardage to crow about. Velus Jones did have one 31-yard kickoff return, but that really was the extent of it.
Bottom Line: The Trojans are now 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the Pac-12. Regardless of what happens at Notre Dame in two weeks, the Cardinal and Gold – thanks to that huge Pac-12 victory over Utah in the Coli – are still very much in the Pac-12 South race. The bad news is that it looks like the Pac-12 South looks much more competitive than originally thought. I think that if the Trojans do improve and things get settled at quarterback, I actually like USC’s chances against Washington on a neutral field, which would be the Pac-12 title game. Turning to the Irish, if Kedon Slovis is ready to go, it figures he’ll start against the tough Irish defense. On a coaching note, Helton is now 13-16 in games played outside of the Coliseum.
The infirmary: TE Josh Falo (leg)
Next up: After next week’s bye week, the Trojans will play NotreDameon Saturday night, Oct. 12, in Notre Dame Stadium (7:30 p.m. EST/4:30 pm PDT).
The Trojans/Washington quote book…
Clay Helton comments: “Well played game. Well played by Washington, Coach Petersen, and their staff and the job that they did. I thought our week of preparation was really good, we were in the right mindset, but we made enough mistakes to lose the game. When it comes down to it, a turnover in the first half that led to great field position that gave them an early lead going into half time and getting the ball inside the ten twice and coming away with no points. That’s when you look up and you can’t cut it to a one score game. For us, it’s about us getting back on this plane and correcting. I told the guys in the locker room that they’re a football team that we can see again come December if you do your job. They’re a good team and so are we. We have the chance to go back, make corrections, win the Pac-12 South and play them again.”
Clay Helton comments – Part 2: When Helton looks at the mistakes that were made against UW, can he put his finger on the common denominator? Helton said, “I’ll have to look at the tape, but it felt like if you get the ball in the endzone the two times we had it within the 10-yard line, it’d be a different ball game. We came out and had a couple field position errors. One was off a turnover and one off a punt, and they get up at halftime, 17-7. I thought our run game was very much improved. We challenged both the offensive line and the runners that they needed to step up big. We were able to hit one deep ball behind a corner one time, but for the majority of the day, it was going to be run the ball and make explosive plays in that category or throw the ball short and run long. We came up with big runs that led to 200 yards rushing. At the end of the day, don’t have more turnovers than they have.”
Clay Helton comments – Part 3: Asked about his concerns heading into the bye week, Helton said, “For us, it’s just us getting a little bit healthy, getting some of our guys back, and correcting some things that we will watch on tape here. We had a real opportunity to come away with a win today, and we let that go because of stuff that we did. I love the way that our guys competed, and I love their heart. As far as competing, heart, and how hard they play, there is nothing wrong. There are the corrections that we need to make as coaches. I ask our players to be in the right place and give their absolute most effort and they are doing that. It’s evident. They are playing extremely hard. Now we need to play good, clean, sound football. So, we’ll have a chance to be Pac-12 South champions.”
Washington head coach Chris Petersen comments: “Really good team win. We faced a high-level team. I am extremely proud of our defense, those guys played at a high level. We did just enough to keep them off balance. We had some really good turnovers in that area. They did a good job of huddling the ball, they mixed it up well. Our special teams were very solid. Our protections on the PAT, punt, and field goal were really good, that was awesome. Our offense played well, there were a couple of times we sputtered, but we will continue to get better.”
Washington head coach Chris Petersen comments – Part 2: How important was corner Elijah Molden’s interception late in the third quarter? Petersen said, “That was game changing. That saved us. That was a 14-point swing. He picked it off and two plays later, Salvon Ahmed goes the distance. That was the sequence of the game. It was game changing for sure.”
USC QB Matt Fink: With the two interceptions within the 10-yard line, Fink was asked what he was seeing out there. The quarterback replied, “It was just a bad read. I should have handed the ball off. That is on me.”
USC QB Matt Fink – Part 2: Asked if the crowd have an impact on him? Fink said, “The noise usually doesn’t bother me. We practiced all week with noise, so we were prepared for that. What it came down to was my decision making and it wasn’t the best, obviously, the ball was turned over way too much.”
USC WR Michael Pittman: “Third down is the only time they played man. We had third and short, and obviously you don’t want to throw on third-and-short. It was frustrating and I kept playing. I was doing my best to throw blocks and doing everything I could to help us win that game. Obviously, I didn’t do enough. I didn’t think they were going to do that.”
USC WR Michael Pittman – Part 2: On Washington using a different defensive strategy than Utah, Pittman said, “It didn’t throw us off, but I think we didn’t know they were going to come in and do that. I wasn’t expecting them to come in and play like that.”
USC RB Vavae Malepeai: “You don’t execute well, you come out there’s a lot to fix. No matter what, there are always things to fix, but that’s the big difference right there. UW started dropping eight early in the game, but we adjusted, the O-line and the receivers. The O-line was getting movement, and we were running behind them. They were opening up holes like you’ve seen. The running backs made some plays – Steve (Carr), “Kese” (Markese Stepp) broke off a long one.”
USC RB Markese Stepp: On his running productivity, “I felt great. I was just running as hard as I can and just played football. The key to the game was to be assignment perfect. Do the little things right. We have to eliminate the mental mistakes. The was the game today. Our O-linemen today were making the right blocks, and the backs were making the right reads. We were just getting through there.”
USC LB Palaie Gaoteote: “Our young guys the secondary guys that didn’t have a lot of experience, I thought they stepped up big, man. They helped us a lot. We have to create more turnovers in the early part of a game.”
USC DL Jay Tufele: “Today was a loss and nobody is happy about it. Obviously, it was a few mental errors that can be fixed, and we’ll come back stronger. They (UW) are a great team, but upfront I think we held it (physically). We held the point and were making plays. You can’t do nothing about the losses, but you just have to have a short-term memory, be ready, and come back for Notre Dame. I think we’ll be okay.”
USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: “We had a good game plan going into this game. Udub also had a good game plan. We had a few turnovers here and there that we have to eliminate. With that, I think the outcome would be a little different.”
USC DB Chris Steele: “I thought we (secondary) played very well. We understood the formations they were coming out with. We were calling our routes and making plays. I think we really played well on the backend.”
USC RB Salvon Ahmed: “I mean USC is obviously a really athletic team, a really good team, and we knew we were going to have to run the ball against them and as we saw last week everyone in that room can contribute to the run game. So when anyone gets in there, they get a chance, they make plays. Sean (McGrew) makes plays. Richard (Newton) makes a lot plays. We know that offensive line is going to block for us, and we’ve just got to make things happen. I couldn’t be happier to see all my guys out there killing it.”
UW RB Salvon Ahmed – Part 2: On his big 89-yard TD run, Ahmed said, “I just saw a backside hole with one guy in there. I just tried to make him miss and try to go. When I was finishing the run, I looked up at the screen there was a guy kind of close behind meso I had to kind of turn it around. Yeah, I mean, the offensive line created a hole on the backside, and I made the play. Man, I looked up at the screen and that saw that dude kind of getting close behind me, and I had to give him a little detour.”
UW defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake: On Trojans QB Matt Fink running the ball six times during the game, Lake said, “That actually did surprise me. It was surprising but it was a good call on their part. We definitely weren’t looking for that. The thought of running your quarterback when your next quarterback wasn’t recruited to play quarterback there, that was definitely a surprise moment for us. They did it once, and we thought that there was no way that they were going to do it again, and then they did it again. But it was a good play call because we weren’t expecting it. Play calling is all about keeping your opponent off-balance.”
From the press box…
Temperature: The Husky Stadium kickoff temperature was partly cloudy and 50 degrees.
Getting high: Most USC fans were seated near the top of Husky Stadium on the opposite side of their beloved team. Having once sat that high in Husky Stadium as a fan, my vertigo kicked in immediately, and I found a seat behind the closed section of the end zone.
Wishful thinking: No question that the Trojans missed strong safety Talanoa Hufanga, who is in concussion protocol. However, it didn’t stop some USC fans from wearing their Hufanga home USC jerseys to the game.
Tailgating City: The University of Washington takes a backseat to nobody when it comes to tailgating. It seemed everywhere you looked there was a party atmosphere. From the back of the press box, it looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Opps: The Husky Stadium public address announcer kept referring to Trojans’ wide receiver and punt returner Amon-Ra St. Brown as Amon-Ra St. John.
Dancing dogs: Part of the outside pregame entertainment outside Husky Stadium was the dancing Husky girls (see below), dressed in dog costumes.
Ticket department: There were plenty of tickets available before the game, but there appeared to be very few buyers.
Jimi: Right after Washington took the field through purple smoke, the public address system played the Jimi Hendrix classic “Purple Haze.” Actually, it was pretty cool.
Sigalert: If you were staying out by the airport, there was a traffic snarl on the “5” coming into downtown Seattle. I can’t image how horrible it would be if it had been a workday during the week.
Rumorville: It was called to our attention that former Trojan and NFL coach Jack Del Rio might be at the game, but the rumor could not be confirmed.
Lofa in the house: Former USC linebacking great Lofa Tatupu was in attendance to root the Trojans on.
Room with a view: No doubt that the Husky Stadium press box is the highest stadium press box that we’ve been in. One feels like they’re on top of Mount Rainer. For good measure, the windows of press box are mechanically opened, and the wind comes howling in. When the wind blows, it’s a real “E” ticket. However, we will say the view from atop the stadium is very picturesque.
NFL draft: NFL scouts in attendance included the Cincinnati Bengals.
Down the hatch: By popular demand, here was the Husky Stadium media menu for Saturday’s game: It was basically a breakfast buffet. No, it wasn’t exactly a Denny’s grand slam breakfast. However, later hot dogs were brought in, and there was a healthy abundance of popcorn. Hot dogs and popcorn, does it get any better than that?
The post-game show numbers…
Tackling the issues: Inside senior linebacker John Houston Jr. led the Trojans with 10 tackles each.
Downward trend: Against Washington, the Trojans scored 14 points. Prior to the game with the Huskies, the Trojans were averaging 34.33 points per game.
Upward trend: Against Washington, the Trojans allowed 28 points. Prior to the game with the Huskies, Trojans’ defense was allowing 24.00 points per game.
Downward trend: Against Washington, the Trojans had 375 yards in total offense. Prior to the game with the Huskies, the Trojans were averaging 443.0 yards in total offense per game.
Downward trend: Against Washington, the Trojans defense allowed 373 total yards in total offense. Prior to the game with the Huskies, the Trojans’ defense was allowing 421.0 in total yards per game.
Upward trend: Against Washington, the Trojans had 212 net yards rushing. Prior to the game with the Huskies, the Trojans were averaging 118.5 rushing yards per game.
Upward trend: Against Washington, the Trojans allowed 193 net rushing yards. Prior to the game with the Huskies, the Trojans’ defense was allowing 170 rushing yards per game.
Downward trend: Against Washington, the Trojans had 163 yards passing yards. Prior to the game with the Huskies, Trojans were averaging 324.50 passing yards per game.
Downward trend: Against Washington, the Trojans allowed 180 passing yards. Prior to the game with the Huskies, the Trojans’ defense was allowing 250.50 yards per game.
Time of possession: The Trojans had the ball 31:09 minutes while the Huskies had the ball for 28:51.
Upward flag waving: Against Washington, the Trojans had eight penalties for 80 yards while the Huskies had seven penalties for 44 yards. Prior to the Huskies game, the Trojans were averaging 72.5 penalty yards per game while the opposition was averaging 67.50 penalty yards per game.
The post-game call-in show…
Caller No. 1: Greg, with the loss at Washington on Saturday afternoon, are you pleased that the Trojans are 2-1 in conference and 3-2 overall? No, Caller No. 1, I wish the team were 5-0, but I certainly didn’t expect or predict it. For the record, the combined record of the team’s the Trojans have played thus far in the season is 12-10 as of this posting, which includes the Trojans’ loss to Washington. As for future reference, the remaining teams on the Trojans’ schedule have a combined record of 18-8 and that includes UCLA’s losing record.
Caller No. 2: Katz, you said that at the end of the first 6 games, the Trojans would be 2-4. Well, dude, that ain’t going to happen, is it. Wow, tough crowd. The truth is you are correct. If the Trojans lose to Notre Dame, they will be 3-3, which to my math means that I would be one game off from my original prediction. I do think that the upset victory against Utah could be the key to getting to the conference championship game, a major target. So, would I be pleased the team can be 3-3? Absolutely not. We could have beaten BYU in overtime. As you may recall, I predicted the Trojans would win in overtime. Oh well, I guess beggars can’t be choosy.
Caller No. 3: Mr. Katz, will you be surprised when Kedon Slovis returns from concussion protocol he’ll become the starter again, especially against Notre Dame? No, Caller No. 3, I expect that Helton will name Slovis his starter because there is precedent there. Remember when JT Daniels went down last season and was replaced by Jack Sears, who a wonderful game against ASU. I will say I am concerned about Slovis both physically and mentally for the present. He got whacked at BYU and knocked out of the game with Utah. His body has not been built up yet to take hits like that, and you hope the kid hasn’t become gun shy, especially if his first game back from concussion protocol is Notre Dame in South Bend.
Caller No. 4: Are you shocked or surprised that the Trojans’ No. 1 recruit for the Class of 2020, QB Bryce Young from Mater Dei, has switched from the Trojans to Alabama? Absolutely not. It was such a hot rumor coming out of Mater Dei that many people were already aware of the possibility. It is completely understandable why Young would make the switch. You don’t have to be a recruiting guru to know the perception of Clay Helton and his program have been in serious limbo for quite some time. Young’s decommitment was understandable when offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said earlier that Kedon Slovis is the most talented quarterback at this stage he has ever seen, and you can imagine how that went over in the Young household. And what happens if Harrel leaves after this season and gets a head coaching job? What new system will come into play? It was also understandable after watching what happened to Jack Sears USC career. It is understandable that until the Clay Helton situation resolves itself one way or another, you can expect this type of scenario to continue and don’t kill the messenger. Oh, and FYI, one of those Alabama coaches credited by Young with his verbal reversal was some coach named Steve Sarkisian.
Caller No. 5: Greg, with Bryce Young’s decommit from the Trojans and committing to Alabama, is this now a continuing trend of great California prep football players leaving the state to go elsewhere? Sadly, Caller No. 5, you are correct. In a recent article from San Jose Mercury Pac-12 expert Jon Wilner, he listed the following 2020 California prospects with commits or leanings: (1) ILB Justin Flowe (Upland): Clemson leads (2) QB DJ Uiagalelei (Bellflower St. John Bosco): Clemson commit (3) TB Kendall Milton (Clovis Buchanan): Georgia commit (4) QB Bryce Young (Santa Ana Mater Dei): Alabama commit (5) WR Jermaine Burton (Calabasas): LSU commit (6) CB Clark Phillips III (La Habra): Ohio State commit (7) AP Daniyel Ngata (Folsom): Texas A&M leads (8) WR Jalen McMillan (Fresno San Joaquin Memorial): Washington commit (9) WR Johnny Wilson Calabasas): Oregon commit (10) WR Gary Bryant Jr. (Corona Centennial): USC lead. However, it didn’t take long after the Young commit to Alabama that the Trojans picked up local Class of 2021 pocket passer QB Jake Garcia (Narbonne).
Caller No. 6: What did you think of the Coliseum chanting Reggie Bush’s name when they saw him doing the FOX pregame and halftime report? Caller No. 6,I understand the chanting because Reggie – like him or not – is one of USC’s all-time great players. How can you not agree with that? However, No. 5 helped create one the very darkest periods in USC football history, and many innocent players had to pay the price for his indiscretions. Until he comes out and publicly either apologizes or shows remorse, I won’t be part of the “Reggie” chants. It’s about taking ownership. Yes, the NCAA is a vindictive and selected punishment organization, but Reggie and his family allowed the NCAA to step up to the plate, and the rest is history. Bottom line: the NCAA didn’t do the crime, Reggie and his family did. Right now, Reggie acts like he is an innocent bystander and he’s not. Again, if he would show a public statement of contrition, apology, or take ownership, then I would be inclined to reassess my position.
Caller No. 7: Greg, what do you think of the Pac-12 South Division race? It’s still somewhat early, but I think that from a USC prospective, the second half of the season after playing Notre Dame is turning out to perhaps be much more challenging than anticipated. Colorado and ASU have shown great improvement, and the Trojans must travel to both universities in the second half of the season. As of now, I think those games could go either way. And in terms of just playing Pac-12 games, playing at Cal late in the season looks to be a real barnburner. In other words, the second half of the season – and don’t count out Arizona as long as Khalil Tate is healthy at quarterback – could end up being equal or more challenging than the first half of the schedule.
Caller No. 8: If Clay Helton were to be replaced, did you think Dr Folt would hire Urban Meyer? Well, Caller No. 8 it was only a matter of time before somebody asked that question. First of all, I think Dr. Folt will wait to hire an athletic director before making a call on a new coach. After the Utah win, I think Gentleman Clay is more likely than not to finish the season unless he goes on a three-game conference losing streak, and the Trojans are eliminated from the South Division race, which probably won’t be determined until sometime in November. However, I digress. No, I don’t think that Urban Meyer will replace Helton. I think he IS the best coach available and would have the Trojans in the CFP within three years, but I think he might carry too much baggage for Dr. Folt’s taste. And then again, Meyer would have to want the job in the first place, and is he ready to get back into coaching? However, I do think that legit options after Meyer are Bob Stoops, the former Oklahoma coach, and Jack Del Rio, the former NFL coach and Trojans All-America linebackers. And don’t tell me no to JDR because he is another USC football player or connection. I am not pushing Del Rio, but Jack isn’t connected at all the recent issues with USC football, and he checks most of the boxes, although he has never been a college head coach, but neither was Pete Carroll.
Caller No. 9: Mr. Katz, do you think that O.J. Simpson should continue having his giant jersey placed on the steps of the peristyle end of the Coliseum? Caller No. 9, I just got into that discussion recently with one of the most respected writers I know. IMHO, I don’t have a problem with Simpson’s jersey being there and Reggie Bush’s not being there. No question that Simpson’s horrible adult life now precedes his football achievements. However, Simpson’s behavior had nothing to do with his time at USC and his football exploits never got the University on probation. In the case of Bush, his issues took place while as a football player at USC and as mentioned earlier, many football players and the program were greatly wounded. I am not an idiot. I know the difference between murder and NCAA probation, but strictly on what happened while the two were at the University are like comparing apples and oranges. I know that Those that disagree with me could come up with compelling arguments to my own.
Caller No. 10: You mentioned on occasion that you attended Alhambra High School in Alhambra, California. Were there any famous people that graduated from your high school when you were there? Finally, Caller No. 10, a question that I can answer without upsetting the masses. Well, when I was at AHS, we had four famous people, and I am probably missing some others. I was in school with the future world’s greatest model, Cheryl Tiegs. Then there was a super teenage model and local LA dance show celeb named Kam Nelson. There was also future sunglasses mogul Jim Jannard, who founded Oakley Sunglasses. And perhaps a lesser known but important contributor to society was Eddy Hartenstein – we also went to Fremont Grammar School together – who founded DirecTV and was the former publisher of the Los Angeles Times.
The last word: At this point in the season, I guess we could all use the bye week, which is time to pause, take a deep breath, and prepare for the Notre Dame Weekender in two weeks. Ah, the Notre Dame Weekender, it doesn’t get any better than that; I can’t wait.