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IMHO Sunday: Domination

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

IMHO evaluation: With the USC Trojans dominating 42-24 victory over Stanford in the Pac-12 opener for both teams, now we know. Clay Helton’s  Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have validated they are one of the very best teams in the country and the just released rankings of the AP and Coaches Poll agree, having returned the Cardinal and Gold to a unanimous No. 4 in the land. Boy, did the Men of Troy come out and physically dominate the usually dominating Stanford Cardinal (1-1, 0-1 Pac-12) on Saturday. The Trojans beat the team that has made a successful living in the Pac-12 by beating up its opponents. Sure, we don’t know how good or average this Stanford team really is, but the manner in which the Trojans manhandled the Cardinal on both sides of the line of scrimmage would have made the late John McKay lite up one of his famous cigars and flash his Irish grin from ear to ear. And to hear a majority of the remaining 77, 614 at the end of the game chanting “We Are…SC” sent chills down the backs of the stoic Trojan fan, not to mention a Stanford team that was gazing around the Grand Old Lady at the end.      

Offensively speaking: Clay Helton has talked about a balanced but overwhelming running game. Saturday was proof of the pudding, as in 307 rushing yards. The question now is will the Men of Troy continue an identity of a punishing run game? On Saturday, Sam Darnold looked like Sam Darnold (4 TD passes/316 yds.) and no explanation is necessary. The offensive line meshed into a physically punishing unit in giving Stanford some of its own medicine. The tailbacks, namely Ronald Jones (2 TDS – 1 & 23 yds.), Steven Carr (119 yds.), and Vavae Malapeai in that order looked like the best threesome in the country and a fourth, physical back Aca’Cedric Ware, was no slouch either. The wide receivers were deadly, especially Deontay Burnett (9 recept,121 yds., 2 TDs 0, and can you believe Deontay was not on the initial Biletnikoff Award Watch List?

Defensively speaking: Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast took bigtime heat this past week for his unit’s performance last Saturday against Western Michigan. However, against Stanford, Clancy threw the kitchen sink at the Cardinal offense, and by the end of the game coach David Shaw’s defense was physically and mentally worn out, completely. The D-line along with linebackers Cameron Smith, Uchenna Nwosu, and Porter Gustin were relentless and nasty. If there was a chink in the armor, the Trojans still have work to do with their secondary, namely the corners. Otherwise, it was an improved defensive performance, especially the tackling.

Special teams speaking: Sad to see redshirt freshman kickoff designate Michael Brown carted out of the Coliseum (knee), but true freshman placekicker Chase McGrath stepped up and handled kickoffs for his fallen teammate. Of note, McGrath hit on all six PATs but did not attempt a field goal. The Trojans, however, do need to work on their punt return decision-making, especially inside the 10-yard line.

The bottom line IMHO: The Trojans reaffirmed themselves as a top contender for both Pac-12 and CFP consideration.

Tackling the issues: Middle linebacker Cameron Smith led the Trojans in tackles with eight stops. Smith was followed by CB Jack Jones and safety Chris Hawkins with six tackles each.

The quote book…

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments: “I thought the balance of the offense, the ability to run the ball for 309 and put 316 passing together with that, that’s something that we want each and every week. I commend Deontay (Burnett) and the receivers, 10 of 12 on third downs, for making some huge plays for us to keep drives alive. And this guy (Sam Darnold) creating over and over and over, his ability to create and keep his eyes downfield was phenomenal. Credit our team captain (Cameron Smith) and our defense, one of the most aggressive plans that I’ve ever been a part of in 23 years. I think that Clancy (Pendergast) had every blitz in his entire package and used it and these kids executed it.”

Stanford head coach David Shaw comments: “Our guys fought like they always do. They played extremely hard and well at times. But we didn’t have enough today. The Trojans played extremely well. First and foremost, their offensive line played extremely well. They ran the ball very well. I thought we ran it pretty well, and they ran it better than we did tonight, and I’m not used to saying things like that. All the credit goes to them. Their coaches did a great job preparing for us and out-coached us tonight.”

Sam speaks: Afterward, quarterback Sam Darnold said, “I think when our fans come out and are loud, it helps us as players to have that energy and to play to the best of our ability. Not that we didn’t do that against Western Michigan, but when our fans come out and are loud and ready to go, we can feed off that that and that’s something special you don’t get anywhere else.”

Defensively speaking: On the defensive’s reaction to 102 rushing yards by Stanford in the first half, middle linebacker Cameron Smith said, “It was the first series of the game. Our saying is stay up here all game long for four quarters. Everyone’s buying in on that. I think we’re doing well right now, and I think we’re just going to get better.”

End results: Trojans wide receiver Deontay Burnett said, “It was a job by our O-line andSam (Darnold) creating plays outside the pocket and trying to find them, and that was the biggest thing for us.”

Proved it: Trojans standout senior center Nico Falah said after the game, “As an offensive line, we proved it (against Stanford). We’re a run-first team and I think we showed it today. On Monday, Coach Helton came up to us and told us we were going to run the ball every other play. Stanford’s a run-first team and it’s my first win against Stanford and I am really happy about that.”   

The cheerleader: On firing up the crowd by waving his arms throughout the game, co-captain senior safety Chris Hawkins said, “I like playing when it’s a loud crowd. I am happy with how many people showed up tonight because it’s not always like that because the Coliseum is so big. It was rocking tonight. I thank the fans for coming out and hopefully against Texas, we know what that’s all about, more people will come out. I will be doing the same thing (waving his arms) on every down.”

Honest man: Senior offensive guard Viane Talamaivao on beating Stanford, “We’re just happy we came out with a win. I am glad we were able to run the ball and execute on both sides of the ball. This is a game we had circled on our calendar for some time. I mean they beat us twice one year, my sophomore year, and they beat us last year. We knew what kind of team they were going to be and what we had to do.”

Stevie is back: Playing like he did before injuries took a toll during his USC career, senior wide receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. (2 TDs. – 4 and 11 yd.) said, “We were ready to go and we had big plays. They allow us to get our energy up. Everybody picked Stanford over us and we knew it was going to be a dogfight, so we had to come out and play our game, which we did.”

D-line dominance on pass rush: Said junior defensive end Rasheem Green (photo above – No. 94) on the team’s two sacks, “It was very frustrating (during the game) to get so close and not get a sack. But it’s still good to get a ‘hurry’ because it still gets a quarterback off his spot. It’s still a win.”

Porterville: Said junior outside linebacker Porter Gustin, “I was 0-3 against them since I’ve been here, so this is one I really wanted. It was very satisfying. We were criticized last week about (defending) the run game, but tonight we were really able to step it up.”

The infirmary: Kicker Michael Brown (knee), DT Marlon Tuipulotu (Knee), TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe did not play and was not in uniform.

From the press box…

Counting the house: The announced attendance for Saturday night’s game was 77,614.

The thermometer: Temperature at kickoff in the Coliseum was 78 degrees.

Tunnel vision: Leading the Trojans out of the Coliseum players tunnel prior to kickoff was former Trojans basketball player and three-time NBA all-star DeMar DeRozan.

Cover boy: On the cover of the official USC/Stanford game program was appropriately enough Trojans junior wide receiver Deontay Burnett.

Bowling time: There were no bowl reps in attendance on Saturday.

Scouting the talent: NFL representatives in attendance included ­­the Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, Bills, Giants, and Jets.

The post-game show numbers…

Declining points: Against Stanford, the Trojans scored 42 points. Prior to the Stanford game, the Trojans were averaging 49 points per game.

Declining points – Part 2: Against Stanford, the Trojans allowed 24 points. Prior to the Stanford game, the Trojans defense was allowing 31 points per game.

A solid increase: Against Stanford, the Trojans had 623 yards in total offense. Prior to the Stanford game, the Trojans were averaging 521yards in total offense per game.

Decreasing numbers: Against Stanford, the Trojans allowed 342 offensive yards. Prior to the Stanford game, the Trojans defense was allowing 357 total offensive yards per game.

Rush hour: Against Stanford, the Trojans rushed for 307 yards. Prior to the Stanford game, the Trojans were averaging 232 rushing yards per game.

Rush to judgment: Against Stanford, the Trojans allowed 170 net rushing yards. Prior to the Stanford game, the Trojans defense was allowing 263 net yards rushing per game.

Solid increase: Against Stanford, the Trojans had 316 passing yards. Prior to the Stanford game, the Trojans were averaging 289 passing yards per game.

Airing it out: Against Stanford, the Trojans allowed 172 passing yards. Prior to the Stanford game, the Trojans defense was allowing 94 passing yards per game.

Still flagging: Against Stanford, the Trojans had eight penalties for 90 yards. Prior to the Stanford game, the Trojans were averaging 94 penalized yards per game.

The last word: The storied Texas Longhorns (1-1) arrive next Saturday in the Coliseum (5:30 p.m. PT), the first time the Horns, who smashed San Jose State 56-0 on Saturday, haven’t played a regular season game in Los Angeles since 1967. And to think I saw that game as a 17-year-old. Ah, those were the days, my friends.

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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