In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
IMHO: Undisciplined play, lack of execution in the red zone, inability to take advantage of golden scoring opportunities, a lethal special teams breakdown, and you could hear the proverbial cardinal and gold pin drop when it was all said and done. Hope and enthusiasm was sucked out of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum like a high-powered vacuum cleaner on Saturday night, as the No. 7 Oregon Ducks (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12 North) flexed their considerable offensive, defensive and special teams weaponry, defeating the mistake prone and misfiring USC Trojans (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12 South), 56-24, turning one of sports most celebrated historical venues into one gigantic cardinal and gold Los Angeles Memorial Mausoleum. Maybe all those empty Coliseum seats knew what those that chose not to sit in them knew. Can you say disaster? Can you the change is in the air but when?
IMHO -Part 2: Yep, what a poor Coliseum turnout on Saturday night for such an important game against the No. 7 team in the country and so much at stake. For the record, the attendance was announced at 63,011 and the new Coliseum capacity is listed at 77,500. Believe me, there weren’t that many in the Grand Old Lady, and what was left was screaming green-shirted Oregon fans. The lack of attendance or support as some would point out, sends a message to new athletic director to-be-named shortly, Mike Bohn, which also translates to lack of interest (AKA apathy) that also translates into financial liability. All in all, it was a night that started with such promise and ended in such disappointment, despair, and anger.
IMHO – Part 3: Even before Saturday night’s huge game against Oregon, the Trojans knew that No. 9 Utah had earlier in the day beaten Washington, 33-28, in Seattle. The Men of Troy also knew that to remain tied with Utah for first place in the Pac-12 South Division and still own the tiebreaker with the Utes – whom they defeated, 30-23, back on Sept. 20 – they had to upset the Ducks. As was proven Saturday night, knowing and doing is not in the same category. With the Trojans’ loss and Utah’s win, the Utes now take command of the Pac-12 South all by their lonesome. The Trojans’ decisive loss to Oregon was not only a benchmark of whom and what these Trojans are, but now Helton’s team has to hope and pray that one of Utah’s remaining opponents on the schedule (UCLA, at Arizona, Colorado) can somehow upset the Utes. The Trojans will probably need to sweep their remaining three games (at ASU, at Cal, Colorado), and BTW, the Men of Troy are still not bowl eligible (it takes six wins).
IMHO – Part 4: And as cruel as this may sound and barring a quasi-miracle that Utah will lose at home against the Bruins or Buffaloes or pull a major El Foldo against the Wildcats in Tucson, attention will immediately begin switching from the Pac-12 South Division title race back to the future of Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton. Fair or unfair, Helton again becomes the central figure, as the Trojans hope that Utah messes this all up. Not likely, my friends, but anything is possible in the whacky Pac-12, as we know it today. However, if the Trojans drop one or more of their remaining games, Helton’s days could be numbered. However, we’re still not quite at that point yet, but you can see that point from here. If I were to guess, I still think that Helton will finish the season, but if the Trojans are blown out like on Saturday night against the Ducks, those “tarmac” jokes could be back in vogue.
IMHO offensively: What began as a promising evening for quarterback Kedon Slovis turned into a post-Halloween nightmare (32 of 57 for 3 TDs and 3 interceptions including 1 Pick-6). Missed red zone opportunities combined with Slovis interceptions led to a complete breakdown of scoring ability. Although the Trojans had a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter, they should have scored more points. As it was, the Trojans could muster 17 points in the first half and could score just once late in the second half, a familiar history for Helton teams. All you needed to know about the game was the fact in the first half Oregon had one less penalty yardage (112) than total yardage (113) and still had a 28-17 halftime lead. There isn’t much more to say other than to say that basically the offense completely stopped scoring in the second half until right at the end. In the end, the Trojans’ offense accounted for 355 total yards, which means nothing if you can’t put the ball in the end zone, which the Trojans had a great deal of difficulty doing. Again, Slovis took some nasty shots from the Ducks’ defensive front but showed toughness after having a tough night (3 sacks). A bright spot was Trojans’ wide receiver Tyler Vaughns (75 yds. and 1 TD), and true freshman running back Kenan Christon (85 yds/5.3 avg.) showed again some uncommon toughness for a freshman and productivity. It also didn’t help losing one of three fumbles at a critical point in the game.
IMHO defensively: Well, when you give up 42 points on defense – not counting the other ways Oregon scored – you don’t win games, so help me Clancy Pendergast, who will also join Clay Helton on his own personal hot seat. The defense became undisciplined and really gave Oregon the break they needed when Trojans’ sophomore safety Isaiah Pola-Mao was tossed in the second quarter from the game for targeting, which gave the Ducks new life after being down 10-0 in the first quarter. From there, the Ducks began taking the Trojans defense apart methodically, as quarterback Justin Herbert (21 of 26 for 225 yards, 3 TDs, 1 PI) came to life after a slow start to give a good account of himself in front of a press box full of NFL scouts. The Trojans did reasonably well in containing the Ducks running attack (139 yds.), so Herbert became the focal point and showed why he is considered a high NFL draft pick. The Trojans’ secondary got reamed in the second half on Ducks’ TD receptions of 15, 11, 37, and 35 yards. Oregon senior WR Juwan Johnson accounted for the first 3 second-half scoring receptions, and Trojans’ Michael Pittman’s brother, Mycah, gave the Ducks their final score (35 yds. recept.) of the evening. All in all, the Ducks’ offense got untracked and took the Trojans’ defense behind the woodshed with some tough running and some impressive pass receptions. I thought that sophomore inside linebacker Kana’i Mauga played well enough to remain a starter, although that may not happen when Palaie Gaoteote (3 tackles) is completely healthy.
IMHO special teams: USC special teams coach John Baxter couldn’t have been happy when the Ducks broke the game open with a 100-yard kickoff return by Mykael Wright late in the second quarter, which took the air out of the Trojans who had just scored on a 13-yard TD reception from Kedon Slovis. Trojans’ placekicker Chase McGrath came through with a 24-yard field goal in the first quarter, but punter Ben Griffiths had a somewhat below average night (36.3 avg.), although he did have a long of 43 yards and had some placement kicks, which lowered his average.
Bottom Line: The Trojans and Clay Helton are in big trouble. From a numbers perspective, after the Trojans opened up a 10-0 first quarter lead, the Ducks scored the next 8 of 9 touchdowns in the game. Only Trojans’ true freshman wide receiver Kyle Ford helped make the score a little more tolerable at the end, scoring the last TD of the contest, a 20-yard reception from Slovis with 3:11 remaining. Now the Trojans may need a miracle to take back the South Division race, and Helton is now in danger of not finishing the season, although I suspect as long as the Trojans remain mathematically in the South Division race he won’t be dismissed. What is now quite apparent, however, is that this USC team is in way more trouble than their one-game deficit to Utah suggests. The schedule of remaining games for the Trojans (at ASU, at Cal, UCLA) and Utah (UCLA, at Arizona, Colorado) couldn’t be more opposite. And let’s not forget the Trojans are still not bowl eligible. Could they not go to a bowl game for the second year in a row? Possible, but not probable the way Cal’s offense is performing. In many ways the Oregon loss was a defining defeat, and the record says you are what you are. In the post-game media conference, Clay Helton insisted this is a special group of players, and they will need to be now that their backs are really against the Pac-12 wall.
The infirmary: None reported
Next up: The Trojans return to the road for a Saturday (night) game at Arizona State, which is another Pac-12 South encounter. Kickoff time is 1:30 p.m. MT/12:30 p.m. PT.
The Trojans/Oregon quote book…
Clay Helton comments: “Credit to Oregon, they are a good football team. We made enough mistakes tonight against a top-10 team that you can’t win a ballgame. You can’t turn it over four times and have the penalties we had and play that not clean a football game and expect to beat that team. Not our night. As I told the group in there we’ll come back on Monday and get ready for Arizona State.”
Clay Helton comments – Part 2: On the turning point in the game, Helton said, “In the first half we get up 10-0 and got the opportunity to really jump ahead and we ended up getting a red zone turnover. In that second quarter there’s just a couple things went against us — a pick-6 happened. You can’t do those things against that football team. They’re a quality football team; they’re well coached and tonight we just didn’t execute like I know we can.”
Clay Helton comments – Part 3: On why he believes he’s the right coach for this USC team, Helton said, “I’ve been here 10 years. And I believe in being a servant to this university and to the young men that are here. Each and every day I wake up and represent them and our school and I will continue to do that each and every day. And I’ll fight like hell for the next win with the people that believe in and the people that I love until they ask me not to do it anymore. I’ll show up on Monday and work my butt off for the next one. That’s what coaches do. That’s what ball coaches are. And I’ll continue doing the only thing I know, which is to fight.”
Clay Helton comments – Part 4: On how to move forward without being in control of your own destiny, Helton said, “You go on to the next game just like we’ve done. We’ve got to play an Arizona State team that’s had a week off and they’re in preparation for us. So, we’ve got to get back to work tomorrow, immediately. They’re at home with a talented offense and we’ve gotta go back and clean up the things that we did today and be ready to win the next one. And hope for a little luck. We’re sitting here with two losses right now in the Pac-12 South. Utah’s got one, and we’ll need a little help. All we can focus on is us and do our job. And our job is in Arizona next week.”
Clay Helton comments – Part 5: On the mental state of the team, Helton said, “I just told them in the locker room, if nothing else comes from this it’s a great life lesson. Every one of us feels bad now. But the world doesn’t care about us feeling sorry for ourselves. The world cares about you getting up and doing your job. The way we react as coaches and being the example hopefully rubs off on them. In real life, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to things.”
Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal comments: “Really proud of our guys. On the road against an excellent football team. Played with a lot of emotion and passion, sometimes too much, but we were able to overcome some of those self-inflicted issues and played a really good football game.”
Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal comments: – Part 2: On being chippy early and settling down, Cristobal said, “Not sure we fully did, but it got better. Both sides were really passionate about this game. We have 46 guys from the state of CA. Those guys out there have been going at each other for a long time. Our guys realized we were hurting ourselves, though, and that we have a chance to do something special and were compromising our opportunity to win. We had an understanding that we needed to fix this thing coming out of the tunnel and we did a much better job in the second half.”
Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal comments: – Part 3: On DB Brady Breeze pick 6 and Mykael Wright kickoff return, Cristobal said, “Those two plays were huge, they provided all the momentum. They sent us into the locker room with a lot of juice and a lot of energy. If you watch Mykael’s (Wright) high school tape, that wouldn’t surprise you. That’s what he has done. Brady’s (Breeze) touchdown was a huge momentum swing and then for them to come down and score, for us to come right back with the kickoff return, that was huge.”
QB Kedon Slovis: On his turnovers, Slovis said, “I don’t think it necessarily affected my decision-making process throughout the game or my reads. You can’t commit turnovers like that, but sometimes it happens. You just have to move on and play the next play.”
ILB John Houston: On if he feels like they are playing for their coach’s job, Houston said, “For me I’m playing for my teammates, for everybody in the locker room. Just for ourselves, trying to get ourselves better. I’m not worried about outside factors, we’re just worried about how we can get better as a whole unit each and every week.”
CB Olaijah Griffin: On the Oregon wide receivers, Griffin said, “They were talented. They have a lot of talent. It’s just us a little bit, us making mistakes. I feel like we could have beat them. Losing (SS) Isaiah Pola-Mao (targeting) was another man down and we lost NK Greg Johnson too. We was down a lot of DBs.”
DE Christian Rector: Asked if the Oregon offense did anything different than what was seen on film or anticipated, Rector said, “I think we had a really good game plan, we came out really physical in the beginning, all our pressures were getting there. I liked how we battle upfront and stopped the run. We that was something they wanted to assert early-on. It hurts losing; I don’t they’re 32 points better than us. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot tonight. We can’t turn the ball over like that, three turnovers, and expect to beat the No. 7 team in the nation.”
WR Tyler Vaughns: On what changed after getting off to a hot start against Oregon, Vaughns said, “It’s us. We got to stay on tune with what we’re doing and executing really better. We have to finish drives and things like that. That kind of killed us.”
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: Asked how the team will rebound from the Oregon loss, St. Brown said, “We go in Sunday or Monday and watch film and break down our mistakes and look forward to Arizona State and be better. We shot ourselves in the foot (tonight) in the red zone, two fumbles, interceptions, the pick-6 at the end (of the half) didn’t help. The targeting call on Isaiah (Pola-Mao) really changed things. We down on defense with a few guys and to lose him, it is what it is.
C Brett Neilon: “Down the line, we didn’t execute at all. I am not going to sugarcoat it. We had turnovers that killed us. We just didn’t get it done tonight. The red zone turnover, the fumble, then they got the kickoff touchdown. It’s super tough if them to score back-to-back. It could have been a totally different ball game and that stung.”
OU kick returner Mykael Wright: On his 100-yard kickoff return and beating the Trojans in the Coliseum, Wright said, “I haven’t taken many reps at returning, but ever since last week, I’ve been repping it out at practice. I just took the opportunity. When I passed the first line, I saw a big crease coming in and my guy made a perfect block, I just cut it up field and that’s when I knew I was taking it all the way. This was a huge statement for us. USC hasn’t lost at home this year, so coming in here and doing this was big for us and a step forward.”
From the press box…
Temperature: Coliseum kickoff temperature was partly cloudy and 77 degrees.
Cover boy: Junior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns was on the cover of the official game program.
VIPs: If you wondered what some of those VIP seats in the Scholarship Tower look like, take a look at the photo below. You might also notice the TV monitors
Parking sharks: Private parking lots across from the Coliseum were charging $100 per car.
Sock it to me: Well, just when you that the Trojans were past wearing the block socks as part of their uniform, the black socks returned for the Oregon game. I am sure that somewhere Lane Kiffin is smiling.
Welcome back: Oregon assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Keith Heyward was once a USC assistant (2014-15).
Happy birthday: Trojans’ ILB Ralen Goforth celebrated his 19th birthday on Saturday.
NFL draft: NFL scouts in attendance included the Packers, Chargers, Chiefs, Steelers, Eagles, Bears, Broncos, Lions, Colts, Saints, Cardinals, Dolphins, Giants, Falcons.
Let’s go bowling: The Rose and Alamo Bowls had reps in the press box.
The menu: The Coliseum press box pregame “dinner” menu included pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, and an assortment of cookies.
The post-game show numbers…
Tackling the issues: Senior inside linebacker John Houston led the Trojans with 9 tackles followed by sophomore inside linebacker Kana’i Mauga with 7 tackles.
Downward trend: Against Oregon, the Trojans scored 24 points. Prior to the game with the Ducks, the Trojans were averaging 31.25 points per game.
Upward trend: Against Oregon, the Trojans allowed 56 points. Prior to the game with the Ducks, Trojans’ defense was allowing 24.88 points per game.
Downward trend: Against Oregon, the Trojans had 355 yards in total offense. Prior to the game with the Ducks, the Trojans were averaging 442.4 yards in total offense per game.
Downward trend: Against Oregon, the Trojans defense allowed 405 total yards in total offense. Prior to the game with the Ducks, the Trojans’ defense was allowing 429.4 in total yards per game.
Downward trend: Against Oregon, the Trojans had 91 net yards rushing. Prior to the game with the Ducks, the Trojans were averaging 146.3 rushing yards per game.
Downward trend: Against Oregon, the Trojans allowed 139 net rushing yards. Prior to the game with the Ducks, the Trojans’ defense was allowing 190.1 rushing yards per game.
Downward trend: Against Oregon, the Trojans had 264 yards passing yards. Prior to the game with the Ducks, Trojans were averaging 296.13 passing yards per game.
Upward trend: Against Oregon, the Trojans allowed 266 passing yards. Prior to the game with the Ducks, the Trojans’ defense was allowing 239.25 passing yards per game.
Time of possession: The Trojans had the ball 31:13 minutes while Oregon had the ball for 28:47 minutes.
Upward flag waving: Against Oregon, the Trojans had eight penalties for 92 yards while the Ducks had 12 penalties for 157 yards. Prior to the Oregon game, the Trojans were averaging 67.38 penalty yards per game while the opposition was averaging 62.38 penalty yards per game.
The post-game call-in show:
Caller No. 1: With the Oregon loss, how do you think that affects the status of Clay Helton? On the Trojans Live broadcast last Monday night with Jordan Moore and Shaun Cody, one of their primary guests was interim USC athletic director Dave Roberts. Asked about Helton, Roberts said, “It’s going to be an issue of timing again. If I am here for a shorter stint, I’ll have comments to make to the new athletic director. If I am here for a longer period of time and I am here at the end of the year, I am sure I’ll be talking to the President (Folt). Right now, I believe in judging people on what they do and how they perform.
“The jury is not in here. We still, hopefully, we’ve got a run for a Southern Conference (Division) championship, play in the Pac-12 Conference championship, and get ourselves a good bowl game, and things will look well. Obviously, recruiting is the lifeblood there, too, so we want to try do everything we can do to make sure our recruiting goes well.” With the anticipated announcement of Mike Bohn being named the new USC athletic director, it figures Bohn watched Oregon’s demolition of the Trojans on Saturday night and the wheels are turning.
For those of you that are understandably concerned about Clay Helton’s recruiting, that last line above by Dave Roberts looms large at this point because by most “experts” in the recruiting field, the Trojans are not doing well. It should also be noted that Roberts also emphasized that money is the bottom line in an athletic department and with the new Scholarship Tower and reduced Coliseum capacity, there has to be new ways to generate revenue. Well, winning football championships certainly is part of the “new” way of generating revenue through season ticket sales, which was reportedly significantly lost prior to this season. Certainly the disappointing turnout at the Coliseum against the No. 7 Ducks in a critical Pac-12 South game won’t be lost as part of the overall evaluation.
Caller No. 2: Coach Katz, are you at all concerned that new incoming athletic director Mike Bohn doesn’t understand the football situation? First, since I am no longer coaching, you can just call me Greg. As to your question, there should be no doubt that Bohn already has a basic knowledge of the current USC football program and situation. I am sure after watching the Trojans on Saturday night and being a former college quarterback, it wasn’t hard to see where the Trojans need to go to get back on top of ther Pac-12 mountain. Bohn knows right enough to begin to form some opinion. You don’t need John McKay to point out what was happening Saturday night on the field and/or on the sidelines. No, Bohn – pronounced “bone” – is either up to speed on the football and Helton situation or is now caught up to speed. It isn’t hard to figure out play on the field, how many fans are in the stands, the anger of the USC fan base, and the problems with recruiting.
Caller No. 3: Mr. GK, after Saturday night’s result against Oregon, are you concerned about playing the Duckies in the Pac-12 title game? That won’t be an issue unless Utah loses a remaining conference game and the Trojans probably have to win their final three games. If the Trojans drop another conference game, it’s probably a moot point. So, no, I am not worried about a potential rematch with the Ducks. It’s still going to be a major challenge trying to win the South Division.
Caller No. 4: Mr. Katz, it seems like this team is very focused about getting to the Rose Bowl. Have you detected a difference in this year’s team as compared to last season? No doubt, caller No. 2. By this time last season, the Trojans were all but dead in the water and what did they really have to play for? Despite the disappointing loss to Oregon on Saturday night, the Trojans still currently have as many wins (5) as they did all last season. So, this team entered November with plenty to play for – like a nice bowl game one way or another, but they still need one more victory to be bowl eligible. This team seems to have a never-die attitude and much of that has to do within the leadership of the team. I don’t know if they can get to Pasadena on New Year’s Day, but I know they are giving it their best shot and want to go to a bowl game – period.
Caller No. 5: Grego, who is your offensive and defensive players of the year up to this point? That’s an easy one from my standpoint. Offensively, it senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who has made himself in the Pac-12’s most dangerous receiver outside of Colorado’s Laviska Shenault. I thought Pittman’s 37-yard winning TD reception from Kedon Slovis in Colorado was absolutely outstanding. Pittman turn a good gain into a touchdown and the Colorado secondary was in shock.
Defensively, I think I would go with safety Talanoa Hufanga even though he is sidelined with the shoulder injury. One can’t minimize the loss of the super sophomore who obviously gives up his body to be an effective defender.
Caller No. 6: At this point in the season, who would be the newcomers of the year on offense and defense? On offense, it’s a no-brainer. Quarterback Kedon Slovis is the hands-down winner. He is getting better and he certainly doesn’t look or play like a true freshman for the most part. The one area, however, that has recently impressed me is his mental toughness after the concussion. He took some shots from the Colorado and Oregon defenses and you could tell he was hurting. Nonetheless, he sucked it up and his teammates seemed to respond to his resolve. Defensively, I am going to throw out a wildcard in sophomore inside linebacker Kani’i Mauga, who I think has done a very good job in place of Palaie Gaoteote. In fact, I won’t be shocked next season if Mauga is a starter inside along with Gaoteote or Palaie is moved to the outside where I think he is best suited.
Caller No. 7: G-man, where is the best place to watch a Pac-12 game other than the Coliseum? Now this is a difficult question because most of the venues have seating close to the field. I like what Stanford did in its renovation and certainly Autzen Stadium puts you on top of the action. A dark horse would be Washington State because Martin Stadium is so small that it’s like a junior college stadium and a great place to see a game. If you’re looking for a view, I will upset the applecart and say – on a clear day – Cal’s Memorial Stadium because if it’s clear, you can see the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge in the far background. Memorial Stadium is nestled in Strawberry Canyon, and there is a real sense of beauty surrounding the place, which includes the famous Tightwad Hill.
Caller No. 8: Mr. K, you have said that when you were in your teens, you would drive down to SC and watch John McKay’s team practice. Was McKay that intimidating for a guy that wasn’t even 6-foot tall? I have always said that McKay was like royalty and not only was he intimidating with that famous glare, even his own players couldn’t look him in the eye. He was just somebody that had charisma and the toughness, which came across. I still don’t understand why he let me into practices, but I think he knew I was a big USC fan, and who else in those days my age would drive to campus to watch the players go through the gate to Bovard Field and later into Howard Jones Field? All I know is that it is a wonderful memory, and, yes, I do have something to compare the coaches that followed McKay. When I say a particular coach or coaches are no John McKay, I am speaking from first-hand experience.
Caller No. 9: Gregmeister, other than the USC Trojans uniforms, who do you think has the best college football uniforms? Well, I must admit I don’t see what people see in the Notre Dame uniforms other than the gold helmets. I think that Penn State and Alabama uniforms don’t stick out at all to be and the Oregon uniforms are just – well – silly. However, since you asked me, I do like the Michigan helmets and game uniforms. Oh, and by the way, I can’t stand it when the Trojans wear black socks.
Caller No. 10: Sir, what was your first car as a teenager? Was I ever a teenager? Well, my parents gave me their 1962 Chevy Impala for my 16th birthday. They wanted me behind the wheel and didn’t want somebody else’s kid driving because they were worried that the other kid might be drinking. They also made it clear I had no excuse for not leaving a party where “stuff” was going on. And you know what? They were right. I had to leave high school parties of my friends because they indulged in things I couldn’t accept. Yeah, call me square and a teetotaler. And many of you won’t believe this, but it’s absolutely true. I have never had a can of beer or smoked a joint. How’s that for a true confession?