16 min Read

IMHO Sunday: Let’s get ready to rumble!

Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

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

Evaluation: Thanks to a stellar defensive performance and the dynamic duo of explosive sophomore tailback Ronald “Breeze” Jones ll (photo above) and precocious redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, the USC Trojans (6-3, 5-2, Pac-12 South) served notice to the No. 4 (AP) Washington Huskies (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12 North), which smashed Cal, 66-27, on Saturday night, that they will be coming to Seattle next weekend ready to rumble, both offensively and defensively.

Evaluation – Part 2: After dismantling the helpless Oregon Ducks (3-6, 1-5 Pac-12 North), 45-20, on Saturday evening in the Coliseum, the Men of Troy, now on a five-game winning streak, will find out next Saturday in the Great Northwest just how far they have come since the devastating loss to No. 1 Alabama to open the season. As for this weekend’s demolition over Oregon, it was a huge payback for the Trojans after experiencing last season’s humiliating 48-28 crushing in Eugene. Other than yet another game of undisciplined penalty yardage (129 yds.), the Trojans look about as ready as they can be at for their rendezvous with the “Dawgs” in the Emerald City.

Offensively speaking: Once again showing that they can pile up points against another porous Pac-12 defense, the Trojans offense did what was expected, and that in itself is a good sign – score and score and score while piling up huge chunks of yardage (579 yds.). We’ll find out next Saturday against an aggressive and talented Washington defense if the current wave of impressive Trojan offensive performances can continue in what figures to be a raucous Husky Stadium (70,083). As for the Oregon game, Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold again used his legs (5 rushes for 23 yards) to drive a defense whacko. Darnold (28 of 40 for 309 yards and two touchdowns) can turn a designed play into a playground adventure. Trying to sack Sam is like trying to drink soup with a fork. And now what a wonderful quandary for Clay Helton at running back. If healthy, do you restart senior Justin Davis against Washington or do you start sophomore Ronald Jones ll, who is coming off a four touchdown performance and 179 yards rushing against the Ducks? If Davis isn’t absolutely 100 percent for Washington, you start Jones, an obvious future All-America candidate with an NFL future. Against the Ducks, nine different Trojans caught passes from Sam Darnold, and that type of diversified passing threat will be needed against a very talented Washington secondary. Again, the offensive line, with a number of different combinations, played big bully, and the Oregon defense found out firsthand that coach Neil Callaway’s unit is deep and continues to get better. Now, however, can they bully Washington’s defense front? That answer will tell us just how far this O-line has truly come.

Defensively speaking: To hold a team like Oregon, which came in averaging 40 points per game, to a paltry 288 in total offense is an attention getter. Perhaps even more of an attention getter was the fact that the “legendary” Oregon ground game was almost non-existent, being held to 85 yards. Now looking to next weekend against Washington, the Trojans defense will be faced a wonderfully balanced and explosive UW offense. The Huskies will be the second toughest offense this unit has faced since Alabama. We know that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast understands how to stop or limit the Oregon offense, but Washington presents his next greatest challenge. With the Trojans offense keeping the pressure on by way of the scoreboard on Saturday night, the USC defense enjoyed a rare domination of an Oregon offense. Not that the Trojans defense was perfect because one again they were burned by a reverse, but that’s a result of an aggressive defense that can run to the ball with authority. You can bet that Washington head coach Chris Petersen will have plenty of “gadget” plays ready for the Cardinal and Gold to go along with his prolific offense, lead by two super sophomores in quarterback Jake Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin. Is the Trojans defense ready for a balance offense presented by Washington? As my late parents would answer, “We’ll see.”

Special team speaking: Coach John Baxter’s special team had mostly good results except for an early botched punt by sophomore Chris Tilbey, who finished the evening with four punts for 159 yards (39.8 avg.). There was some Baxter trickery on a “fake” Adoree’ Jackson return, which caught the fans and media looking in the wrong direction. Junior kicker Matt Boermeester had eight kickoffs that average 64.1 yards, including three touchbacks. Matt accounted for with a 35-yard field goal in his only try and is now 10 of 15 in field goal attempts this season.

The bottom line: Saturday was certainly a highly satisfying win over an Oregon program that has had its way against the Trojans for a number of seasons. However, before you go overboard and claim the Pete Carroll era is on the horizon, you might want to refrain from such hyperbole until after the results of next weekend’s game at Washington. As an unwelcomed reminder, the Huskies beat the Trojans 17-12 last season in the Coliseum in what would prove to be Steve Sarkisian’s last game as USC’s head football coach. So, how good are Clay Helton’s 2016 Trojans? We find out shortly just how good, as well as the evolving state of the Trojans rejuvenated program.  

The infirmary: DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (knee), CB “Biggie” Marshall (hamstring), ILB Michael Hutchings (strained calf).

Next up: The Trojans travel to Seattle for next Saturday’s (4:30 p.m. PT) key Pac-12 game against the Washington Huskies. Perhaps the biggest game in the Pac-12 conference to date, the brawl will be televised on FOX.

The quote book…

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments: “Another good win for our team as we stay in contention in the Pac-12 South. I really have to thank the fans tonight. I thought they did a tremendous job. One, their loudness on third down. You could feel it; it was a neat, exciting atmosphere. Thanks to them, I thought our players fed off them.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments – Part 2: “It started with our defense and their success. That’s a really good rushing football team, and one the things I think is that Coach Pendergast does is focusing on taking the away the strength of a team. No question, they’re not only one of the best rushing teams in our conference but in the nation, and to stop them in the run game and 85 yards and 2.8 a carry is just a tremendous effort by our defense.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments – Part 3: “Offensively, we were able to stay on the field with 9 of 14 on third down efficiency, and we really established our own running game, starting with this guy Ronald Jones ll and a great offensive line. We didn’t play perfect tonight, but beating a good Oregon team at home and continue our success at home, to continue the balance we have on offense, just a suffocating defense right now, we’re playing good football. To be honest, I told them (the team) we have to clean up the penalties (129 yards). That was way too much yellow out there tonight. You want to be playing your best football by November, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments – Part 4: Regarding electrifying tailback Ronald Jones ll, Helton said, “I hold my breath every time he touches it because I know there is a chance he can go all the way. Between himself and a very effective offensive line, they are doing some special things right now.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments – Part 3: On playing No. 4 Washington next Saturday, Helton said, “It ought to be a lot of fun. We played our way into a really big game in November, and that’s what you hope to do.”

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich comments: “Our guys rallied, but just didn’t seize enough moments there early. As soon as you plugged one hole in the dike, another one opened up. Those guys are talented enough to make you pay for it.”

The revenge game: On how satisfying the victory was against Oregon after the Ducks clobbered the Trojans last season in Eugene, Trojans corner Chris Hawkins revealed, “For the DBs, I thought this was a revenge game for us because they really put it on us last year. I mean, he (QB Vernon Adams Jr.) had six touchdowns and only five incompletions last year. I know this is what we talked about the last two days getting revenge, you know. Making sure they feel us, making sure they know how really good we are in the backend, and I think we did that tonight.”

RoJo speaks: On his four touchdown night and 179 yards rushing (8.6 avg.), sophomore tailback Ronald Jones ll said, “They (offensive line) got off the ball and all I did was follow their reads. It (four rushing touchdowns) means a lot to me, just get this win, and keep moving forward.”

Porterville: On basically shutting down the vaunted Oregon running game, sophomore outside linebacker Porter Gustin said, “We emphasized it all week. We knew they were the top rushing offense in the Pac-12. We challenged ourselves throughout the week to keep the rush game down.”

Sam says: On some trickery by the Oregon defense, Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold said, “They showed some different things that we weren’t expecting, and we had to adjust to it. Once we figured out what they’re trying to do, it’s going to be hard to stop us if we execute.”

Sam says – Part 2: On his growing confidence, Darnold said, “Our offense keeps gaining confidence as we keep winning. My confidence will grow, and I am just going to try and play my game and not get out of my comfort zone at all.”

Adoree’ on Washington: After the game, Trojans All-Pac-12 corner Adoree’ Jackson was asked if playing on the big stage earlier against Alabama in Dallas might help in playing another big game at Washington. Adoree’ said, “Yeah. We have to keep doing everything we’ve been doing the last four or five weeks and keep doing our job. I am not going to be worrying about the game that’s at task or the atmosphere. Just go out there and play ball.”

Better to receive: On evaluating his team’s offense performance against Oregon, sophomore wide receiver Deontay Burnett (87 yds./1 TD) said, “Our offense did very well, but we still have mistakes to correct. We had a good balance of running the ball and throwing the ball. We were effective as an offense. I feel comfortable out there, but I have to correct some mistakes and get some film tomorrow and go off those mistakes and then make them no mistakes.”

Deontay on Washington: As far as looking ahead to the Washington Huskies, Deontay Burnett said, “I’ve been (already) watching film on them. I know my teammates have, too. We’re keeping up with the standings and stuff. We just have to go and have no breaks and just look forward to that matchup next week. They’re a very good defense, but we’re a good offense, so the best is going to come out next week. I can’t wait and I know my teammates can’t wait.”

Hutchings pontificates: On what he liked about his defense’s performance, Trojans senior inside linebacker captain Michael Hutchings said, “That we stayed on it after halftime because it was easy to become complacent. After we got those quick 17 points, we stayed with it and stayed competitive, and there was no real drop-off in the way we played just because of the score.”

JuJu on offense: Asked how much the offense has improve since early in the season, Trojans junior All-Pac-12 wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said, “I think we’re doing really good and moving ahead. Now moving on to Washington and playing the way we should, which is really good. We just need to keep playing like we’ve been playing (to beat Washington). I know a few guys over there. They have a lot of heart, and it’s going to be a home game for them, but we need to play as family, as brothers, and we’ll do a lot better.”

From the press box…

The soothsayer: Prior to kickoff, WeAreSC staffer and former Trojans D-back Darrell Rideaux said that the Oregon offense would have a very difficult time against the Trojans defense because defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s defense matches up well with the Oregon offense. Rideaux also said that Pendergast’s defense also was designed to give Oregon freshman quarterback Justin Hebert fits and confusion.

The soothsayer – Part 2: Darrell Rideaux also said it was imperative that the Trojans jump out early against Oregon and make the Ducks offense play from behind. Obviously that came to fruition in the first quarter, as the Trojans took an early 17-6 lead.

Clearing the way:
On Ronald Jones ll  23-yard, first quarter touchdown, credit key blocks inside by junior center Nico Falah and junior right guard Viane Talamaivao for opening up a huge hole in the interior.

The cheerleader: While the defense was doing their job against the Ducks, Trojans All-Pac-12 right tackle Zack Banner stood behind the Trojans bench and waved his arms for the fans to make more noise, and the fans responded.

Susceptible: Although the Trojans defense flowed to the ball relentless, for the third time this season they were burned by a reverse when Oregon receiver Charles Nelson completely fooled the Trojans defense with a 15-yard, first quarter touchdown run, which was aided by some nifty moves.

Fighting on: Perhaps a new phrase has been instituted during Trojans Coliseum home games. When the Trojans attain a first down, the public address says, “First down Trojans…Fight On!!!!”

Nostalgia: With Homecoming the theme, during a timeout the large Coliseum video board showed the famous 1969 USC-UCLA game, a game marked by a 32-yard, Trojans game-winning touchdown pass play from QB Jimmy Jones to wide receiver Sam Dickerson with 1 minute 32 seconds remaining, which eventually gave the Men of Troy a thrilling 14-12 victory. Fans in attendance were also treated to the radio call by the Trojans late legendary voice of Tom Kelly.

Brownie points: Trojans backup quarterback Max Browne, who will transfer at the end of the semester, saw action at 9:32 left in the game. Max was 0 of 1 in pass attempts and basically handed the ball off to move the game to its conclusion and not run up the score.

Homecoming guests: As part of the alumni returning for Homecoming, former Trojans Ray Maualuga, Soma Vainuku, Ryan Kalil, and Sam Baker were on the USC sidelines. Also in attendance were former Trojans linebacker Su’a Cravens, who now plays with the Washington Redskins, and former linebacker Thomas Williams.

The post-game show…

Counting the house: The official Coliseum attendance on Saturday was announced as 74,625, which was the largest gathering for the Trojans home schedule to date.

Tunnel vision: Leading the Trojans out of the legendary Coliseum players’ tunnel prior to kickoff was former All-America wide receiver and Super Bowl winner Steve Smith.

NFL evaluations: Scouting the talent on Saturday were representatives from Kansas City, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Minnesota, Carolina, Cleveland, and the Rams.

Cover boy: Gracing the cover of the game program was Trojans All-Pac-12 junior corner Adoree’ Jackson, who had just two tackles as Oregon elected to stay away from his side.

It’s all uniform: For those that would like to know, Oregon, the team of many uniform options, wore their all-white uniforms with white helmets and green numerals on the jersey. Ducks helmets had the traditional green “O” on each side.

Bowling: There were no bowl representatives in attendance on Saturday.

The Call-In Show numbers…

Climbing average: The Trojans scored 45 points against Oregon. Prior to Saturday’s game with the Ducks, the Trojans were averaging 30.4 points per game.

Below the norm: The Trojans defense allowed 20 points to Oregon. Prior to the Ducks game, the Trojans were allowing 24.0 points per game.

Down domination: The Trojans had 28 first downs compared to the Ducks 19.

Offensive tsunami: The Trojans had 579 yards in total offense against Oregon. Prior to the Ducks game, the Trojans were averaging 463.6yards in total offense per game.

Decrease in productivity: Against Oregon, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 288 total offensive yards. Prior to the Ducks, the Trojans were allowing 383.8 yards per game.

Ground war: Against Oregon, the Trojans rushed for 270 yards. Prior to the Ducks, the Trojans were averaging 204.6 rushing yards per game.

Believe it or not – Part 2: Against Oregon, the Trojans defense allowed 85 net yards rushing. Prior to the Ducks, the Trojans were allowing 161.6 net rushing yards per game.

Passing increase: Against Oregon, the Trojans passed for 309yards. Prior to the Ducks, the Trojans were averaging 259.0 passing yards per game.

Short circuit: Against Oregon, the Trojans defense allowed 203 passing yards. Prior to the Ducks, the Trojans were allowing 222.1 passing yards per game.

The red zone: The Trojans were 5 of 5 in the red zone while Oregon was 2 of 3.

Sacking: The Trojans sacked Ducks QB Justin Herbert 3 times while Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold was not sacked at all by the Ducks defense.

The flag is up, up, up: The Trojans were penalized 13 times for 129 yards on Saturday night. Prior to Oregon, the Trojans were averaging 64.4 yards per game in penalties per game compared to its opponents 43.2 yards per game.

Tackling the issue: Leading tacklers for the Trojans against Oregon were linebacker Cameron Smith with 8 tackles followed by safety Chris Hawkins with 7 tackles.

The last word: So now we must wait until next Saturday afternoon for the Trojans to prove where they are now at in the first full season of the Clay Helton era. The Trojans still need Colorado and Utah to lose one game to regain some sort of control of their Pac-12 South destiny. Of course, the Trojans can’t realistically lose another conference game either, and that’s what makes the Washington game so critical. Still, given where the Cardinal and Gold were prior to Oct. 1, it will be worth the wait until Saturday.

Greg Katz
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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