14 min Read

IMHO Sunday: November to remember?

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 the USC Trojans 45-24 drubbing of Cal on Thursday night, the Men of Troy (5-3, 4-2 Pac-12 South) finished the month of October undefeated. Now comes the critical month of November and all its implications. Although there are different scenarios, the Trojans probably need to sweep their remaining three conference games to have a shot at a Pac-12 South title and then beat Notre Dame to have added record padding for decent bowl game outside of the Rose Bowl. The combined record of the remaining four Trojans opponents (Oregon, at Washington, at UCLA, Notre Dame) is 17-15. By virtue of their recent play, the Men of Troy are capable of defeating or losing to all four teams, depending on turnovers, penalties, and just plain execution.

Evaluation – Part 2: With Utah’s 31-24 home loss to Washington (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12 North), the Trojans are now tied with the Utes (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12 South) for second in the Pac-12 South, one game behind division-leading Colorado (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12 South). Assuming the Trojans can win out, no easy task, Troy needs Utah to lose another game because the Utes hold the tie-breaker with the Cardinal and Gold. The Trojans will also root for Colorado to lose. The Trojans own the tie-breaker with Colorado, thanks to their earlier win over the Buffaloes. FYI, Colorado’s remaining conference games include UCLA, at Arizona, Washington State, and Utah. As for Utah, they play at ASU, Oregon, and at rival Colorado. At the moment, it would appear the Trojans best chances are that Utah loses at Colorado and Colorado is defeated earlier by Washington State. Hold on to your hats.

Offensively speaking: A Thursday night national ESPN audience got an eyeful of what all the commotion is about as it pertains to Trojans redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold (photo above). Although Darnold threw for 231 yards and five TD passes, Sam certainly wasn’t perfect as illustrated by his two fumbles and one interception. To be honest, Cal’s defense was one of the worst Pac-12 defenses in recent memory, but the Trojans offense – when not shooting itself again in the foot – was impressive. Cardinal and Gold runners ran wild (Ronald Jones a career-high 223 yards and Aca’Cedric Ware with130 yards), the receivers did their part (3 TD receptions), and coach Neil Callaway’s offensive line manhandled the overmatched Cal defensive front. And, yes, that was another passing touchdown to a Trojans tight end, a 17-yards scoring strike from Darnold to freshman Daniel Imatorbhebhe.

Defensively speaking: What a performance by Clancy Pendergast’s defense! It didn’t hurt that respected Cal quarterback Davis Webb wasn’t sharp from the get-go but did warm up later. However, that would be detracting for the outstanding effort by the Trojans. One of Cal’s touchdowns was the result of a gift fumble on a sack of Sam Darnold. And with the three Trojans turnovers to keep Cal breathing, it speaks even higher of Pendergast’s unit to stonewall a terrific Bears offense. Still, if you’re looking for improvement, there remains the lack of a pass rush, as the Trojans recorded no sacks. In the coming weeks, the Trojans will desperately need to apply greater pressure to the opponents, starting with Oregon and its true freshman but talented quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw for 489 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-35 win over ASU.

Special team speaking: The highlight was Adoree’ Jackson becoming the Trojans all-time kick return leader, surpassing the likes of Curtis Conway, Reggie Bush, and R.J. Soward. Jackson, who had two kickoff returns against Cal for 56 yards, broke the previous kick return record (1,723 yds.) held by Conway. However, junior kicker Matt Boermeester didn’t look himself for a good part of the game with kickoffs short of touchbacks, a kickoff out of bounds, and a missed field goal. Matt did, however, rebound in the final quarter with a field goal and a touchback. If anything, special teams results were a mixed bag.

The bottom line: Certainly there were a lot of offensive and defensive positives in the Trojans drubbing of Cal; however, there continues to be ominous and foreboding negatives as it applies to penalties and turnovers. If the Trojans hope to entertain any aspirations of a Pac-12 South title and a respectable bowl game, they can’t have 13 penalties for 125 yards, two fumbles, and an interception like they produced against Cal. When you talk about team discipline, this is an issue that continues to haunt Clay Helton’s team, dating back to the Alabama opener. Yes, the Trojans appear to be an improved team or maybe they’re just playing inferior teams and as for the aforementioned sweep their final four games, but there’s no way this happens if the penalties and turnovers continue.

Next up: The Oregon Ducks (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12 North) come to the Coliseum on Saturday, and despite their stunning shocking record, the mallards still possess a very explosive offense, which was on display in the Ducks, 54-35, victory over Arizona State on Saturday. Did we mentioned Saturday’s game will also be homecoming on campus?

Bulletin: The USC vs. Oregon Homecoming game at the Coliseum on Saturday (Nov. 5) will kick off at 4 p.m. PT and be broadcast live on ESPN.

The quote book…

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments: “I can’t tell you how proud I am of our defense. To hold that team (Cal) to 24 points is something special. That’s an awful good quarterback that we played today and a very good skilled unit. I thought offensively the ball control and the balance led by RoJo (Ronald Jones), led by Ced (Aca’Cedric Ware) and our offensive line was huge. To limit that squad to 75 plays was a key in the game. We felt we really needed to hold on to the ball, be ball control, be balanced, and the wide outs and the quarterback do what they do with five touchdown passes in that game, and we probably left a couple out there to be honest with you. Overall, a very very good win for our football team at home. Offense and defensive fronts did a tremendous job tonight.”

Cal head coach Sonny Dykes comments: On playing USC with such a short rest, “It’s a travesty whoever scheduled this game. I hope the Pac-12 doesn’t do this again to another school. It’s not right for the kids. They’ve had to miss a bunch of class. Everyone talks about student-athlete welfare and didn’t put their money where their mouth is on that one. We looked like a tired, beat-up football team and we were.”

Stevie says: On limiting the damage of the Cal passing attack, Trojans nose tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu said, “I think we did a pretty good job but not as good as we thought we should have done, but it was good enough for tonight. The key was for our backs and DBs to do it, and I don’t know how they did it, but I am glad they did. It was a pretty hard time rushing the quarterback with the kind of pass protections that they had. This win was very satisfying and with four in a row, we’re heading in the right direction.

Telling it like it is: On how the Trojans limited the damage of star Cal quarterback Davis Webb, sophomore safety Marvell Tell ll said, “Preparation and watch film all week. Coach always harps on studying your opponent and getting to know your opponent and that’s what we did.”

The captain speaks: Evaluating his defense, Trojans senior inside linebacker captain Michael Hutchings said, “I feel like we did alright tonight. We weren’t exceptional, but not horrible or not bad. I was satisfied with it. He (Davis Webb) is a great quarterback. He had us a little out of rhythm and ran multiple checks. They came out hot and there was a little stretch. Our offense came through. Our offense in the first half really made our job easier tonight. Our D-line and secondary really played well tonight and made it easier for the backers.”

RoJo says: Regarding the frustration of his slow start to the season, Trojans sophomore running back Ronald Jones ll, who had a career-high 223 yards rushing, said, “I had to fight through the slump and the coaches kept believing in me. Just trusting the plays and the O-line, and the process and the hard work we put in and it was on display tonight. Tonight released a lot of tension by having a career night. You don’t opportunities like this often. Our offensive line was amazing tonight from center to guards to tackles. They held their man and gave us easy reads to cut off them.”

Ware there is a will: Assessing his Trojans offensive line, Trojans sophomore running back Aca’Cedric Ware, who ran for 130 yards, said, “I love those guys. They continue to work hard and get better. And we continue to get better as a team. We’re something special. As far as sharing the ball (with the other backs), I went through the same thing in high school, so that has prepared me for this time now. I was ready mentally and continued to grind and continue to grow.”

Davis Webb says: After the game, Cal quarterback Davis Webb said, ”I think we were prepared when we got here. It’s on us. That’s how it should be. It’s a player’s game.”

Center of Attention: Trojans starting center Nico Falah said, We saw a lot of weaknesses on their wide zone, which we did a lot of. You could notice me pulling a lot, which we worked on a lot during practice, and it worked out today.”

From the press box…

Bring on the Ducks: Looking ahead to next Saturday’s homecoming game against Oregon, when asked what excites him about playing the Ducks, Trojans starting nose tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu said, “I can’t wait to see what uniforms they’re coming in with.”

Coach on coaches: On the growth of his coaching staff over the course of the season, Clay Helton said, “I think we’ve improved as a total team. I think anytime you come in with three new coordinators and new position coaches there’s some progression that has to be had. As a head coach what you’re looking for is are we improving from Game 1 to Game 8? I can honestly say that we’re doing that as a total from the coach to the staff to the managers to the trainers and as an organization. We’re improving each and every game.”

Adoree’ on coaches: On the comfortability and growth of the Trojans coaching staff, Adoree’ Jackson said, “We started off a little rocky at the start of the season with a new staff, but with us coming together as a family and pulling together as you can now see throughout these games, we’re now having fun and trusting one another and it’s built around our coaches.”

The streak: Besides winning four games in a row, the Trojans are now 7-0 in the Coliseum since Clay Helton became the interim coach midway through last season.

Tunnel naming: I guess we’ve reached the point where you can name anything on campus and the Coliseum. Newest addition to the Coliseum are naming rights for the tunnel entrances from the outer concourse to the inside of the Grand Old Lady. For example, above Tunnel 8 reads: “The Bagnard Family Tunnel.”

That Stovall: In case you were wondering, Cal true freshman receiver Melquise Stovall (Lancaster, Calif./Paraclete), who had a 16-yard touchdown reception on Thursday night, was once a USC commit. What happened? The Trojans decided to go in another direction, and Stovall redirected himself to Cal. He was a good pickup for the Bears.

Time of the season: Thursday night’s game started at 7:36 p.m. PT and officially ended at 11:03 p.m. PT. For you math majors, that’s a three hour and 27-minute game. Actually, the game ended earlier in the evening than most predicted.   

The post-game show…

What would McKay do: In response to a WeAreSC message board question about what legendary coach John McKay would do to players for a lack of team discipline (penalties, turnovers, unsportsmanlike conduct), WeAreSC contributor and former co-captain on the 1974 Trojans national champions Kevin Bruce wrote,Coach most often outsourced the ass-ream to (Marv) Goux and then you got to sit newly sore ass on the bench. Plus, Goux would frequently gong you in the helmet ear hole just to make sure you got the point (you may deaf but not stupid). Behavior was not tolerated…period. And I don’t buy this generational BS. Look, you want to win football games, then play it right. Does anybody think Saban or Harbaugh would conduct a culture survey to determine the origins of unsportsmanlike conduct penalty disorder??!!”

Tunnel vision: Leading the Trojans out of the legendary Coliseum players’ tunnel against Cal was former USC All-America safety Mark Carrier. Carrier, the former Long Beach Poly legend, who is now the Carolina Panthers player engagement director.

Bowling: There were no bowl representative in attendance on Thursday night. Was there a message there somewhere?

NFL evaluations: Scouting the talent on Thursday night were representatives from the Rams, Dolphins, Patriots, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Colts, Bears, and BC Lions.

NFL evaluations –Part 2: Also in the press box were reps from the Broncos, Steelers, Falcons, Jets, 49’ers, Chargers, and Seahawks.

The stunt: It was refreshing and nostalgic to see the USC student section actually doing card stunts at halftime. It may not have been the spectacular stunts of the 40s, 50s, or 60s, but it was a nice attempt at bringing back some of the original pageantry of college football game.

The Call-In Show numbers…

Way above average: The Trojans scored 45 points against Cal on Thursday night. Prior to Thursday’s game with the Bears, the Trojans were averaging 28.3 points per game.

Defensive status quo: The Trojans defense allowed 24 points to Cal. Prior to the Bears game, the Trojans were allowing 24.0 points per game.

Getting down: The Trojans had 31 first downs compared to the Bears 29.

Offensive avalanche: The Trojans had 629 yards in total offense against Cal. Prior to the Bears game, the Trojans were averaging 440.0 yards in total offense per game.

Increase in productivity: Against Cal, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 475 total offensive yards. Prior to the Bears, the Trojans were allowing 370.7 yards per game.

Gold rush: Against Cal, the Trojans rushed for 398 yards. Prior to the Bears, the Trojans were averaging 177.0 rushing yards per game.

Not in a rush – Part 2: Against Cal, the Trojans defense allowed 142 net yards rushing. Prior to the Bears, the Trojans were allowing 164.4 net rushing yards per game.

Passing decrease: Against Cal, the Trojans passed for 231yards against Cal. Prior to the Bears, the Trojans were averaging 263.0 passing yards per game.

Passing by: Against Cal, the Trojans defense allowed 333 passing yards. Prior to the Bears, the Trojans were allowing 206.3 passing yards per game.

The red zone: The Trojans were 6 of 8 in the red zone while Cal was 3 of 4.

Lacking sacking: Trojan quarterback Sam Darnold was not sacked by Cal while the Trojans sacked Bears QB Davis Webb one time.

The flag is up: The Trojans were penalized 13 times for 125 yards on Thursday night. Prior to Cal, the Trojans were averaging 55.7 yards per game in penalties per game compared to its opponents 40.1 yards per game.

Tackling the issue: Leading tacklers for the Trojans against Cal were safeties Marvell Tell lll and Leon McQuay lll with 8 apiece.

The last word: You never know what you will see on a football field. Take for instance Thursday night’s game against Cal. The Bears right guard, No. 62 Dwayne Wallace (6-5, 330), would get into his three-point stance and shall a national television audience and fans in attendance appeared to constantly see part of Wallace’s “behind.” One scribe “cracked” that this could make ESPN’s top 10 list for the evening. Yet another member of the media immediately shot back and said, “No, I think it could make the ‘Bottom 10.’” And on that note, on to Oregon!

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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