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IMHO Sunday: Now the season begins

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

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

The evaluation: Thank goodness and mercifully the Trojans two-game “exhibition” season has concluded. Yeah, Saturday night’s flogging of winless Idaho was a fun-filled 59-9 glorified scrimmage, but let’s get to Stanford and begin to find out just what kind of team the Trojans are in 2015.

The evaluation – Part 2: Offensively, the Trojans could have scored 100 points on Saturday night if that was their mission against Idaho. Quarterback Cody Kessler threw for three touchdowns and a career high 410 yards passing and looked exceptional throwing the deep ball, the running backs ran wild, and you just sit on the edge of your seat whenever true freshman tailback Ronald Jones ll gets the pigskin. The receiving corps shined, and the offensive line was efficient, helping open up 284 rushing yards and never allowed a sack. To top it all, the Trojans were 6 of 6 in the red zone.

The evaluation – Part 3: Defensively, the Trojans looked okay against an obviously overmatched offense, but there’s concern here in that there didn’t seem to be much of a pass rush (1 sack), and those two Idaho drives to start the second half were a bit alarming. Imagine if that had been an upper echelon Pac-12 team. Idaho quarterbacks completed 28 of 45 passing attempts and might have given Trojans fans perhaps a glimpse of where Stanford plans to attack the Trojans defense. Certainly the Cardinal will test and probe the Trojans defense in all phases, so therein lies the intrigue of next Saturday against the Cardinal.

The evaluation – Part 4: The bottom line is the Trojans are now 2-0, remain highly ranked, and did what the schedule allowed them to do – beat up on inferior opponents. The Trojans are big play on offense – at least against underwhelming defensive talent – and the defense kept two teams with a combined record of 0-4 in check. So the best-case scenario was just that, and nobody got hurt of significance, which was a major goal heading into Pac-12 play and Stanford.

Sark says: After the game, Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian said, “It was a great win, but we understand that what lies ahead (Stanford). We have plenty of stuff to clean up, starting with 3rd downs (1 of 6) on the other side of the ball.”

The Arkansas State perspective: After the game, Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said, “Obviously, we got beat, but there were times when I thought our offense played pretty good and (QB) Matt (Linehan) played good and we protected pretty well. But they’re better and they played better than us.”

The game changer: The moment the Trojans received the opening first half kickoff and drove 75 yards in seven plays, capped by a 1-yard run by junior tailback Justin Davis. On the Trojans second possession, the Cardinal and Gold marched 78 yards in six plays with Davis scoring from seven yards out to make 14-0 with Alex Wood converting both extra points.

Kessler goes deep: Some have questioned Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler’s ability to consistently connect on deep passes. Against Idaho, the Heisman candidate went deep three times to connect on some gorgeous touchdown passes (50, 28, and 41 yds.) against a porous Idaho secondary, which allowed No. 6 to establish a career high 410 yards through the air.

A first: Perhaps as important as any touchdown scored was the 24-yard field goal by Trojans placekicker Alex Wood with 22 seconds left in the first half. It was Wood’s first field goal attempt and make, which is important experience with Stanford coming to town next week.

More Wood: Kicker Alex Wood had 10 kickoffs and four went for touchbacks. Although Wood didn’t nail it consistently into the end zone, the Trojans kickoff coverage was exceptional and pinned Idaho inside the Vandals 30-yard line repeatedly. FYI, Wood averaged 63.8-yards per kickoff.

Running wild: On the performance of the Trojans running backs, Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said, “All the running backs looked really good against us. We had a hard time tackling. That also means their offensive line did a good job. But when their backs had 1-on-1s, they made our guys miss and broke tackles.”

Got ya: Leading tackler for the Trojans against Idaho was again inside true freshman linebacker Cameron Smith (6), who also co-led the Trojans last week in tackles (7) against Arkansas State.

Mighty impressive: Beside Cody Kessler’s big throwing night, true freshman running back Ronald Jones ll averaged 10.4 yards per carry on eight carries and sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had an impressive 192 yards in 10 receptions. Would both qualify as star power numbers? Do the Trojans play Stanford on Saturday?

NFL bound: Regarding the ability of JuJu Smith, Idaho coach Paul Petrino said, “He’s big and strong. Being a receiver coach most of my life and having studied all types of receivers, I think he looks just like (NFL receiver) Anquan Boldin – a big, strong, powerful football player.”

From the press box…

Weather report: Saturday night’s kickoff temperature was a warm 88 degrees at kickoff but cooled somewhat as the evening wore on.

Keeping count: Coliseum attendance from last night’s home game against Idaho was announced as 72,422. Last season’s second home game against Oregon State drew 74,521, which was after the Trojans were upset the previous week, 37-31, at Boston College.

The barometer: On Saturday night, the Trojans scored 59 points against Idaho. The Trojans entered Saturday night’s game averaging 55.0 points per game. In two games, the Trojans are now averaging 57 points per game.

The barometer – Part 2: On Saturday night, the Trojans defense gave up six points to Idaho. The Trojans entered Saturday night’s game allowing 6.0 points per game. Obviously, the Cardinal and Gold are allowing 6.0 points per game.

Tunnel runner: Four members from various branches of the military lead the Trojans out of the Coliseum tunnel prior to kickoff.

Cover boy: Saturday night’s game program cover featured running backs Justin Davis, Soma Vainuku, and Tre Madden.

Scouts honor: The lone NFL scout in attendance on Saturday was from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Giving thanks: It was Joint Forces Day at the Coliseum, with 10,000 members of the Joint Forces provided with tickets to the game in honor of their service.

Pregame improvement: A special thank you to the Trojans pregame music coordinator who seems to have adjusted the Coliseum PA volume. And a second thank you for a better selection of music. And kudos, as well, for showing the Notre Dame/Virginia game to its miracle conclusion on the giant video board.

The post-game show…

Ducks season: Despite their tough 31-28 loss at Michigan State, the Oregon Ducks, IMHO, didn’t lose much in term of prestige and showed a never quit attitude. This is all good for the Trojans because they want to play a once-beaten Ducks team in November if the Men of Troy are still in the CFP hunt. Strength of schedule is a major factor for the CFP Selection Committee.

Hurting Stanford: One player the Trojans won’t have to deal when Stanford comes to town next Saturday is former starting sophomore defensive lineman Harrison Phillips who injured knee ligaments in the season opener at Northwestern.

Hurting Irish: The Trojans don’t play Notre Dame until Oct. 17, but when it rains, it pours. Another week and another huge Notre Dame injury, as Irish starting redshirt sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire was lost for the season with a gruesome fractured right ankle. The Irish have already lost for the season former starting junior running back Tarean Folston and star defensive lineman Jarron Jones, who was lost in training camp.

IMHO: Notre Dame’s miraculous 34-27 comeback victory at Virginia with 12 seconds remaining in the game – thanks to 39-yard pass play from reserve redshirt freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer to receiver Will Fuller – was a good thing for the Trojans in terms of any future CFP possibilities. While most Trojans fans understandably love to see Notre Dame lose, it would have hurt the Men of Troy in terms of strength of schedule if the Irish hadn’t won.

Hurting Bruins: As may have already heard, UCLA lost standout junior defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes to an ACL injury sustained in the opener against Virginia. As you recall, Eddie was once committed to the Trojans and don’t kid yourself, the loss of Vanderdoes is a huge one for the 2015 UCLA defense.

From the heart: Former Washington Huskies linebacker Victor Aiuewa wrote a recent positive article on his interaction and view of his former UW head coach, Steve Sarkisian. Aiuewa wrote, “I believe Steve Sarkisian is one of most inspiring coach I’ve had the honor of playing for throughout my playing career. His influence on me extends way beyond any inspiring message I can emotionally garner from within myself. Over the last six years, he has added some of the most invigorating principles to my personal and educational voyage of life.”

30 for 30: ESPN has announced a new “30 for 30” documentary about the Pete Carroll-era Trojans entitled “Trojan War,” which will premier on Tuesday, Oct. 13. The film recounts the Trojan ascension under Carroll, as well as the reported NCAA violations that occurred during his tenure. It should be interesting with interviews with Carroll and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart among others.

Remembering The Giffer: The New York Giants will wear a No.16 memorial decal on their helmets this season in memory of Trojan’s Hall of Famer Frank Gifford.

Directly speaking: Reportedly the Pac-12 has walked away from Direct TV negotiations. Perhaps the Pac-12 is getting advice from the Dodgers on how to negotiate an equitable cable contract for subscribers.

The last word: In a Playboy survey, the adult magazine wrote that USC is No. 2 as a party school behind No. 1 Virginia. Playboy says its ratings are based on sex, sports and nightlife. Wowzers.

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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