14 min Read

IMHO Sunday: On a roll

Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

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

Evaluation: No, your eyes didn’t deceive you, the USC Trojans (3-3, 2-2 Pac-12 South) survived a potential Utah rerun to vanquish No. 21 Colorado (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12 South), 21-17, on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. No, your eyes didn’t deceive you, the Trojans sensational redshirt freshman quarterback, Sam Darnold (photo above: 25-of-37 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns) reminded us he’s still a rookie, having proved it with two fumbles and an interception. And, no, your eyes didn’t deceive you, the Trojans tight ends actually accounted for all three touchdowns through receptions, and unlike Utah, the Trojans defense held the explosive Colorado offense (371 yds.), especially in crunch time.

Evaluation – Part 2: And, no, your eyes didn’t deceive you, the Trojans have strung together back-to-back wins for the first time in 2016, and there’s now legitimate hope that there’s more left to a season than the gloomy forecast a couple of weeks ago. And despite this modest little two-game winning streak, this remains a team that still has to play it one game at a time, and to say anything more would be wishful thinking. Yet, I know what you’re pondering, “If this team ever eliminates its killer turnovers and mistakes…”

Offensively speaking: The Trojans offense was their own worst enemy on Saturday, but yet again displayed that when they play mistake-free football, they can be quite a handful. Despite quarterback Sam Darnold’s own turnovers, he’s remains a huge physical and inspirational factor in the game with his smarts, arm and legs, and his uncanny, improvisational skills in surveying the field. Aside from Darnold, senior wide receiver Darreus Rogers was as much an offensive star as anybody by turning what appeared to be a certain Darnold fourth quarter interception into a spectacular 46-yard reception, helping preserve the game-winning 70-yard scoring drive. And how about All-Pac-12 receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who continues to emerge from his early season doldrums with a five catch performance for 113 yards.

Offensively speaking – Part 2: And let’s certainly not forget the play of the Trojans tight ends, as sophomore Tyler Petite had two scoring receptions (11&7 yds.) and redshirt freshman along with one 32-yard scoring grab by Florida transfer Daniel Imatorbhebhe from Darnold, who spreads the ball around like blackjack dealer working a six player table. For those Trojans that yearned for the days when the tight end was a force, Saturday was your day as the tight ends accounted for all three USC touchdowns. However, there was an ominous price to pay for Saturday’s victory, as star senior tailback Justin Davis went down with a high ankle sprain injury that could have a lasting effect heading into Arizona next Saturday in Tucson.

Defensively speaking: You have to give the defense plenty of credit, especially while the offense was shooting itself in the foot and forcing Clancy Pendergast’s unit to be on the field more than they should have – especially with the 90-degree heat bearing down on the Coliseum floor. Again, the defense was able to shut down the opposition’s running game (96 yds.), which was a big part of the CU offense. There was a constant rush (four sacks) to not only make things mighty uncomfortable for the Buffalos quarterbacks, but at one point knocked starting quarterback Steven Montez temporarily out of the game. The Trojans were relentless in their pass rush.

Defensively speaking – Part 2: Then there was the play of junior All-Pac-12 corner Adoree’ Jackson, who gave a first-round performance in the secondary. Jackson is a major factor in the personality of this Trojans defense. That indescribable pass interception along the Trojans sideline in the second half was Houdini like in Jackson’s ability to contort his body from being out of bounds, yet in midair being able to get one foot inbounds. Aside from Jackson’s heroics, big league praise should be given to outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, the pride of local Narbonne High, who had 10 tackles. Nwosu was everywhere.

Special team speaking: What more can you say about Adoree’ Jackson when it comes to kickoff and punt returns? Well, you can start by saying you’re glad he’s a Trojan and not one of the opponents. Proving again that he can be a one man wrecking crew, his kickoff and punt returns kept everybody on the edge of their seats. If he gets through the first wave of defenders, there isn’t a fan of either team that doesn’t rise out of their seat like it they had just won a million-dollar lottery. And Trojans punter Chris Tilbey continues to have great punt placement, which didn’t accurately reflect his punting average on Saturday (39.3 avg.).  

The bottom line: Give the Trojans credit, they have improved enough to overcome their own turnovers and not wilt in the final quarter. The point of view here is that they are improving little by little, although they can’t continue to make turnovers and expect the odds of victory to remain in their favor. If they continue to make life hard on themselves, they will surly pay the price sooner or later and the dream of New Year’s Day in Pasadena will that…just a dream.   

The quote book…   

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments: “Great team win. All Pac-12 wins seem hard, especially when you turn the ball over like we did today. I have to give great credit and the game ball to our defense. Without them, I don’t know if we win that game. It’s hard to win with four turnovers. Offensively the turnovers were an issue, we’ve got to get cleaned up. I’m proud of how we finished. In a 14-14 ballgame with things not going our way and all of a sudden we make an 80-yard drive on offense to go up 21. As fine and executed 4-minute scoring drive as I’ve seen and really a special play by a special player and veteran player in JuJu Smith-Schuster to make that play. It was a great throw and great catch and to get down I thought was tremendous.”

More Helton: “Two other plays stood out to me. This one right here (Adoree’ Jackson) is as special as I’ve ever seen. That pick on the sideline, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. And Darreus Rogers, someone needed to step up and to make that play and take it away from them totally energized us, might have won that game just with that play.”

CU head coach Mike MacIntyre comments: “I tip my hat to Clay Helton and USC. They played well and beat us. We left a few things out there and that was our fault, too. They (USC) played really well defensively and we shot ourselves in the foot. We didn’t play typical CU football. Didn’t play fast. They had a lot to do with it and we had a lot to do with it. We had opportunities to take the game. They did a good job of blitzing us some. We missed a few things here and there. They did a good job tipping a few passes. I thought overall they played well. Their secondary played well, and they didn’t really let us have a big play.”

More MacIntyre: Speaking to Darreus Rogers highlight reception on what appeared to be another Sam Darnold interception, Colorado’s head coach said, “I thought Ahkello (Witherspoon) had a pick. It was right in front of us. He (Rogers) goes over and pulls it out of his hands, and it was a great play by their receiver. When the kid threw it, I thought, ‘I’m glad he threw it. I think we got us another pick.’ And then all of a sudden, what a great play.”

Rogers and out: Reflecting on his magnificent catch that resulted in a 46-yard gain, Trojans senior wide receiver Darreus Rogers said, “He (Witherspoon) had two hands on it, and I had one hand. I felt like if I tucked it in faster, I could take it off of his hands. I wanted it more.”

Sam speaks: On surviving the turnovers to win the game, Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold said, “I hate using this word, but the first word that comes to mind is lucky. It’s not luck, you make your own luck. The defense did a great job today. As an offense, you’re not going to win a ton of games turning the ball over four times. It’s something we got to keep working on in practice.”

More Darnold: Regarding his ability to keep his composure, “I like to credit my coaches in high school and Pop Warner, but I think it comes down to my family and how I’m raised. My parents did a good job keeping me confident and knowing that you just have to be cool with yourself. No matter what anyone else thinks, you just have to control what you can control. You can’t control the past, you have to look ahead. In the end, you just have to look ahead and take it play after play after that.”  

Philosophical perspective: Said freshman Colorado quarterback Steve Montez, “Today was just a testament to how much work we have left. It’s a humbling experience to show that we weren’t what we thought we are, and have so much work to do.”

Adoree’ addresses: On his brilliant interception, corner Adoree’ Jackson said, “I was very aware. Once I jumped in the air, I was just trying to torque my body enough so I could get a foot down. I was thinking about Charles Woodson and how he did it against Michigan State. That’s the whole mindset to make sure I get one foot in.”

Secondary challenges: Discussing the Trojans corners, Colorado wide receiver Bryce Bobo said, “I think we matched up well with them. Usually at the wide receiver spot we dominate as a team. This time we had a bigger challenge with Adoree’ (Jackson) and Biggie (Iman Marshall). We just have to improve.”

Big game Uchenna: Nobody on the Trojans defense against Colorado had a bigger game than outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu. Afterward Uchenna said, “We’re coming closer together every week. Coach Clancy (Pendergast) has us building a special bond. We play our hearts out for each other and for the offense.”

From the press box…

But who’s looking: For the record, Colorado outscored the Trojans 17-7 in the second half, but lost the game in the first half.

The infirmary: Tailback Justin Davis (high ankle sprain).

Tunnel vision: Leading the Trojans out of the Coliseum players tunnel prior to kickoff was former Trojans All-America receiver and 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marques Lee.

Counting the house: The announced attendance for Saturday’s game was 68,302.

 Cover boy: Trojans All-Pac-12 offensive tackle Zack Banner, who did not play on Saturday, was on the cover of the official USC/CU game program.

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

Scouting the talent: NFL representatives in attendance included the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears, and Buffalo Bills.

The thermometer: Temperature at kickoff in the Coliseum was a hot 90 degrees with clear skies.

The post-game show…

On second thought: The Los Angeles Times did a story this week on former Trojans tailback Reggie Bush returning with the Buffalo Bills to play the Rams today (Sunday) in the Coliseum. In the story, Times NFL writer Sam Farmer quoted former Trojans All-America tackle Sam Baker as saying, “The way he’s (Bush) been blackballed there (USC), I hate it. You didn’t see that happen at Ohio State or other places where there were sanctions. I’d love to see Reggie welcomed back. It’s ridiculous that he hasn’t been.”

On second thought – Part 2: According to Farmer, “Sam Baker is part of a group text with several other key players from the Carroll era — among them Shaun Cody, Frostee Rucker, Lofa Tatupu, Keith Rivers, and Steve Smith — and a common topic of conversation is bringing Bush back into the (USC) fold.”

On second thought – Part 3: I can understand that those players mentioned above love Reggie Bush and loved having him as a teammate. However, none of those players reported by Farmer were part of the sanctions that followed the Bush fiasco. As a group, they weren’t held out of bowl games, part of scholarship reductions, coaching changes, and the rest. It’s the Trojan players that followed those outstanding players that paid the price – a very deep price. Bush never formally apologized to the university or the players that paid the ultimate price for the sanctions. Until Bush does, he will continue to be excommunicated from the university.

The cheering section: Despite his obvious first-season errors as the Trojans rookie head coach, much of the knowledgeable media would actually like to see the likeable Clay Helton survive the season and go on to great things. The fans, however, may not be as forgiving, and the truth is if the Trojans finish with a losing record and miss a bowl game, Helton would be in deep manure. This is what makes the balance of the season so intriguing. Can Helton do it? We’ll find out.

The measuring stick: If Clay Helton is going to make, he’ll have to win a number of upcoming games along with a signature victory. That signature victory for Helton would come on Nov. 12 when the Trojans play at nationally ranked Washington, which humiliated Oregon on Saturday night in Eugene, 70-21. The Ducks have come completely unraveled at the seams.

The Call-In Show numbers…

Top tackler(s): Junior Uchenna Nwosu led the Trojans defense with 10 tackles, five solo and five assisted.

Below average: The Trojans scored 21 points against CU on Saturday. Prior to Saturday’s game with Buffaloes, the Trojans were averaging 25.88 points per game.

Defensive reduction: The Trojans defense allowed 17 points to CU on Saturday. Prior to the Buffaloes game, the Trojans were allowing 27.4 points per game.

Getting down: The Trojans had 28 first downs compared to the Buffaloes 20.

Offensive production: The Trojans had 539 yards in total offense against CU on Saturday. Prior to the Buffaloes game, the Trojans were averaging 391.6 yards in total offense per game.

About average: Against CU on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 371 yards. Prior to the Buffaloes, the Trojans were allowing 376.2 yards per game.

Rush hour: Against CU, the Trojans rushed for 197 yards. Prior to the Buffaloes, the Trojans were averaging 145.8 rushing yards per game.

Rush hour – Part 2: Against CU on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed 125 net yards rushing. Prior to the Buffaloes, the Trojans were allowing 170.8 net rushing yards per game.

Passing increase:  On Saturday against CU, the Trojans passed for 358 yards per game. Prior to the Buffaloes, the Trojans were averaging 245.8 passing yards per game.

Above the norm: On Saturday against CU, the Trojans defense allowed 275 passing yards. Prior to the Buffaloes, the Trojans were allowing 205.4 passing yards per game.

The red zone: The Trojans were 2 of 4 in the red zone while CU was 1 of 1.

Sacking out: Trojan quarterback Sam Darnold was sacked one time on Saturday while the Trojans sacked CU QBs four times.

Big improvement: The Trojans were penalized just two times for 22 yards on Saturday. Prior to CU, the Trojans were averaging 54.0 yards per game in penalties per game.

The last word: Prior to Saturday’s big win over Colorado, athletic director Lynn Swann said in his State of Troy message, “The team has improved week over week. The players are executing better and making fewer mistakes, which were our biggest issues earlier in the year. They played strong, fast and confident against Arizona State, so Coach Helton has done a great job making sure the players are focused on the game ahead instead of worrying about the game behind. That is how you get better and have a winning season.”

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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