20 min Read

IMHO Sunday: Statement in Seattle !!!

Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

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

Evaluation: Prior to kickoff in the press box of Husky Stadium, the big question was debated. Had the No. 20 Trojans finally turned the corner after five consecutive wins? Well, the Trojans turned the corner in Husky Stadium all right, and it was the No. 4 Washington Huskies who found out first hand just how far the Men of Troy (7-3, 6-2 Pac-12 South) have come since their disastrous opening season loss to No. 1 Alabama. With their resounding 26-13 upset over the solidly favored Huskies (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12 North), the Trojans – now on a six-game winning streak – still maintain an outside shot of a Pac-12 South Division championship, and have also set themselves up for a potentially resounding end to the regular season in facing rivals UCLA and Notre Dame. Let the good times roll, baby!

Offensively speaking: Jake Browning for Heisman? Not so fast, my friends. The nation also got to see a future Heisman candidate in Trojans redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, who was again Houdini in the pocket (287 yds./2 TDs) and a master of finding open receivers on the fly. Darnold just killed Washington over and over again in slipping out of tackles, looking down field, and hitting his mark. And let’s not forget some great catches led by the Trojans receivers led by senior Darreus Rogers (84 yds./1 TD) when Sam wasn’t always right on the money. Although the Trojans ran for just 113 yards against a standout UW rush defense, it was enough to keep the Huskies defense honest. Trojans sophomore tailback Ronald Jones ll might have gained only 94 tough yards on 23 carries, but he was enough of a threat (1 TD) for the Huskies to have to stay balanced against the run and the pass. The Trojans offensive line, aided by the escapability of Darnold, protected well enough for Sam to throw down field. The O-line wasn’t perfect, committing some very untimely penalties throughout the game, but they managed to hold the flags down to a minimum by their standards. The offense moved the ball efficiently and did what it needed to do for the win, and a win they got.

Defensively speaking: What can you say about Clancy Pendergast’s defense. What they did to Oregon, shutting down the Ducks’ running game, they again did to Washington. The Huskies rushed for a pathetic 17 total yards for the entire game. Yes, that is correct, 17 total yards for the entire game. The Trojans were committed to stopping the run, and they sure did what they practiced during the week. It was a stunning performance. As for the Trojans pass defense, Washington’s Heisman Trophy candidate Jake Browning (259 yds./1 TD) saw his hopes go up in Seattle smoke with two interceptions. All in all, there is no question that holding Washington to just 13 points – one touchdown and two field goals – is a defensive clinic. The Trojans junior All-Pac-12 corner Adoree’ Jackson, who gave up Washington’s lone touchdown pass when he slipped covering UW’s outstanding receiver John Ross, stayed focused and was the recipient of two interceptions, some outstanding tackles, and helped his secondary keep the Huskies passing attack at arm’s length. And let’s not forget the play of Trojans nose tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, who played with Huskies center Coleman Shelton like a rag doll and sophomore outside linebacker Porter Gustin who was a terror coming off the edge in passing situations. Yep, it was quite a performance by the defense.

Special team speaking: Some might argue that Trojans punter Chris Tilbey didn’t punt well (31.8 avg.), but he made sure that Washington’s dangerous return man, Dante Pettis, didn’t break a big one either. Placekicker Matt Boermeester continued to produce in spite of the ear-breaking volume of the Husky Stadium crowd that tested Boermeester’s resolve. Add the block punt by freshman Jack Jones at a crucial time in the game, and you’d have to give coach John Baxter’s unit an “A” for performance.

The bottom line: No, Washington wasn’t No. 1 Alabama, but for the Trojans to come into a wild, crazy, and unbelievably loud Husky Stadium and an undefeated UW team, winning the game is a major feat, make no mistake about it. The pain of the early season setbacks have now all but erased, and that’s not hyperbole. Yes, this team has improved  week after week after starting out 1-3. Yes, this team is now playing at a high level, and, yes, credit and the spotlight needs to shine on head coach Clay Helton, his staff, and, of course, the players themselves. Now, however, comes perhaps the biggest of challenges. Can the Trojans finish the season by sweeping their two bitterest rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame back-to-back? Isn’t that a rhetorical question?

The infirmary: DT Josh Fotu (ankle/foot)

Next up: The Trojans travel to Pasadena for next Saturday’s crosstown rivalry against the UCLA with kickoff time at 7:30 p.m. PT and televised nationally on ESPN.

The quote book…

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments: “I have to give glory and praise to God on that one. They’re a wonderful football team (the Trojans) that won’t be denied. Came into a hostile atmosphere, what a great environment. Salute to the Husky fans. I thought they were exceptionally loud today and brought it. I watched a team that played team football. That was a full team win. I thought it started with our defense. To be able to hold the number one rushing team in our conference to 17 yards rushing, .6 a carry, that’s unbelievable. I thought both teams came into the park to see how the quarterback would play and put it on their shoulders.

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments – Part 2: “We saw so many pressures for our offense from Washington’s defense and really pulled a ton of one high coverage and they were going to see how Sam (Darnold) performed. And a group of wide receivers and skilled athletes performed and they did a wonderful job. Absolutely wonderful job. This guy right here (Adoree’ Jackson) was Superman today with two huge picks and then a really big third down run for us that kept a drive alive. At the end of the day, just a great team win. Looking forward to getting back to Los Angeles and getting ready for a great rivalry game with UCLA.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton comments – Part 2: On the keys to the game, Helton said, “I thought two things. The way our defense played all together. I think about getting to the quarterback tonight. With three sacks and multiple hurries, it felt like Jake (Browning) was off his spot all night from our defensive pass rush. And then you know defensive backs making their plays. Adoree’ with two picks, with several knockdowns by the rest of our team, I just thought it was a full team defensive effort. And then, offensively, it wasn’t beautiful at times, but that’s a dang good defense. I’ll be honest with you, we thought that was probably the second best defense we’ve played all year, next to Alabama. And a secondary that we feel is elite. And to come out here and throw for 286 yards, Sam (Darnold) doing a great job, the offensive line protecting the way they did, great team effort.”

Washington head coach Chris Petersen comments: “It was a good football team we played tonight, we knew that going in. A lot of credit to those guys. They played better than us. They were physical. They made plays when they had to. I thought our defense probably held up well enough. Kicking too many field goals and trying field goals. Getting knocked out of the red zone; we were just a little bit off on offense and the field position game hurts a little bit as well.

“I think we played a pretty good team tonight. We said that coming in. We knew that. I didn’t think it was going to be a high scoring game. I think some other people did, I didn’t. I thought their defense was too good and I thought ours was pretty good. Had we been able to capitalize on a couple things offensively, to generate that momentum and energize our team and our defense, it gives us a better chance to compete to win.”

The key to the game: Trojans sensational inside sophomore linebacker Cameron Smith. Smith said, “The key was to make them one dimensional and stop their run. Playing assignment sound football on all three sides of the football. I think we were getting to them after the blocked field goal (Jack Jones) after they had scored that long touchdown and Sam (Darnold) had thrown that interception. The block kind of took the air out of them. We got the momentum on our side, and it was an awesome feeling.”

Baxter blocks: Regarding the big blocked field goal attempt, Trojans special teams coach John Baxter said, “You kind of want to put players in weak spots and Connor Murphy dug the tight end out, Zack Banner rushed inside and took the tackle down, and (Rasheem) Green was right on the flight line (later identified as Jack Jones). He got right there and blocked it. It was a little of standard operating procedure and watching them on film.”

Sam says: According to Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold, “We were confident in what our coaches teach us, and I was confident in the defense’s ability to go out there and stop them again. With that being said, I think we were very confident with the way our team was responding to all of the different punches that Washington threw at us, and I thought we responded really well.”

Adoree’ addresses: On the Alabama game preparing his team for the Husky Stadium crowd, Trojans corner Adoree’ Jackson said, “I think the team learned from that game, and to understand going forward that we know it’s going be a rowdy atmosphere no matter who we play or what stadium you’re going to. When you’re away, and even when you’re home sometimes. We know it’s all about adversity, and there will be ups and downs throughout the game, but we have to make sure more ups than downs. I think having those games that we lost are a true testimony to this.”

Touchdown Daniel: On his huge fourth quarter 8-yard touchdown reception from Sam Darnold, Trojans tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe said, “We were supposed to read the coverage and the linebacker stepped up a bit and he looked confused. He (Sam Darnold) threw it up, and I knew I had to go get it. It was a ‘stick and go’ type deal. I was reading the window and knew where to go behind it. I was trying to get at least one foot down. I was looking for the ref. I didn’t know what the score was, but I knew it was a big score. I was happy and celebrated with my teammates.”

Walking the walk: Trojans sophomore outside linebacker Porter Gustin had a big game (5 tackles/2 sacks) and said, “We kind of shut down their run game and forced them to pass, so when that happened, I was able to get off the ball better and pass rush and not read anything. I think that helped a lot. It helped us get in the backfield. We knew coming in they (Washington) were a great running team and lead the Pac-12 in rushing yards, so we knew we were up for a challenge and we took it on.”

Jake talks: On losing to the Trojans, Washington’s standout quarterback Jake Browning said, “When you turn the ball over two times, only score one touchdown and can’t finish in the red zone then you aren’t going to beat anybody in this league. I thought they played well on defense though. Credit to them.”

A Banner evening: Assessing his offensive line and a return to his home town, Trojans senior All-Pac-12 offensive tackle Zack Banner (photo above) said, “We did a real good job and they did a good job of stopping the run and shooting gaps on us today. They brought seven to eight in the box every time, so we knew we had to pass and keep the passing game going. A shout out to Sam Darnold and the offensive line for protecting him. The wide receivers came in today and did their job today. We turned it out today. It feels really good being back home, and I had to get 57 tickets for 57 family members. To stand on that ladder and to hold the Trojan sword for the victory and the victory song (Conquest) and ‘Fight On.’ It felt good.”

Hawking the ball: Talking about the secondary’s contribution to the win, corner junior corner Chris Hawkins commented, “We were giving him (Jake Browning) different looks and changing it up all the time. We didn’t give him a clear picture. A lot of teams in the past were giving him a clear picture on what exact defense they were playing. We weren’t doing that. Subbing guys in and out, they weren’t getting a clear picture. Our safeties were rolling back up and rolling back down, it confuses a quarterback. I think it did that tonight.”

The captain speaks: Trojans senior linebacker Michael Hutchings was pleased again with the defense’s performance. Hutchings said, “This one was big for me. Last year they beat us at home and I was hurt and didn’t play. This was my first time playing Washington ever and to get this victory was big for me and my teammates. I had a lot of friends playing for Washington, so when I get to the bus, I am going to hit them with a couple of text messages and let’em know it’s USC.”

Tackling the issue: Leading tackler for the Trojans against Washington was senior linebacker Michael Hutchings with nine stops.

From the press box…

Counting the house: The official Husky Stadium attendance on Saturday was announced as 72,364, a sellout, which is the largest stadium crowd since Husky Stadium was renovated. Capacity is listed as 70,183.

NFL/CFL evaluations: There were 13 professional scouts in attendance.

Bowling: There were bowl representatives from the Alamo and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowls. With the Trojans win, there was speculation in the Husky Stadium press box that if the Trojans defeat UCLA and Notre Dame, they might have an opportunity to play in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.

Temperature: At kickoff, the temperature was a chilly 56 degrees with a 15 mph wind.

Room with a view: Husky Stadium has a new, impressive press box, thanks to the new massive stadium renovations. The view of Lake Montclair, about 100 yards from the eastern portion of the stadium, was as gorgeous as ever, although the rest of the campus, IMHO, is nothing to overly crow about except for the pretty fall colors of the trees. In terms of those stadium renovations, they even have TV monitors in the men’s restrooms.

Room with a view Part 2: In the old Husky Stadium, the press box was like suspended over the second tier and when the Washington fans raised the volume, the press box would literally shake and sway.

The Spirit of Troy:
The Trojans Marching Band was seated in the lower right corner of the end zone near the Trojans locker room and made its presence felt, especially after the Trojans began to salt the game away. Somewhat surprising was a large and spirited group of Trojans fans that stretched sideline to sideline behind the USC bench. After the game, a number of Trojan players ran into the front row of Trojans fans and there were handshakes and high fives.

Purple Haze: Prior to kickoff, Washington entered the field through purple smoke while Jimi Hendrix’s classic “Purple Haze” played on the public address system. Hendrix was a native of Seattle.

Patriotic: In honor of Veteran’s Day and our military, Washington, which normally wears gold helmets and purple jerseys, wore a special home uniform that featured black jerseys and pants, and a black helmet with red, white, and blue colored “W” on each side. Washington players also had patch on the front of the jerseys with the name of a Washington alum that has served in the military.

Paper prediction: Prior to the game, the Seattle Times picked the hometown Huskies 38-23 over the Trojans. Well, so much for predictions.

The post-game show…

Sign of the times: During Saturday morning’s ESPN GameDay, which originated live from Red Square on the heart of the Washington campus, a fan in the show’s “audience” had a sign that read “Salute to Pat Haden” with a picture of the former Trojans athletic director. This was an obvious “thank you” to Haden for not selecting Washington coach Chris Petersen as the Trojans head football coach. You would think that Haden got the last laugh on that one.

Sign of the Times – Part 2: In ESPN GameDay’s panel prediction, the group of Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, guest prognosticator and comedian Joel McHale (UW alum), and Lee Corso all predicted a Washington win. As Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend,” especially after the final score.

Déjà vu: The last time I covered the Trojans and the Huskies in Seattle, on Friday night I had a chance to see a high school football game of a player that the Men of Troy were recruiting. Clay Helton, briefcase in hand, was at the game and that player, a quarterback for Sammamish Skyline High, was current Trojan Max Browne.

The candidates: Sam Darnold has been named a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award. Slinging Sammy is one of 18 players to make the cut. Trojans All-Pac-12 CB Adoree’ Jackson has been named as one of 10 semifinalists for the 2016 Lott IMPACT Award. Named for the Trojans legendary Ronnie Lott, the Lott IMPACT Award is given yearly to a defensive player who displays excellence in Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity (IMPACT). Both increased their chances by their performances against Washington on Saturday.

Bowled over: This past week, ESPN predicted that the Trojans would be playing a Big Ten opponent in the Foster Farms Bowl (Dec.28) in Santa Clara while CBS sports has the Trojans playing West Virginia (Dec. 29) in the San Antonio Alamo Bowl. After Saturday’s Trojans win over Washington, the Foster Farms Bowl does not seem as probable.

Rank and file: It was reported this week that offensive coordinator Tee Martin makes the calls for first and second downs while passing game coordinator Tyson Helton makes the third down passing calls along with some input by head coach Clay Helton. Now you can keep score like a baseball game to see how it all plays out. Head coach Helton says it works because it’s a team effort and it apparently worked against the Huskies.

The old Swann song: Prior to Saturday’s game, Trojans athletic director Lynn Swann said, “I have seen solid improvement in each game from the players. The coaches have delivered great game plans, on the offensive side from Tee Martin and on the defensive side from Clancy Pendergast, that the players are able to grasp and execute. Now, they have put themselves in position to play in a big game this week in Seattle.” Swann was all smiles after the Trojans victory against the Huskies.

The old Swann song – Part 2: Swann added, “The former players want to see a team that plays well and plays hard. I think they are seeing that and that’s what they are excited about. Yes, it was a tough start to the season, but everybody knew that we had a difficult schedule. The alums and the fans are encouraged by the team itself, and its ability to get better week-by-week.”

Cutters: USC Trojans Hall of Famer and legendary journalist Steve Bisheff recommended “Cutters” for dinner as part of my Seattle agenda, so I did dinner Friday night at the highly recommended restaurant, which is located next to Pike’s Market Place. It was a little pricy, but the food was good, as I ordered a chopped salad and the “Seafood Skewer, which featured salmon, jumbo prawns, scallops, seasonal vegetables, and Yukon mashed potatoes. Next time you’re in Seattle, give it a try.

The Call-In Show numbers…

Enough to win: The Trojans scored 26 points against Washington. Prior to Saturday’s game with the Huskies, the Trojans were averaging 32.0 points per game.

Exceptional defense: The Trojans defense allowed 13 points to Washington. Prior to the Huskies game, the Trojans were allowing 23.6 points per game.

Moving the chains: The Trojans had 21 first downs compared to Washington’s 13.

Yard sale: The Trojans had 400 yards in total offense against Washington. Prior to the Huskies game, the Trojans were averaging 476.4 yards in total offense per game.

Defensive brilliance: Against Washington, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 276 total offensive yards. Prior to the Huskies, the Trojans were allowing 373.1 yards per game.

A grinder: Against Washington, the Trojans rushed for 113 yards. Prior to the Huskies, the Trojans were averaging 211.9 rushing yards per game.

Ground to a halt: Against Washington, the Trojans defense allowed 17 net yards rushing. Prior to the Huskies, the Trojans were allowing 153.1 net rushing yards per game.

Passing the test: Against Washington, the Trojans passed for 287 yards. Prior to the Huskies, the Trojans were averaging 264.6 passing yards per game.

Pass defense: Against Washington, the Trojans defense allowed 259 passing yards. Prior to the Huskies, the Trojans were allowing 220.0 passing yards per game.

The red zone: The Trojans were 4 of 5 in the red zone while Washington was 1 of 2.

Sacking: The Trojans sacked Washington QB Jake Browning 3 times while Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold was sacked once by the Huskies defense.

Flag yardage reduction: The Trojans were penalized six times for 40 yards on Saturday. Prior to Washington, the Trojans were averaging 71.6 yards per game in penalties per game compared to its opponents’ 43.2 yards per game.

The last word: With the USC/Washington game now in the record books, suddenly it’s UCLA Week, and don’t expect next Saturday’s game in the Rose Bowl to be “just another crosstown rivalry game in spite of the records of the two teams. Tommy Trojan was “covered” last week in preparation for the Bruins, and you can bet once the two rivals take the field, it will be anything but crosstown business as usual.

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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