In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Berkeley.
IMHO: Now on a modest two-game Pac-12 winning streak and winners of their past four of five games, the USC Trojans (7-4, 6-2 Pac-12 South) managed to keep their hearts in San Francisco – Berkeley to be exact – and their Pac-12 South Division hopes alive in this wildly see-saw season, as the Men of Troy destroyed the California Golden Bears, 41-17, in chilly Memorial Stadium, and, yes, new USC athletic director Mike Bohn was in attendance watching the proceedings, and we hear doing some heavy rooting for his new cardinal and gold enterprise.
IMHO – Part 2: So the Trojan’s win allows the Men of Troy the opportunity to remain at least within striking distance in the Pac-12 South Division race, as earlier in the evening the No. 8 Utah Utes smashed the UCLA Bruins, 49-3, in Salt Lake City, maintaining its one-game lead over the Trojans with two games left on Utah’s schedule. If Utah wins its final two games (at Arizona and Colorado), the Utes are divisional South champs. However, if the Trojans can beat UCLA next weekend in the Coli and the Utes somehow lose to one of the weaker Pac-12 South teams (at Arizona or Colorado), Troy will play in the Pac-12 title game. Hey, it’s never over till it’s over, right? Certainly, the Trojan team will be rooting hard for both Arizona and Colorado in the coming weeks. Obviously, Clay Helton and his staff will join their team’s rooting section.
IMHO – Part 3: Give the Men of Troy and Clay Helton credit. They continue to play hard and were rewarded with a big rout of the Cal Bears. Is it going to be a case of a little too late? Will they live to regret losses to North Division teams Washington and Oregon? As mentioned before, with a win over UCLA next week, the Trojans would have beaten every team in the South Division but still would not advance to the Pac-12 title game. Unreal, isn’t it? However, Helton’s team can only control what they can control.
IMHO offensively: As has been their pattern, the Trojans took their first drive of the game and went 75 yards in eight plays, capped by an 18-yard scoring pass from Kedon Slovis (29 of 35 for 406 yards and four TDs/cover photo above) to Amon-Ra St. Brown (5 receptions for 85 yards and 1 TD). At least initially, the Trojans had sent a message to the respected Cal defense that they could move on them. The Trojans did surge ahead in the very late (43 sec.) in the second quarter when Slovis led his team on a 79-yard drive in 11 plays, which culminated in a 33-yard scoring toss to Michael Pittman Jr. (11 receptions for 180 yards and 1 TD). The Trojans had scored on their first and final drive of the first half and the offense had done enough for two touchdowns and a field goal. Cal’s defense was only allowing 20.97 points per game, and you got the feeling the Trojans’ offense was going to surpass that number in the second half. As it was, the Trojans total offense in the first half recorded 207 yards. In the first half, Slovis was 17 of 21 for 190 yards and two TDs. Rushing wise, the Trojans had a meager 17 yards, and does it deserve any more explanation than that? Been there and done that. For the game, freshman running back Kenan Christian had 44 yards rushing and Stephen Carr returned but only had 19 net yards rushing but scored on a one-yard TD.
In the second half, In the second half, Slovis got into the groove again, as the Trojans took the opening second half kickoff and traversed the field 74 yards with Kedon finding Drake London (6 receptions for 180 yards and 1 TD) for an 8-yard TD reception to make it 24-10. With the generally anemic Cal offense, it was more than enough points to call it a night on the scoreboard. However, Slovis wasn’t done nor was the SC offense. The Trojans scored again late in the third quarter after a Greg Johnson interception, as running back Stephen Carr smashed it into the end zone from 2-yards out. The only question left was how many more points the Trojans were going to tack on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard from that point. As it turned out, the Men of Troy added another TD in the final stanza to complete the welcomed Pac-12 victory. The Trojans inflicted 462 offensive yards on Cal’s prideful defense.,
IMHO defensively: On Cal’s first drive after receiving the opening kickoff, the Bears marched 75 yards in seven plays, aided by a targeting call and ejection by Trojans’ defensive end and captain Christian Rector. It was not the type of beginning that inspired confidence or discipline. It was already a Cal confidence builder that starting quarterback Chase Garber returned after weeks of rehab from a shoulder injury. With a 5-yard run by DeShawn Collins into the end zone, the Bears had scored with less than three minutes into the game. From there, however, the Trojans’ defense caught a break when Cal starting quarterback Chase Garber went out in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury and was replaced by Devon Modster. Modster had a huge game last week against Washington State in a victory, and he picked up where he left off. The Trojans’ defense again had trouble holding off another team’s rushing attack, as the Bears found enough holes to keep Clancy Pendergast’s defense honest. In the first half, the Trojans’ defense eventually stiffened and held Cal to 111 yards in total offense. With the Cal offense struggling, the Trojans’ defense was having its way.
With the Trojans’ offense untracked beginning the second half, the SC defense was a free-wheeling group that actually looked like it was having fun out there. The killer Trojans’ defensive moment was in the third quarter when inside linebacker John Houston Jr. tipped a Modster pass attempt and NB Greg Johnson intercepted it and run it back to the Cal 23. The Trojans’ offense eventually scored on the turnover and the rout was on. How much the Cal offense suffered when QB Garber went out of the game would detract from the defensive performance against a wanting Bears’ offense. In the end, the Trojans held the Cal offense to 263 total yards, although late in the game the defense gave up a 34-yard TD run by the Bears’ DeShawn Collins.
IMHO special teams: Trojans punter Ben Griffiths had a productive night and came through in impressive fashion, averaging 50.3 yards on three punts. Placekicker Chase McGrath continued to be Mr. Reliable, converting on field goals of 41 and 32 yards and converting on all five PAT attempts. Generally, kickoff coverage was better than in the recent past. The Trojans special teams even downed a punt late in the game on the Cal 2-yard line. Honest, it wasn’t a mirage.
Bottom Line: The Trojans are now holding on for dear life in the South Division. Utah looks unbeatable heading into its final two games. With the win, the Trojans are still hanging in there. However, they need to defeat UCLA for a better bowl destination and any glimmer of hope for a backdoor entrance to the South Division title. For Clay Helton, the Trojans’ next and final regular season game in the Coliseum could be his last game as the USC head football coach baring any last-minute reprieve from the governor (AKA AD Mike Bohn) and the Utah Utes. Based on Saturday night’s results, all the speculation and prognostications could be put to rest within the next two weeks. It should be noted that the Trojans out-penalized Cal 75-11 (45 to 0 in the first half!), once again a sign of an undisciplined team.
Next up: The Trojans return home for the final game of the regular season next Saturday to take on crosstown rival UCLA in the Coliseum. Kickoff will be at 12:30 p.m. and will be televised on ABC.
The Trojans/Cal quote book…
Clay Helton comments: “This was a good win for our football team; another good road, Pac-12 win. The kids had a tremendous week of preparation: I thought they brought the right energy and the right attitude today and I thought they made a statement for their team and what they’re trying to do down the stretch. This was a team win and there were big plays made by a lot of people. Defensively, I was nervous coming into the game: Cal did a wonderful job against Washington State the week before which really set the tone. Offensively, I couldn’t be more proud of how we operated with four touchdown passes…I think [Cal’s] defense had only given up nine total the entire year. I’m proud of our kids and how they operated.”
Clay Helton comments – Part 2: On quarterback Kedon Slovis and his improvements, Helton said, “My favorite number is zero…zero interceptions. [Cal] has a really good defense and I think Justin Wilcox is one of the better defensive coaches in the country. I credit the offensive line…they did come after us and [USC] held up. Also credit the wideouts: they did an elite job when they got in one-on-one situations, making big plays for the kid. When you have four touchdowns and zero interceptions, that’s a hell of a day.”
Clay Helton comments – Part 3: Regarding true freshman wide receiver Drake London, Heltons said, “I’ll tell you he’s a unique body because he’s a 225-pound man that’s 6-foot-5 and his catch radius is unbelievable. He has terrific hands, and we’ve seen him, for that tall of a man, be able to go down and catch the ball, and go up and catch the ball. His catch radius is just amazing. Here’s a kid where about game five it started clicking for him and he’s really come on down the stretch. I’m proud of the kid.”
Cal head coach Justin Wilcox comments: On the Trojans receiving unit, Wilcox said, “I’ve never seen a receiving corps like that in this conference, not in 20 years. Our guys wanted to compete against them. I love that about them. But you have to give them credit. The matchups are as tough as it’s been. I’ve seen great receivers in this league, but not a collection like that.”
QB Kedon Slovis: On offensive’s performance, Slovis said, “I thought as a team we played very well. Obviously, there were a few drives I wish we had scored, but overall, I thought we had a good night. In the second half and the touchdown (to Drake London) I thought we had it rolling. (The Cal defense) It doesn’t really matter who we play in this offense. If we execute and do our job, we’re going to score. That’s what happened tonight.”
Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell on Kedon Slovis: “Since I’ve been here, the more experience you’re going to get, the better you’re going to be. Obviously, with the receivers we have and the offensive line, it gives you an opportunity to put up good numbers. The more experience he (Slovis) gets, the more experience, the better he’ll play. The stats will follow. I don’t he worries too much about stats. He plays to win football games, and that’s what is most important.”
Pittman Jr: Regarding
if he is surprised by anymore by QB Kedon Slovis, Pittman said, “No, he’s
showed up and has been the same guy week in and week out. He’s getting better
and he’s showing us that he’s an elite college quarterback.”
WR Michael Pittman Jr – Part 2: On if he was aware that he was close to 1,000 receiving yards, Pittman said, “I knew that I was close before (the game)…I don’t know where I’m at now. That’s a big deal and I’m thankful that I had that opportunity.”
WR Michael Pittman Jr. – Part 3: Asked about the emergence of freshman wide receiver Drake London, Pittman said, “I thought Drake (London) has been big time. I actually talked to him after the Washington game when he didn’t make that tough catch, and I challenged him. He has come out and played great, especially for being so young. He has a lot of time left here and I’m just looking for him to do great things.”
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: On his assessment of the victory over Cal, St. Brown said, “I think we did pretty good. We got some momentum that’s good for us and what we need. To finally pull away from a team, get the lead, something we were all looking for and finally got it. Keaton (Slovis) is a beast. He has been balling all year. He’s a great quarterback who does his best. I think that each game (Kedon Slovis) looks more comfortable. He’s getting the hang of it.”
Offensive tackle Austin Jackson: Asked about the O-line’s performance, Jackson said, “I thought we played well. I thought the key tonight was protecting the quarterback and staying away from the kill and making our adjustments. We were fundamentally sound against that defense. We said every time we’re going to dominate, but the Cal defense is pretty good.”
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast: On the key or turning point on defense tonight, Pendergast said, “Stop the run was huge and not allowing them to run the football. Creating the turnover was big by Greg (Greg Johnson’s interception). The guys just stayed composed and didn’t get rattled.”
Strong safety Talanoa Hufanga: On the Trojans’ defensive adjustments after the first Cal touchdown drive, Hufanga said, “We just had to focus on the run game. We just had to adjust. We had to lock in and that’s what we did heading into the second offensive series.”
Strong safety Talanoa Hufanga – Part 2: On the differences between Cal quarterbacks Chase Garbers and Devon Modster, Hufanga said, “We knew both (quarterbacks) were capable of running. We knew both were threats to get out of the pocket and continue plays. We just tried to collapse the pocket and do our part so that we could get the ball back into the offense’s hands to make plays.”
Inside linebacker John Houston Jr. on the defense’s performance against Cal: “The defense was pretty good. We started off slow and had to keep building up, building up. We did pretty good, but I feel we still have work to do and get better.”
Inside linebacker John Houston Jr. on his tipped pass that intercepted by Greg Johnson: “I was just there at the right time and was in the right position and when you’re around the ball, good things happen. Greg got the interception and I tried to come block for him. Just trying to make plays for my team basically.”
Cal linebacker Evan Weaver: Commenting on the Trojans, Weaver said, “It’s tough. We just got beat today. They played better than we did, and we need to put all of our focus into next week (Stanford).”
Cal linebacker Kuony Deng: On the Trojans receivers and quarterback Kedon Slovis, Deng said, “We knew they were a dynamic group coming into this week and they delivered. We just try to focus on handling what we have to handled, but, yeah, they stepped up and delivered tonight.”
Cal linebacker Kuony Deng – Part 2: “He (Slovis) did a good job throwing the deep ball. Probably in the first half, maybe the first three quarters I thought we did a good job on first and second down, but they have some explosive plays on third downs, and we have to play three downs.”
From the press box…
The turnstiles: Attendance was announced as 46,397. Memorial Stadium capacity is listed as 62,467.
Temperature: Memorial Stadium kickoff temperature was cloudy and 56 degrees.
Coin toss change: The Trojans won the coin toss and for the first time all season elected to defer and kickoff to Cal to start the game.
The bobblehead: Trojan fans were treated to a little hometown promotion as the first 10,000 fans received a Jared Goff bobblehead in honor of the former Cal QB great who is the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams.
Sock it to me: Against Oregon, the Trojans wore
black socks and lost badly. Last week at ASU, the Trojans wore white socks and
escaped with a win. Last night the Trojans wore white socks and won. Sounds to
me they should wear white socks against UCLA.
In tribute: Cal wore its Joe Roth throwback uniforms for the game against the Trojans to honor the former Bears’ quarterback who passed away from cancer on February 19, 1977, shortly after his senior season. Students also received a Joe Roth shirt.
The streak: Cal was looking for back-to-back wins in the series, the first time since the Bears won three straight from 1998-2000.
The donation: The Coliseum wasn’t the only Pac-12 facility to go through a renovation, former Cal quarterback and Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers made a seven-figure gift to the football program this past June to renovate the football locker room and create the Aaron Rodgers Football Scholarship.
Renovation: Visiting fans to the Coliseum got to see the new renovations, which included new seats, cupholders, and the Scholarship Tower and press box. Trojans fans at Saturday night’s game at Cal got to see the Bears new additions to Memorial Stadium that included – Metal detectors, expanded beer and wine service throughout the stadium and a larger beer garden on the plaza, Cal Social Media Deck on the East Rim of the Stadium designed for a great view of the game and the Bay, and the Sutter Health Blue and Gold Zone which includes interactive games and a Lego wall on the concourse.
The angle: It is now common practice in many renovated press boxes that the media is place at the far end of the stadium to report the game. At Cal, the media is on the far left of the press box, and I was placed one-yard into the end zone.
The minority: Unlike previous Bay Area Weekenders, there weren’t a lot of Trojans fans in attendance like in previous seasons. However, there were still some diehards roaming Berkeley.
NFL draft: NFL scouts in attendance included the Raiders, Rams, Colts, Titans, Jaguars, Steelers, and 49’ers.
Let’s go bowling: The Redbox Bowl and Shrine Game had reps in the press box.
Man of the Year: This past week, Trojans’ senior captain and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who led all receivers from both teams on the field on Saturday night with 180 yards in receptions, was named a semifinalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award.
The menu: The Cal press box pregame meal included an assortment of ready-made sandwiches (turkey, avocado, etc.), hot dogs and brats on a warm roll, four salad options, a variety of potato chips, veggie trays, and an assortment of cookies (chocolate chip, sugar, peanut butter) and the standard selection of canned Coke products.
The post-game show numbers…
Tackling the issues: Senior inside linebacker John Houston Jr. and sophomore inside linebacker Kana’i Mauga led the Trojans with five tackles.
Upward trend: Against Cal, the Trojans scored 41 points. Prior to the game with the Sun Devils, the Trojans were averaging 30.50 points per game.
Downward trend: Against Cal, the Trojans allowed 17 points. Prior to the game with the Bears, Trojans’ defense was allowing 28.10 points per game.
Upward trend: Against Cal, the Trojans had 462 yards in total offense. Prior to the game with the Bears, the Trojans were averaging 444.1 yards in total offense per game.
Downward trend: Against Cal, the Trojans defense allowed 263 total yards in total offense. Prior to the game with the Bears, the Trojans defense was allowing 417.9 yards per game in total offense.
Downward trend: Against Cal, the Trojans had 56 net yards rushing. Prior to the game with the Bears, the Trojans were averaging 133.1 rushing yards per game.
Downward trend: Against Cal, the Trojans allowed 135 net rushing yards. Prior to the game with the Bears, the Trojans’ defense was allowing 170.7 rushing yards per game.
Upward trend: Against Cal, the Trojans had 406 yards passing yards. Prior to the game with the Bears, Trojans were averaging 311.0 passing yards per game.
Upward trend: Against Cal, the Trojans allowed 263 passing yards. Prior to the game with the Bears, the Trojans’ defense was allowing 247.20 passing yards per game.
Time of possession: The Trojans had the ball 31:52 minutes while Cal had the ball for 28:08 minutes.
Upward flag trend: Against Cal, the Trojans had eight penalties for 75 yards while the Bears had three penalties for 11 yards. Prior to the Cal game, the Trojans were averaging 72.40 penalty yards per game while the opposition was averaging 73.80 penalty yards per game.
The post-game call-in show:
Caller No. 1: Katz, you just seem to be pounding this Urban Meyer possibility into the ground. When will you let up? Caller No. 1, I don’t think I am pounding the Meyer possibility into the ground. If anything, the Meyer possibility is a no-brainer, and it deserves repetition. Look, let’s get serious here. Forget about what Clay Helton’s record is at the end of the regular season, it doesn’t matter. Anything short of a Rose Bowl appearance and victory, IMHO, he’s history. Forget about a lesser bowl game with Helton, he probably won’t be coaching in it anyway. It’s beyond all that; it’s now all about recruiting. This is the worst recruiting class I’ve seen in my 57 years of following USC football. Nobody other than Urban Meyer can add instant credibility and reverse this horrendous trend. Nobody but Urban Meyer can check all the boxes immediately both on and off the field, both football and in season tickets sales for starters. Nobody but Urban Meyer can withstand any potential backlash of his hire. The only face-saver for the Trojans regarding Meyer is if he flat out rejects the idea of returning to coaching. Let’s be blunt, USC football will go on if Meyer is not the guy, but only the future College Football Hall of Fame lock is capable of saving the Trojans’ football program from another potential decade of potential mediocrity. Okay, maybe former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops might come close, I’ll give you that. If Meyer isn’t ready to go back into coaching, okay, but at least USC tried, and it’s on to Plan B. Since Meyer has not said he isn’t interested in getting back into coaching, then it must be assumed the Trojans can make a legitimate push.
Caller No. 2: Katz, what did you think last week when Clay Helton said he wanted his team not only to “fight on” but “fight on to victory”? Clay was talking to an audience of one – new AD Mike Bohn, who said at his opening press conference that he was looking at the lyrics of “Fight On” and the line is “Fight On to Victory” and seems to want to brand that into the Trojans’ marketing and recruiting. Brown nosing by Clay? Probably, but when your job is on the line, whatever it takes to try and not get fired.
Caller No. 3: Mr. Kitty, are you surprised that tight end Jack Yary, son of Trojans all-time great Ron Yary, decommitted last weekend? Do you think we can get him back in the fold? Meow, dude. No, I am disappointed but not shocked that Jack decommitted. He is symbolic of where recruiting is in Clay Helton’s class of 2020. Now that’s the bad news. Jack has loved the Trojans but obviously doesn’t see happiness or success if Clay Helton is the USC coach in 2020. The good news is that I would be shocked if Helton is fired and an Urban Meyer or a high-profile new coach takes command of the Trojans and Jack doesn’t reconsider and recommit to the Trojans. It just illustrates how bad recruiting is going under Helton, and there is no doubt in my mind – based on his introductory press conference – that new athletic director Mike Bohn doesn’t use recruiting as one of a handful of reasons to dismiss Helton probably at season’s end.
Caller No. 4: Now we know what you thought of Saturday night’s game against Cal, but did you really think about having an 8 p.m. kickoff time in Berkeley? I think it was bull cheese. I am sure the households on the East Coast were all excited about watching the Trojans at 11 p.m. As a writer, I won’t get back to the hotel until 3 a.m. in the morning if I am lucky. Just a ridiculous start time even if you live on the West Coast. And for those fans sitting in Memorial Stadium at night, just freeze, baby, freeze.
Caller No. 5: So, the Trojans are bowl eligible, what bowl would you like to see the Trojans’ participate? The Rose Bowl for starters, but I don’t think that is going to happen. If not, the Alamo sounds intriguing since the Trojans have never played in that bowl game in San Antonio. I guess if not those bowl games, I would hope for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego or the Las Vegas Bowl. Of course, most would agree that the Sun Bowl in El Paso would be the least attractive, but the folks that run that bowl game are as good as it gets.
Caller No. 6: GK, are you going to be happy if the USC/UCLA kickoff is at night? Believe me, Caller No. 6, any kickoff time is better than an 8 p.m. kickoff. Right now, a 12:30 kickoff would be the best alternative (UPDATE – Kick-off will be at 12:30 pm on ABC).
Caller No. 7: Grego, Matt Leinart or Carson Palmer? I take the fifth. Carson was really good, and you do wonder how much better he would have been had he had the talent around him that Matt did, and that isn’t to take anything away from Leinart. He is a USC legend and probably is one Texas national championship loss from being remember as the greatest college quarterback of all time when you look at the numbers.
Caller No. 8: Friend, what’s the hottest day game you ever attended at the Coliseum? No question it was the 1963 game in the Coliseum when the Trojans hosted Oklahoma. I was 13 years-old and you never forget surviving that game and the almost 100-degree heat. My uncle Eddy’s seats were near the top of Section 19 and the sun was blistering. Both my dad and my uncle didn’t go to the game and I was dropped off with a friend by my dad to watch the game. All the players had to protect themselves was a tent cover. The make matters worse, the Trojans lost 17-12 that day to the Sooners who were coached by the legendary Bud Wilkinson and featured one of college football’s all-time characters, a running back named Joe Don Looney. And the heat kept the attendance down to 39,000.
Caller No. 9: G-man, do you still want to see an 8-team CFP post-season tournament? You betchya, Caller No. 9. Expansion of the tournament would be simple: Just take the champions from each conference and add three at-large teams. The only reason this doesn’t happen is that there is no leadership in the CFP and amongst the university presidents. By having the conference champs automatically in, the main decision regarding participants is made on the playing field and not in a room at some swank hotel. What makes the NCAA men’s basketball tournament so nationally accepted is that with 64 teams it blankets the nation from coast-to-coast. The same would hold true with a national eight-team tournament.
Caller No. 10: Mr. Katz, is it true that in your living room you have an artificial Christmas tree that you call a sports tree and instead of hanging traditional holiday ornaments, you hang your press credentials from USC football games? Yes, I have what I call a sports tree that has past and present USC press credentials from regular season games and bowl games hanging on it. In fairness, I have some ESPN, Disneyland and Disneyworld ornaments, as well. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the photo below. I might add that the tree lights are cardinal and gold.