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IMHO Sunday: Thank you Zona

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

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

Pac-12 South insiders: Gracious, merci, danke, arigato, or just plain thank you was the appreciative response by Clay Helton’s newly ranked No. 22 USC football team to the Arizona Wildcats after Zona’s heart-pounding, 37-30, double overtime win over Utah, meaning if the Trojans sweep No. 23 Oregon and unranked UCLA in the next two weeks, the Men of Troy win the Pac-12 South Division with no strings attached.

Not so fast, my friends: However, if you watched Oregon’s explosive offense directed by dynamic quarterback Vernon Adams against the Stanford’s defense, you know the Trojans defense will more than have its work cut out for them next Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (ESPN) in that football insane asylum known as Autzen Stadium. The Trojans may now be ranked ahead of the Ducks, but expect USC to be the underdog next Saturday.

Happy New Year Pasadena: With Stanford’s loss to visiting Oregon and Utah’s loss at Arizona, it means that the Rose Bowl will probably entertain the winner of the Pac-12 championship game and the second place finisher in the Big Ten – if you go with the theory that Ohio State will go to the College Football Playoff.

The evaluation: First the good news – besides the Arizona upset of Utah – the Trojans 27-24 win over at Colorado was the first time they’ve overcome a double-digit halftime deficit since trailing Arizona 21-3 in 2005 and coming back to win 38-28, and they outscored Colorado on Friday night in the second half 21-7.

The evaluation – Part 2: Now the bad news: First Trojans linebackers Cameron Smith (torn ACL) and Lamar Dawson (shoulder) will undergo surgery and are out for the season. If the Trojans (7-3 overall, 5-2 Pac-12) expect to defeat Oregon and UCLA, they’d better not display the type of first half insomnia they exhibited in Boulder, and they’d better do a heck of lot better on defense and special teams in closing out a game.

The evaluation – Offensively speaking: Uncharacteristically, there were times in Friday night’s game against Colorado that it appeared that senior quarterback Cody Kessler, among others, lost his poise in the malaise of an unproductive first half. If the Trojans offensive is going to have success against Oregon, they’ll need to keep their poise in an unforgiving Autzen Stadium. However, give the Trojans offense credit against a very determined and improved Buffaloes defense. The Trojans scored just enough points to win, taking full advantage of Colorado turnovers. However, the Trojans were fortunate to escape – just as UCLA, which barely survived Colorado in the Rose Bowl, 31-28 – as Mike MacIntyre’s Colorado program has obviously made big strides.

The evaluation – Defensively speaking: The Trojans hung in there and at times and again showed some domination up front, as illustrated by six sacks and knocking out Colorado starting quarterback Sefo Liufau from the game. That by itself should have put the clamps on the Buffaloes offense, but UC backup Cade Apsay stood up and managed to keep the offensive competitive. No question here that Trojans senior defensive tackle Delvon Simmons played his best game as a Trojan, forcing a key turnover by creating a fumble. Su’a Cravens was again a beast and some of his tackles were violently picturesque. Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox got aggressive and actually ordered a John Plattenburg corner blitz, which would have made even Pete Carroll smile.

The bottom line: Next week will be a Waterloo in Eugene if the Trojans repeat their inconsistent brand of football as displayed at Colorado. With Oregon’s “upset” of Stanford in Palo Alto, Trojans fans have been reminded that this Oregon team in November is not the Oregon team of September and October. Defensively, the losses of inside linebackers Cameron Smith and Lamar Dawson couldn’t have come at a worse time, especially against the speedy Ducks read-option offense and the physical power of the UCLA offense.

The candidates: With the injuries to inside linebackers Cameron Smith and Lamar Dawson, the “next men up” could from a grouping that includes Olajuwon Tucker Michael Hutchings, Olajuwon Tucker, and Osa Masina with the possibility, according to Clay Helton, of Jabari Ruffin and Uchenna Nwosu.

The Trojans perspective: After the Colorado game, Trojans interim head coach Clay Helton said, “I told them that in 21 years of football, I’ve never been more proud of a group. They’ll never forget this moment, what we’ve been through this season. … That’s what is really cool — kids who refused to fail.”

The California perspective: After the game, Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre said, “ Give Southern Cal their credit on coming back and getting into the game there. That’s (the game) is definitely a heartbreaker for sure. We just came up short. Wow, the last two years that team (USC) has shellacked us and we’ve caught up in a lot of areas, but that still hurts mightily to those young men”.

Kessler comments: Afterward the Colorado contest, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler said, “It was obviously not the start we wanted. We were down going into halftime, but coach Helton came in and got the guys pumped up. We talked about it and figured out what we were going to do.”

Getting defensive: On the defensive line play against Colorado, senior defensive tackle Delvon Simmons said, “It wasn’t as good in the first quarter. We kept fighting, kept listening to the coaches, and in the second half we just turned it up and got it done.

The big wheeler: On the differences between the first and second half offensive performances at Colorado, junior starting offensive tackle Chad Wheeler said, “In the first half, I guess, we were just feeling are way through the game. We weren’t executing at the level we were capable of, but in the second half we made adjustments and we came out strong.”

In support: In support of his offensive teammates who have been lost for the season due to injury, Chad Wheeler wore a No. 50 (Toa Lobendahn) and No. 75 (Max Tuerk) on his arms.

From the press box…

The offensive barometer: On Friday night, the Trojans scored 27 points against the Buffaloes. The Trojans entered Friday’s game averaging 37.4 points per game.

The defensive barometer: On Friday night, the Trojans defense gave up 24 points to the Buffaloes. The Trojans entered Friday’s game allowing 22.6 points per game.

Buffaloes moment: When Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay scored on a four-yard run midway through the first quarter to give the Buffaloes a 7-3 advantage, it was noteworthy because it was the first time Colorado had a lead in a game against the Trojans since Nov. 4, 2011.

Tackling the issue: Leading tackler for the Trojans against the Buffs was linebacker Su’a Cravens (8) followed by fellow linebacker Anthony Sarao (7).

Tanning lotion anybody: Although there were predictions that temperatures could be below freezing at kickoff in Boulder, the official announcement was that temperature at kickoff was a “warm” 41 degrees with little wind.

The last game: For Colorado, Friday night’s game was their final home game and they recognized their seniors. Official attendance was 37,905 in Folsom Field whose capacity is 56,213.

The post-game show…

The rumor mill: Well, so much for the rumor that Pat Haden would step down on Sunday as Trojans athletic director. The on-deck rumor is that he will step by the end of the month. And if that doesn’t happen, he’ll retire when he is ready to retire.

The pecking order: If you are thinking about what bowl game the Trojans will be attending in the post season, know that if no Pac-12 team enters the CFP, it will affect the pecking order, which makes the final two weeks of the Trojans regular season schedule even more critical than it already is.

Statue of limitations: Syracuse will unveil statues of College Football Hall of Fame coach Ben Schwartzwalder and Hall of Fame players Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little outside the Ensley Athletic Center in Plaza 44 during a ceremony on Nov. 14 the morning before the Orange take on Clemson. Little will be on hand for the ceremony. Isn’t it time the Trojans do the same sort of things in front of the John McKay Center or the Coliseum?

Statue of limitations – Part 2: Yes, a very impressive statue of John McKay is already in front of the McKay Center, but it would be appropriate to honor in statue form some of the great players McKay coached like a Mike Garrett, the Trojans first Heisman Trophy winner.

Brothers for life: Former UCLA First Team All-America defensive end Fred McNeill passed away on Nov. 3. He was 63. Fred is brother of former Trojans tailback standout Rod McNeill.

The last word: The weather forecast for Eugene, Oregon, next Saturday when the Trojans play the Ducks is mostly sunny with a high of 49 with a low of 35 degrees.

Greg Katz
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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