12 min Read

IMHO Sunday: The bounceback

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: Okay, so Utah State (1-1) isn’t No. 1 Alabama or even upcoming Stanford for that matter, but the Trojans (1-1) badly needed their 45-7 Coliseum triumph on Saturday for their psyche before heading up to Palo Alto for next Saturday’s Pac-12 opener with the defending Pac-12 champion Cardinal.

Offensively speaking: Against Utah State, the Trojans were obviously more balanced between rushing and passing, grounding out 178 yards and throwing for 244 yards. The Trojans used both quarterbacks, Max Browne and Sam Darnold effectively, as Browne passed for 182 yards and two touchdowns (3 & 2 yds.) while Darnold threw for 62 yards and two touchdowns (13 & 15 yds.). The Trojans might have silenced temporarily some critics by spreading the ball around through the air as 10 different players were on the reception end of Trojan quarterback passes. The Trojans offensive line was workmanlike for the most part over an outmanned Aggies defensive front.

Defensively speaking: The Trojans defense was on its game combined with the fact that Utah State isn’t Alabama. The Men of Troy held down the penalties and flowed to the ball in numbers. Utah State didn’t really test the Trojans secondary, passing for 204 yards. Trojans linebacker Cameron Smith continues to show why he is already an All-Pac-12 candidate. He is the heart of the defense. Corner Adoree’ Jackson saw little action his way due to the fact that Utah State thought wisely about not throwing his way.

Special teams speaking: Special teams coach John Baxter’s group shined with a blocked punt and a huge 77-yard touchdown punt return by Adoree’ Jackson (photo above). Some have chafed over the amount of practice time devoted to special teams, but Baxter’s attention to detail and film breakdown of opponents is once again showing dividends.

The bottom line: Snapping a three-game losing streak that began last season, the Trojans needed this Utah State win badly, especially by a rout. Granted Utah State is from the Mountain West Conference and should be a patsy for the Trojans. However, the Men of Troy are right back into the national frying skillet next week at Stanford, which will provide further evidence of improvement from the Alabama disaster and an update on the current state of the Trojans football program.

USC head coach Clay Helton comments: “This week, it was a team that really wanted to perform, and really wanted to get back out and play. We ran the ball effectively. It was an efficient day. We played great on special teams.”

Utah State head coach Matt Wells comments: Paying tribute to the Trojans defense, Wells said, ”I don’t even know if I got to very many third-and-short or third-and-medium calls, `cause it was like we were in third-and-long almost the whole time. We just kept getting bogged down.”

The game changer: After leading 7-0 after the first quarter, Trojans quarterbacks Max Browne and Sam Darnold combined to engineer a 12-play, 87-yard second-quarter scoring drive, capped by a 13-yard TD pass from Darnold to sophomore wide receiver Deontay Burnett to extend the led to 14-0, a margin that would increase along with an outstanding defensive effort the rest of the way.

Adoree’ speaks: On reflecting upon the dominance of the defense against Utah State, the Trojans All-Pac-12 junior corner Adoree’ Jackson said, “I am excited how our defense played today.”

The first one: Regarding throwing his first touchdown pass, a 3-yard TD toss to wide receiver JuJu Smith, quarterback Max Browne said, “It’s a culmination of all the touchdowns you get in practice. You do the hard work and it kind of pays off in the game.”

Darreus speaks: On getting ready for the Pac-12 opener next weekend against Stanford, senior wide receiver Darreus Rogers said, “Stanford is a great team. We’d better be prepared. We’ll need another week of great preparation.”

Darreus speaks – Part 2: Reflecting back on Utah State victory, Rogers added, “We needed it big to build our confidence back up. Utah State is a great team and we came out here and had it in our mind this morning to come out here to execute and play hard early.”

Foreshadowing: Regarding his offensive line and Stanford next week, Trojans senior running back Justin Davis said afterward, “I still believe that they’re the best o-line in the country…and I kinda saw it a little bit today, which made me excited. We’re going to have to take it up to a whole other level, myself included, at Stanford next week.”

IMHO: The level of play of sophomore inside linebacker Cameron Smith has been exceptional and leads me to believe that he is a future All-America candidate.

Top tackler: Trojans sophomore middle linebacker Cameron Smith led the Trojans defense with 13 tackles, 9 of which were unassisted.

Visiting Porterville: Evaluating his defense against Utah State, sophomore outside linebacker Porter Gustin said, “I think we improved on a lot of things. We obviously still had our mistakes (Alabama), but we looked at the (Alabama) film and got better at what we needed to get better at. We’ll look at the film and correct the mistakes we made this week.”

Sam says: On his pinpoint 15-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold said, “He was wide open to me just like we do in practice.”

Sam says –Part 2: On what appears to be more playing time, Sam Darnold is not surprised about the increased activity. Darnold said, “The coaches were pretty adamant about me playing in the red zone and on third down packages, so I am not surprised when I go in there. But at the same time, when your number is called, you have to be ready. I thought I performed well today, but I did miss some reads.”

Browne points: Asked about sharing some of the quarterback duties with Sam Darnold, quarterback Max Browne philosophically said, “It’s different, but if it helps the team…”

Batting practice: Addressing the amount of balls knocked down by the Trojans defensive front at the line of scrimmage, USC D-line coach Kenechi Udeze said, “In this day and age in college football, the ball is coming out quick, so you do what you can to affect the quarterback. We have to be consistent and get our hands up quick in the throwing lanes. You are never going to be one hundred percent pleased, but I really like the steps we are taking on defense.”

Bad tradition: Chuma Edoga is the second Trojan in as many weeks to be ejected from a game. Linebacker Jabari Ruffin was ejected last week against Alabama for stepping on the groin of a downed Alabama players. On the ejection of offensive left tackle Chuma Edoga for making physical contact with an official and being ejected, Clay Helton afterward said, “He’s got to be smarter.”

The infirmary: Those Trojans listed as injured after Saturday’s game included safety Marvell Tell lll (dizzy) and tailback Ronald Jones ll (ribs).

From the press box…

The Voice remembered: First a moment of silence before kickoff and then tributes throughout the game, the Coliseum videoboard showed highlight calls of the late Tom Kelly, the legendary radio voice of the Men of Troy. Kelly’s wife, Danuska, surrounded by family members, was given a framed USC home jersey with No. 89, which would have been his birth number this season.

Reversal of fortune: Last week against Alabama, true freshman wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. was called for a critical penalty on a punt return, but on Saturday the kid redeemed himself with a blocked punt in the first quarter, which eventually led to a 3-yard scoring toss from quarterback Max Browne to All-Pac-12 wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Playing chicken: Michael Pittman’s blocked punt rewarded the fans in attendance with a free Chick-fil-A sandwich promotion.

IMHO: I still believe that current sophomore corner Iman “Biggie” Marshall’s best position would be that of a strong safety.

Tunnel vision: Former Trojans All-America strong safety Darnell Bing (2003-05) led the Trojans onto the field prior to kickoff. Unlike the Alabama game where the Trojans came onto the field with an “untraditional” entrance, head coach Clay Helton led his team onto the field without the traditional spirit of players gathering in the end zone.

Directions please: There was some confusion by the media and the public with the new Coliseum entrance routes and designated parking areas. It seemed like the “old way” was much more efficient and less confusing.

Here come the Irish: The Utah State/USC game officials included Umpire Rick DiBernardo, who once played linebacker for the NFL Rams, was a starting linebacker at Notre Dame, and is a Parade All-American and All-CIF at Huntington Beach (Calif.) Edison High back in the late 70’s and early 80s. Yes, Rick was once recruited heavily by the Trojans, but he selected then newly signed Irish head coach Gerry Faust, who had just been hired come out of prep powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller High.

The post-game report…

Counting the house: Saturday’s Coliseum attendance was announced at 62,487, which was above what many believe it would be given the fact that the Trojans were coming off a horrendous 52-6 loss to No. 1 Alabama, Saturday was an 11 a.m. kickoff, and the game was being televised locally.

Turn on the lights: Even though Saturday’s game was in the late morning, the new NFL light standards and lighting were certainly noticeable. Lights were turned on during game.

Marcus bobblehead: The first 50,000 fans on Saturday received a free Marcus Allen bobblehead doll.

Cover boy: Senior wide receiver Darreus Rogers, who had seven receptions for 82 yards against Utah State, adorned the cover of the official game program, which sold for $6.

Scouting the talent: NFL scouts at Saturday’s game included representatives from the Bears, Bengals, Panthers, Giants, and the Canadian League’s BC Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Bowl visitors: There were no bowl representatives in attendance on Saturday.

Duck hunting: If you think that No. 24 Oregon’s best days are behind it, you didn’t watch Saturday night’s 44-26 victory over Virginia in Eugene. The Ducks’ new quarterback is Dakota Prokop, the grandson of former Trojans quarterback Al Prukop (1958-60). The grandson, a ball-handling wizard and an accurate thrower and dangerous runner, looks to be a future handful for the Trojans when they host Oregon on Nov. 5 at the Coliseum, which ironically is Homecoming.

The millionaire: Say what you want and it’s probably true, but former Trojans coach Lane Kiffin keeps getting fired and continues to make millions in his next job. Case in point: Alabama has doubled his salary for this season, approving a new $1.4-million-dollar deal. It runs from July 1 to Feb. 28, 2917. We should all be so lucky.

The millionaire – Part 2: Did you see Alabama head coach Nick Saban rip his offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin on the sideline on Saturday. Saban actually called it an “ass chewing” on national television. Saban’s words not mine. There is a video of it, and I highly recommend it for entertainment purposes. Okay, click on this and fire up some popcorn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFiBVUZcuRo

The Call-In Show numbers…

Power surge: The Trojans scored 45 points against Utah State on Saturday. Prior to Saturday’s game with the Aggies, the Trojans were averaging 6 points per game.

Getting down: The Trojans had 29 first downs compared to Utah State’s 13. Prior to the Aggies, the Trojans were averaging 11 first downs per game.

Defensive rejuvenation: The Trojans defense allowed 7 points to Utah State on Saturday. Prior to the Aggies, the Trojans were allowing 52 points per game.

Offensive production: The Trojans had 422 yards in total offense against Utah State on Saturday. Prior to the Aggies game, the Trojans were averaging 194 yards in total offense per game.

Defensive reduction: Against Utah State on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 253 yards. Prior to the Aggies, the Trojans were allowing 465 yards per game.

Rush hour: Against Utah State, the Trojans rushed for 178 yards. Prior to the Aggies, the Trojans were averaging 64 rushing yards per game.

Rush hour – Part 2: Against Utah State on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed 49 net yards rushing. Prior to the Aggies, the Trojans were allowing 242 net rushing yards per game.

Passing fancy:  On Saturday against Utah State, the Trojans passed for 244yards per game. Prior to the Aggies, the Trojans were average 130 passing yards per game.

Air defense: On Saturday against Utah State, the Trojans defense allowed 204 passing yards. Prior to the Aggies, the Trojans were allowing 223 passing yards per game.

The red zone: The Trojans were 6 of 6 in the red zone while Utah State was 1 of 2.

Sacking out: Trojans quarterbacks were sacked 2 times (10 yds.) by the Utah State defense while the Trojans sacked Aggies QBs 2 times (17 yds.).

The flag is up: The Trojans were penalized 5 times for 51 yards on Saturday afternoon. Prior to the Aggies, the Trojans were averaging 46 yards in penalties per game.

The last word: In an earlier O/NSO predictions column, I picked the Trojans to defeat Utah State 41-17. Last week I had picked Alabama to defeat the Trojans 37-24. So I am a modest 2-0 on the season. Stanford? Well, let’s just celebrate this one for 24 hours and hint the Trojans are the underdogs next week.

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.

More Articles By Greg