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IMHO Sunday: The home stretch

Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

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

Break time: After starting the 2016 season 1-3 and finishing the last seven games at 4-3, the Trojans were grateful for the past week off. Clay Helton’s (photo above) first full season as USC’s head coach will be judged by the final five games and expected bowl game. Outside of being the underdog at Washington (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12 North), the Trojans should, and I repeat, should win every game, especially when you consider the combined record of Troy’s final five opponents is 18-18.

Bye bye: The Trojans are 95-46-4 in all regular season games it has played following a bye.

The pothole: Obviously, the big dog in the closet in the remaining five games is that little visitation to No. 5 Washington on Nov. 12. If the Trojans don’t stub their toes along the way and Washington as well, it should be the 9- 0 Huskies and the 6-3 Trojans before a full house of screaming whackos in Husky Stadium (70,138). This will be the game to see how far the Trojans have advanced since the opening game debacle with Alabama.

The trap game: On the surface of it, one could make an argument that next Thursday night’s Coliseum game with Cal could qualify as that proverbial trap game.

The Longest Day: After watching Cal’s epic 52-49 double overtime victory over Oregon on Friday night, I came away with a few thoughts: The Trojans better be ready to score, score, score, and score again against the Golden Bears (4-3, 2-2 Pac-12 North) on Thursday night. If you thought Clay Helton was under the gun earlier in the season, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich may be in sizzling Duck soup, considering the mallards (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12 North) are now riding a four-game losing streak with no Pac-12 victories. Considering the length of Friday night’s Cal/Oregon game and if you’re attending Thursday night’s USC/Cal game at the Coliseum, you’d better bring a pillow and a blanket to the Grand Old Lady.

The Longest Day – Part 2: Friday night’s ESPN Cal/Oregon game, which kicked off at 7:30 p.m. (PT), officially ended at 11:54 p.m. (PT), lasting 4 hours and 18 minutes. Think about this, on the East Coast, the affair concluded at 2:54 a.m. Is that the type of exposure that Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott had in mind when the conference granted those ridiculous “late night” 7:30 p.m. kickoff times? And we haven’t even mentioned those ludicrous 11 a.m. starts, but at least those games don’t threaten to continue into the next day.

BTW: Friday night’s Cal/Oregon game was the second straight week that the Golden Bears have gone into overtime. In the previous week, Cal lost an overtime game at lowly Oregon State, 47-44. After two consecutive overtime games and a short week for the Bears in preparation for the Trojans, you’d have to think there would be some sort of fatigue playing the Cardinal and Gold on short notice.

True confessions: So how many of you were rooting feverishly for UCLA to upset No. 19 Utah (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12-South) to better the Trojans Pac-12 South cause? With the Utes outlasting the host Bruins (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12 South), 52-45, the Westwooder’s defense made the Trojans defense look like the Denver Broncos.

Utah watching: The Trojans still need for Utah to drop a couple of games to help control their own Pac-12 South fate. As a public service, the remaining Pac-12 games for the Utes include hosting No. 5 Washington (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12 North) next Saturday, at ASU (Nov. 10), entertaining Oregon (Nov. 19), and finishing the regular season at Colorado (Nov. 26).

Colorado watching: And let’s not overlook the Colorado Buffaloes (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12 South), who are currently tied with Utah at the top of the Pac-12 South standings. Keeping in mind that the Trojans own the tiebreaker with Colorado, the Buffs remaining games include hosting UCLA next Saturday, at Arizona (Nov. 12), and finishing the season in Boulder with games against Washington State (5-2, 4-0 Pac-12 North), and rival Utah.

Southern hospitality: And how about those Colorado Buffaloes , traveling to Stanford and edging a suddenly fading and offensively anemic Cardinal club, 10-5. Yep, that score is correct and, yes, Stanford All-America tailback Christian McCaffrey did play. The Buffs, who lost to the Trojans 21-17, are now bowl eligible for the first time in a decade. Stanford is now 4-3 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-12 North. Apparently, Stanford head coach David Shaw is no longer in the Pac-12 genius category.

The quote book…

Dedication: On replacing Trojans injured wide receiver Steven Mitchell Jr., sophomore Deontay Burnett said, “I told him (Mitchell) that I’m gonna play for him. I hold him every time I’m on the field, it’s gonna be for him. He just told me to be who I am.”

More Burnett: On his definition of a wide receiver, Deontay Burnett said this week, “Catching the ball has always been a thing I value most because I always tell myself ‘What is a receiver that can’t catch the ball?’”

Johnny Football: Said Trojans sophomore and Texas native tailback Ronald Jones ll on the style of play of Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold, “Electrifying. That one play he had against Colorado, when the ball fumbled and he threw it back, it kind of reminded me of Johnny Manziel.”

The cure: In assessing the improvement of quarterback Sam Darnold to protect the football during the Arizona game, head coach Clay Helton said, “I thought there was some improvement there, knowing where the first down marker was and getting down.”

The mea culpa: Explaining his personal foul penalty for stepping over a downed Arizona defender, Trojans junior All-Pac-12 receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said, “Honestly, I’ll be a man to my word, and I did it on purpose. As competitive as I am, that’s something that shouldn’t have happened.”

Rush to judgment: According to head coach Clay Helton, “I think Porter (Gustin) and Uchenna (Nwosu) have improved the most in pass rushing. I think they’ve gotten better and a lot of it has to do with being in the nickel package a lot more.”

From the press box…

Numbers game: So how many combined points will the Trojans and Cal produce on the Coliseum scoreboard? Should we start the “bidding” at 75 points?

Recruiting push: One of the aces in the current and future recruiting push will be Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold, whose local and national image has put him in a position of influence in the world of recruiting.

Boom: Now that it has becoming a Trojans “Coliseum tradition,” how many of you duck for cover when those two explosions are heard an hour and then half hour before kickoff, reminding fans to make their way to their seats?

Projecting: It’s always fun to watch the weekly predictions to where the Trojans will go bowling following the conclusion of the season. One predictor has the Trojans returning to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Well, given the fact that some were worried three weeks ago that the Men of Troy might not even make a bowl game, there should be some positives about returning to the border city in West Texas. Okay, I am just trying to turn a negative into a positive.

Reality check: Having been at the last trip to El Paso’ Sun Bowl when the Trojans and former head coach Lane Kiffin got embarrassed by Georgia Tech in 2012, I can say honestly that as far as the media was concerned, the folks that run the Sun Bowl were not only great hosts but did a wonderful job of interacting with the needs of the press.

The sooner the better: The Trojans chances of playing in an elite bowl game will increase substantially when senior tailback Justin Davis returns. Aca’Cedric Ware and Ronald Jones ll are short term fixes for the moment, but there is no denying that Davis was having a helleva senior season prior to his high ankle sprain.

The post-game show…

Tough times: Are you having a difficult time selling your tickets for the Cal game because of the Thursday night scheduling?

Decisions, decision: Given your choice, would you rather attend a Thursday night game at the Coliseum and take a Friday workday off or have a Saturday game with an 11 a.m. kickoff? I’ll take the early Saturday start anytime.

Lotts of advice: College Football Hall of Famer and former Trojans legendary All-American Ronnie Lott made his annual visit this past week to speak to the Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) football team.

Distant connections: Two football personalities that have Trojans connections, College Football Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff (Florida State) and former legendary college football offensive line coach Joe Moore, were inducted into the State of Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday. The connection? In 2012, former All-America receiver Marqise Lee was the recipient of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s finest receiver, and Moore was the mentor of those Notre Dame offensive lines, under head coach Lou Holtz, that routinely beat up Trojans defensive line.

Ouch: In a number of national college football shows, UCLA has been called the most disappointing team in the country. Did that make your day?

The Call-In show…

Lower points: After seven games, the Trojans are averaging 28.3 per game. Last season, the Trojans averaged 33.9 points per game.

Slight improvement: After seven games, the Trojans are allowing 24.0 points per game. Last season, the Men of Troy allowed 25.7 points per game.

Slight improvement – Part 2: After seven games, the Trojans are averaging 440.0 yards per game in total offense. Last season, The Men of Troy averaged 437.9 offensive yards per game.

Much improvement: After seven games, the Trojans are allowing an average of 370.7 yards per game. Last season, the Trojans allowed 400.8 yards per game.

Rush hour: After seven games, the Trojans are averaging 177.0 yards rushing per game. Last season, the Trojans averaged 168.2 rushing yards per game.

Rush hour – Part 2: After seven games, the Trojans are allowing 164.4 yards rushing per game. Last season, the Men of Troy allowed 149.3 net rushing per game.

Not by much:  After seven games, the Trojans are averaging 263.0 yards passing yards per game. Last season, the Trojans averaged 269.7 passing yards per game.

Big improvement: After seven games, the Trojans are allowing 206.3 yards per game in pass defense. Last season, the Trojans pass defense allowed 251.5 yards per game.

The flag is down: After seven games, the Trojans are averaging 55.7 penalty yards per game. Last season, the Trojans averaged 68.6 yards in penalties per game.

The last word: So how long is it going to take before the Trojans Bookstore has some Sam Darnold No. 14 jerseys hanging on the racks? It could be the perfect holiday gift for a Trojan fan if Sam keeps the train rolling.

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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