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IMHO Sunday: The uncharted river

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

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

Note: This column was posted just hours before the Steve Sarkisian announcement that the Trojans head coach was staking an indefinite leave of absence and would be replaced by offensive coordinator Clay Helton.

The evaluation: They say that timing is everything and for Trojans second-year Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian, he’s probably fortunate that he is in his second season with the Trojans and not his third. After the Washington upset, even the most loyal and optimistic USC fan would have to say, “Sark is on the river and he can at the very least hear the waterfall.” In other words, right now he and the Trojans are in trouble. For the moment and thanks to timing, it’s doubtful that Sarkisian will be released during or before the end of the season, but the stark reality is things are (gulp) looking more and more like the Lane Kiffin era all over again. To be objective, Sark is a good guy, which makes this all the more uncomfortable, but Kiffin certainly wouldn’t win a popularity contest.

The evaluation – Part 2: The big coaching buildup between the Trojans Steve Sarkisian and Washington’s Chris Petersen turned out to be all Petersen. Coach Chris’s defense seemed to be in the Trojans offensive huddle and his offense, as anemic as advertised at times, didn’t turn the ball over but ran with authority in the second half and milked the clock masterfully.

The evaluation – Part 3: I can’t recall a time so early in a Trojans coaching tenure where the national media collectively is calling for the dismissal of a USC head football coach. The problem is that most Trojans fans appear to be in agreement with the national commentators. To say that Steve Sarkisian is now under more intense fire than ever would be a massive understatement.

The bottom line: Now unranked in the AP poll, friends, this Trojans team is in big trouble. With No. 14 Notre Dame, No. 4 Utah, and No. 23 Cal in succession the cardinal and gold are now in “sink or swim” desperation. Notre Dame will be fired up to avenge last season’s 49-14 humiliation, Utah beat the Trojan last season and probably has more confidence than ever and is extremely well coached, and explosive Cal in Berkeley speaks for itself. There isn’t a game left on the schedule that won’t be challengers – even Colorado in Boulder.

The game changer: Losing has a million orphans, but the Washington loss probably came the moment the Trojans came out of the Coliseum for kickoff. The Trojans had no life and no energy and neither to the announced crowd of 63,623. The whole setting was last a spring game. The Huskies had it for four quarters and the Trojans had it during intermit parts of the game.

The boss speaks: Before the Trojans loss to Washington on Thursday night, Trojans athletic director Pat Haden said, “Every Pac-12 school has to host a Thursday or Friday night game two out of every three years. That is the requirement. I would prefer to play every Saturday at 1 p.m., but that is not going to happen.”

The boss speaks – Part 2: Haden added, “This particular week, we have some of our football players who will be getting to the hotel late Wednesday night because of midterm exams. They are regular students like they should be. While it may be inconvenient, I am proud of the fact that our guys have taken it on as a challenge and are just going to do it.”

Seasonal summation: Prior to the Washington game, Pat Haden said, “What we know about our team is that our quarterback is playing extremely well. We also found out that Stanford is a pretty good football team, although we still had our chances there. We also beat a pretty good Arizona State team, which I think beat a good UCLA team.” And after further review…

Pac-12 South evaluation: Before Washington’s upset of the Trojans and critiquing the Pac-12 South division, Haden said, “I really do believe the Pac-12 South is not going to be decided until the very last week of the season, and there will be three or four teams in that mix. I would not say Utah is a surprise, but they are playing as well as anybody in the conference right now.” Would the Trojans athletic director like to revise his evaluation after the Trojans loss to Washington?

Pac-12 South evaluation – Part 2: Haden is not entirely wrong in his evaluation of the Pac-12 South Division as of today. Lost in all the pain of the Pac-12 losses to Stanford and Washington is the fact that the Trojans still control their South Division destiny and are 1-0. Sweep the South and the Men of Troy are in the conference title game.

From the press box…

Tunnel runners: Leading the Trojans out of the Coliseum tunnel prior to kickoff were four members of Wild Bunch ll, which included Omar Nazel, Shaun Cody, Mike Patterson, Kenechi Udeze. With all due respect, there is only one Wild Bunch and they were the originals in 1969.

The Big Cat: Former Trojans All-America defensive tackle Leonard Williams, now with the N.Y. Jets, was cheering his former teammates from the Trojans sideline. The Jets had a bye this weekend.

Cover boys: Thursday night’s game program cover featured Trojans senior linebackers Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao and nose tackle Antwaun Woods.

Why: So why is the Coliseum video board playing a “make it louder” chant accompanied by music while the Trojans band is still playing?

Scouts honor: A large contingent of NFL scouts were in attendance on Thursday including the Seahawks, Cowboys, Lions, Buccaneers, Bears, Patriots, Steelers, Giants, Jaguars, and Dolphins.

Scouts honor – Part 2: In attendance in the press box representing the Denver Broncos was legendary Broncos quarterback John Elway. Ya think Elway was there to look at Cody Kessler? A rhetorical question to say the least.

Bowling for dollars: There were no bowl representatives in the press box on Thursday night and maybe that was a good thing for the Trojans.

Keeping count: Coliseum attendance from Thursday night’s game against Washington was announced as 63,623. Last season’s Thursday night game against Cal in the Coliseum drew 64,615. Coliseum capacity is 93,607.

The barometer: On Thursday night, the Trojans scored 12 points against Washington. The Trojans entered Thursday night’s game averaging 46.8 points per game.

The barometer – Part 2: On Thursday night, the Trojans defense gave up 17 points to Washington. The Trojans entered Thursday night’s game allowing 17.5 points per game.

The flag is up – again: The Trojans were penalized eight times for 62 yards. We are now seeing an uncomfortable trend in the wrong direction.

The post-game show…

To the Hall: Former 2002 Trojans All-American safety Troy Polamalu and lineman Charles Ane Jr. have been named to the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016. It certainly won’t be the last of hall of fames that Troy is elected.

 30 for 30: A reminder that ESPN will be showing a “30 for 30” special, “Trojan War,” on Tuesday evening (6 p.m. PT), which examines the Pete Carroll Trojans era.

30 for 30 – Part 2: There are interviews in “Trojan War” with former head coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Matt Leinart, but there is no current interview from tailback Reggie Bush. Even Snoop Dog makes any appearance.

30 for 30 – Part 3: ESPN’s “Trojan War” on “30 for 30” is produced by USC alum Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, an award-winning television writer and producer.

Michigan State video: A trailer was released for a Michigan State Spartans documentary entitled “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar.” The film follows the 50-year legacy of College Football Hall of Famer Gene Washington, the filmmaker’s father, from the segregated South to MSU. Recruited by Hall of Fame head coach Duffy Daugherty, Washington played at Michigan State alongside fellow Hall of Famers Clinton Jones, Bubba Smith and George Webster, becoming members of the first fully integrated football team in America.

Spartan video – Part 2: The relevance of “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar” for Trojans fans is that Bubba Smith’s brother, Tody Smith, was a starting defensive lineman on the Trojans original 1969 Wild Bunch.

Spartan video – Part 3:
The irony of Tody Smith becoming a Trojans was the fact he transferred from Michigan State to USC after his sophomore season. Both the Smith brothers were from Charlton-Pollard High in Beaumont, Texas.

Thinking out loud: Not an indictment on the current Trojans coaching staff or style of play, but if the Trojans were still in the I-formation and John McKay or John Robinson were the head coach, current LSU running back sensation Leonard Fournette would have looked more heavily into being a Trojan.

The last word: Oregon paid homage to explorers Lewis and Clark with an “Oregon Pioneer” alternate uniform against Washington State on Saturday. Well, the Ducks lost in overtime to Washington State so changing helmet logos doesn’t help. Maybe the Trojans should pay homage to the motion picture industry against Notre Dame on Saturday by wearing some illustrated Hollywood searchlights and photo of “Oscar” on their helmets.

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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