Following USC’s 14-10 loss to Notre Dame, interim head coach Ed Orgeron focused on the positives from the game, most notably his players’ effort, rather than the negatives. Orgeron has his team’s sights set on shoring up its self-inflicted mistakes as it prepares to play Utah on Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“There were a lot of positives to come out of the game,” Orgeron said. “Guys fought really hard to give us a chance to win. Obviously, we have to eliminate the penalties that really put us back in some bad situations, especially towards the end of the game.”
Junior kicker Andre Heidari continued to struggle against Notre Dame, missing twice in three attempts. For the season, Heidari is 6-for-11 in field goal attempts and just 2-for-7 in kicks 30 yards or longer. Because of his ineffectiveness, Orgeron has decided to open the kicking competition this week in practice.
“We need to make field goals,” Orgeron said. “We’re gonna open up the field goal kicking competition this week to see who’s the best one out there. Andre has done a lot of good things for us, but we’ll give somebody else a shot this week in practice.”
In 2011, Heidari was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s best kicker and was named first-team All-Pac-12 after making 15-of-17 field goal attempts. Last season, he dealt with injuries and made just 10-of-16 field goal attempts, but still made the 2012 All-Pac-12 honorable mention list.
Tough Up Front
The Trojans’ much-maligned offensive line played well at the onset of Saturday’s game, but wilted in the second half. Notre Dame’s top two defensive tackles, Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt, eventually wore down USC’s offensive line and made it difficult to open up running lanes.
“We struggled a little bit in the second half, especially in some crucial situations,” Orgeron said. “Tuitt is a really good player and he gave us some fits. We thought that we played pretty good against Nix inside, but in some crucial times, their defensive lines made some plays.”
USC finished the game with 129 rushing yards on 31 carries, good for 4.2 yards per carry. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler was sacked twice, and Notre Dame finished with seven tackles for loss.
As if USC’s injury woes couldn’t get any worse, Orgeron had more bad news about his team’s health. Redshirt junior tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble were ruled out for Saturday’s game, as well as freshman tailback Justin Davis.
“Randall and Xavier are gonna be out, I don’t know how long, but they’re not gonna be playing this week,” Orgeron said. “Davis will be out, and Marqise is questionable again. We have a lot of guys questionable.”
Lost in the team’s overall poor play has been Kessler’s steady improvement throughout the season. Since taking over as the team’s full-time starter, Kessler has completed 61 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. This has led to a renewed sense of confidence in the Trojans’ signal caller.
“I really like the way Cody’s playing,” Orgeron said. “He’s making plays, running the ball, making good decisions. He had that one interception [against Notre Dame], he’s had one turnover in two games. He’s really becoming a leader and has a lot of gumption. He has a lot of guys believing in him.”
Looking ahead to Utah, Orgeron noted the team’s strong performance in big games. The Utes notched their biggest win since joining the Pac-12 two weeks ago when they defeated Stanford 27-21. Utah has given USC fits each of the last two seasons, with the Trojans’ two wins coming by an average of just 9.5 points.
USC’s offensive line will likely be tested yet again against a very stout Utah front seven.
“[Utah is] a powerful team,” Orgeron said. “Good on the lines, very big offensive line, great running game. They gave Stanford problems, obviously. Their defense leads the Pac-12 in sacks. They get up for big games, and we know they’ll get up for us.”
For the Trojans, the focus is on regrouping after a tough loss and getting a much-needed conference victory to jump back into the race for the Pac-12 South crown.
“Here’s the deal: We told our guys this is game three of our new season. Utah is ahead, now we’re just gonna take it one game at a time. Be positive. Bounce back. Rely on the team — one heartbeat. Continue to move forward and fix the things that we did wrong.”
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