The Trojan faithful came back from a week of family and turkey to witness a truly tremendous sight. Legendary guitarist Slash opened up with the national anthem and the largest crowd of the year at 84,000 was ready to take back the Victory Bell. It really never looked good in baby blue anyway. Coach Clay Helton had the pressure of his job off of his shoulders and he led the USC Trojans with a performance that oozed passion and enthusiasm. The Coliseum was the loudest I have heard it in since the Stanford game three seasons ago. It was less about x’s and o’s and more about heart. The Trojans could not stomach four straight losses to the Bruins of Westwood. They stood up man to man and made plays. All this talk of the elite athletes that USC possessed was thrown out the window. It wasn’t about who was faster or stronger. It was about which team wanted it more. And for the first time in a long time, that team was the USC Trojans.
- It was the quintessential example of game management from Cody Kessler. He made key third down throws when it mattered. He hit the occasional deep ball to JuJu Smith-Schuster. He also handed the ball off a total of 55+ times. But what I loved most about Kessler’s performance was his aggressiveness. He threw those third down passes with some heat and conviction. Just before halftime he even threw a couple of passes down the middle that could have been intercepted. But that’s okay. I want my quarterback to take a chance for the big plays every once in a while. Kessler will need to show the grittiness of a champion if he intends on beating an incredibly talented Stanford Cardinal team.
Running Backs: A
- Ronald Jones II got us going. Tre Madden made the crucial plays when we needed them the most. Finally, Justin Davis ran all over the Bruin defense with a combination of shifty and physical running. I thought last week was Davis’s best game as a Trojan. He just had to one-up me and show everybody that he will be a crucial cog in this powerful running machine for the rest of the season. Coach Clay Helton has committed to making this a run-first team and the success is evident.
Wide Receivers: B+
- JuJu looked healthy. Well, by healthy I mean 75%. But let’s face it, JuJu’s 75% is everybody else’s 100%. Darreus Rogers continues to show big play ability and Kessler is taking notice. Rogers making a play or two every game could take more attention away from Smith-Schuster and free him up as well. Having multiple weapons and actually using those weapons makes this offense much more dangerous. Yes Cody our tight ends should be considered weapons. I think you’ve noticed that by now.
Offensive Line: A
- The big boys upfront instilled their will against a beat-up UCLA defensive line. The run blocking was paramount in making sure we controlled possession and the momentum. When we needed to ice the game in the 4th quarter the offensive line challenged UCLA to stop them. They even did an improved job in pass protection. On the key third downs, Kessler had time to step into his throw and make it count. Khaliel Rodgers performed admirably amid a high ankle sprain. 4th string center Nico Falah who has hardly played in his Trojan career on the offensive line put in an incredible effort as well.
Defensive Line: A-
- I thought the defensive line stepped up big time after a mediocre performance last week in Eugene. There was still a lack of straight up pressure on Josh Rosen sans blitzing which needs to improve if we want to beat Stanford next week. However, the run stopping was great. Numerous times there were Trojans two yards in the backfield to stop Paul Perkins or Nate Starks. There were a couple of bad missed tackles that led to huge gains by Perkins which made the run game look more effective than it actually was, but overall a great effort from this group. Boy did Rasheem Green look good on that TD run. Big guy touchdown!
- An inspired performance by a group that is severely lacking in depth. With Cameron Smith and Lamar Dawson out with injuries, the likes of Buddah Tucker and Uchenna Nwosu got significant playing time. The veteran leadership from Anthony Sarao did not go unnoticed. There were some missed tackles in this group as well, but the potential is there. There will have to be an even bigger increase in physicality if we are going to contain Christian McCaffrey in the Pac 12 Championship. McCaffrey is the best player the Trojans have faced all year and the key to beating Stanford.
- Undoubtedly the group that won us this game. They were faced with a difficult task in Josh Rosen and his star receivers Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte. Not only did the secondary step up, they stepped up and played straight up man-to-man defense. Iman “Biggie” Marshall got burned a couple of times, but boy did he step up and play up to his nickname. His aggressive nature flourished in the man-to-man defense. Adoree’ Jackson, Marvell Tell, and Su’a Cravens all had crucial pass breakups. Su’a played more like a safety than he has all year and I thought our defense never looked better. That is his natural position and he basically shut down Rosen’s dangerous weapon in Thomas Duarte.
Special Teams: A
- I harp on this group more than other group on this Trojan football team. To say they have been inconsistent is an understatement. But it was a standout performance from all aspects. Alex Wood made his field goals, Matt Boermeester had some great kickoffs, and Adoree’ was just Adoree’. When the Trojans offense was stagnant in the first half, Adoree’ electrified the Coliseum. As I have said so many times, Special Teams can make the difference. Ka’imi Fairbairn missed a field goal (something that never happens). It’s just the little things that go a long way.
- This isn’t indicative of the actual grade point average from this report card. This is indicative of the effort these Trojans gave in their most important game of the year to date. They were flying all over the field and making plays. We hit harder and played faster than we had all year. It was truly complete performance. Coach Clay Helton coached a masterful game and the rest of the coaching staff gave the Trojans a game plan to which they executed masterfully. The players want Coach Helton to stay. I’m not sure it’s the best idea, but I can’t say that game didn’t make me reconsider that option very heavily.
Prediction: USC 38 – Stanford 34
- This game will be put up or shut up for the Trojans. They are going to need the same intensity that rattled the Coliseum on Saturday. It’s going to be cold and windy in Santa Clara, something that heavily favors Stanford. But I think the big plays will come, Ronald Jones II will do something sensational and Su’a Cravens comes up with a score that changes the game entirely. I want to smell those Roses so very badly.