I wouldn’t have blamed anyone – outside of the USC “Trojan Family” of course – if they had found themselves yawning during the second half of ‘SC’s football game against a California team that was playing with a defense held together by shoestrings and chewing gum, and is suffering through their worst season since 2001.
Sure, the Trojans provided some thrilling highlights that excited their fans who made the annual “Weekender” trip to the Bay Area – more on those highlights a little later – but USC’s 62-28 thrashing of the Golden Bears before a crowd of 49,199 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley that seemed to feature as much cardinal as navy blue surprised absolutely no one.
Improving his record to 4-1 since taking over for Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron is making a strong case to remove the “Interim” from his job title as the Trojans extended their win streak over Cal to a full ten games, scoring the most points in a contest since they put up 56 against another Bay Area team, San Jose State, in 2009.
I’ll say this right now: if USC wins out, athletic director Pat Haden should give Orgeron the permanent head coaching job as he has done much to change the culture in the few weeks he’s been at the helm, making things more fun at practice and off the field, which the players have responded well to.
Speaking of the players, they provided nothing but highlight reel material at Strawberry Canyon on Saturday afternoon:
* Nelson Agholor got things going early as he returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown before the game was two minutes old; he would top that before the first half was done with a 93-yard punt return for a score, tying a Trojan record set in 1965.
Before Agholor’s 93-yard jaunt, a third punt was returned for a score when Josh Shaw recovered a blocked punt 14 yards, giving some glory (to say the least) to ‘SC’s special teams and helping to make things meaningless by halftime, the Trojans taking a 41-14 lead.
It was the first time in ten years that an FBS team had three touchdowns on punt returns.
* Javorius “Buck” Allen more than showed the depth of USC’s running back corps as he ran for 135 yards on only six carries in filling in for an injured Silas Redd, driving the Trojan fans ecstatic with scoring runs of 43 and 79 yards and, for good measure, catching a 57 yard touchdown pass from Cody Kessler.
And freshman Ty Issac joined in on the fun with his 37-yard run for a score in the third quarter.
Allen and Agholor share player of the game honors for their wild exploits – obviously.
As for Kessler, he was more than efficient enough behind center as he didn’t really need to carry the team, completing 14 of 17 pass attempts for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
Ranked first in the Pac-12 Conference, the USC defense did give up 483 yards, but it was largely the scrubs that were the culprits in that area as Orgeron pulled the starters on offense as well as defense fairly early in the second half.
Even though they can officially be called the worst team in the Pac-12 with their 0- 7 conference record (1-9 overall), Cal should be given much credit for two things:
1. Sonny Dykes’ team briefly made a game of it with their two touchdowns from Jared Goff in the second quarter to make the score 21-14 before ‘SC delivered the knockout punches courtesy of Allen’s 57-yard catch/score, Shaw’s blocked punt return/score, and especially Agholor’s 93-yard punt return/score.
2. Even though they were getting walloped and even though it was painfully clear from the outset that the Trojans had the better talent in every way, those Golden Bears continued to fight hard and refused to quit, scoring two more touchdowns in the second half as Goff ended up with 255 yards and three touchdowns in the air.
A great illustration of this strong character was during the fourth quarter when Jonah Hedges, a senior running back who was essentially Cal’s version of Rudy, the undersized Notre Dame hero, did a GREAT job in gaining 31 yards in his four carries.
That, and the two TDs they scored, showed me that Cal will get better.
Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, as the saying goes, but things WILL turn around in Berkeley. All Dykes needs is a couple of strong recruiting classes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
As for USC (7-3, 4-2 in the Pac-12), they have a HUGE showdown with the Bears’ hated rival next Saturday, a showdown that will pretty much decide their season, one way or the other:
#4 Stanford Cardinal (8-1, 6-1 in the Pac-12)
PLACE: L.A. Memorial Coliseum
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 16, 5:00 p.m.
TV: KABC Channel 7 (in the Southern California area)
LAST MEETING: Stanford won, 21-14
ALL-TIME SERIES: USC leads, 59-29-3
There’s no pretending any different; this will be a heavyweight championship fight and a total war between California’s two flagship private schools.
In the cardinal-and-white corner, a Stanford team representing the top academic institution in the nation west of the Mississippi River featuring a crazy scatter band and tree mascot, that beat the mighty Oregon Ducks for the second straight year using an old-fashioned approach:
A smash-mouth style that results in a top-notch rushing game and an absolute stone wall of a defense.
By the way, have I mentioned that this Cardinal team, led by David Shaw, has won four straight and five out of the last six over USC?
Which includes a 56-48 triple-overtime thriller the last time the two teams played in the Coliseum and a 55-21 thrashing of the Trojans two years before that?
That’s what will be on the minds of every human being in the cardinal-and gold corner.
It will be on every mind from the AD Pat Haden, to Orgeron, to the players, to that sunglasses-wearing band and that Tommy Trojan drum major who stabs the field before every game, to the white-sweatered Song Girls, to Traveler the horse mascot, and to every well-heeled alum and blue-collared Trojan fan who has never set foot inside a USC classroom.
Meeting for the 92nd time in a series that dates back to 1905, this battle will pit a Stanford team led by running back Tyler Gaffney (1,043 yards, 13 rushing touchdowns) on offense and linebackers Trent Murphy (ten sacks, 14 tackles for loss) and Shayne Skov on defense against a USC team and fan base that will be foaming at the mouth with something to prove.
Ty Montgomery (42 catches, five touchdowns plus two kickoff returns for scores, including a 100-yarder) is no slouch, either.
This game is so big, ESPN will be doing their “College Game Day” show from the USC campus on Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m. local time.
As was said, this is a game that will decide the Trojans’ direction as they will be that much more in the Pac-12 South race if they win, with only Colorado and crosstown rival UCLA remaining after their date with their NorCal private school counterparts.
One thing is for certain: This promises to be a game for the ages – if things go according to plan.