Foley Report: USC Handles OSU, Now Looks Ahead to ASU


Former USC Quarterback (1986-1990) Shane Foley recaps the Trojans’ first conference match-up of the season, against Oregon State (3-0, 0-0), and previews the Trojans’ next game against Arizona State (3-1, 1-1).

Oregon State Recap

USC and Oregon State played the late game last Saturday and it had been a long two weeks for the Trojans following an embarrassing loss to Boston College.  The Beavers were led by senior quarterback Sean Mannion who is about to become the PAC-12 all-time yardage passing leader.

The Trojans struck first with Su’a Cravens 31-yard interception return for a touchdown to put USC up 7-0. Oregon State answered on the next play with a 97-yard touchdown return to tie the game at 7-7.  After trading punts, Oregon State mounted a drive with two fade passes and a USC defensive holding penalty that culminated with a 38-yard Beaver field goal.

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The Trojans responded with an eight play, 65-yard drive and Cody Kessler hit Justin Davis out of the backfield for 16-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-10 deep in the 2nd quarter. It was the first passing touchdown against the Beaver defense this season.  USC thwarted an Oregon State score with Adoree Jackson making a huge play to tip a pass to Leon McQuay III for an interception in the corner of the end zone.

With time running out in the half and USC facing 4th and 15, Coach Sarkisian kept his offense on the field so that Coach Riley would not call a timeout. The ploy worked and the Trojans called a timeout with one tick left on the clock to set up a Hail Mary play. Cody Kessler bought time avoiding the rush and heaved a 48-yard pass that sophomore receiver Darreus Rogers leaped up and snagged for a touchdown to give the Trojans a 21-10 halftime lead.

September 27, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6) avoids being brought down by Oregon State Beavers linebacker Jabral Johnson (44) during the second half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The USC defense put constant pressure on Mannion in the 2nd half and he finished with a measly 16 second-half yards on 4-13 passing and he never looked comfortable in the pocket.  The Trojans pounded the football in the 2nd half behind a one-two combination of Buck Allen and Justin Davis. Kicker Andre Heidari kicked a knuckler and missed a 36-yard field goal but the Trojans mounted a nine play, 55 yard drive that was finished off with a 17-yard touchdown run by Buck Allen. After an exchange of punts, Justin Davis culminated a nine play, 88-yard drive with a 21-yard touchdown and a 35-10 lead that ended the game.


There has been a definitive focus by Coach Sarkisian on establishing the running game. He has called it the Trojans’ identity and it is predicated on toughness with the intent on keeping the opponent’s offense on the sideline. This identity was stuffed against Boston College but it did not waiver against Oregon State and the Trojans answered the bell with 200 net yards rushing on 48 carries.  Buck Allen finished with 115 yards on 20 carries and Justin Davis finished with 82 yards on 15 carries. Both players also did a good job catching the ball out of the backfield which is especially effective against man-to-man defense.

Davis’ touchdown catch was a wheel route against man to man and he made the safety miss.  Buck Allen is a tough, hard-nosed running back that has the propensity to run harder as the game goes on.  Justin Davis played his best game of the season and he was attacking the defense in the 2nd half. Tre Madden will be available against ASU and it will be interesting to see how they will work him back into the lineup.

There is constant talk about the Trojans’ talent at the skill positions but make no mistake about it: the game is still won and lost in the trenches. The offensive line made strides against the Beavers but they are a work in progress. They gave up three sacks but one of those came on an inside move against freshman tight end Bryce Dixon.  Center Max Tuerk is the leader of this unit but he was beat for a sack on a one-on-one rip move up the middle.

September 27, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans running back Justin Davis (22) runs in for a touchdown against the Oregon State Beavers during the second half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, the execution was improved and there was a much better push up front, especially down the stretch in the 2nd half when they wore the Beavers down.  The matchup was much more even in the first half but the pounding continued and the shots took their toll. There were three consecutive false starts on the first drive by true freshmen Viane Talamaivo and Toa Lobendahn but they settled down and began to execute.  It is rare to have one true freshman starting on the offensive line let alone three with Damien Mama that are in the starting rotation.

The game also saw the return of Aundrey Walker who played at right tackle and he will provide experience, fresh legs and depth to the O-line. The Trojans ran a lot of vanilla packages running the ball off tackle consistently and they like to block down with the tight end and pull the guard to lead block on the perimeter. Look for a little more variation in the running game in October. The execution was much improved from two weeks prior and there was good hustle down field by lineman picking up blocks on the next level.  Tight end Randall Telfer is doing a tremendous job getting position, blocking with desire, and finishing blocks.

Cody Kessler has quietly been playing mistake-free football. He has yet to throw an interception this season and he finished 24-32 for 261 yards and two touchdowns. He showed more urgency in the pocket than he did at Boston College. He also made several plays with his feet including the Hail Mary touchdown pass and a key 3rd down pickup to Nelson Agholor in the 2nd half against an unblocked linebacker.

Kessler spread the ball around to nine different targets and he found the tight end four times on Saturday. The distribution to backs out of the backfield and passes to the tight end make it very difficult to defend a quarterback that does not force the football and takes what the defense gives him.  Kessler has emerged as an efficient quarterback that is making good decisions. He must continue his development with more urgency in the pocket when needed and also using his eyes to look off defenders which will create more open looks.

There is tremendous depth at receiver and they all have the ability to stretch a defense. True freshman Ajene Harris made a clutch 3rd down catch and held on to the football after a big hit. As a former high school quarterback, he also threw a throwback pass to Buck Allen that was caught a step out of bounds. Nelson Agholor had a quiet night with three catches for 27-yards as did Juju Smith with three catches for 13 yards but there is an unselfish attitude among the receivers on this football team and this will pay dividends as the season progresses.

Darreus Rogers made a tremendous catch on the Hail Mary right before half time which took the wind out of Oregon State’s sails and put the Trojans up 21-10 at halftime. Bryce Dixon continues to be a key target for Kessler in the seam or out wide and he has the ability to go up and get the football.


Post Boston College, the Trojans were a maligned defensive unit had a lot to prove against Oregon State. After some early rushing yardage given up, the Trojans’ front seven buckled down.  The special teams unit gave up a kickoff return but the defense did not surrender a touchdown all game and they put consistent pressure on Sean Mannion.

There were only two sacks, one by All-American defensive tackle Leonard Williams and the other on a blitz by Su’a Cravens on a front-side blitz but the defense harassed Mannion all night and it took him out of any rhythm that he had in the first half. It may be cliché but the best pass defense is a great pass rush and this point was proven with his final stats of 15-32 with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a career low 123 yards. Going into the game, Mannion was 2-10 when throwing for more than one interception and that is now 2-11.  It became apparent that the hits were taking a toll and he was throwing off his back foot and looked uncomfortable in the pocket.

The Trojans held Oregon State to 1-10 on third down and the run defense stabilized to hold the Beavers to 58 net yards rushing.  Antwaun Woods played big, controlling the middle and Williams looks like he is back to full speed. Claude Pelon dropped into coverage and almost had an interception but he was called for a late hit on Mannion.  J.R. Tavai played the contain position outside and did a good job turning plays back inside. The decision to play Cravens closer to the line of scrimmage paid immediate dividends with his route jumping pick six, his sack on Mannion and his diagnosis on a reverse that was stuffed for a seven-yard loss.  His athleticism will be crucial against the spread, read option teams that they will see in bunches the rest of the season.

Hayes Pullard finished with five tackles but he was also flagged for two face-mask penalties including one at the start of the 2nd half that negated a strip and fumble recovery by Su’a Cravens.  Anthony Sarao finished with four tackles as well. Both inside backers need to take better angles getting down the line of scrimmage and they must focus on running through the ball carriers in the open field. A middle linebacker’s job is not to dance with a back or receiver in the open field and they must either drive through or wrap up.  Cravens, Tavai and Scott Felix will have crucial roles this week playing disciplined football and keeping contain on the outside against a read option, fast-paced offense.

The defensive backs have been a surprising strength of the team through four games.  Everyone hears the stat that they are the only team in Division 1 that has not given up a passing touchdown. However, it is also about playing tight coverage in man-to-man, making big plays in the end zone and not letting receivers behind you.  Adoree Jackson may be a true freshman with a bright future but he has proven he can go toe-to-toe with top receivers right now.

Free safety Leon McQuay III is showing good instincts and anticipation in space but he is also shown toughness coming up and hitting close to the line of scrimmage.  Strong safety Gerald Bowman is a 210 lb. presence that plays a physical brand of football and he is tenacious in blitz packages. True sophomore corner Kevon Seymour played tight coverage but lost sight of the ball on two lob passes.  Redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins has also been a physical presence at corner and he has been flagged for holding several times on the season but the corner rotation of Jackson, Seymour, and Hawkins has exceeded expectations so far.

Special Teams and Flags

The special teams performance was one to forget against Oregon State. The kickoff coverage was non-existent on the 97-yard touchdown return by Ryan Murphy since the coverage team got out of their lanes and gave up contain. The play also included a missed tackle on the 20–yard line that Murphy shook off on his way to pay dirt.

Andre Heidari shanked a 36-yard field goal in the 3rd quarter which ended a 15-play, 70-yard drive with no points.  He has hit some big field goals this season but consistency will be needed in conference play.

It was a sloppy game with yellow flags flying all over the field. The Trojans were flagged 14 times for 124 yards which will have to improve. There were some notable lows with three consecutive illegal procedure penalties on the first drive, two face masks by Pullard, and a personal foul by Pelon. Aggressive play is important but it must be met with discipline and composure and they will need to reduce mistakes quickly.

Next Matchup: Arizona State

USC holds a 19-11 all-time advantage over Arizona State in the series but the Sun Devils have won two of the last three including last year’s 62-41 debacle in the desert that sent Lane Kiffin to Alabama.  Arizona State has not beaten the Trojans at the Coliseum since 1999. The Sun Devils are averaging 42 points per game but they are giving up 30.8. ASU is looking to bounce back after they got ambushed at home by UCLA 62-27 even though their backup quarterback, Mike Bercovici, completed 42-68 for 488 yards and three touchdowns.

They also ran 105 plays and had 626 total yards but they gave up turnovers and big plays that cost them the game.  Bercovici is expected to get his second consecutive start with Taylor Kelly still hobbled with a foot injury.  Their running game is led by junior running back D.J.  Foster who has rushed for 540 yards and five touchdowns and he is averaging a whopping 8.6 yards per carry. Junior Jaelen Strong is a big, physical receiver at 6-3, 212 lbs. and he has 31 catches for 412 yards and two TD’s.

The Trojans got a much needed win against Oregon State after their bye weekend following a loss but there is still much to prove. Arizona State will provide a major test with their fast-paced offense and read option component that has given the USC defense major issues. They will have to play disciplined football on defense, keep contain at outside linebacker and attack their passing game.

USC’s defensive backs had major breakdowns in assignments last season and they will have to be on the same page on Saturday.  Arizona State is young, only returning eight starters from their PAC-12 South championship last season. The Trojans counter with seven true freshmen, including three on the offensive line that either start or are in the rotation.  They are playing with 55 scholarship athletes compared to the allotted 85 at other universities.

However, as a Trojan, there are no excuses and it is time to look forward not back. It is about getting back to work, continuing to improve and always staying humble. The Trojans are 2-0 in conference and are trying to move to 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 2006. USC regained some identity with their win but this will offer a much better indication of where the Trojans are right now.  It time to take the next step, to rise to the occasion, to play like Trojans, and always Fight On!