Foley Report: In-Depth Look at Trojans’ Upset in Arizona


Former USC Quarterback (1986-1990) Shane Foley takes an in-depth look at the Trojans’ (4-2, 3-1) upset win in Tucson against Arizona (5-1, 2-1).


One of the best takeaways from the Arizona game was the improved offensive line play which was dominant at times. The USC offensive line played its best game of the season and it was a game to build on. They executed with precision on several running plays including Buck Allen’s two long touchdown runs.

Oct 11, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans running back Javorius Allen (37) runs the ball in the second half against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The progress being made up front is especially encouraging considering the youth of the starting unit. The three guard rotation of true freshman has been effective with Toa Lobendahn at left guard, Viane Talamaivo and Damien Mama at right guard. It is a rotation that is working and all are improving with technique, movement and getting into position to make plays.

The Trojan blocking scheme was effective and exact against stunts vs. inside linebackers with the right side of the line blocking down and collapsing the interior part of the line and Lobendahn pulling and kicking out the linebacker on the stretch play. With Buck Allen’s ability to make defenders miss, it puts a lot of pressure on a defense and it makes a defensive coordinator think twice about stunting linebackers.

Mammoth 6-9, 350 lb. sophomore tackle Zach Banner is playing with more tenacity and emotion and he moves well for his gigantic size. Senior Aundrey Walker is providing quality depth at right tackle as well and he is back at full speed which is good timing for him and the Trojans. Talamaivo is 330 lbs. and Damien Mama is 370 lbs. so the Trojans have the beef to move piles.

Left tackle Chad Wheeler is also playing lower and moving bodies and also getting downfield to pick up second blocks.  Junior center Max Tuerk has to work on his shotgun snaps and this must be perfected before the next road game.  The execution on many running plays looked like well-oiled machine and they gashed the Wildcat defense with gaping holes. Although Arizona often rushed only three, the pass blocking was dominant for most of the night with Cody Kessler providing abundant time to go through all of his progressions with very limited pressure.

Cody Kessler had another workmanlike effort completing 20-30 for 185 yards and one touchdown but he also threw his first interception of the season.  He has now thrown for 11 touchdowns with only one interception for 1565 yards and a 69.1% completion percentage. He does have good movement within the pocket and his decision-making continues to be one of his strengths. Coach Sarkisian did utilize a bootleg run with Kessler faking and keeping for a first down that was effective and should be used more often to keep defenses honest.

However, the Trojans are still lacking the explosive passing game that was in effect in the opener and the passing attack has transitioned into a more controlled style that is predicated on quick bubble screens and crossing routes that rarely attacks a defense down field. The longest pass play of the game for the Trojans was a 25-yarder to Nelson Agholor. On his interception, Kessler did a solid job avoiding a sack and scrambling toward the line of scrimmage but he underthrew a wide open Randall Telfer and he also underthrew Juju Smith on a skinny post that should have been a touchdown if thrown deeper.

Play action is another area that must be used more effectively especially when the Trojans are pounding the football on the ground. An effective running game opens up the pass, especially down the stretch when your opponent stacks the box since they are not threatened by an offense that is focused on running down the clock. There were plays in crunch time in which Kessler checked to underneath passes that did not give the offense an opportunity to convert crucial third downs. There must be a great awareness and urgency in moving the chains and attacking a defense in tight games down the stretch.

Oct 11, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6) throws a pass in the first half against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Buck Allen continues to impress as the leading rusher in the PAC-12 conference after another huge effort.  He finished with a career best 205 yards on 26 carries for a 7.9 average per carry. He accelerated through holes quickly, got to the second level and he made safeties miss on his way to two breakaway touchdowns, from 34 and 48 yards out. He has tremendous balance and vision hitting holes but he also improvises and makes yards on his own.

He has a unique combination of power and breakaway speed.  On several plays he gashed the Wildcats and carried piles of defenders on his back for 10-15 additional yards. There is nothing that fires up an offensive line more or inspires them to get downfield and pick up second and third blocks than a running back with heart that grinds and churns for extra yards. He is currently the only back in the country with over 750 yards rushing and 250 yards receiving on the season.

Justin Davis bounced back after his fumble with some tough running of his own. It was good to see coaches believe in him when the previous regime would have put him in the proverbial dog house.

Nelson Agholor led the Trojans with seven catches for 81 yards and a 21-yard touchdown catch. He did have an uncharacteristic drop on the first drive on 3rd down but he bounced back with his elusive, attacking style for the rest of the game. Juju Smith caught four passes for 39 yards and Buck Allen had 28 yards receiving on catches out of the backfield.  Senior tight end Randall Telfer caught two passes for 15 yards including a clutch fourth down catch in the 3rd quarter that kept the chains moving for a touchdown drive.

It was interesting to have fullback Jahleel Pinner down the seam as target vs. Telfer or Bryce Dixon. The Trojans did throw one pass down field but they are still not capitalizing on defensive backs that cheat up as games wear on. The depth and talent of the receiving core presents an opportunity to stretch a defense and Coach Sarkisian needs to dial up more creativity with longer pass plays, especially early in games to keep the defense honest and later in games on play action to make a defense pay.  Where are the deep out routes, post corners, back shoulder passes that are tough to defend, and go routes that can stretch a defense?


The defensive front played their best game of the season and Leonard Williams had a breakout game elevating from a grown man to unbridled beast mode.  He has been a force all season and a disrupter collecting constant double teams and shaking off injuries but against Arizona he was dominant. Williams finished with eight tackles including two for losses, two sacks, and a crushing textbook hit on Arizona running back deep in the red zone that caused a fumble and also knocked him out of the game.

He has a non-stop motor and rarely comes out of the game but his impact rose to a new level against the Wildcats and he played up to his ability. Antwaun Woods played bigger in the middle plugging up the run at the point of attack. Delvon Simmons played his best game as a Trojan finishing with seven tackles and he consistently got a push against the Wildcat front. Claude Pelon also stepped up with a big sack and a blocked field goal on consecutive plays to end the first half. He has been a student of the game studying NFL game films to pick up pass rushing techniques.

Oct 11, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive end Leonard Williams (94) against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. The Trojans defeated the Wildcats 28-26. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Trojan defensive front looks like it is finding newfound depth with the rotation of Cody Temple at nose guard and the appearance of a healthier Greg Townsend. There was a surprising lack of drop off with the shuttling of players on the defensive front and the Trojan defense stuffed the previously potent Wildcat rushing attack for 77 yards on 27 carries for an anemic 2.7 yards per carry.

Hayes Pullard led the linebacking unit with nine tackles and he shared a tackle for loss with Delvon Simmons. Pullard will be a key component in the second half of the season. The outside linebackers did a great job playing assignment football keeping contain and turning the running game back inside. Su’a Cravens played outside linebacker and also moved to safety with some of the injuries the Trojans had in the secondary. He finished with five tackles including one for loss. His athleticism, crossover ability, and instincts enable him to make plays but he is still looking for a dominant game for all four quarters.

J.R. Tavai is a cerebral football player and he has transformed from a tried and true pass rusher at defensive end to an outside linebacker who is playing the read option effectively and is also playing well enough in space against the pass. Anthony Sarao played well enough against the run but he missed a key assignment on the wheel route touchdown play to the running back that let the Wildcats back into the game at 28-20.

The Trojan defensive backs were a revolving door as the game wore on. Adoree Jackson is USC’s best corner and he finished with seven solo tackles and he broke up a pass in the end zone to save a touchdown. He left the game in the 3rd quarter with a hip flexor and is questionable for the Trojans’ next game against Colorado. He has proven in multiple games that he can go toe to toe with the opposition’s best receivers.

Safety Gerald Bowman plays a physical brand of football and he is a tremendous tackler in the open field. He led the team, along with Pullard, with nine tackles. Free safety Leon McQuay III had three tackles but he also missed two tackles by not breaking down and wrapping up on quick passes to the slot receiver. Kevon Seymour and Chris Hawkins have decent size at 6-0, 180 lbs. but Seymour was battling the flu and that left Hawkins to battle with the Wildcats’ big receivers.

Arizona’s quick passing game was relentless and quarterback Anu Solomon finished with 43 completions on 72 attempts for 395 yards but other than the 41-yard wheel route on broken coverage, the Trojans did not give up very many big plays.  True freshmen John Plattenburg replaced McQuay at safety when he left the game with an injury and Jonathan Lockett took over for Jackson at corner.  The true freshmen were forced to come of age quickly playing on the road in a hostile environment against the #10 team in the country.

After getting torched in the last three minutes the previous week vs. ASU, embattled defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox chose to play the young corners deep and give a lot of cushion to the Wildcat receivers. They kept everything in front of them while Arizona marched methodically down the field pitching and catching without disruption. It would have been nice to see Wilcox move the corners up and play Cover 2 man under which would have let the young corners come up and play tighter coverage with Bowman and Cravens playing back in deep halves.  This would have taken away the “dink and dunk” passes and would have made the Arizona quarterback thread the needle with experienced and athletic safeties over the top. Safeties over the top were missing against ASU in the last few minutes the previous week.

Special Teams

The Trojans got solid productivity from walk-on kicker Alex Wood who converted four extra points and three of his five kickoffs went for touchbacks in place of injured Andre Heidari.  Adoree Jackson had a big 34-yard kickoff return in the 2nd quarter and he continues to be a threat every time he touches the ball. Punter Kris Albarado had six punts and averaged 38.8 yards per punt which was below his average and he had the opportunity to pin the Wildcats back late in game but missed the opportunity. The Trojans also gave up a 43-yard punt return by getting out of their lanes and their coverage teams must improve to limit big plays the 2nd half of the season.

Seeing Yellow

Penalties were a problem for the Trojans and the calls were very one-sided all night. USC finished with 13 flags for 103 yards compared to four for 35 yards for Arizona.  Although it does little good to complain and referees are part of the game, there were several plays that were especially perplexing. The fair catch call by the Arizona up-back on a USC punt who then illegally blocked Juju Smith into the punt returner but the Trojans were called for illegally interfering was baffling.

The reversal on the Wildcat quarterback throwing the ball after crossing the line of scrimmage was reversed and a late hit was assessed on Anthony Sarao even though the quarterback was several yards down field.  Lastly, the pass interference call on Chris Hawkins on the two-point conversion play even though the quarterback threw a fade route and the receiver ran a slant and there was absolutely no shot at catching it. Apparently you get what you pay for since the PAC-12 refs are among the lowest paid refs of any conference in the country so they attract lower quality which equates to very inconsistent, poor officiating.