USC Back in Action This Week: Will Ed Orgeron's Changes Help?

Kyle KensingContributor IOctober 7, 2013

Sep 29, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California interim head coach Ed Orgeron talks to the media during the press conference at John McKay Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Just eight days have passed since USC athletic director Pat Haden fired former head coach Lane Kiffin, and interim head coach Ed Orgeron wasted no time implementing broad changes.

Stuck in a 0-2 conference hole and with a few glaring problems, Orgeron faces a steep learning curve. He won't solve every issue USC may have—there’s only so much a coach can change schematically in one week—but he's taken steps toward addressing a few of the more deeply rooted ones. 

General outlook is most important of them, and an attitude adjustment may be exactly what the Trojans need to meet their potential. 

Orgeron told the Associated Press last week he relishes the opportunity. 

USC went from playing for a coach fighting for his job, to now operating under a coach excited to have a job.  

An embattled head coach's burden can weigh down his program. USC players routinely downplayed the importance of Kiffin’s hot seat, but the situation bogged the Trojans down in unnecessary turmoil.

A renewed focus on simply playing should bolster USC as it returns to Pac-12 action.

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast cited mental preparation as the root of USC's ineffective defense against Arizona State.

Pendergast told the Los Angeles Times that “miscommunication and mental errors” were responsible, and “there's going to be days like that.”  

The Trojan defense was not responsible for every one of the record-tying 62 points Arizona State scored in Week 5. But five of the Sun Devils’ scoring drives went 62 yards or longer, and Arizona State averaged 8.7 yards per play.

USC’s defensive struggle against Arizona State may have been an aberration this season, but through a stretch of seven losses in 11 games dating back to last October, the Trojans have had problems defending zone-read offenses.

In losses to Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, Georgia Tech and Arizona State, USC gave up an average of 44.4 points and 274.4 rushing yards per game.

The good news for USC is only the Arizona State game is attributable to Pendergast and this year's defense.

His 5-2 base scheme is specifically designed to counter athletic offenses with speed up front, and his group has a prime opportunity to show off its mental adjustments Thursday. 

The defense should bounce back, but offense remains the bigger question mark. 

Adding former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, as Orgeron told reporters he pursued last week, would have been a major coup. 

Sep 28, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils linebacker Carl Bradford (52) sacks USC Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6) during the second half at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

As it stands, coordinator Clay Helton's performance in his new role as play-caller could determine the rest of the Trojans’ season.

He’s taking over a unit with an inexperienced quarterback, an injury-plagued receiving corps and a struggling line.     

Yes, USC scored 41 points against Arizona State. That was a much-needed sign of life, particularly with sophomore running back Tre Madden’s continued emergence into a bona fide star.

Nevertheless, the young offensive line still gave up four sacks and has allowed 13 on the year. At 2.6 per game, USC ranks No. 97 in the Bowl Subdivision.

The consistent pressure Arizona State brought also contributed to two interceptions of quarterback Cody Kessler. 

Not all of USC's issues will be solved immediately, if at all this season. However, Orgeron is emphasizing the right mindset going forward.  


Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.