10 Things We Learned from USC's Win
All is well in Trojan land, at least for one night.
Thursday's 38-31 victory over Arizona was just what USC needed to move past the circus that was Lane Kiffin's firing and keep its focus on trying to make the 2013 season a successful one.
While the game was by no means perfect for the Trojans, the overall result was as good as anyone could have hoped for considering the surrounding circumstances.
Here's a look at some things we learned about USC from this game:
Change Is Good
At least for one game, that is.
The firing of Lane Kiffin after the embarrassing 62-41 loss at Arizona State was met with overwhelming cheers by the USC fan base, and it was no surprise the Trojans responded to the change with a win.
But the real determination of whether getting rid of Kiffin will do any good still remains to be seen. USC plays three of its next four on the road, including trips to Notre Dame and Stanford. These two games will truly determine if the season is salvageable or not.
Orgeron Football Is Fun Football
There are going to be plenty of sore arms, legs, feet and shoulders from this game. But for the first time in who knows how long, many Trojans will probably also be suffering from sore cheeks over the next few days from all the smiling that was going on Thursday night.
Credit Ed Orgeron for all those pearly whites flashing on the USC sideline. He said all week he wanted the game to be fun again for the players, and he made that happen, both with his words and his actions, which included plenty of chubby-guy runs up and down the sidelines.
There Could Be a Running Back Controversy
But unlike a quarterback controversy, where you really can only play one guy at a time, having a stable of capable guys who can run the ball should be considered a luxury.
That's what USC appears to have, as five running backs combined for 216 yards on 44 carries. And that's including leading rusher Tre Madden only getting 28 yards on five carries before going down with a hamstring injury.
It seemed at times like each drive had a different featured back for USC, and the result was the same.
Missing Marqise Lee Isn't a Death Sentence
Much was made at how USC would have to rely on mostly untested pass-catchers with Marqise Lee unavailable because of a tweaked knee it. In truth, not having Lee out there probably forced Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler to trust some of the other guys he's worked with in practice.
No one benefited from this more than Nelson Agholor, a sophomore who came into the game with 11 catches but left with another seven receptions (for 161 yards) and a 62-yard TD pass from Kessler for the game's first score.
The Trojans also saw Victor Blackwell perform well early in his first start, while backup tight end Randall Telfer had a key 29-yard catch that set up what ultimately was the deciding score in the game.
Clay Helton Calls a Decent Game
Clay Helton has been on USC's staff for four years now, and this season he was given the role of offensive coordinator to go with his title as quarterbacks coach.
But Thursday night was the first time he actually got to coordinate USC's offense in the game, thanks to Lane Kiffin no longer around to take that job from him. The result was a nice balance of smashmouth running and a more open, yet still not too risky passing game.
Cody Kessler Is Actually Kinda Sorta Decent
Much of the vitriol directed toward Cody Kessler this year could easily be attributed to his being the choice-by-default of Lane Kiffin as USC's quarterback.
But as shaky as he might have looked earlier this season, the way he played in the first half against Arizona makes you think he'd been handcuffed in those previous games. Kessler started the game 7-of-8 and had two long TD passes, manipulating the defense into letting his targets get open, then hitting those wide-open targets.
What else do you want out of a quarterback, really?
Silas Redd Runs Hungry
Silas Redd had a knee procedure the same day his USC teammates were in Honolulu opening the season against Hawaii. That was on Aug. 29.
Six weeks later Redd finally rejoined his buddies on the field and reminded them how much he'd been missed.
In what for most of the game had been a running-back-by-committee approach, the senior assumed the role of go-to guy in the late stages of USC's win and ended up with a team-best 80 yards on 19 carries. None of his runs were more than 12 yards, but each was hard-fought, especially his game-clinching 10-yard run on 3rd-and-8 with under two minutes left.
The Defense Is Getting Worn Down
Through the first four games of the season, the only thing keeping Trojan Nation from completely devouring itself in frustration was the fact USC's defense had looked very good. But after getting run over for 62 points by Arizona State, then after two weeks to regroup allowing 508 yards to Arizona, the defense is starting to look suspect.
Most troubling was how the Trojan defenders managed to make Wildcats quarterback B.J. Denker look somewhat decent, something no other team had done this year.
J.R. Tavai Has a Defensive Beast Mode
With linebacker Morgan Breslin too hurt to play, USC shuffled up his front seven on defense, meaning J.R. Tavai would be called on to fill in some gaps. And the junior responded epicly.
Tavai finished the game with 10 tackles, seven of them solo, and also had 3.5 tackles for loss. He combined with Leonard Williams (team-high 12 tackles) on one of the Trojans' two sacks, and though Arizona tailback Ka'Deem Carey ran for 138 yards it was probably the hardest any back has had to work to get that kind of output.
USC's Defensive Backs Need Stay with Their Guys
Arizona scored three of its touchdowns thanks to its receivers getting behind the defense. That's all on the secondary, which either bit on head fakes from the quarterback or allowed receivers to trick them with double moves and other shifty footwork.
You'd think that wouldn't happen working against a guy like Marqise Lee in practice.