USC Football: Grading Ed Orgeron's Debut as Interim Head Coach
Southern Cal quarterback Cody Kessler conveyed the Trojans' mindset in playing for interim head coach Ed Orgeron, per NFL.com reporter Dan Greenspan, following USC's 38-31 win over Arizona on Thursday night.
USC QB Cody Kessler on interim coach Ed Orgeron: "You want a coach that you would go to fricking war for."— Dan Greenspan (@DanGreenspan) October 11, 2013
The only way that Orgeron's debut could have started any better was if Kessler's 62-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Nelson Agholor had come on the Trojans' opening possession.
Kessler and Agholor set the tone for the Trojans' win on the first play of USC's second possession, as the Orgeron era got off to a fast start.
Orgeron had said during his teleconference call on Tuesday that introducing wholesale changes in one week wasn't realistic. His incremental changes, however, made a noticeable difference.
Here is a look at how Southern Cal and Orgeron graded out in their debut together.
The shot that USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton dialed up from Kessler to Agholor in the first quarter capitalized on all of the pregame energy generated this week following the firing of head coach Lane Kiffin.
A few minutes after Kessler had connected with Agholor, Kessler added a 63-yard completion to sensational sophomore running back Tre Madden, who exploited a seam in Arizona's zone and sped past the secondary.
USC needed to strike while emotions were high and the iron was hot. The Trojans' 28-3 start on the scoreboard was enough of a cushion to weather a career-high performance from Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker, who threw for all four of the Wildcats' touchdowns in a 28-10 run the rest of the game.
The Trojans' new regime was limited in what it could do in the second half, as Madden was sidelined midway through the game with a hamstring injury.
Freshman Justin Davis was also hobbled after a touchdown run, although he returned in a limited capacity.
Agholor had the breakout game that had been eluding him early this season. He filled in nicely as the No. 1 target with star wide receiver Marqise Lee nursing a knee injury.
Orgeron emphasized spreading the ball around and Helton followed through on the strategy, although more out of necessity due to the mounting injuries. Tight end Xavier Grimble also joined the Trojans' infirmary to further restrict the diversity of their passing attack.
USC employed a multidimensional running attack that made use of tailbacks Silas Redd, Buck Allen, Ty Isaac, Davis and Madden, who all had at least three carries apiece.
None of the Trojans' tailbacks rushed for more than 80 yards, but combined for 215 yards overall. Even Kessler got in on the action with a 34-yard scramble.
The no-nonsense, run-heavy approach made USC's third downs short, allowing the Trojans to convert 6-of-13. South Cal had gone into the game only converting 27.7 percent of their third-down attempts.
Expect to see a lot more of this ground-based offense, employing numerous different looks for the rest of the season.
Southern Cal's defense came out with the same energy as the offense, twice keeping Arizona out of the end zone despite drives deep into Trojans' territory
Tackle J.R. Tavai was outstanding, routinely breaking into the Arizona backfield to disrupt Denker on zone-read plays before they could develop.
The USC front seven brought consistent pressure and made Arizona's All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey work for every inch of his 138 yards rushing.
Southern Cal's secondary play, however, was a much bigger issue.
With defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast employing a predictable game plan of selling out against the run, the Trojans' defensive backs were susceptible to big plays—particularly down the stretch.
Denker found wide receiver Garic Wharton twice after Wharton beat his man with no support deep.
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One of the Trojans' early scores to set the tone came off a blocked punt by Soma Vainuku. USC routinely challenged Arizona punter Drew Wriggleman and almost broke through for a second blocked punt later in the first half.
The USC coverage team did a fine job of limiting Arizona's kick returns. Kicker Andre Heidari was also perfect, including a 45-yard field goal in the third quarter.
The Trojans' depth issues that Orgeron inherited plagued his debut down the stretch, but the energy and fun that had seemingly being lacking with USC football at the end of Kiffin's run was back.
Injuries will hinder USC for the remainder of this season, but beating Arizona set the right tone for the Trojans to conclude Pac-12 play as a contender in the South division.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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