Utah vs. USC: 10 Things We Learned in Trojans' Win

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2013

Utah vs. USC: 10 Things We Learned in Trojans' Win

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    USC's 19-3 win Saturday over Utah (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) isn't going to win any awards for beauty.

    For all intents and purposes, it was an ugly win, but considering how much turmoil the Trojans (5-3, 2-2) have faced this season in terms of coaching changes and injuries, there's not much need for critique.

    The victory vastly improves USC's chances to be bowl-eligible this season, and it also answered some questions about what to expect from this patchwork team for the rest of the year.

    Click through the slides to see what we learned about the Trojans on Saturday.

Substance Over Style

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    Los Angeles is no for glitz and glamour, flash and dash.

    That isn't USC, not right now, and it's probably not going to be like that until whoever takes over as coach gets his system in place. For now, the Trojans are making due with what they have, which has been seemingly different each game.

    Against Arizona, the Trojans went for big plays to outscore the Wildcats. Against Utah, it was about shutting the opponent down.

    Whatever it takes, that could replace the “Fight On” motto.

Kickers Are People, Too

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    Andre Heidari reportedly had to win a competition to keep his kicking job for this game. Think that was a motivation?

    The junior tied a career high with four field goals, providing nearly all of USC's offense on a day that it couldn't get anything done in the red zone. Sure, Heidari missed one in the second half, and missed badly, but it had no impact on the game.

    If he can be relied on to make kicks from 30 to 45 yards out for the rest of the season, the Trojans might just be able to steal a win from someone they're expected to lose to.

The Injuries Aren't Going to Stop Anytime Soon

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    USC had at least seven players injured in the loss to USC, then saw more drop during the week at practice.

    And while some of the dinged up—most notably, tailback Tre Madden, receiver Nelson Agholor and Dion Bailey—were able to come back and play against Utah, even more people went down.

    The latest fallen included, but wasn't limited to:

    • Offensive tackle Kevin Graf
    • Safety Su'a Cravens
    • Tight end Shane Sullivan

    It's time to face facts: USC is snakebit when it comes to injuries, and it's going to impact the rest of the season, no matter what. Limiting reps and contact in practice can only help so much.

Put Me In, Coach

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    USC reportedly had just 48 scholarship players in uniform for Utah, a calamity that goes way beyond the depth issues caused by the school's ongoing NCAA penalties.

    Because of this, the Trojans had to turn to an inordinate number of walk-ons and deep, deep reserve players, like tight ends Chris Wilson and Shane Sullivan and receiver Robby Kolanz, among many others.

    But while the overall results weren't great in terms of stats, there was no shortage of effort and devotion from the Trojans against Utah, no matter what pedigree they had.

    USC plays in one of the most talent-rich areas of the country, so it's not surprising that its non-scholarship players are talented. Heck, there's probably a dozen kids wandering the USC campus who could start in the Sun Belt or Mid-American Conference, in case Ed Orgeron decides to have an open tryout to bring in extra players.

Defense Wins Championships, and Maybe Enough Games to Make a Bowl Game

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    USC held Utah to 201 yards of total offense, including just 71 in the second half. That post-halftime number was 22 before the Utes' final drive, which like so many others stalled not so much because of poor execution but because the Trojans made plays.

    USC had six sacks in the game, from six different players, and are now tied with Utah for the Pac-12 Conference lead at 26 apiece.

    The Trojans also forced four turnovers in the first half, and converted on all of them, to the tune of 16 points.

    Sure, it's not pretty, but if USC can play defense like that in even a partial version against teams like Oregon State, Stanford or UCLA, anything is possible.

The Run Game Is Gone

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    No place has the injury issue affected USC more than in the run game.

    Though Silas Redd is back after having preseason knee surgery, and Tre Madden came back after sitting out the Notre Dame game, Justin Davis hurt his ankle and is done for the year. Add in injuries to the offensive line—including this game, with Kevin Graf going down in the first half—and a less experienced receiving corps than desired, and USC is unable to provide a consistent run game.

    Three weeks ago the Trojans used five different backs to run for 249 yards in the win over Arizona, but that number fell to 129 against Notre Dame and then bottomed out Saturday against Utah.

    USC ran for just 30 yards against the Utes. Even if you take out the 30 yards in sack yardage, that's just 60 yards on 25 carries. And Madden had runs of 13 and 12 yards, meaning the other 23 rushes averaged 1.5 yards per carry.

    Redd, who ran for 112 against Notre Dame, had 10 carries for zero yards.

Nelson Agholor Is a Star

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    With Marqise Lee out again due to injury, USC was without its top playmaker for Utah.

    Actually, it wasn't. The Trojans had Nelson Agholor.

    Agholor, a question mark to play because of a rib injury sustained against Notre Dame, had six catches for 97 yards, including a nifty 30-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter where he showed off his speed (to get around a Utah defender after initially making the catch) and footwork for tiptoeing the sideline the last 10 yards for the score.

    The sophomore, who had just 19 catches last season, is USC's leading receiver this season with 40 receptions for 539 yards and three TDs.

    No matter what it takes, the Trojans need to keep him healthy. If so, Cody Kessler will know he's got someone reliable to throw to in games, no matter how many walk-ons he works with during practice.


No Fan Love

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    The announced crowd on Saturday was just over 64,000 fans, and that was generous, as the Los Angeles Coliseum had many an empty area of seats.

    Roughly the same attendance number was given for USC's win over Arizona on a Thursday night a few weeks back, the first game after Ed Orgeron took over for Lane Kiffin.

    Compare that to nearly 78,000 who showed up for the Trojans' season opener in September, and you can see the support isn't there.

    It's too bad, really, because the current version of USC is playing much more inspired and energetic than before Kiffin was fired. It's a shame more people haven't been there to see that.

Ed Deserves a Chance

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    The odds of it happening are probably less than 10 percent, but Orgeron deserves a legitimate sniff at the permanent head coaching job.

    He's 2-1 in the interim role, and probably would be 3-0 if USC hadn't had so many injuries at Notre Dame.

    But even more than that, he has the Trojans playing with fire, passion and smiles. That wasn't the case to start the season under Kiffin.

    Orgeron isn't an offensive guythere's no argument there. He's deferred to his offensive coordinator for all parts of the offense other than motivation, and if given an interview, he'd have to convince athletic director Pat Haden he'd bring in a big-time coordinator to handle USC's offense.

    USC is almost certainly going to look outside for its next coach and try to hit a home run. Even if Orgeron doesn't get the main gig, whoever comes in should keep him around as the defensive coordinator.

This Team Can Win Seven Games

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    USC and Utah were close enough in ability that beating the Utes wasn't considered an upset. If you looked at the Trojans' remaining schedule earlier this week, a win over Utah was probably penciled in.

    And because of that, USC is going to qualify for a bowl game. It needs to win seven games to be bowl eligible, unlike the normal six wins, because of the 13th game allowed for playing at Hawaii to start the season.

    Of the remaining five games, only two can really be called "winnable" for USC: Nov. 9 at California and Nov. 23 at Colorado. Win those, and any other victories are gravy.

    They'd be some pretty tasty gravy, though; the Trojans have to play Friday at No. 25 Oregon State, host No. 6 Stanford on Nov. 16 and finish the regular season at home Nov. 30 against No. 12 UCLA.