In the same week that the Kevin Sumlin to USC rumors began, as discussed by Scooby Axson of SI Wire, the Trojans’ current head coach—the one who has been viewed as nothing more than a caregiver since taking over—delivered yet another impressive victory.
Ed Orgeron was not supposed to make the head coaching search at USC this interesting. And there wasn’t supposed to be a case for keeping him on. He was supposed to take over, improve the morale—which he has most certainly done—and then maybe, just maybe, guide USC to a mid-tier bowl.
At that point, he would be let go, free to pursue other jobs, and USC would hire the biggest name it could.
Expectations were low, and the move to an interim coach with head coaching experience was nothing more than a duct-tape solution. That will likely remain the case, regardless of how USC closes out the season, but at the very least, Orgeron is making the most of his unexpected time.
It’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore, regardless of what’s going on behind the scenes.
Of course, beating Cal—now a 1-9 team—doesn’t warrant a parade. It also doesn’t warrant a new contract to be the next “official” USC coach. This was a game that USC was supposed to win, and it did.
As has been the theme since Orgeron took over, however, it’s not just about a checkmark in the win column. The team has looked much more polished, particularly on offense, and there was a quiet confidence on display during the 62-28 blowout victory on Saturday.
Under Orgeron, the output has increased a great deal. Given his run as head coach at Ole Miss, the avalanche of points wasn't exactly anticipated.
Offensively, USC has taken massive strides in recent weeks, and it did so again. The Trojans totaled 499 yards of offense, and the running attack was the catalyst of it all.
This week, it was sophomore Javorius Allen and true freshman Ty Isaac doing the heavy lifting at running back, scoring two touchdowns apiece. On the afternoon, USC rushed for 256 yards on only 29 carries.
It wasn't just the backs, though. USC's special teams had an enormous first half, and that helped generate separation. Nelson Agholor returned two punts for touchdowns, and the Trojans tacked on a blocked punt returned for a score.
With Cal thoroughly handled and in the rearview, USC is now 7-3 on the season and 4-1 since Lane Kiffin was relieved of his duties and Orgeron took over. The season is no longer lost, and suddenly next week’s game against Stanford has meaning.
Although Stanford is flying high after beating Oregon—as it should—the assumption of a cakewalk win in L.A. is premature. USC plays a similar brand of football, and the Trojans’ stout defensive line will provide a much different challenge. This will not be finesse football, and neither team would have it that way.
This is a very real obstacle for Stanford as it tries to play its way back into the national championship discussion.
For Orgeron, this game is yet another showcase, an opportunity to improve his unlikely case to stay on as head coach. He’s already playing with house money, so why not let it ride a little longer? It's gotten him this far.
He certainly knows what's at stake.
Ed Orgeron on playing Stanford: ``We all know what's coming up next week.''— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) November 10, 2013
There are more experienced candidates out there, and names like Sumlin and Chris Petersen will carry more weight (and, of course, more money) than the man who was once run out at Ole Miss. But at USC, Orgeron’s influence has been real, and the results have followed.
The likelihood of him being the head coach in So. Cal in 2014 is still an enormous long shot, but the discussion over whether he should have a chance beyond this season is real. It is warranted. And if USC is able to pull the upset over Stanford next weekend, the momentum to keep him will be difficult to ignore.