THE FOLEY REPORT
The National Scene
The 2nd week of college football season has come and gone. #1 ranked Alabama dismantled Western Kentucky 35-0 in Tuscaloosa. The other dominant SEC school, #3 LSU, rumbled over hapless Washington in Baton Rouge 41-3. #5 Oklahoma rebounded from a lifeless opener by pounding Florida A&M 69-13 at Norman. #6 Florida State hammered Division II Savannah State 55-0 at Tallahassee with the game being ended in the 3rd quarter for weather. #8 Arkansas suffered a shocking loss to Louisiana Monroe 34-31 in overtime in Little Rock. #24 Florida came from behind to spoil Texas A&M's 1st SEC conference game at College Station 24-17. #21 Kansas State raised some eye brows with their demolition of Miami 52-13 at home.
The conference had a second straight week of strong performance going 9-3 overall. None was bigger than Oregon State beating #13 Wisconsin 10-7 at Corvallis. UCLA upset #16 Nebraska 36-30 with an offensive firework show at the Rose Bowl with Jonathan Franklin's 2nd straight 200+ yard game and redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley throwing for 305 yards. The Bruin faithful have renewed hope with their new coach and a new attitude. The Ducks rolled over Fresno State 42-25 in Eugene but had tough news losing two key starters in safety John Boyette and offensive lineman Carson York for the season. Utah State beat in state rival Utah 27-20 in overtime to end a 12 year losing streak. The Utes got bad news as well with starting QB, John Hayes hanging up his cleats for good with another shoulder surgery. Arizona State swarmed all over Illinois 45-14 in Tempe and Rich Rod's Wildcats moved to 2-0 with its statement win over #18 Oklahoma State in Tucson. Cal beat Southern Utah 50-31, Washington State and Coach Mike Leach got their first win of the season over Eastern Washington 24-20, and Colorado fell into a deeper hole with its 30-28 embarrassing loss to Sacramento State. USC traveled across the country to play Syracuse at Met Life stadium and came away with a tougher than expected win 42-29 in a lightning delayed game.
The Trojans came into the game riding high after the beat down it handed out at home to Hawaii in the opener. The Trojan faithful traveled well and were excited to take in New York City, the Spirit of Troy taking over Times Square, and a tune up for conference play this coming weekend against Stanford. USC started slow and did not finish fast either. In between, Matt Barkley threw a record tying six touchdown passes with a controlled passing game on 23-30 passing for 187 yards. Robert Woods reasserted himself as an all-purpose threat after playing second fiddle to teammate Marqise Lee for the last four games dating back to last season. The defense played well at times with some big plays but could make the stops down the stretch to put the game out of reach. It is important to remember that the coaches primary goal the first two games was to get as many untested players valuable game experience in the national spotlight. Every year a team develops its own identity with new team leaders that emerge. There are new position coaches with new personalities. There are freshman and transfers that are expected to play and be part of a team. This is a lot of change and transition that must come together. USC did not turn the corner last year until the win against Notre Dame at night with a national television audience.
It became apparent early in the game that Coach Kiffin was intent on a conservative attack with a controlled passing game and more balanced attack running the ball. This led to methodical, uneven opening quarter that included missed blocks up front, getting stuffed on 4th and short, and a seeming lack of intensity and focus. The offense utilized different pass sets to get the ball into the hands of their most dangerous weapons with a tight end and wide outs spread to each side to get a big body blocking out front. The offensive line played better once it woke up but the missed assignments, playing high and catching defensive lineman will not get it done in conference. The line gave up two sacks with a pocket that collapsed and were responsible for an intentional grounding penalty by Barkley and another hurry. Khaled Holmes sprained his ankle in the 2nd half which is a big loss physically as well as his leadership as a team captain. The line play was improved in the 2nd quarter and Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal started getting some holes to hit. Both running backs ran hard and broke tackles with Redd having his 1st 100-yard game with Trojans finishing with 107 yards on 15 carries, including an explosive 40-yard run that set up the Trojans final touchdown. USC finished with 258 yards on 33 carries for a 7.8 yard average.
The unquestioned star of the game was Robert Woods who caught 10 passes for 93 yards and 2 touchdowns as well as a 31-yard punt return and an electrifying reverse for 76-yards that set up a 4th quarter touchdown. Marqise Lee added 11 catches for 66 yards and three touchdowns and tight end Xavier Grimble caught a short pass and bull dozed through four tacklers on his way to a 22-yard touchdown. It is a play like this that fires up your entire team. Redshirt freshman full back Soma Vainuku has a bright future with Trojans at 250 lbs., soft hands catching the ball, and who can drop the hammer on defenders.
Matt Barkley played a solid game and executed the game plan that was given to him. He did throw his first interception of the season with a ball that was thrown behind his receiver in the seam but he also threw six touchdowns that were threaded in tight locations. The Trojans had two delay of game penalties, one on the punt team, and one with Barkley trying to get freshman wide receiver Nelson Agholor lined up on the line of scrimmage. The running game must continue to improve so that it can open up the play action passing. It also demoralizes an opponent when they know that a run is coming and they cannot stop it. Barkley after two games has thrown for 10 touchdowns and only one interception. It is this type of decision making and productivity that the Trojans will need as the competition heats up in conference play.
The Trojans started out strong on defense with decent pressure on Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib. They disrupted his rhythm and caused an interception with pressure from sophomore defensive tackle George Uko that led to a Dion Bailey interception. Junior college transfer Morgan Breslin is a beast that plays the game with passion and a relentless motor. He has a ferocious pass rush and he created the 2nd interception again by Dion Bailey at the beginning of the 2nd half. He is a diamond in the rough coming in as a JC transfer who has become an immediate impact player. Coach Orgeron shuttled defensive lineman to get them experience and to keep them fresh. Look for Breslin and J.R. Tavai at end with George Uko, redshirt freshman Antwuan Woods, and true freshman Leonard Williams getting the bulk of the time on the interior. Leonard Williams bull rushed his way to a solo sack on the Orange QB. Wes Horton will also be a factor as the gets healthier. Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard are a tenacious duo at linebacker. They both have great instincts for the ball and they both tackle. The Trojans utilized a lot of nickel packages against Syracuse with cornerback Nickell Robey and TJ McDonald moving around to make big plays. Robey had a rare miss on a corner blitz on the first series. USC will need to continue to find ways to pressure opposing quarterbacks as the season progresses. They are weak at corner opposite Robey and they miss Isaiah Wiley as a lock down, physical corner. Torrin Harris equaled Bailey and Pullard with eight tackles against Syracuse but he and the corners are playing soft and giving up too many yards and big plays.
Starting kicker Andre Heidari did not make the trip and the Trojans seemed gun shy on attempting any kicks beyond extra points. USC was perfect on all six extra points by freshman Alex Wood and sophomore Craig McMahon handled kickoffs. Punter Kyle Negrete boomed three punts for a 50 yard average including one that pinned Syracuse back inside their own 15 yard line. Robert Woods and Nickell Robey are doing a very good job fielding and returning punts. USC finished with 12 penalties for 82 yards which needs to improve. Holding penalties, 12 men on the field, lining up in the neutral zone, and delay of games all need to be eliminated.
So now the Trojans go on the road to face the Stanford Cardinal. It has been well noted this week that Matt Barkley has not beaten Stanford in his previous three tries and that Stanford has won four out of the last five. This rivalry dates back to 1905 with USC holding a 59-28-3 all-time record. Stanford has never won four in a row over the Trojans. The Cardinal graduated 1st team All-American and NFL first pick Andrew Luck to the NFL but they return six starters on offense and seven on defense. Head Coach David Shaw is a nephew of former Trojan All-American Nate Shaw. He has picked up the torch from former coach Jim Harbaugh, who employed a very physical, run first, smash mouth style of football. The Cardinal offense is led by first year quarterback Josh Nunes is a 6-4, 225 lb. junior who has thrown for 400 yards with four TD's and one interception. Senior running back Stepfan Taylor is their leading rusher with 185 yards on 40 carries for a 4.6 yard average. He has had back to back 1,000 yard seasons going into his senior campaign. The Trojans were able to maintain their #2 ranking in the AP poll and Stanford has moved up to #21 in the country. There has been a recruiting rivalry the last couple of years with Stanford, especially for big, physical lineman. The game Saturday is not about the past, it is not about rankings, it is about the here and now. This is a new year with new opportunities. The Trojans must take this step to climb the mountain that they are pursuing. There are no excuses of fewer scholarships or inequity and injustice from the NCAA. The Trojans have accomplished the unthinkable, being ranked in #1 in the pre-season AP poll. However, it is not where you start, it is where you finish. The Trojan faithful will travel, the best band in the country- the Spirit of Troy will be there Saturday. It is time for the Trojans to come together, to play with heart and desire, to keep playing for the guy next to you, to focus on the prep not the hype, to play with confidence and walk with class, to play like Trojans, and to always Fight On!
Beat the Cardinal!