Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, November 21, 2013

2013 USC Football Preview

Bowl game? Are we really talking about a bowl game?  I hope not, because the Buffs are still a long-shot to get there.  They'd have to run the table, beating USC (at home) and Utah (on the road) in the season's final two games to squeak out a .500 record for the first time since 2007.  I wouldn't say the double is impossible, just highly improbable.  I'm talking like less than 10% chance.

The biggest hurdle is this Saturday against the resurgent USC Trojans.  Possessing one of the best defenses in the West, the Trojans were going to be tough even before a recent run of strong play put them back in the hunt of a Pac-12 Championship Game appearance.  Now, beating them seems unlikely.  If the Buffs can somehow pull off the win, however, the season finale in Utah gets real interesting.  Real. Damn. Interesting.

Kickoff from beautiful Folsom Field is set for 7:30pm on Saturday.  Bring your thermals, because it's going to be outright frigid for senior day.  Coverage for those weaker souls who need the comfort of a warm room to watch football can be found on Pac-12 Networks.  The radio call will be on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

My preview of the previous meeting can be found here.

Matt Barkley.  That's all you really have to say the last two times CU and USC have gotten together.  The current NFL back-up QB used his two meetings with the Buffs to pad his stats and break records. Combined, he torched the Colorado backfield for 616 yards and 12 touchdowns on 75% passing over the two games. I'd be angry or resentful or whatever, but at times it seemed as if the Buffs' defensive backfield was scheming to make things as easy as possible for the vaunted pocket passer.  He couldn't help it.
Laugh it up, chuckle-nuts.
Last season, it was a complete an utter joke, as Barkley completed 19 of 20 passes to carry his team to a 50-6 win in the LA Coliseum.  That CU put any points on the board is only a footnote of history; the game was never in doubt.  Behind a six turnover day, the Buffs offense was too busy shooting itself in the foot to cause much of a stir, and the defense was far too preoccupied with spectating the nearly 10 yards per play the Trojan offense was throwing out there.  Hell, USC even covered a 41-point spread.  The running clock was invented for games like this.

To put too fine a point on it, last season's game wasn't worth the inches it took up in the newspaper the next day.  For BuffNation, this so-called 'rivalry' with USC has been about as entertaining as molding bread. Hopefully, things are different in 2013.

Coaching - 

Making an offering to the schadenfreude gods, USC AD Pat Hayden showed obnoxious cuss Lane Kiffin the door earlier this season.  Kiffin, a laughable hire at three different stops, had become a punching bag in LA for allowing teams like Washington State to come into the Coliseum and push around some of the best talent this country has to offer.  His firing came none too soon for the Trojans, and far too quickly for their opponents.  As a Buff fan looking for some traction against the Pac-12 South's marquee power, I say he will be missed.
In his place, the Trojans have installed interim head man Ed Orgeron.  A 30-year veteran of the coaching ranks, Orgeron may be best remembered from his pre-USC days for being the head coach in charge of the Ole Miss Rebels from 2005-07.  Largely unsuccessful in Oxford, MS, he floated around as an assistant before landing with the Trojans as a position coach.

The thing is, 'Coach O' has been the genie in the bottle for the Trojans in 2013.  Since his ascension to the interim tag, USC has gone 5-1, leading many boosters to jump on Hayden to make Orgeron the full-time head coach.  Certainly not Hayden's first choice, Orgeron is now soundly in the running for the job, with a decision to be made after the season concludes.
Orgeron has breathed life into the listless Trojans.
If he keeps winning, including the upcoming UCLA tilt and whatever bowl they end up in, it'll be hard for Hayden to say 'no.'

The Trojans in 2013 - 

The turnaround under Orgeron has been dramatic.  Before the firing of Kiffin, the Trojans had suffered humiliating losses to Washington State and Arizona State, and nearly blew a home game against the underrated Utah State Aggies (Go Chuckie Keeton!).  After, while dropping an understandable game at Notre Dame, they've claimed solid wins at Oregon St and at home against #4 Stanford - wins they would not have gotten under Kiffin.

There's nothing statistically I can really point to that says the 'the Trojans are now better at this,' but, suffice to say, a different voice barking orders has shaken up the way USC handles themselves.
Everything Kiffin did, Orgeron undid. Every decision from team meals to whether music played at practice, Orgeron reversed. Fifteen times a day, he says, Orgeron thinks about how he would have done something at Ole Miss and then stops and goes the opposite direction. Suddenly, a Southern Cal program that was languishing in tension and self-pity has started winning again, having fun again. (-link)
These are just college kids, after all, and a little levity in the wake of a strong-handed regime was destined to make a difference.  It's the little things in life that, for the time being, can spur a team.  Maybe returning dessert to the training table isn't worth points on the board, but, in the style of Bull Durham, if you think eating a cookie after practice helps you win, then it does.  Simple as that.
Joy has returned to the Coliseum.
Regardless of who the coach is, the Trojans get it done defensively.  They're in the top-20 nationally in total defense, rushing defense, passing efficiency defense, third down defense, and scoring defense.  It's that strength that powers the team.  Case-in-point, in their eight wins this season, they've held opponents to under 16 points per, and, in this league of high-flying offenses, have given up 20 or less six times.  My only regret is that they don't play Oregon this season (barring an appearance in the Pac-12 title game), so we won't get to see what that excellent defense would have for the dominating Duck offense.

The USC offense, on the other hand, has been very inconsistent.  They really struggle with 3rd downs (112th nationally, 32%), and don't really shine in any one area (171 rushing yards per game, 68th nationally, 223 passing, 71st nationally).  This is probably the biggest concern that lead to the firing of Lane Kiffin.  For an offensive guru, the Trojans should've been better at moving the ball.

Star Players - 

The inconsistent USC offense is lead by 6-1 sophomore QB Cody Kessler.  The Bakersfield, CA product has maintained a lead over backup Max Wittek since the end of fall camp, but not without some consternation and indecision.  Kessler's numbers aren't dramatic, in fact they're outright pedestrian (205 ypg, 13:6 TD-to-INT ratio), but he's been improving as the season has progressed, and has only had one pass intercepted over the last four games, all of them USC wins.

It's odd that Kessler hasn't been more prolific when you consider the ridiculous receiving talent at his disposal.  Junior Marqise Lee and sophomore Nelson Agholor are all-world caliber receivers, with the NFL GMs simply awaiting their arrival.  That they've only combined for 1,351 yards and five scores in 10 games is down to the less-than-explosive play of Kessler.  Any average collegiate QB should be able to get more out of that pair; CU's Paul Richardson almost has those numbers on his own!
The only thing holding back Lee is the guy throwing him the ball.
In the backfield, Penn State transfer Silas Redd was supposed to be the main ball carrier, but he has been in and out of the lineup with a series of injuries.  He was out last week with a knee injury, and his status is still in doubt for Saturday.  The trio of Tre Madden, Javorious Allen, and Justin Davis have done their best in his stead, and combined to put up some nice stats - 1,474 yards, 17 TDs.  Injuries, however, have taken their toll with them, as well.  Madden fought a hamstring tweak earlier this fall, and Davis is out for the year after an ankle injury.  It must be nice to have such depth to absorb all those injury issues.

On defense, the Trojans are lead by dynamic attackers Devon KennardLeonard Williams.  The pair have combined for 21 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks.  Kennard, a senior, has finally found a home at hybrid LB after a career spent in search of a positional home.  Williams, a sophomore defensive end, has been fighting a shoulder injury, but is one of the best at his position in the Pac-12 when healthy.
Kennard abuses opposing QBs
Junior linebacker Hayes Pullard leads the team in tackles, and does a good job clearing up what Kennard and Williams can't grab.  He had a huge game against Stanford last week, and is one of the clear leaders on defense.

Key defensive backs Dion Bailey and Su'a Cravens can wreak havoc with opposing passing games. They've each recorded four interceptions on the season, and also had big nights in the upset over Stanford.

Prediction -

(My record on the season: 10-0. Against the spread: 5-4. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +3.67 pts/gm)

Lines as of Tuesday @ 7pm - CU +23, M/L +1150, O/U 54

If only this game was played back in September.  With the Trojans listless under the tutelage of Kiffy-kins, the Buffs might've stood a chance.  Unfortunately for Colorado, Ed Orgeron has them playing highly motivated football, which leaves the Buffs without much of a hope on Saturday. Barring a cookie shortage in SoCal, it doesn't look good.  I'll say CU hangs tough for about a quarter, before getting the usual Pac-12 treatment over the final 45 minutes.

USC 42 - CU 10


No comments: