Thursday night brought the intro to the Pac-12 football weekend, a 38-31 USC victory over Arizona in the Trojans head-coaching debut of Ed Orgeron. He’s the interim guy replacing the fired Lane Kiffin, a gregarious defensive line coach who had that role under Pete Carroll at USC before he had a failed three-year run as Mississippi head coach.
Orgeron was all the enthusiastic things he said he’d be. He brought life to the sidelines and it was obvious to the USC players, as opposed to the stoic Kiffin.
Just one thing, though: The defensive side of the ball, Orgeron’s continues to struggle at USC. In Kiffin’s last game at Arizona State a couple of weeks ago, the Trojans were gashed for 612 yards. Arizona, with a comeback in the fourth quarter to make it very interesting, got 508, and B.J. Denker, whom nobody has confused with fellow lefty Ken Stabler, completed 28 of 44 passes for 363 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Ka’Deem Carey ran 21 times for 138 yards against the imposing USC defensive line.
Frankly, the USC (4-2) secondary didn’t look very well coached, safeties sometimes letting Arizona receivers get behind them for big plays. Ominously, the Trojans began their final series at their own 4-yard line, and if they hadn’t managed to wedge out a few first downs, Arizona had all the momentum going for a potential tying score.
The Trojans’ offense, on the other hand, looked very good. Five backs rushed for 249 yards, and I thought quarterback Cody Kessler showed a lot of progress as offensive coordinator Clay Helton called plays, passing for 297 yards, two scores and no picks, and showing decent pocket awareness.
Maybe this is the Trojans, 2013: An offense that’s finding itself, and a defense that was believed to be good, but at this point, isn’t.