USC vs. Utah: There is No Foul

USC vs. Utah
October 24, 2015 at 4:30pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: 73,435 (of 93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 18 minutes

On a night that featured a little of everything, the 3-3 Trojans defeated the rank #3 Utah Utes by 3 scores. The threes didn’t stop at that for this game. The win coming despite needing to use the third-string center, Khaliel Rodgers. His battered offensive line unit only gave up three sacks despite only Damien Mama being in the position he started at at the beginning of the season. True freshman linebacker, Cam Smith also had a career night, picking off Travis Wilson three times. Verging on irrelevant, Threes is a game created by USC alumnus, Asher Vollmer. I’m sure it had something to do with the win against Utah. USC managed to punt only four times in the win. Crap, that’s a CommBro Breaker™. I’m done with this three thing.

One of the best parts of this win is that the team still has not dropped into a losing record since 2001. In Pete Carroll’s first season, the Trojans were 2-5 to start the season, but finished at 6-6. The last time USC closed with a losing season was back in 2000 with a 5-7 record. You’d have to stretch all the way back to 1991 for the next one. With the Trojans teetering on the edge of a tailspin, the win was crucial. Not only did Coach Clay Helton manage to prevent a losing season, but he’s kept the team in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title. If—and that’s a big if—USC runs the table and Utah loses one more conference game, the Trojans will likely get a rematch against Stanford for the Pac-12 Championship. We can only hope.

Either way, this game showed huge improvement from the very start. Upon winning the toss, the Trojans elected to defer. This was something we had not seen in a long time.

The decision proved to be favorable as USC struggled at the start. The Utes jumped to a early 14-7 lead, but the Trojans made sure that would be their last.

Cam Smith’s three interceptions and team leading tackles should definitely earn him player of the game honors. The Pac-12 already recognized him as the defensive player of the week as well. Not only was he able to stop three of 11 meaningful drives (Utah had two more, but at that point, the score was well out of reach), Smith’s 122 yards outgained either team’s entire rushing attack.

Coupled with zero turnovers from the Trojan offense, the Utes didn’t have much of a shot to get back into the game. The Utes were almost shut out completely in the second half. They scored a lone touchdown with four minutes left to play. Su’a Cravens even denied the final deep shot by Wilson with an interception of his own.

The defense allowed only two explosive plays throughout the game. One was the 66-yard catch and run touchdown in garbage time. The other barely qualified as it was a 22-yard gain by Devontae Booker on a simple swing pass. Booker’s running was kept in control all game. His longest run of the day was 12 yards and he only managed 62 yards overall. This forced Utah to rely on their passing game, proving fatal. This is despite losing safety, Marvell Tell III, and playing walk-on Matt Lopes. Even two iffy pass interference calls against Iman Marshall ended up moot for the Utes.

A huge part of such a sure-handed destruction were the adjustments made since playing Notre Dame and the adjustments made during the game—the likes of which has not been in many moons. Playing with a third string center and getting low snaps? Kessler moved under center more. Blocking not going well with true freshman Chuma Edoga in at right tackle? Put in two fullbacks. And when we were up by a fair amount, he ran the damn ball. When the run from the tailback position wasn’t going well, Helton called a fullback dive with Adoree’ Jackson in at tailback as distraction. Furthermore, USC managed to put together a 10+ play drive for a touchdown for the first time this season. They even did it a second time with a 17-play drive that churned away more than half a quarter (8:53). The Trojans punted only four times and only went 3-and-out twice.

The penalties against USC were shaved down as well. Overall, they were flagged 5 times for 49 yards. If you take out the sketchy PI calls, it would’ve been 3 penalties for 20 yards. Either way, it was a huge improvement. The best part? Zero penalties called on the offensive line. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the Pac-12 officials from getting face time. It was like they were doing a football rules clinic. There was the usual, like announcing why every incomplete pass wasn’t an intentional grounding. They added an explanation of why it wasn’t roughing the kicker to their repertoire. Next thing you know, they’ll be announcing whether the grass is regulation length (we’re looking at you, Notre Dame) or if a quarterback has a legal amount of air in the ball.

Imagine it with me: “Number six of the offense will not be flagged for underinflated his football. The measurement is between 12 and 15 pounds per square inch.” They could say this before every snap, just so you can know for sure, man! So helpful. Thank you Pac-12! They should’ve announced something about JuJu Smith-Schuster’s shoe flying off.

CommBro Breaker

The game could’ve gone a lot worse had Wilson not stared down his receivers. And the missed field goals are going to become a problem at some point.

By the way, thanks for not rushing the field. They were even taking down the goal posts in anticipation of it.

utah goal post

Go rush the field at Vanderbilt or something.

Misleading Stat of the Week: Clay Helton has only played against ranked opponents as head coach.
Context: 3 out of 3 opponents were ranked. Again, too small of a sample size. Next week, he’ll coach against Cal. They just dropped out of the rankings. Why’d they have to go and break the streak?

Woodlawn: A Review


Runtime: 2 hours 3 minute
Budget: Estimated to be $25 million

Have you ever thought about what possesses a person to create a name like “Woodlawn?” It’s such a common name for a city, but what the heck was its origin? I mean, why not name it Polyesterfence or some weird crap like that. Or maybe “Liverpool”. Oh, that one is actually real.

I don't see the resemblance

I don’t see the resemblance

Why can’t they just make a nice creative name—like City of Angles?

Beyond Woodlawn and Liverpool being something you wouldn’t want in a literal sense (grass lawn and water pool, please) they both have their “football” teams. I guess that’s the formula. I will go establish the Polyesterfence Football team. Watch out for them because we’re going to make a deep playoff run in 2016.

More in common than Liverpool and a pool of livers.

They have more in common than Liverpool and a pool of livers.

Serious time. Woodlawn is a film that ties in football with religion, racism, and…Rudy? In actuality, it has more to do with Alabama and one of Notre Dame’s rivals than Notre Dame itself. I won’t say much more since I don’t want to reveal more than the trailer does. However, much like Rudy, it’s a story about an underdog football player that goes on to play for a blue blood program.

The film had a surprisingly large budget for a Christian movie, which are typically under $5 million—and it showed. There was definitely production value. It wasn’t some empty shell of a movie just meant to get a message across. The cinematography and acting are what you would expect out of a Hollywood film. Heck, they managed to grab big name actors like Sean Astin and Jon Voight.

Amazingly, Woodlawn‘s $25 million budget is a whole $10 million higher than When the Game Stands TallLike When the Game Stands Tall and other inspirational football movies, Woodlawn features lots of cliches and predictable moments. Regardless, they found a way to make the movie enjoyable. Much more so than When the Game Stands Tall. Yeah, that one was bad.

The way they integrated (see what I did there?) historical footage was satisfying. They also put an old-timey, vintage filter over certain parts to give it a similar feel. None of it seemed overdone or tacky. The faith aspect of the movie was present and struck a good balance. It wasn’t overly invasive until the latter part of the movie. Some people may be put off by that. I would tell you to give it a chance regardless of how you feel about Christianity since the movie is pretty good. There might be no hope if you hate football though.

CommBro Breaker

Caleb Castille, who played the role of Tony Nathan, is actually a former walk-on at Alabama.

USC vs. Notre Dame: Another Coach, Another Emerald

Notre Dame vs. USC
October 17, 2015 at 4:30pm
Notre Dame Stadium: 80,795 (of 80,795)
Total Time: 3 hours 23 minutes


An empty trophy case. Another emerald for the Shillelagh.

The greatest intersectional rivalry in college football was a competitive and exciting match-up…for three quarters. At least the Trojans didn’t lay down and die after the Irish took the 24-10 lead. That’s already improvement in and of itself. Kind of like opening a Pringles can and seeing it’s not half empty. Don’t you dare make a joke about how it’s half full.

Through some deception and amazing feats by Adoree’ Jackson, USC pulled themselves back into a tie. The forced fumble by Jackson saved the defense from giving up another score down at the goal line. Next, Helton reused a well-designed trick play of Cody Kessler throwing a lateral to Jalen Greene, who then threw finally to Juju Smith in the endzone. That play gave USC some momentum and life after a first quarter lull. On the next Trojan possession, Jackson struck again on a screen pass, taking it 83 yards for the touchdown.

They even had a chance to take the lead before the end of the half. However, Alex Wood’s 36-yard field goal veered left and bounced off the upright, leaving the halftime score at 24-24. Maybe I jinxed it in my last post by saying that the special teams would be next to fail. Along with the missed field goal, the Trojans allowed the Irish to block a punt and return it for a touchdown. The twist of the knife was that it was scooped up by former Trojan running back, Amir Carlisle. The first line of the punt team left seven Notre Dame special teamers unblocked, allowing them to reach the 3-man wall unimpeded. It’s not something that happens for Notre Dame reguarly. According to the NBC broadcast, it was the first punt block by Notre Dame in five years. Those two special teams mistakes alone accounted for 10 points. The Trojans only lost by 10 points, by the way.

As bad as those two plays were, special teams cannot be singled out. The offense and defense both had their share of struggles. Both of them probably did worse in the second half than the first. Beyond the first touchdown on the first drive of the half, USC’s offense could not score in the second half. Perhaps electing to receive the first half every game shows a lack of commitment to adjustments.

With or without adjustments, the Trojans were getting in their own way with 10 penalties for 105 yards. Five of those penalties came from the offensive. There would’ve been a sixth on Chad Wheeler for holding, but it was declined in favor of a fourth down stop. Three of them were false starts (Talamaivao, Wheeler, Banner), one was holding (Banner), and the last was a personal foul (Lobendahn) for hands to the face. The offensive line continues to a penalty factory.

Two offensive linemen alone account for 5 penalties each. It may not sound like much, but with 45 penalties on the season, each accounts for 11.11% of the team’s penalties. In total, the offensive line has been flagged 17 times for 160 yards. That is 37.8% of the team’s penalties and 36.6% of the team’s penalty yardage. That isn’t even counting the negated potential yards of the plays nor is it counting the penalties that were declined. Combining these issues with not giving Kessler enough time on most plays, the Trojans stall out of so many drives.

No USC drive this season lasting 10 or more plays ended in a touchdown. USC’s average touchdown drive lasts for 1:56 in 5.45 plays for 66.76 yards.Yet, they cannot score a touchdown in a 2-minute drill. When trying to score a touchdown in the final minutes against Stanford, Washington, and Notre Dame, USC looked sloppy and were unable to come away with anything. Each of those drives were chock full of penalties, sacks, and no completions. In those 31 plays, USC only managed to get five plays over 10 yards and one play over 20 yards. This Trojan offense lives and dies by the explosive play—and in those three final drives, they certainly died without an athletic play to bail them out.

If you can’t depend on the offense to score consistently, then you need to depend on the defense to make stops more consistently. That’s not happening either. Notre Dame’s starting quarterback and running back have been out for the season, but nobody said anything, it might’ve been hard to notice. After Malik Zaire (QB, fractured ankle) and Tarean Folston (RB, torn ACL) went down with injuries, DeShone Kizer and C.J. Prosise picked up right where they left off. Kizer threw for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for another 47 yards. Prosise carried the ball for 143 yards and his very own pair of touchdowns.

The defense had some occasional stops on the Notre Dame defense, but ultimately, they still allowed the Irish to score 34 points (not counting the punt block return). It was sad to see that two corners had to resort to pass interference to stop potential touchdown receptions. For some plays the defensive backs got beat and other times it was perfectly placed passes that were near indefensible. The Trojans also had trouble stopping the runin the second half of the game. In the end, it comes back down to the defensive line not being able to penerate the offensive line. The sacks that the Trojans did pick up were coverage sacks. Lots of missed tackles also allowed Irish players to slip out for huge chunks of yardage. Fans want to blame scheme, front 7 talent, player development, or game preparation. At this point, it’s hard to tell which is the biggest issue, as it’s likely some combination of all of these.

Regardless of whether or not the Trojans can fix everything up for the rest of the season, they are stuck at a 3-3 record for the first six games of the season. The last Trojan team to have three losses through six games was in 2001, Pete Carroll’s first season. They were 2-4 before finishing the season on a 4-2 run.

CommBro Breaker

I could go on forever about the negatives I see about this team, but I’ll let other people say it for me. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m unreasonably negative or anything like that. Take these positives and maybe have a drink…just as long as it’s not too much:

Two plays Ronald Jones’ big 65-yard run, the Trojans did something unfamiliar (at least for the past 2 years). My mind was blown—in a good way. The play started out with a huddle. Then Kessler lined up under center with a fullback behind him in (22 personnel) and finished with a play action pass to tight end, Taylor McNamara. It really made me miss all those aspects in our offense.

In addition, the downfield blocking continues to be a bright spot on this offense. The offensive line and especially the receivers get to the second level and more. One standout among standouts is Deontay Burnett. He followed the play and managed to level someone on Jones’ 65-yard run. If you go back to the video above, he’s #80 at about the 2:09 mark. Burnett contributed in the passing game as well, with catches of 19, 28, and 6 yards. His performance in this game better have earned him more playing time!

Misleading Stat of the Week: 

USC has scored exactly 31 points and allowed exactly 41 points against teams that are currently ranked in week 8 of the AP and Coaches polls.
Context: USC only played two teams that are still ranked. Not much of a sample size.

USC is rank #3 in the nation in fumbles. USC players have only fumbled 4 times.
Context: USC is #118 in rushing attempts with only 198 attempts. Even air raid, pass happy Washington State has almost as many as the Trojans with 143 attempts.

Depressing Stat of the Week: USC is rank #98 in penalties per game at 7.5 and is rank #115 in opponent penalties per game at 4.67 per game. The 2.8 penalties per game differential is the 3rd highest differential in the nation. Only TCU (3.7) and San Diego State (2.9) are worse. That would land the Trojans at #126.

Ball State, on the other hand, has the highest negative differential. They average 3.9 less penalties than their opponents per game.

USC vs. UW: Thursday is the New Monday

USC vs. Washington
October 8, 2015 at 6:00pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: 63,623
Total Time: 3 hours 8 minutes

Can we all just agree that, no matter the outcome, Thursday night games are a terrible idea? Between all the traffic, missing work/school, and lack of tailgating it’s hard to really stop and enjoy the game. Then you get home at some ridiculous hour and have a full day of work/school to look forward to.

The band takes the field and the stadium is still more than half empty

The band takes the field and the stadium is still more than half empty

They are terrible like Cody Kessler was right out of the gates. Did he just fail a midterm or something? Most of his passes were off target, finishing the night with 16/29 (55.2% completion) for 156 yards, 0 TDs and 2 interceptions. He was off from the very start of the game, compounding on his usual errors. Uncoincidentally, it was probably his worst game since the 2013 home loss against Washington State.

Maybe it was because the Washington defense kept hitting after the play. There were multiple roughing the passer penalties and one was even called for targeting. Maybe it was the starting center, Max Tuerk, leaving after injury. Or maybe because backup Toa Lobedahn continually snapping the ball low. Despite all of that, they came just a few plays short of an ugly win. You can blame Kessler some, for sure, but maybe the blame should ultimately go to the 40-year old guy with 20 more years of football experience who gets paid millions of dollars to account for this kind of stuff. Quarterbacks, or any player for that matter, are allowed to have off days. It became quite apparent that throwing the ball, especially the deep ball, wasn’t going to work. And neither were passes to the flats for negative yards. Hey Sark, that’s not what they mean by #tbt. That’s also not how you get people to “Turn Up,” in any sense of the phrase, slang or otherwise.

When asked about not making the adjustment to run more, Sark simply said “Hindsight is 20-20.”

Pretty sure most people had the foresight to see otherwise. The offense was offensive to viewers. Thanks to the whole Thursday night thing, the whole nation got to watch USC stink it up in primetime on ESPN. The dismal third down conversion rate of 7.6% (1 of 13) led to the lowest point total they’ve been held to since a 14-10 showing mid-2013 against Notre Dame. How could they be so unprepared after returning from a bye week? That falls on the coach, as the team falls to 0-2 at home against Pac-12 teams and 3-2 overall.

In one game the defense fails. This game, the offense fails. Watch out special teams, you might be next. Following the trends, USC should beat Notre Dame since Sarkisian usually doesn’t lose two in a row. Then they’re right on schedule to play Utah at home. With Pac-12 having a sweet road field advantage and Utah having notoriously good special teams, the perfect storm can hit the Trojans for to continue their streak of losing every other game. But don’t worry, I’m not done talking about the offense just yet.

The three turnovers USC gave up is the highest by a Sarkisian-coached USC team. Last season, the Trojans only lost a total of 12, good for #2 in the nation. Thanks to mistakes and subpar play, the Huskies only managed to get 7 points off those turnovers.

The normally accurate kicker, Cameron Van Winkle, missed a 31-yard field goal attempt, dropping his career 90% from the 30-39 yard range down to 81%. If UW true freshman quarterback, Jake Browning, had a little more experience, he could’ve connected on some of those deep passes and put the game away long before USC’s final drive in the fourth quarter. Much like USC, the Huskies bungled themselves up with penalties that kept the game close.

The inter-Pac-12 game penalties continue to plague this USC team. They were flagged 8 times for 62 yards. Quite comically, no infraction or player got called twice. Each of the flags were all unique little snowflakes commited by different people: offensive facemask, unsportsmanlike conduct, illegal shift, false start, substitution infraction, illegal formation, holding, and offside. Eight strangers with one deadly connection—and it’s not disagreements over Daisy Domergue.

Right down to the end of this painful, USC managed to stay in it. After scoring on the RoJo touchdown, the crowd woke up and probably surprised the crap out of Washington. The defense then delivers a tackle for a loss and sack to pitch a three-and-out. The USC offense answers…with three straight passes to get their very own three-and-out. The defense trots back out and scrapes together another three-and-out. This your chance offense! Nope, let’s botch lining up and waste a timeout. That wouldn’t be the end of the problems though.

The decision-making on the final set of downs was downright baffling. USC was at the Washington 25-yard line with a 3rd-and-6 with the following to consider:

  • Kessler throwing badly most of the night
  • Offensive line not pass-blocking well half the time
  • Averaging over 6 yards per carry
  • Down by 5

Put in a fullback and run the ball. If you get the first down, nothing to worry about. Keep going. Even if you don’t convert, it should be a convertable 4th-and-short. Instead, the call is to try a pass. Okay. Kessler feels phantom pressure, scrambles and gets sacked even though Adoree’ was open across the middle. Fine, you still got a shot at the end zone to try to win it. Wait what?

That fan’s reaction closely mirrorred mine. Did you give up on winning? What are you thinking, coaching staff? Under four minutes to go, with only one timeout remaining, a single first down by UW, and the game is sealed. Can you really bet on your defense to get a third straight three-and-out or maybe a turnover? Then you have to drive the length of the field to get a field goal or touchdown. There are too many moving parts with that plan and risk builds up exponentially with each layer. Sark didn’t have to worry about any of it because the field goal missed and the Huskies got a first down. Have some guts and just go for it on fourth. I doubt fans would’ve criticized that call even if it failed.

That field goal kick was almost symbolized the game. You think it’s not going to make it, it starts to look like it will and ends up just frustratingly and comically short. The final thud of the ball against the crossbar

To make matters worse, the Trojans exited the game four more injuries to key players.

CommBro Breaker

I’m sure Trojans and Huskies can bond over handing off instead of passing.

Also, you no longer have to wonder whether a 1-loss USC team can sneak into the playoff.

Misleading Stat of the Week: USC has 0 passing touchdowns in the month of October, which is tied for last in the nation.

ESPN 30 for 30: Trojan War

Trojan War

I had the pleasure of attending an early screening of ESPN’s 30 for 30: Trojan War, complete with a Q&A session with Aaron Rashaan Thomas (Director and USC Cinematic Arts Alumnus), Keyshawn Johnson (Executive Producer and former USC wide receiver), and Mario Diaz (Producer). USC’s School of Cinematic Arts hosted the event at the Ray Stark Family Theatre and it was moderated by SCA Professor Ted Braun. The 77 minute film is packed with great stuff and interesting perspectives.

This won’t follow my typical movie review format since it has to do with USC Football. Besides, it’s a documentary—everything the film covers has already happened. However, I will respect your right to be spoiler-free. Consider the following a fair warning:

SPOILERS                SPOILERS


SPOILER. Like the sum total of a UCLA football season. They exist, peak, and celebrate upsetting USC. Whoops, too harsh? I’m half kidding.

This time, the team that played the role of spoiler was the University of Texas Longhorns—well…not quite. They actually got a national championship while simultaneously ending USC’s 34 game winning streak. That’s where it starts out. It touches on this before rewinding back to set the stage.

There’s been speculation on the accuracy of Trojan War’s portrayal ever since it was announced. After more information came out, there was a lot of controversy over a…controversey. The line many Trojan fans took issue with was, “As it would be later discovered, though, the program was committing sins…” Sins! People almost rioted over this mere mention in the description. Sure, there’s a possibility that it would mislead or whatever, but it’s a description. Don’t boycott the film over some misguided attempt at staying true to principles. In the end, the film sold a solid narrative that could even be construed as a Trojan lean.

The crew procured interviews from a multitude of big names and those directly impacted by the program during that time period. Names include rapper and USC fan Snoop Dogg (of course), former Texas head coach Mack Brown, Pete Carroll, LenDale White, Matt Leinart, a smattering of former players from Texas and USC, and even Lance Armstrong.

The focus is mainly on the trio of White, Bush, and Leinart during the first few seasons of Pete Carroll’s tenure at USC. It touches briefly on the events before Carroll’s arrival and the aftermath of his dynastic run.

The documentary was told through the narration by Michael B. Jordan and included a quirky screenplay-styled overlay. Segments were marked by the quotes read by producer Larry Turman. These parts were probably the most jarring. There was so much excitement and strong story-telling that Turman’s book quotes almost seemed like an interruption. They were using Turman as a connector to bring it all back to Hollywood. I’m not trying to hate on the guy, but those parts were much slower compared to the rest of the film.

To be fair, the rest of film was jam packed to the point of exploding. Mario Diaz said that they had 30 terabytes of footage split across three hard drives. Keep in mind, this stuff was before all the HD 1080p or 4k crap. We’re talking low-resolution 480p stuff from the early 2000s. They estimated it to be about 500-600 minutes worth of footage. In order to cut it down to the desired 77 minutes (and toss in vital interviews), a lot of material had to be left out.

They could not afford to include bits about the post-2005 parts of the dynasty or the NCAA and their impending case with Todd McNair. Diaz says that they actually had content regarding the NCAA, but those parts made it “feel like a different movie.” Perhaps they are hinting at a part II? Or they’ll simply throw it on the DVD bonus content and call it a day. Don’t call me out for wild speculation years from now if they don’t do a second part. I presented a balanced view here. Speaking of balance…

Keyshawn Johnson and Aaron Rashaan Thomas both agreed that it was difficult to steer away from bias. The duo were both Trojan, through and through, which is probably why they sought out NYU alum Mario Diaz to balance them out. They included a lot of peoples’ opinions and didn’t comment on them overtly, but you could tell they were steering you one way or the other.

Lastly, they were unfortunately unable to get an interview with Bush. Keyshawn addressed this in a satisfying way. During the Q&A session, he said that he tried up to very end to have Bush put his stamp on it. However, Bush preferred not to relive the pain that ultimately strained his family relations and got him permanently disbarred him from the USC campus.

What I find amusing/amazing about it all: the outcome of the games shown in the film have long since been decided, yet the filmmakers recreated the scene and atmosphere. You could almost feel the tension and collective holding of breath from the audience. If you are a Trojan fan, I highly recommend it.

CommBro Breaker

Most of the occurrences in the film happened a little over a decade ago—short enough that many still remember living through those moments. It’s interesting coming from my perspective. I know a fair bit about what went down and how it was viewed at the time and I have the unique opportunity of comparing it to its film representation. I get to see how a piece of history is framed and the ways it will affect those with no knowledge about the subject matter.

Future college football fans, Trojans, and perhaps random kids forced to watch this documentary by a parent would have their perspective shaped by this interpretation. Decades or even a CENTURIESSSSSS from now, when those with memories of the Pete Carroll dynasty have passed, this would be referred to as near truth. I doubt there will be historians trying to dig up college football documents and interview footage in order to try and “debunk” it. It would be an understatement to say that I am satisfied with the product they put forth. Maybe it’s just propaganda…but in 100 years, nobody will know.

Trojan War will air Tuesday, October 13 at 6pm PT on ESPN.