USC has the history, the trophies and the lofty rankings but, at least in Pac-12 play lately, there was one team the Trojans have had consistent trouble beating in their in-state rival Stanford.
On Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum though, it was the cardinal and gold that was the big bully in the trenches and the team whose tailbacks were running wild on a good defense. What looked like a shootout early on wound up being an impressive opening statement to conference play as No. 6 USC won their 11th in a row with a 42-24 victory over No. 14 Stanford.
The win comes after six days of wondering what was up with quarterback Sam Darnold, the prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite who struggled a little in the team’s opening win but responded to all the nay-sayers with a vengeance by starting the game off with 11 straight completions. The redshirt sophomore wasn’t perfect (two interceptions) but was still masterful when moving around the pocket and posted eye-popping numbers of 21/26 for 316 yards and four touchdowns.
As good as he was, his two teammates in the backfield were even better.
That would be the one-two punch at running back in Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr. The former racked up 116 yards and two scores on the ground while the latter, just a freshman, recorded 119 yards. The two not only ran hard to keep the chains moving but showed plenty of burst and quickness to give rise to a potentially new combo of thunder and lightning in Los Angeles.
When all was said and done, the Trojans stayed remarkably balanced and had over 300 yards passing and rushing on the night. Then there was the defense that allowed just a late touchdown in the second half and started to tee off on their opponents with a terrific pass rush.
The loss was undoubtedly one of the more disappointing ones for David Shaw and the Cardinal — more so because they failed to win in the trenches for the first time in forever. Tailback Bryce Love did have some solid numbers with 160 yards and a touchdown on the ground but most of it came on an untouched score from 75 yards out. Quarterback Keller Chryst likewise started strong but the high scoring game quickly got too much for him in the second half.
Few teams were questioned quite like USC was after their opener but Saturday’s blowout win was quite the statement that yes, the program was indeed back on the college football scene. Judging by what happened to Stanford though, it doesn’t seem like the team is done either.
That certainly didn’t last long.
Tuesday, after the first day of spring practice, Lane Kiffin revealed that Chris Robison had been indefinitely suspended from the Florida Atlantic football program for unspecified violations of team rules; one report had the suspension connected to skipping a mandatory tutoring session. At the time, the second-year head coach indicated that the suspension was day-to-day and could be lifted at any time.
As it turns out, Thursday was that time as the quarterback returned to the practice field with the rest of his FAU teammates.
“He came in [Wednesday] and actually thanked me for it,” Kiffin said according to the Sun-Sentinel. “He said it really kind of embarrassed him nationally and humbled him that things could kind of be taken away. It was good to see.”
A four-star member of Oklahoma’s 2017 recruiting class, Robison was arrested in April of that year for public intoxication; four months later, OU announced that Robison had been dismissed from the football program. In August of last year, Robison announced his decision to transfer to FAU and ended up taking a redshirt for the 2017 season.
Robison and De’Andre Johnson are expected to compete for the starting job vacated by Jason Driskel, who announced earlier this offseason that he was retiring from the sport. Johnson missed most of the 2017 season after blood clots were discovered in one of his arms.
In the end, it appears to be much ado about (mostly) nothing.
Tuesday, after the reigning national champions had put the finishing touches on its first practice of the spring, Nick Saban confirmed that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had suffered an unspecified injury to the thumb on his left (throwing) hand. It was expected that the quarterback would travel to Birmingham for further evaluation of the injury.
Wednesday, it was reported that the injury was believed to be just a sprain and that Tagovailoa could return to practice soon. That report proved prophetic as Tagovailoa was indeed back at practice Thursday, albeit on a limited basis.
The quarterback was not doing the normal drills with his teammates but was off to the side working with head athletic trainer Jeff Allen. It looked like they were testing Tagovailoa’s ability to grip the football since the injury was suffered on his throwing hand. He replicated a few play-action roll outs with the ball in his left hand. At one point, he rolled over toward where Jalen Hurts was standing and they high fived.
Until Tagovailoa is fully recovered, Jalen Hurts will take the majority of the reps as the Crimson Tide continues its march through their 15 spring practice sessions.
The rising true junior Hurts, who has started every game but one the past two seasons, and the rising true sophomore Tagovailoa, the national championship game hero who replaced Hurts at halftime of the overtime win, are entrenched in a competition for the starting job that, barring a post-spring transfer, is expected to extend into summer camp. That said, most observers outside of the UA football program fully expect Tagovailoa, because of his proficiency in the passing game relative to Hurts, to earn the job at some point before the Tide opens the defense of their title against Louisville in Orlando Sept. 1.
Greene is turning orange. Well, Jalen Greene is at least.
The former USC wide receiver who announced he would pursue a graduate transfer earlier this month announced on Twitter that he would be heading East to play at Illinois in 2018. He will be immediately eligible to play for the Illini.
Greene was originally recruited by the Trojans as a dual-threat quarterback but eventually made the move to receiver. He caught eight passes for 98 yards at USC last season as a partial starter and added another eight receptions for 116 yards the year prior.
Illinois has already begun spring practice and has been trying several new players at wide receiver in the process to find a good complement to Mike Dudek on the outside. It seems Greene could find himself in the mix to be one of those guys when he arrives in Champaign.
There are a ton of interesting storylines as spring practice begins across the country but one of the most intriguing programs to watch might be in Orlando as UCF looks to simultaneously follow up an undefeated season while also transitioning to a new coaching staff.
ESPN’s Andrea Adelson wrote a good story on the Knights changing some things up under head coach Josh Heupel the past few months like eating with players during meals, new strength and conditioning regiments and the usual offseason stuff you typically wind up season. However there was one interesting nugget about the team’s playbook that the coach relayed:
In other areas, player input has kept a few things unchanged. Take the offensive playbook, for example. Heupel and (Scott) Frost share enough offensive concepts that the new staff has adopted the terminology that players already know on the plays they have in common. So in theory, that should allow the offense to hit spring practice, which started Tuesday, with much more familiarity than another program that has completely changed over its staff.
As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In Heupel’s first head coaching gig, it seems he’s taking that to heart.