JuJu Smith-Schuster

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USC offensive lineman Damien Mama first Trojan to declare for 2017 NFL Draft

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USC is no stranger to players leaving for the NFL early and suffered a defection from at least one key player in the wake of the team’s recent Rose Bowl triumph.

In an Instagram post on Friday afternoon, offensive guard Damien Mama announced that he would forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the 2017 NFL Draft. The school later confirmed his intentions shortly thereafter.

Mama started for parts of three seasons for the Trojans and likely projects as a middle- to late-round draft pick in the spring. He started 12 games this season for the team and earned All-Pac-12 second team honors.

The absence of Mama for next season means that USC will now have to replace at least three starters off an offensive line that protected young star quarterback Sam Darnold and paved the way for tailback Ronald Jones. Backup Chris Brown did rotate in at the spot quite a bit in 2016 so there shouldn’t be too much of a drop off for a team  that likely begins 2017 in the top 10 in all the preseason polls.

Mama’s announcement should be the first over the next several days for the Trojans, as star defensive back Adoree’ Jackson and wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster are also expected to decide whether to return to Los Angeles for another year or head to the pros.

No. 9 USC fights on for epic Rose Bowl victory over No. 5 Penn State in battle of thrilling comebacks

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PASADENA, Calif. — The Granddaddy of Them All lived up to the billing. And then some.

In one of the most thrilling Rose Bowls in the game’s illustrious history, USC capped a wild second half with a Matt Boermeester 46 yard field goal as time expired to top Penn State 52-49.

It was a result nearly everybody in the stadium would have expected given the way the game began, but few could have imagined would have played out the way it did in the game’s 103rd edition. After all, the Big Ten champions’ first two passes of the game resulted in a pair of awful interceptions. But — as usual this season — the Nittany Lions underwent yet another metamorphosis after a trip to the locker room and bounced back in the second half to set up an instant classic.

As bad as those first few plays were for the blue and white, everything went the opposite way to begin the third quarter as Penn State’s first three plays of the second half all resulted in a trio of miraculous touchdowns to completely flip the game. Tailback Saquon Barkley (194 yards, two scores) kicked things off by zigging and zagging 79 yards to the end zone for one of the best runs the hallowed ground has ever seen.

The Nittany Lions weren’t done yet. Wideout Chris Godwin hauled in his second  incredible touchdown of the day in even more impressive fashion than his first, tipping, and juggling, a pass to himself before going 72 yards to the end zone. The blue and white weren’t done yet, as Brandon Bell picked off USC quarterback Sam Darnold on the ensuing series and returned it down to the three yard line. Trace McSorley (254 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions) punched it in on the next play to finish off a 28 point run for Penn State that sent the 95,128 into a frenzy in different ways depending on what color they were wearing.

The Trojans would not go quietly into the night and preceded to live up to their motto, fighting on to a big response when offensive MVP Darnold (453 yards, five touchdowns and a pick on the night) found the end zone on the ensuing possession by hooking up with ever-reliable receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster

After a whacky two point conversion brought USC to within a touchdown, McSorley and company responded right back by mounting a lengthy 82 yard scoring drive that capped off a run of seven touchdowns on seven series. They would get no further on the scoreboard however.

The two traded big plays back-and-forth (on both sides of the ball) in the final quarter before Darnold led a drive that very well could go down in the program’s illustrious history as one its finest moments, marching 80 yards in just three plays before finding Deontae Burnett in the back of the end zone to conclude a heroic 164 yard and three score effort for the young receiver.

The Trojans defense forced three fourth quarter punts and then picked off McSorley with just 27 seconds left in the game to set Boermeester up for his kick and complete the thrilling comeback for the ages.

It was a finish that was quite fitting given that the two teams were the hottest in the country coming in, having not suffered a loss since late September. The result ended most of the talk that Penn State deserved to be in the College Football Playoff in lieu of Ohio State and should do nothing to slow down talk that both the Nittany Lions and USC should enter the 2017 season in the top five of the preseason polls.

The end of the chilly Southern California night belonged to the Trojans though, who finished off a remarkable comeback of their own from a 1-3 start to the season to emerge as Rose Bowl champions.

Utah captures win over USC thanks to thrilling fourth quarter comeback

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With the clock winding down in the fourth quarter and the game on the line, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham didn’t flinch.

The Utes converted two fourth downs on a game-winning drive to complete a 10 point comeback in the final quarter to stun USC 31-27 in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

The loss moved Utah to 4-0 to start the season but much more notably dropped the Trojans to 1-3 before we’ve even reached October.

Quarterback Troy Williams finished the night with 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns, torching the USC secondary on quick passes on the final drive and making a few plays with his legs as well by adding 17 yards rushing during the game. Tailback Zack Moss was part of an effective ground game and led the team with 90 yards on 23 carries.

If there was any bright spot for USC on the night, it was that redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold looked good in his first start for the Trojans (253 yards, no interceptions). Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster finally got going to the tune of 98 yards on eight receptions and teammate Adoree’ Jackson chipped in with a 100 yard kick return in the first quarter.

Still, it will be a long week for the men of Troy as they are staring at a huge uphill climb to even make a bowl game with one of the toughest schedules in the country. They’ll host a rapidly improving Arizona State next week looking to avoid going 0-3 to start Pac-12 play as talk of coach Clay Helton’s hot seat is bound to heat up in Los Angeles.

Late interception gives Wisconsin its first win over USC

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Rafael Gaglianone field goal with 2:29 remaining lifted Wisconsin to a 23-21 win over No. 25 USC in the Holiday Bowl Wednesday night in San Diego, giving the Badgers their first win over the Trojans in now seven tries. Wednesday night’s game was the pair’s first meeting since 1966.

The Badgers actually appeared to take the lead one drive earlier, as Tanner McEvoy took a direct snap and ran around the right side. Officials ruled he stepped out of bounds but replays show he did stay in bounds. What would have been a long touchdown run was taken off the board in controversial fashion.

Joel Stave‘s nose was stepped on by a cleat on the play, forcing him to give way to back-up quarterback Bart Houston, who fired two incomplete passes and led to a Badgers punt from the USC 41.

Wisconsin forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, then drove 42 yards to set Rafael Gaglianone up for a go-ahead 29-yard field goal.

Though Gaglianone knocked in the winning score, it was outside linebacker Jack Cichy that was the star of the game for the Badgers. Cichy ended the drive following the go-ahead field goal by forcing Cody Kessler into his first interception since Nov. 13 into the waiting arms of Sojourn Shelton — it was Wisconsin’s first interception by a cornerback since the 2013 season — at the USC 46 with 1:44 left to play. The Badgers managed to kill 65 of the remaining 104 seconds, leaving USC a scant 36 seconds to try a game-winning field goal. Their last-gasp drive moved 40 yards before turning the ball over on downs at midfield with three seconds left on the clock.

Prior to forcing the interception, Cichy single-handedly killed a USC possession by sacking Kessler on three consecutive plays.

The former walk-on, suspended for the first half for a targeting hit in the Badgers’ season finale against Minnesota, entered the Holiday Bowl with two sacks on the entire season.

After a scoreless first quarter, Wisconsin jumped to a 10-0 lead thanks to a 28-yard Gaglianone boot and a six-yard Corey Clement touchdown run. USC answered with a three-and-a-half minute drive that culminated in a one-yard Justin Davis plunge, but Wisconsin closed the first half with another short field goal, then opened the second half with a four-yard scoring strike from Stave to Austin Traylor, giving the Badgers a 20-7 lead at the 7:49 mark of the third quarter.

USC used another Davis run and a seven-yard toss from Kessler to Darreus Rogers to take a 21-20 lead with 10:19 left to play, but the Trojans were unable to protect the lead.

Kessler closed his college career by hitting 18-of-32 passes for 221 yards with a touchdown, an interception and, oddly, a seven-yard out on the decisive 4th-and-10 with the game in its dying moments. Ronald Jones led the Trojans’ ground efforts with eight carries for 47 yards, and JuJu Smith-Schuster caught four passes for 65 yards.

The loss dropped USC to 8-6 on the season, and pushed Clay Helton to 0-2 as the Trojans’ full-time head coach.

Stave led the Badgers by connecting on 18-of-27 throws for 217 yards with a touchdown and no picks, and Clement charged for 66 yards and one score on 19 carries. Alex Erickson grabbed a game-high five passes for 54 yards.

The win allowed Wisconsin to close the year and Paul Chryst‘s first season as the head Badger at 10-3, giving the program double-digit victories in two straight and five of the last seven seasons.

 

CFT Previews: Holiday Bowl

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WHO: No. 25 USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)
WHAT: The 38th Holiday Bowl
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
WHEN: 10:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 30 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: At one point this season it looked as though USC could have imploded. The firing of Steve Sarkisian five weeks into the season could have made for a messy season, but Clay Helton has managed to keep the Trojans going and made sure they played for the Pac-12 championship they were chosen to win back during media days. It was quite a roller coaster to get there that saw back-to-back losses in a coaching transition, a blowout win of Utah, a blowout loss at Oregon and a dominating victory against UCLA to clinch the Pac-12 South. Although USC went 0-2 against Stanford this year, the Trojans proved to be a dangerous team with Cody Kessler throwing 28 touchdowns with just six interceptions thrown and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster racking up 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns. Junior linebacker Su’a Cravens and freshman linebacker Cameron Smith showed the legacy at the position should continue to thrive after the two led the team in tackles this fall.

USC will look for its third straight bowl victory, and second under Helton. To do that the Trojans must take out Wisconsin from the Big Ten. The Badgers have had a rough time in bowl games played in California since the turn of the century. Wisconsin lost three straight Rose Bowls from 2010 through 2013. Now they move to San Diego this postseason looking to buck that trend. In year one under Paul Chryst, the Badgers turned in a sneaky decent season with a 9-3 record on the strength of one of the top defensive showings this season. Wisconsin allowed just 97.9 yards per game on the ground and 169.2 passing yards per game. That helped fuel Wisconsin’s defense, anchored by senior linebacker Joe Schobert, allowing just 13.1 points per game to lead the nation.

Running the football tends to be the recipe for success in Madison, but the status of top running back Corey Clement is a concern. Clement is working through a sports hernia injury and hopes to play a key role in Wisconsin’s game plan against the Trojans. If Clement is not able to carry the football much, the Badgers still have Dare Ogunbowale to help out after rushing for 769 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Wisconsin may have won nine games, with close losses to Iowa and Northwestern, but what happens against one fo the most athletic teams they have faced this season? Alabama steamrolled Wisconsin in Week 1. USC won’t do that, but the Trojans may have a chance to make some plays even against this solid Wisconsin defense.

THE PREDICTION: USC 26, Wisconsin 23