Perhaps it was unwise to write off USC (6-3, 3-2) for the year. After getting blown out by Arizona State and leaving Lane Kiffin at the airport on the way home, the Trojans have shown a fresh look and are playing with revived energy. Perhaps it is no coincidence interim head coach Ed Orgeron has provided a spark as the Trojans won their third straight Pac 12 game since making the coaching change. The latest notch in the win column came Friday night with a 31-14 victory at Oregon State (6-3, 4-2).
Orgeron wanted the players to get back to having fun when he took over as interim coach. So far, that is exactly what has been happening with the pressure off.
For the second time this season, USC had two running backs rush for 100 yards in a single game. To illustrate just how deep USC is in the backfield, they accomplished that feat with four different running backs. Silas Redd (140 yards) and Javorious Allen (133 yards) each went over the century mark Friday night against Oregon State. Earlier this season, against Arizona State, Tre Madden (128 yards) and Justin Davis (122 yards) each recorded 100-yard games. As much as the running game led the way, the return of receiver Marqise Lee certainly was a factor right from the start. The Bieletnikoff Award winner from 2012 returned after recovering from a sprained knee over the past few weeks and was nearly unstoppable for Oregon State’s defense. Lee caught just five passes but that included a 71-yard touchdown on USC’s first offensive snap of the night and a total of 105 yards. Cody Kessler had an effective night with the support of a particularly strong running game taking the pressure off of him under center.
The defense also continued to slam the door shut for USC. Oregon State left 17 points on the board between turnovers and missed field goals and the USC defense picked off Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion three times. To put that in to some perspective, Mannion had thrown 30 touchdowns and just three interceptions all season before Friday night’s contest. the last time Mannion was picked off more than once in a game was November 24, 2012 against Oregon, when the Ducks intercepted four passes. Oregon State lost to Stanford last week and has all of a sudden seen their potent offense have holes poked in it. What looked like a sleeper in the Pac 12 has now had the Pac 12 championship dream nearly vanish in a matter of two games. And they still have to play Oregon.
USC may not be in the same class as Oregon and Stanford, but when USC plays a complete game the way they did against Oregon State Friday night, the Trojans are capable of making things interesting in the Pac 12 race down the stretch in November. Two games that stand out before the end of the season both happen to come at home. USC hosts Stanford November 16 and ends the regular season at home against UCLA on November 30. UCLA may have been exposed a bit in recent weeks against the Cardinal and Oregon and Stanford has already lost on the road in Pac 12 play (Utah), so they are certainly beatable.
And if Orgeron is the man in charge, there is no question these Trojans will be ready to let loose against anyone standing in front of them. It is much more refreshing to be watching USC now than it was at the start of the year. Getting to the Pac 12 championship game may be a bit of a reach, but it is also not impossible. Arizona State would have to lose twice before the end of the season though and the Sun Devils may have an offense that will not let that happen.
USC can still put together a nine or even ten win season, which felt completely out of reach a month ago.
With the win, USC is now bowl eligible for a second straight season after serving a postseason ban under NCAA sanctions.