A talented USC team going through the motions hasn’t been very good. Talented and all fired up? That could be something else entirely.
The Arizona Wildcats are the first opponent for USC — Thursday, Oct. 10 — in the post-Lane Kiffin era, and UA coach Rich Rodriguez doesn’t love the timing.
“It seems like a lot of times when something like this happens, a team gets re-energized, gets a chip on their shoulder and plays with great passion, particularly in the first couple of games.”
USC had lost seven of its past 11 games, including a 62-41 loss at Arizona State on Saturday night. That was the tipping point for athletic director Pat Haden, who fired Kiffin after the team arrived back in Los Angeles.
Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, the former head coach at Ole Miss, takes over as interim head coach. Rodriguez said he isn’t expecting USC’s defense, coordinated by Clancy Pendergast, to change. The offense, though, is a bit of mystery.
Kiffin, to many USC fans’ consternation, never relinquished play-calling duties. The USC offense has been nothing special, happy to huddle (in a league that is going more up-tempo all the time) and not adjusting schematically.
But even with quarterback Matt Barkley, receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and Penn State transfer running back Silas Redd, USC couldn’t just line up and out-talent good opponents last season. The Trojans were bland offensively, 40th nationally in scoring and 41st in total yards.
This season they are 84th in scoring and 87th in total offense. Barkley and Woods are gone. Redd hasn’t played yet this season because of a knee injury. Lee suffered a severely sprained knee at ASU but said he hopes to play against Arizona. (He did have a Pac-12 record 345 receiving yards vs. the Wildcats last season.)
The new play-caller will be Clay Helton, who has been the offensive coordinator this season in name only.
“You’d think they’ll do most of the same things because we’re four weeks into the season, but, at the same time, they might be something completely different with an open date,” Rodriguez said.
“Our defensive staff is going to have a tough time preparing. We have to prepare for just about everything.”
USC, like Arizona, has a new starting quarterback (Cody Kessler) and wants to rely on the running game. Trojans’ running backs Tre Madden and true freshman Justin Davis each rushed for more than 100 yards vs. Arizona State.
“I think our running game is coming along,” Orgeron said Tuesday on the Pac-12 coaches media teleconference.
“I think we have two good running backs, and hopefully we get Silas back pretty soon. Cody can do some things well, and there are some things he’s not ready to do.
“Obviously, we want to keep it simple, but we need to move the ball around and put it in different players’ hands and get back to playing good, solid football on offense.”
Orgeron’s fiery personality is another factor in USC coming out with loads of enthusiasm next Thursday night in front of the home crowd, which otherwise might have been raining down chants of “Fire Kiffin.”
“I’m going for it 110 percent, put my personality on it,” said Orgeron, who takes over a team that is 3-2.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know this: We’re going to play with excitement and energy and get after it.”