Under former head coach Pete Carroll’s nine-year tenure, USC Football only lost one game in November. While the 2013 Trojans got four wins into a long November schedule before losing to crosstown rival UCLA, the entirety of what was accomplished in November should not be overshadowed.
A couple of players deserve to have their improvements and accomplishments highlighted.
All of Cody Kessler’s averages in November have gone up. His passing yards per game from September through October was 195. In November it was 212.6 passing yards per game. His completion percentage was 61 percent from August through October and 70.2 percent in November. In those previous eight games, he threw five interceptions and threw only a single interception since then— and that was on November 1st. Basically, all of his averages have improved down the stretch, even though he played two ranked teams in November as opposed to none previously.
Sure, he’s no Matt Barkley. He doesn’t throw an average of almost 300 yards per game with three touchdowns, but he has performed admirably under the circumstances, while limiting turnovers. Finishing the regular season with 2,623 yards passing with 16 touchdowns and 6 interceptions while completing 64.7 percent is decent. Besides, USC started the season with six scholarship running backs which helped the Trojans run for 2,265 yards and 27 touchdowns. Speaking of running backs…
Javorius Allen was a huge difference maker in November. He entered the 2013 season with 32 yards to his name and somewhere around the fifth string spot. He managed to pick up 137 yards over the first eight games of 2013 and piqued some interest when he scored two touchdowns against Arizona— including the crowd favorite, jumping over the pile touchdown. But when November rolled around, the entire situation was different.
D.J. Morgan had long disappeared into limbo with injuries. Tre Madden was recovering from injury, and Justin Davis was out for the season. Ty Isaac was last on the depth chart. That left Silas Redd and Allen with the majority of the carries.
That was the only chance “Buck” Allen needed. He rushed for well over 100 yards in every game except against Stanford, averaging 112.4 yards per game and 7.11 yards a carry. Of USC’s 27 rushing touchdowns, he scored 10— and all this was just in November. But in order for him to do that, he needed the help of his lead blocker…
Soma Vainuku began the season without much fanfare. He had been expected to fulfill the role of Stanley Havili as a fullback when he enrolled at USC. He even wore the same number as Havili, but fell tragically short of such huge expectations.
Havili not only blocked, but ran and caught the ball in USC’s offense. Thrust into action in what many expected to be a national championship year, Vainuku was the target for much frustration. He dropped multiple fourth down passes that would have gone for touchdowns in close games against ranked opponents.
National championship seasons tend to invite less-than-forgiving fans and sour attitudes. Vainuku found himself at the receiving end of that. He showed up during the 2013 season to prove people wrong— and November was good to him. He caught multiple passes for key first downs throughout and even a touchdown pass against Stanford. He carried the ball for 70 yards against Colorado, including a 52-yard touchdown run. As much of an accomplishment as all of that was, special teams was where he made his name.
On kickoff coverage, Soma Vainuku had a big enough impact to force coaches to gameplan specifically against him. Then there is the punt blocking. Against Cal, he blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown by Josh Shaw. In Colorado, he topped that by getting the points all by himself. His block caused the punt to fly out of the end zone, giving USC the safety and two points. For his efforts, he was named to the Pac-12′s First Team Specialists
Marqise Lee was fresh off his Biletnikoff winning season. Dubbed as one of the best receivers in college football as a sophomore, Lee also carried a lot of expectation the following season. After a quarterback change, with the graduation of Matt Barkley, a head coaching change, with the firing of Lane Kiffin, and significant injuries, Lee could have used them as excuses to sit out until the draft— but he did not.
On the first play from scrimmage on November 1st, he returned from injury and took the ball into the end zone on a 71-yard catch. Despite also being criticized for dropping so many passes, he made difficult catches in traffic. The most notable was a fourth down catch against Stanford that set up the game-winning field goal.
Yes, they are all offensive players. That was because the offense was what needed the most improvement at the beginning of the season. The defense did a fantastic job, except for two games.
All that remains now is the bowl game. When all the dust settles from the conference championship games across the nation, USC will find out where it stands in the whole bowl bid fiasco. Whoever the Trojans face, the players have a chance to build on their improvements with the extra bowl practices and the bowl game itself.
With the distraction of hiring of Steve Sarkisian as head coach and the resignation of Coach Orgeron, the situation could be tough for interim, interim head coach Clay Helton and the players. They will be facing a lot of adversity…
As if they did not face any the past November.