USC Grades: Orgeron inspiring best efforts

LOS ANGELES -- As Ed Orgeron stood in the center of USC’s locker room after the Trojans had upset No. 4 Stanford, 20-17, he said, “This is a night you’re always going to remember . . . We're just getting started.” The Trojans have just two games left in the regular season but after recording the biggest home win in years, it’s becoming more and more likely that Orgeron’s tenure as USC’s head coach is just getting started as well. If he can find a way to win the last two games of the season, including the season finale at home against UCLA, there seems little doubt that the interim tag on his title will be removed:


Cody Kessler stepped up to the challenge in the biggest game of his young career. He completed 25 of 37 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he didn’t record an interception and managed the clock perfectly on the game-winning drive. He hit Marqise Lee for 13 yards on fourth-and-two and then connected with Nelson Agholor for 11 yards to put USC in position for the game-winning field goal with Kessler holding. Agholor finished with 8 catches for 104 yards and Lee had 6 catches for 83 yards, as well as a crucial two-point catch in the first quarter.


USC’s vaunted running game was shut down by Stanford’s defense. The Trojans ran 27 times for 23 yards, averaging 0.9 yards per rush. A big reason for that final net total was USC losing 36 yards on the ground. It nearly cost the Trojans at the end of the game as Buck Allen lost nine yards on two consecutive running plays on the final drive, making Andre Heidari’s game winner a 47-yard attempt instead of a 38-yard try.


It wasn’t a great game for the Trojans in the trenches, as USC’s offensive line gave up two sacks and was unable to create any running lanes for their tailbacks. USC’s defensive line didn’t record a sack while Stanford ran for 210 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries.


Every time USC needed a big stop or turnover against Stanford, the defense came through. They picked off Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan twice and held him to just 127 yards and no touchdowns. With Stanford in position to put the finishing touches on a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter with a first-and-goal at USC’s six-yard line, Dion Bailey intercepted Hogan’s pass and returned it 26 yards. Stanford had the ball near midfield later in the quarter and Su’a Cravens picked off Hogan to set up USC’s game-winning drive.


Andre Heidari made up for what had been a disappointing season thus far with the biggest field goal of his career, giving USC its first win over Stanford at home since 2005. Earlier in the game, Heidari had missed an extra point, forcing them to go for a two-point conversion. Heidari hit a 23-yard field goal in the second quarter while Chad Wheeler blocked Stanford’s 30-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter.


Time will tell if Orgeron will get the opportunity to be USC’s head coach beyond this season, but he has put together an impressive resume since taking over the 3-2 Trojans six weeks ago. Not only is USC 5-1 (and just two missed field goals on the road at Notre Dame away from being 6-0) but USC is playing with an energy they simply never showed under Lane Kiffin. Orgeron is allowing Clay Helton and Clancy Pendergast to coach the offense and defense and is making it his responsibility as the head coach to motivate and inspire his team and they are responding.