Who would have thought that bringing back cookies, opening up practices and adding some fun to football would turn things around quickly at USC? That’s exactly what interim head coach Ed Orgeron has done and it showed Thursday night as the Trojans topped Pac-12 foe Arizona 38-31 in the first game after former head coach Lane Kiffin’s firing.
While it was just one game, the vibe around USC football has been different for the past two weeks with Kiffin gone. Orgeron has focused on making things fun again. He has opened practice back up to the media, is emphasizing playing faster and looser and has even added desserts back to the team’s training table.
Orgeron coached at USC under the wildly successful Pete Carroll and knows how important fun is to college kids. That is something Kiffin never understood.
Orgeron has also emphasized family since taking over, inviting family members of players on the team to come back to practice and walk into the Coliseum with the team before the game Thursday night.
The change was apparent Thursday night on the field and sidelines for the Trojans. The players were loose, smiled and jumped around, while their interim coach yelled all game long, whooped it up after big plays and celebrated with his players.
Also apparent was a more wide-open offense that emphasized tempo and balance. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton called plays and USC looked like a different team. Despite missing star wide receiver Marqise Lee, quarterback Cody Kessler was dropping the ball in to different receivers at all depths of the field. Kiffin rarely called for deep balls, but Helton was not shy about opening things up.
The Trojans also rotated tailbacks liberally, using five different rushers, showing a depth that Kiffin rarely decided to employ. Silas Redd (19 carries, 80 yards), Justin Davis (nine for 38), Javorius “Buck” Allen (six for 37), Ty Isaac (three for 36) and Tre Madden (five for 28) all chipped in running the ball.
The Trojans raced to a 31-10 lead, and the final score was closer than it needed to be thanks to a few missed assignments on defense. But in the end, USC stepped up and got things done when it needed to.
The real story of the night was Orgeron, who has finally gotten his shot at his dream job and has radically changed the atmosphere around USC football in just two weeks. The players appreciated what he has done so much that he was even given a Gatorade shower after the win was sewn up.
The Trojans will travel to South Bend next week in what will be a telling matchup against rival Notre Dame.
Again, beating Arizona didn’t prove much football-wise for USC. But the atmosphere and mentality of the Trojans has turned a complete 180. No one questions the talent on the roster but now with some actual leadership at the top, maybe USC can turn things around.