USC Rips Fresno State, Defense Steps Up

USC’s defense bites back in romp over Fresno State, moving No. 7 Trojans to 3-0

Caleb Williams jumps past Fresno State DL Devo Bridges (5) and into the end zone against Fresno State in the first quarter in Los Angeles on Saturday. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez)

Ryan Kartje (LA Times —  After two weeks of bending and bending and bending some more, it seemed only a matter of time before USC’s discomfiting defense might finally break, leaving Caleb Williams and their electrifying counterparts to bail out the Trojans on their own.

The possibility loomed like a dark cloud over an impossibly bright start to the season for USC, creeping into every conversation about the Trojans’ trajectory, a caveat it had yet to counter.

Those concerns crept back into the Coliseum throughout USC’s 45-17 victory on Saturday night, even as the Trojans kept a largely comfortable lead throughout. They rolled in as Fresno State flew up and down the field for 421 yards and reverberated as Bulldog running backs burst through massive holes in the USC front.

But again, that dark cloud was whisked away before the Trojans found themselves in too dire of straits. This time, however, it wasn’t just Williams who whisked USC out of danger.

This time, USC’s defense wouldn’t need four takeaways to do its part.

The Trojans still added two more turnovers to their heaping, early-season pile. But their most encouraging moments came at the most critical junctures Saturday, just as Fresno State threatened to break the game open.

“Great units make big-time plays at big moments,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said. “I would say we’re a very good defense, and I expect it’s going to get better and better.”

When Fresno State appeared primed to push its way back in the game, a series of big-time stands from USC’s defense thwarted any hope the Bulldogs had of climbing back.

The first of those inflection points came from rush end Solomon Byrd (51), who burst around the edge during the opening possession of the second half. Just a few weeks earlier, Byrd was all but buried on USC’s depth chart. Now, he was slamming Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener to the grass for a sack-fumble that would not only knock Haener out of the game, but turn the tides for USC’s defense.

“It was critical, absolutely critical,” USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said.

Three plays later, the Trojans scored on a 23-yard run from Travis Dye, pushing their lead to 18.

From there, USC’s defense allowed just a single score from a Fresno State offense that came into Saturday as one of the most prolific in college football through two weeks. It halted one drive with a third-down sack from Brandon Pili and another from Tuli Tuipulotu. It even added a final goal-line stand at the one-yard-line for good measure.

“They don’t get extra credit for explosives or getting down in the red zone,” Byrd said. “At the end of the day, we’re always three plays from getting off the field.”

USC still often took too many plays to get off the field. But as the Trojans rolled to a third consecutive victory, they could rest easy knowing their defense was nowhere close to breaking. Not yet, at least.

“That’s kind of who we are at this point. We’re a bend-but-don’t-break defense,” USC linebacker Shane Lee said. “We’ve got to figure out exactly what we want to be and how we want to do it going forward. We have to improve in a lot of ways, but it’s a foundation.”

It was clear early on that quarterback Caleb Williams did not have his best fastball. After recording 10 incompletions in the first two games combined, Williams matched that in the first half alone. He had overthrows of receivers, then at times held on to the ball for too long, resulting in three first-half sacks.

Austin Jones breaks away for a huge 44-yd gain against Fresno State, finishing with 110 yds and a TD in 12 carries. (Luis Sinco / LAT)

But the always dangerous and versatile QB finished strongly with 284 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while adding two more on the ground. The Trojans also boasted two 100-yd rushers, as Travis Dye and Austin Jones rolled over the Fresno front, adding a touchdown apiece.

“I knew we both had the capability of doing it,” Dye said. “He’s a great back; I like to think of myself as a great back. It doesn’t mean that we have to hate each other because we’re good backs. No, we can feed off each other. I see it as a great relationship.”

The defense also benefited from another blazing start, as USC scored touchdowns on each of its first three possessions for the third consecutive week.

Just like last week — and the week before that — USC marched down the field on its opening drive and made an early statement. Dye got the Trojans offense off the ground, tallying 42 yards with his first four carries. Williams completed two tightly covered passes to convert two third-and-longs on USC’s first possession, before finding Jordan Addison (3) in the end zone for a three-yard score, Addison’s fifth in just nine quarters for USC.

Caleb Williams scores on an eight-yd, first-quarter TD run. He rushed for two scores and threw for two Saturday night. (Luis Sinco / LAT)

Williams punctuated the Trojans’ next trip with a touchdown, faking a handoff before scampering eight yards to give USC an early 14-point lead and Williams his first rushing score of the season. He added another on the next possession, giving USC’s quarterback his first multi-score game on the ground.

But the more stunning early statement came on Fresno State’s first drive, as USC’s defense forced an immediate three-and-out, setting a strong tone it hoped would hold for the rest of the night.

Initially, it lasted all of one possession, as Fresno State took just five plays on the next drive to find its way into the red zone. It wouldn’t get much further than that, as USC’s defense once again stood tall with its back against the end zone, stopping the Bulldogs on three consecutive plays inside the 10 to force a field goal.

The defense wouldn’t fare so well on its next try, as Fresno State flew down the field again, this time finding the end zone in fewer than 90 seconds.

The message in those uncertain moments?

“Just respond,” linebacker Eric Gentry said. “That’s the biggest thing. Just respond.”

Two plays later, USC found itself right back in the red zone.

This time, it couldn’t convert, as Williams was scrambling for dear life in the pocket, before he was sacked outside of field-goal range.

But USC returned to its high-flying offensive ways in the second half while its defense made the big plays necessary to delay any existential concerns about its reliability and consistency for at least one more week.

latimes.com

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TrojanRJJ
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September 21, 2022 8:35 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Jonathan Smith has turned this program around. As with Stanford, I think this team is as good as Oregon State is going to get for the next few years as it is going to be very difficult to recruit elite talent to a small market team. But, Smith has structured his team along the lines of Utah and the Stanford of most of David Shaw’s career. His O is centered on the OL and the run game. It limits other team’s touches and seeks on D to contain the other team’s O and force them to become one dimensional. If… Read more »

Last edited 5 days ago by TrojanRJJ
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September 21, 2022 8:37 am
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Right now, I have him as our D MVP. We are going to need him to show up big time on Saturday. Assuming Byrd starts at rush end/OLB, it means that all three of our starting LBs in so far our biggest game of the season are all transfers.

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September 19, 2022 6:42 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I would respond, “Sorry coach what did you say, I wasn’t listening”.

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September 19, 2022 10:31 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Wow, what will they be like November 26th? A train wreck.

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September 19, 2022 12:38 pm

Will L. Riley reach out to Pete C for advice for Oregon St?

Riley probably won’t be asking another Riley (Mike) for Corvallis tips..

Always thought Mike Riley was a good coach.

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September 19, 2022 1:12 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Totally agree with all you said. Good good guy. He used to show up at the Volleyball club my daughter played at when he was chargers coach. He was friends with baseball’s Bud Black (Coach) both supporters of the club. I was on board of directors and at one event Black, Riley, Seau, and Billy Ray Smith (and families) attended the fund raisers. The one who got most attention and wrote biggest checks, Kimberly Hunt Billy Ray’s broadcaster wife… Fun events.

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September 19, 2022 12:59 pm
Reply to  Petero

Maybe LR should have them stay in a different hotel than Pete’s teams. The state of Oregon was always trap zone for Pete.

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September 19, 2022 1:14 pm
Reply to  Golden Trojan

Was a trap for McKay as well
1967…. 3-0 over No. 1 USC …..field goal wins it

Last edited 7 days ago by Petero
Petero
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September 19, 2022 1:28 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Remember ‘Watching’ the game on transistor radio on a Nov. beach day at Newport Pier with HS buddies. Funny group of guys at beach huddled around a small little radio…

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September 19, 2022 10:18 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Mudfest, yes.
OJ injured, no. He got hurt in Oregon game and missed the Cal game. But he was back for OSU and played well, running for nearly 200 yards.
OSU that year had 2 wins and a tie against teams ranked #1 or #2 when they played them.
Didnt OJ and Enyart play in the same backfield in Buffalo?

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September 20, 2022 8:58 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Your recollection of the arch support in the shoe is starting to ring a bell. The Oregon State game was the week after the Cal game. And if a DT tackled him from behind, maybe he wasn’t 100%.

I recall taking my girlfriend to a movie in Westwood that night, bummed out that the national championship had just gone out the window. Fortunately, the next game up was UCLA, which by then was the new #1. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Last edited 6 days ago by SC Gator
TrojanRJJ
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September 21, 2022 8:42 am
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I used to have a client in Beaverton that I visited monthly. I ran across an article in an Oregon paper on that game and they were still celebrating that tackle by Jess Lewis. They had an article on him and how his play was the greatest D play in Beaver history.

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September 20, 2022 9:02 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

By the way, great picture of the SC bench during the Oregon game, with Pat Cashman and Adrian Young. Remember when every player on the team had a different number?

TrojanRJJ
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September 21, 2022 8:44 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

The greatest high school player I ever saw in person was Adrian Young. He played for Bishop Amat and my high school (La Canada St. Francis) played Amat my freshman year. Young was a beast. As I recall, our coach said he was from Ireland.

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September 20, 2022 8:11 pm
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Corso didn’t coach Indiana until early or mid 70’s

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September 19, 2022 12:42 pm
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Three of the 4 NW football teams are very solid. The Ducks just suck no matter their recent updraft

Last edited 7 days ago by Petero
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September 19, 2022 10:42 am

Playing Oregon St. in Corvallis, you always wonder about the weather. Not this time! Weather report up here says partly cloudy with a high of 78 degrees. Interest up here is high due the beavers being 3 & 0 with USC being their first real test. Comparing both teams to a common opponent Fresno St., Beavers won on the last play of the game with a Hail Mary pass. Once the OSU players realize their defense can’t stop the Trojan offense, I don’t see them scoring enough to stay in the game in the 2nd half.

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September 19, 2022 12:09 pm
Reply to  Jamaica

I kind of see it the same way. They will eventually have to go to a passing game to try to keep up. Get Ford healthy at LT and the run game and pass protection will get it together.

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September 18, 2022 8:21 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I can see Dan Mullen there. I think Leftwich is hoping for a pro gig, and even though Rhule could be fired any day now, I think he thinks he’s better than ASU

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September 19, 2022 10:58 am

If large University ASU wants to make a statement in being serious about their football program, they need to seek a top HC candidate and pay him to build the program and keep it there. Like years ago, with Frank Cush, playing in the old Western Athletic Conference, they could again become a big boy football program where they land when all this merging ends. They will never be invited into the Big Ten.

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September 20, 2022 8:10 pm
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ASU always seems like a sleeping giant but it’s never happened. Snyder was a few plays away from a national title in 1994. Daryl Rodgers as unbeaten for most of 1982 And he looked like the answer but that didn’t last either.

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September 20, 2022 8:15 pm
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1996 not 94

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September 21, 2022 7:52 pm
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Amazing game … Still have Curt Gowdy’s call on 2 pt play to Shelton Diggs in my at the time 10 year old head ‘ Haden … under the gun, he may run it …. caught he caught it !
The long TD pass to McKay just prior was another surreal play. Coach McKay said it was the most accurate pass he had ever seen !
1974 was an amazing season, especially the final 3 games! Beating a good UCLA team, then 6-24 to 55-24 Notre Dame, then that classic Rose Bowl. Loved SC football ever since.

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September 19, 2022 12:56 pm
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Phoenix is one of the bigger media markets. ASU could make it work if they the will and the ability.

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September 21, 2022 8:04 pm
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Big 10 should get crazy … grab ASU/Phoenix market Udub/Seattle CU/Denver Stanford/San Fran image that now

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September 18, 2022 6:36 pm

Amon-Ra, Drake, and Nelson all had huge days today. Fight on!!

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September 18, 2022 5:56 pm

USC has looked good so far, Beat a good Fresno St team with good defense and Williams not playing great. After those last 2 lackluster offensive drives just before the half made Riley adjust his schemes, they came out in the 2nd half determined to run the ball and set up the pass. Aside from a few shaky drives where the D let their RB gash them , the defense played great, biggest thing 0 turnovers so far and only 2 punts through 3 games!

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September 18, 2022 7:03 pm
Reply to  Jalenbuck1

USC dominated the time of possession, especially in the first half.

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September 18, 2022 7:10 pm
Reply to  Jalenbuck1

2 punts in 3 games! The two best jobs in the world, weatherman in San Diego and punter for USC! It’s always nice and maybe I have to kick once a game. 😎

Last edited 8 days ago by Golden Trojan
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September 18, 2022 3:56 pm

Wow! Trey Lance with a possible season ending ankle injury. How fortunate that they hung onto Garropolo after all. The Rams look like they are going to avoid a fourth quarter collapse and hang on. Drake London is already a go-to guy on the Falcons

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September 18, 2022 3:02 pm

Drake London just scored his first NFL touchdown! Props to him, even though it was against our Rams!

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September 18, 2022 2:52 pm

I really like watching Riley on the sidelines. He is always engaged and active, like a chess player who is thinking three moves ahead. He doesn’t have the befuddled, confused and suprised look of his predecessor. If you are a player on that sideline with him, and the other coaches, and you see that, you know you always have to have your head in the game at all times. Great leader and role model

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September 18, 2022 3:08 pm

He keeps his mouth closed also.

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September 18, 2022 2:28 pm

Herm Edwards out at Arizona State after home loss to Eastern Michigan. Running backs coach Shaun Aguano will be the team’s interim coach.

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September 18, 2022 2:40 pm
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Beat writers of a certain NFL Team “rumoring ” there might be a NFL Coach firing in the morning. They are Beat writers that work in the city of Indianapolis .

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September 18, 2022 2:43 pm
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That is actually surprising seeing he weathered the fiasco with the recruits. I guess Bohn set a new standard and it is now perfectly acceptable to fire a coach early in the season.

Last edited 8 days ago by Steveg
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September 18, 2022 5:02 pm
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Steve, I agree. Bohn set the standard. Moved SC from completely irrelevant to national prominent in one season.

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September 18, 2022 2:56 pm
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Another place that Clay Helton could wind up at.

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September 18, 2022 3:14 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

The Urban Meyer speculation begins!

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September 18, 2022 3:51 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Sure. I still think he is one of the best turnaround guys out there. I’ll be curious how badly he thinks he needs to rehab his coaching legacy and image. Maybe he feels fortunate he got his cushy Fox job back and doesn’t want to jeopardize that

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September 20, 2022 6:30 am
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I would think most Universities would think twice about Meyer after his public fiasco while coaching the Jags. Partying and having a lap dancer grind on him at a bar in Ohio after a loss to the Cleveland Browns pretty much sums up his persona and tarnished his already suspect reputation. At nearly every college where he was the Head Coach, there was an incident/scandal. Then he cooks his own goose in the pros. Never liked the guy and he’s be best to stay with his cushy job at FOX.

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September 18, 2022 9:07 pm
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You may not like his lifestyle but you cannot argue with his results in CFB. There are schools willing to bring him in assured he knows what it takes to win. He is one of a very few coaches who can compete with the Sabans & Smarts and win. Nebraska wants to win, ASU wants to be considered a top ten football program. Both these school’s’ AD’s are feeling the pressure to make this next hire succeed.

Last edited 8 days ago by Jamaica
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September 20, 2022 8:22 am
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The more I’ve thought about it, I can see Urban taking on the challenge of bringing Nebraska back. It’s a traditional Blue Blood in the Big Ten, with huge payouts and good facilities. He was quoted as saying, when SC and UCLA joined the conference, that recruiting SoCal was going to be easier for the conference going forward. I think he would love the chance to continue to beat Michigan and now OSU. I don’t see any other more attractive Jobs coming up in the near future, unless he waits to see if Notre Dame opens back up if Freeman… Read more »

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September 20, 2022 9:19 am
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Before Jacksonville, you never heard of Urban berating coaches and players at any of his stops, at least publicly. That was shocking to me. He had everything fall into place so easily at Utah, Florida, and Ohio State, that I wonder if he just lost all composure when he couldn’t control the situation to his satisfaction in the pros. Was it uncharacteristic, or was he just protected and insulated better in college.

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September 20, 2022 8:06 pm
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Agree … Urbie is damaged goods and a short term fix if anything

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September 18, 2022 1:56 pm

After 3 games, we have been treated to what a well coached team looks like. No TOs (that is amazing to me), not many penalties (particularly to dumb ones like false starts and off sides), and an O that can operate inside the red zone. The OL is executing a high level. It is amazing. I did not expect the D to play as well as it did last night. I thought it played really well, especially when Shane Lee and Gentry were the inside LBs and Byrd was the OLB/ rush end. It did not perform as well (or… Read more »

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September 18, 2022 1:56 pm
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Never happens with Helton and Orlando as our coaches.

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September 18, 2022 1:57 pm
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I think what I find amazing is zero TO by the Trojans. That is an amazing stat.

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September 18, 2022 5:11 pm
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I like the team feeling like giants again.

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September 18, 2022 7:56 pm
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Allen – it is surreal what LR has done with this offense ( D is development and size up front, lazy dumb Gomer had nothing to do with that ). It looks like those players are all returning from the year before.

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September 21, 2022 5:15 am
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I agree Allen. I predicted 9-3 for this team way back in December-January. I was thinking two PAC-12 losses plus Notre Dame. Now that I’ve seen the Domers, I think SC beats them handily in the Coliseum this year. I’m concerned about Saturday’s game and hope it’s not a trap game like the ones in the John David Booty/Mark Sanchez days. I think the weather is supposed to be good so no chance of a 3-0 game back when OJ played. I also remember “The Fog Bowl” when Matt Leinart navigated us through that game where you could barely see… Read more »

Last edited 5 days ago by rleeholder1
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September 21, 2022 8:25 am
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rlee, I do not think Oregon State is a trap game. This is probably our second toughest game of the season. Oregon State’s strength on O (running) is our weakness on D. Their D is solid but I doubt any D outside of GA or AL can stop the SC O. But, they will probably not try and stop it, but simply try to contain it and hope for mistakes AND run a ball control O to limit the number of touches our O has in the game. ESPN has a rating system on odds of winning. Using that rating… Read more »

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September 22, 2022 5:36 am
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TrojanRJJ: my bad on using the words “trap game”. I should have said “tough game”. This one and Utah appear to be the toughest in our schedule based upon what our opponents have done so far this year. As I’ve moved to Northwest Arizona to retire and I can drive to Salt Lake City or fly from Vegas, I’m thinking of attending the Utah game and supporting our team.

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September 22, 2022 9:12 am
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rlee, No problem. I have attended an Utah/SC games in SLC. Great venue. We lost, of course, on the last play of the game. A warning. The vast majority of Utah fans are sensational and very nice. But, there are exceptions. I got seats at about the 10 yard line and some of the Utah fans warned me to move. There were some Utah fans in that section would were very feisty. We moved and sat near the band and it ended up that police had to remove those fans who were assaulting Trojan fans near them. I was told… Read more »

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September 23, 2022 8:35 am
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Thank you TrojanRJJ for the heads up. I can’t afford tickets near the 50 or even 30 these days as prices are outrageous, especially for a Senior like me living on Social Security. I just may go to a game in the Coliseum in November. I had tickets for the Rice game but ended up giving both to my son as the heat was so extreme that week in LA and there was no way I could sit out in the heat with my health issues. Let’s hope USC gets by the Beavers this Saturday. Fight On!

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September 18, 2022 12:23 pm

How wonderful is it to wake up and be 3-0 and be the #7 team in the country. These are great days for Trojan fans! I can see us going to Corvallis and beating OSU.

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September 18, 2022 12:55 pm
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Brett McMurphy
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ESPN’s College Game Day opts for Top 25 SEC matchup Florida at Tennessee this week

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September 18, 2022 2:01 pm
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Well, I guess that means SC gets the Pac 12 and a late time start for probably the biggest game in recent Beaver football history. And the Beavs stand an excellent chance of beating the Trojans. Why Commissioner George is allowing this is beyond me. My guess is the national outlets are hoping SC continues to win and would rather cover an SC/AZ game later in the season than what should be a very good game in Corvallis in September.

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September 18, 2022 2:02 pm
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Shame Oregon State is not in the group. I think we are rated about right.

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September 18, 2022 5:11 pm
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If our D was where our O was we would be top 4.

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September 18, 2022 2:35 pm
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For the first time that I can remember the Pac12 has more teams in the top 25 than the B1G. They brought in USC and little ucla to upgrade their poll results. Where are the Beavers.

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September 18, 2022 2:39 pm
Reply to  Steveg

Looks like Washington St is #30 and Oregon St is #32.

volunteerTrojan
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September 18, 2022 5:02 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Ok, just for fun, which of the teams above us in the polls do you think we would beat if the game were this coming Saturday?

I think we’d beat Mich and Clemson. I don’t think we have the defense to handle the other three

Steveg
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September 18, 2022 5:10 pm

I think we could beat OK, Clemson, Michigan, and we would give tOHS a good game with a lot of passing yardage. Not sure we could pull it off against Alabama unless the D REALLY stepped up. Georgia I think we could pass on, but not get a lot of ground yardage. There again the D would have to be lights out.

volunteerTrojan
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September 18, 2022 6:36 pm
Reply to  Steveg

Agree with OK. That’d be a fun match-up on Saturday, would it not!

USC1988
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September 18, 2022 8:00 pm
Reply to  Steveg

Not enough run D to beat the big boys, yet. Though the O would scare the hell out of Saban etc. Anyway it is all hyperbole anyway. Have to go on road and beat a good OregonSt team.

Steveg
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September 18, 2022 2:42 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Miami showed they have no punch to the offense and TAM has very little. When will they ever get a poll right. Oregon St may as well be happy with where they are, they will drop lower in the next poll.

RialtoTrojan
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September 18, 2022 11:28 am

I know I’m old but I remember when I could read about the game in my morning paper. The newspaper always had a late edition and printed well into the morning for subscribers. Now the newspaper is slowly but surely becoming irrelevant. My eEdition of the San Bernardino Sun didn’t have coverage of the game past the first quarter and even said “for full coverage go online.” Scouring sources to read opinions and impressions of the game I found a recurring theme: The Trojans are due to stumble. I too have been a subscriber of that notion based on past… Read more »

Steveg
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September 18, 2022 2:42 pm
Reply to  RialtoTrojan

News papers are a dying breed. Just a step above worthless.

UtahTrojan
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September 18, 2022 5:17 pm
Reply to  Steveg

Always good for the bottom of the bird cage.

RialtoTrojan
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September 18, 2022 11:32 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

They both know how to spin away. They also don’t stop running upon first contact. The running game has stepped up and it looks like a different team. I saw a quarterback sneak last night. I remember a Offensive Coordinator who said, “that’s just not who we are.” What a difference a coach makes.

USC1988
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September 18, 2022 8:01 pm
Reply to  RialtoTrojan

Jones and Dye are terrific