Nov 30, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley (17) eludes Southern California Trojans linebacker Devon Kenard (42) to score on a 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC vs. UCLA: Studs and Duds

Stud: Brett Hundley

The Bruin quarterback was the difference maker in the game. Brett Hundley’s numbers weren’t mindblowing, but he did everything that he needed to do to secure the win over USC.

He neutralized the Trojan pass rush with his threat on quarterback draws and scrambles. When he didn’t take off and run, he found open receivers so quickly that USC didn’t have enough time to get in his face. Most importantly, he never let himself get rattled.

Two rushing touchdowns from Hundley demoralized the Trojan defense in the key moments of the game and ensured him a 2-0 record over his rivals.

Dud: Cody Kessler

Cody Kessler was everything that Hundley wasn’t.

With defenders in his face, Kessler was indecisive, taking sacks instead of throwing the ball away. When he had time, more often than not he missed his receivers outright. Athletic grabs from Nelson Agholor and Marqise Lee were required to make up for his inaccuracy.

All in all, this was not the Kessler who stepped up in the pocket and made plays on third down against Stanford. This was the Kessler of Washington State and his return could not have been more poorly timed.

Stud: Jim Mora

Jim Mora has USC’s number.

In two match ups against the Trojans, Mora has come out on top in terms of the coaching battle. Simply put, his teams have been better prepared, more focused, and more passionate.

UCLA came into this game an underdog despite being ranked higher and USC was the trendy pick to win the game. Clearly, the Bruins took their underdog role to heart and came out looking to punch the Trojans in the mouth. Some players took that literally, and the early ejection of Caleb Benenoch for punching J.R. Tavai in the facemask could have been the stupid play that cause UCLA’s wheels to fall off.

Mora, however, got control of his team and they turned that aggression into positive energy.

Dud: Ed Orgeron

Ed Orgeron was supposed to do what Mora did. Instead, when the going got tough, the Trojans laid back took it.

The conventional wisdom was that Orgeron needed a win over UCLA to give himself a shot at winning the full-time head coaching position. He got his players to talk the talk all week, but when it came to game time, he couldn’t get them to walk the walk.

Orgeron and his entire staff were outcoached from start to finish.

On offense, you could forgive Orgeron for having little impact, but it was the defense who truly laid an egg on the night and it is defense that Orgeron specializes in.

Whether he cost himself the job will be determined. He certainly didn’t do enough as a head coach to get the win.

Stud: Buck Allen

Disregard the fumble, which was truly devastating, but in no way cost USC the victory. Buck Allen was the only reason USC was even in the game at that point.

With 123 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries along with three catches for 30 yards, it was Allen who provided the spark for the Trojan offense.

The fact that he received just eight carries in the second half is a major indictment of offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who turned to Kessler and the passing game instead of riding what worked on the ground.

Dud: The Lines

The USC offensive line was already an underachieving unit this season, but they were particularly bad on this night. Losing two starters within the early stages of the game certainly didn’t help matters. Center Marcus Martin was a major loss. Losing Aundrey Walker at right guard made things go from bad to worse.

It isn’t just about the quality of the players USC lost. It’s about the chemistry and understanding on the line, which has never been able to establish itself. As a result, the Trojans gave up six sacks on the night.

The defensive line has no excuse. One of the best fronts in the Pac-12 all season, they were handled by a UCLA offensive line that was a patchwork group of freshman and back ups. When they got pressure, they over-pursued, missed tackles and left the middle of the field wide open for Hundley to exploit with his legs.

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: Buck Allen Cody Kessler Ed Orgeron USC Football USC Trojans

  • Ben Factor

    Alicia, Kessler had his big moment on the last possession against Stanford. Other than that, he couldn’t perform well in the second half of that game, just as he couldn’t perform well in this game.

    You never answered me about those three passes against Colorado–the TDs to Agholor and the TE, and the long pass to Rogers. Go watch them four or five times. His accuracy is not sufficient to compensate for his low velocity. Those were interceptions or incompletions against a competent defense.

    Kiffin was incompetent, but there were legitimate reasons that he tried not to select Kessler to start. Kessler’s not a top-flight passer. Period.

    • Michael Castillo

      Honestly, I don’t think Kessler needs to be a top-flight passer. This is a running team. This is a team that prides itself on getting the run game going, running for 250 yards, passing for 200 and limiting their mistakes through the air. Kessler is a solid QB for that offense, just like AJ McCarron is for Alabama’s offense.

      Now, could he be the guy in Kiffin’s vertical offense from 2011? No. Of course not. Barkley was very much the guy for that, as he had a stout offensive line that enabled a pure pocket passer to thrive with an open aerial playbook.

      • Alicia de Artola

        I agree with Michael. USC doesn’t need a top-flight passer to be successful. In any case, does USC have anyone on their roster to have replaced Kessler with? Max Wittek may have a strong arm, but he has shown himself to be inferior in nearly every facet. Max Browne is a true freshman and was nowhere near ready this season.

        • Ben Factor

          See my response to Michael above.

      • Ben Factor

        Michael and Alicia,

        I would have started Kessler in 2013 as well, because the alternatives weren’t good. I like Wittek in interviews, and still, his accuracy is streaky, and he is more likely to make a poor decision than is Kessler. Browne needs to add heft, and I’m sure he needs to add knowledge and repetition as well.

        We seem to agree about Kessler’s pure passing skills. We disagree about that being Kessler’s only problem and about what USC needs.

        OTHER PROBLEMS: Kessler rattles when things go wrong, and then he misses passes to open targets on plays when he has time. His field vision is limited, so he doesn’t even see the best target at times. Is it inexperience? Can he outgrow it? We don’t know.


        1. I don’t see a long-term future for USC in a 1970s offense. In a nutshell, here is why. First, in 1975, the college team per game averages were 324 yards total offense, and 20.1 points scored. In 2010, those averages were 384 yards and 28.0 points. Second, in 2013, the best players will leave as soon as they are eligible for the draft. There will be less continuity and less time to utilize your best players. You have to implement a scheme to get guys performing earlier. The question to be asked is: what are the implications of these changes? Hopefully, this is what Haden is thinking about, and talking to others about.

        2. I don’t think that Kessler and AJ McCarron are really comparable. McCarron is 6-3, not solely a touch passer, and is currently slated to go in round 2-3 in the draft. I don’t think we disagree: Kessler is not NFL material.

        3. I don’t think that Alabama is a good model for USC–different and more conservative conference, uniquely successful coach, uniquely successful recruiting in THE MOST FERTILE region for talent, and so on. I read that Saban is asking himself what changes are needed in this era of no-huddle and read-option. After yesterday’s loss to Auburn, he will probably think even more about that (I know Auburn runs a lot right now, but its coach, Malzahn, is doing what he has to do in 2013, and is, in fact, an offensive innovator, not a style laggard).

        4. Do you think the future of the Pac-12 is greater parity, or less parity? I know my answer, because it comes from TV economics. If there will be greater parity, scheme will matter more, as it does in the NFL.

        My bottom line is that changes have occurred and will occur. Even Pete Carroll did not run the kind of offense you suggest, and if he were still here, he would be changing things further.

        To say USC doesn’t need a top-flight passer for a pro-style offense ought to make you two wonder. Why are top-flight passers needed in the pros?

        Why is Stanford starting a big, mobile QB? Why did it recruit Luck AND Griffin? Why does Brian Kelly want a mobile QB?

        Moreover, the first question is different? What should USC strive to be? Should USC even be running a pro-style offense, and if so, with what special wrinkles to adjust to the above-stated trends in CFB? (I’m sure there are other trends, too.). One thing I feel confident of: the answers do not lie in trying to recapture a former era. They lie analyzing the now, the trends, and the future.

  • Michael Castillo

    Whole-heartedly disagree about Kessler. Not because I think he played well(he surely wasn’t as good as the Stanford game), I just don’t think he was in position to play *as* well, nor was he the problem. While the offensive line wasn’t the liability that it could have been without Martin(Markowitz didn’t implode like Hobbi), Kessler was still under more duress that usual, and that’s mostly a testament to UCLA’s pass rush. UCLA blitzed all night, with sometimes three of their four linebackers at a time. Kendricks up the middle and Barr outside, with Jack opposite of him. That forced Kessler to roll into sacks. He really didn’t have a chance. He had only one turnover, which came way late, and didn’t throw a pick. All things considered, under that much duress all night, that’s not horrible.

    • Alicia de Artola

      Honestly, I could have listed nearly every player on offense as a dud. I chose Kessler because of the disparity between the whole of the Stanford game and the whole of the UCLA game. Stanford got in his face just like UCLA did. They came off the edge too. The difference was that Kessler showed composure against Stanford that he did not against UCLA. I’ve been on the record as saying Kessler doesn’t need to be a world beater, but he does need to set the tone. The tone he set was poor and you could see the offense respond in their lack of confidence.
      Still, Kessler clearly wasn’t the main problem. The offensive line was, as was the gameplan – both of which were covered in my criticism.

    • Ben Factor

      Michael, Kessler played poorly in the second half of the Stanford game, except on the last possession. Study the play-by-play, and you’ll see.

  • Michael Castillo

    Also…I think the Buck Allen fumble was enormous. If he catches that cleanly, he might score on that play. He was bobbling it and slowing down to bring it in. He scores there or at least sets up a score, it’s a 7-point game in the 4th quarter, with USC’s defense finally drawing third and longs at that point. Not saying SC would win, but that was a 14-point swing of a play.

    • Alicia de Artola

      It was a huge play, no sugar coating it. However, Buck was by far USC’s best player from start to finish. There were other single plays throughout which cost USC and other little mistakes that had huge consequences. If anyone could get a pass for screwing up once in that game, it’s Buck.

  • Karl Evans

    I’ve been a solid supporter of Coach O getting the permanent HC gig. But I think this game pretty much put the last nail in the coffin of that notion. No one can debate that Orgeron has done an excellent job picking up the pieces. But realistically, you don’t get promoted after losing both your big ravalry games.

    • Matthew Moreno

      I completely agree with this. I was fine with the interim tag being taken off Coach O so long as USC beat UCLA and the staff was strengthened.

      Now, I think he needs to be kept on as an assistant and recruiting coordinator. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.