USC Trojans Playing With Heart, But Is It Enough?


Oct 26, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; USC Trojans safety Josh Shaw (6) tries to get the crowd going during the third quarter of the Trojans 19-3 win over the Utah Utes at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Ever wonder why USC adopted the nickname, the Trojans?

A sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times in the early 1900s named Owen R. Bird coined the nickname because as he saw it, “owing to the terrific handicaps under which the athletes, coaches and managers of the university were laboring and against the overwhelming odds of larger and better equipped rivals, the name ‘Trojan’ suitably fitted the players.”

The story, familiar or not, could not be more fitting this season.

Ed Orgeron’s Trojans are laboring, against sanctions, against injuries, against disappointment and disillusion, but they’re fighting too. They fought all the way to a less-than-pretty 19-3 win over Utah in the Coliseum Saturday.

Despite playing just over 40 scholarship players against the Utes, USC didn’t let the injuries or a demoralizing rivalry game loss get the better of them.

Every category of player you could classify showed heart — the healthy, the injured, the back ups, the walk ons.

Su’a Cravens, a true freshman under incredible pressure in an increasingly thin secondary came up with a key interception which helped increase USC’s lead unexpectedly at the half. Leon McQuay III, another true freshman who has been eagerly awaiting his shot, got an opportunity because of injury and didn’t let it pass him by, snagging the first of what Trojan fans hope will be many interceptions in his career.

“Leon is a great example of what we talked about all week,” Orgeron said. “Somebody was going to get their chance to step up, and he stepped up.”

A veteran in the secondary, Dion Bailey sat out the first half because of injury, yet suited up for the second half after Cravens was knocked out with an injury of his own. JR Tavai, filling in once more for the injured Morgan Breslin, led the Trojans in tackles and logged two sacks.

Oct 26, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; USC head coach Ed Orgeron celebrates a defensive stop in the fourth quarter against the Utah Utes at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Trojans won 19-3. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Shaw, the epitome of a team player, left his natural position as a safety for what feels like the thousandth time and took up the mantle of fill-in cornerback because the team needed it. He was rewarded with the interception that set up Nelson Agholor’s acrobatic touchdown.

Agholor himself was playing hurt. A game-time decision, the sophomore wide out toughed it out despite nursing sore ribs. He took his licks, yet still caught his passes and provided the highlight of the game with a stumbling tight-rope step down the sideline complete with flip into the endzone for the score. His counterpart in the receiving corp, Darreus Rogers fought back from a nagging ankle injury to snag five catches and provide Cody Kessler a much needed target to aim for.

Even Kessler, an unsung hero in the game, had the weight of the offense thrown on his shoulders with a struggling offensive line and stifled running game. Utah knew he was going to drop back and pass, and they punished him on more than one occasion for it, but he got back up each and every time, leading the Trojans with a 65% completion rating, 230 yards and a touchdown. After the game he took none of the credit, instead heaping praise on the walk-ons like Chris Willson, the make-shift tight ends like Nate Guertler, the guys who do whatever is asked of them.

“With the circumstances we had, for us to pull out a win and keep working is just awesome,” Kessler said.

Say what you will about this USC team, but they have yet to give up. They’re still going to war.

Unfortunately, many of those same players showed the same heart against Notre Dame, yet they came up short. They fought. And they lost — because of penalties, because of mental mistakes, because the sad truth is, heart will only get them so far.

USC faces a tough stretch to the finish line. Oregon State awaits on Friday and Sean Mannion will present a much stiffer test to the depleted secondary than an injured Travis Wilson. Beyond that Kevin Hogan and Stanford await. Even further down the road, Brett Hundley and the Bruins are eager for a win streak over their crosstown rivals.

Those quarterbacks will make it their mission to exploit the weaknesses in the defense. Those defensive lines will challenge USC’s offensive line. Those teams will make the men of Troy pay for settling for field goals.

For now, with injuries decimating the roster, a win is a win and the Trojans should enjoy every second of it. But they still have plenty to prove. They still have to show that heart isn’t the only weapon in their arsenal.