1. Statistically, the offense looks pretty much the same under Orgeron and Kiffin. Has anything changed?
In terms of the actual play calling itself, the offense has been playing much the same between current offensive coordinator Clay Helton and former head coach Lane Kiffin. The one thing to keep in mind is that these two men come with similar mindsets on the offensive side of the ball, and that the real difference then comes with the overall enthusiasm coming from the team just executing better on offense. To be quite honest, the Trojans have been rushing the ball well for most of the season and will continue to do so in order to maximize success.
2. What are your thoughts on our old friend Clancy Pendergast?
I'm really sorry Clancy had to leave Cal because he has been nothing but outstanding here at USC. The switch to the "52" scheme or what you could call an aggressive "34" look, has been just what the doctor ordered on the defensive end of the ball. Speaking from personal experience, Clancy has been very candid about where his defense should improve and is not afraid to point out some flaws in his secondary. Then he makes immediate adjustments by moving guys like Josh Shaw to corner and starting a freshman in Leon McQuay. These type of moves take a bit of moxy, and Pendergast is not afraid to put pressure on the quarterback from any spot on the field. The only question we have is whether USC is truly up to the test of facing a read-option quarterback like Marcus Mariota or even Brett Hundley some time down the road.
3. Is Kessler capable of shouldering the load on offense if the run game gets shut down?
In the the Trojans two worst rushing games of the season (129 yards vs. ND and 30 yards against Utah) Cody Kessler was forced to carry the load and hardly anything from those two starts tells me he could put the team on his back if placed in a tough spot. The Trojans weapons are luckily returning to the field healthy, but that has not been the same case for its offensive line with starting RT Kevin Graf (ankle) battling injury concerns, and while the RG position has been a back-and-forth affair with no true leader emerging. If USC was forced to pass the ball say 30-40 times a game, it would present some major problems in terms of pass protection and in turn the entire offense. Kessler has vastly improved from week one, don't get me wrong on that, but he is not at the developmental stage to carry all the responsibility.
4. Who are your ideal candidates for the USC head coaching position? Who do you NOT want to see hired?
I think what first comes to mind is that the coach must be willing to work with his players, have strong charisma to deal with the Los Angeles media and must be willing to embrace the grind of recruiting on a daily basis (especially with scholarship sanctions for next season). To use the process by elimination method, I do not want to see Jack Del Rio or Jeff Fischer hired as the next coach. The Trojans need a college coach who understands how to work with 17-21 year-old kids on a daily basis. The one name that does have some wow factor behind its conviction would be current Boise State head coach Chris Petersen. That man has yet to recruit a five-star player in his BSU tenure despite all his relative success and could really do some damage with his reputation coming from Boise State along with the strong Trojan brand.
Washington State Upsets USC 4th Quarter Finish | LIVE 9-7-13 (via NFL September 8)
5. Which players are currently injured, and how much does that impact USC?
To properly lay out this list from the start of the season, I would need nearly 1000 words of space on the web but needless to say the Trojans are starting to work their way back onto the field in practice. In terms of the official injury report, Orgeron announced that OLB Morgan Breslin (3.5 sacks vs. Cal last year), CB Anthony Brown, TE Randall Telfer and RB Tre Madden are out this weekend. At this point all bets are off on the injury front as players understand that it's time to step up and fill someone's role by playing their best football when given the opportunity.
6. What were your expectations of Coach Orgeron's tenure as interim head coach? Has he lived up to them? Have your expectations of him changed based on his performance so far?
Orgeron is doing exactly what we all thought. He is allowing fellow coaches to do their job, he has hired a long-time friend and assistant in Pete Jenkins to bring even more tough Southern love to the defensive line, and he is just as enthusiastic and motivational as ever. Players, coaches and fans sure seem to love him and at the end of the day, the 3-1 record really speaks for itself. As long as the team continues to win football games, its tough to argue with some of the gimmicky antics that come along for the ride in this substitute teacher-like atmosphere.
If I were the Trojans, I would rather face Jared Goff and that is mostly based in the fact that he can be easily riled by pressure and will try to throw his way out of trouble. Given that fact alone, USC is playing with so much confidence after slowing down Oregon State's passing attack, that facing a similar style from the freshman would be playing right into this opportunistic hands.
8. What player on offense should Cal fans be aware of?
Buck Allen. The Trojans RB posted career numbers last week vs. Oregon State (16 rushes for 133 yards with 3 TD) and continues to play with strong endorsement from the current coaching staff and his players, which means expect a strong number of touches this weekend as well.
9. What player on defense should Cal fans be aware of?
J.R. Tavai. The Trojans DE/OLB prospect has done an excellent job of covering the field with his combination of speed and quickness, filling the role lost by Morgan Breslin. Ed Orgeron even went as far to say this week that Tavai is one of the most talented players on his team.
10. Who do you want to punch in the face?
Washington State CB Damante Horton, this after his pick-six effectively took the momentum out of USC's sails on offense in the second week of the season leading to an embarrassing 10-7 loss against the Cougars.