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USC Fixes Defense, Rebounds Big Against Oregon State

USC Trojans

USC Trojans

Oregon State may not be a Pac-12 title contender but that didn't keep people like me from picking the Beavers to upset the Trojans this weekend. At the very least, most were taking Mike Riley's bunch to cover the 9.5-point spread.

The response from the Men of Troy after an extremely trying last two weeks was resounding. USC used stifling defense and a big play offense to cut through a solid Oregon State team with surprising ease.

The Beavers mustered only 181 yards of total offense on a putrid 3.2 yards per play, converted just 1-of-10 on third down chances, turned the ball over twice and allowed a Hail Mary touchdown on the final play of the first half. 

This from a USC defense that allowed 452 yards rushing to Boston College — a team that lost at home to Colorado State this weekend.

Again, Oregon State isn't a team on par with league championship contenders but Sean Mannion is the all-time leading passer in OSU history and this team had yet to lose. USC totally slammed the door.

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Despite the horrendous showing in Chestnutt Hill and longterm questions about depth hanging over the entire roster, this defense proved that it has the talent and ability to be dominant on any given night. The Trojans lead the Pac-12 in interceptions (seven) and are seventh nationally in turnover margin (plus-1.75 per game), good for second in the league behind Washington (plus-2.20). It's also getting off the field on the most critical down, leading the league in third-down defense (25.5 percent).

The defense even got the scoring started this weekend as Su'a Cravens' 31-yard interception return for a touchdown posted the Trojans to an early first quarter lead.

The offense took advantage. Steve Sarkisian and Cody Kessler rolled up 461 yards of offense — rushing and passing for over 200 yards — and scored on plays of 48, 21, 17 and 16 yards. Kessler was brilliant once again, throwing for 261 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-32 passing while protecting the football.

In fact, Kessler has been this perfect all season, but he often gets overlooked in a league with huge numbers and high-profile dual-threat players. The USC quarterback is 16th in the nation in pass efficiency (167.41) but is sixth in the Pac-12 in the same category. He's fifth in the nation in completion percentage by connecting on a crisp 72 percent of his passes — third in the Pac-12. He's throw 10 touchdowns and not one interception while averaging nearly 300 yards per game but is sixth in the league in both yards (1,107) and touchdowns.

The quarterback position cannot be executed much better than Kessler is playing it right now and, statistically, he's not even a top five player at his position in the league. It's a testament to the depth, talent and coaching that's under center in the Pac-12. 

With Arizona State and Utah losing critical games in painful fashion, Sarkisian might have been the biggest winner in the Pac-12 South in Week 5. UCLA and Brett Hundley looked outstanding but have long been considered the favorite. And Arizona should figure heavily in the mix as well. But it feels like this will be a Los Angeles-centered battle for the right to represent the division in the Pac-12 title game.

The country has seen how ugly it can get when things start to go haywire for USC, but when the Trojans get balance on offense and are healthy on defense, this team is capable of beating anyone in the nation.

Coach Sark just needs to hope that anyone is the Bruins.