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USC football: Grading new-look Trojans under Ed Orgeron

We chatted with the Conquest Chronicles crew to learn more about how USC football is looking post-Lane Kiffin.

Stephen Dunn

Midterm time: Grade your players! How is each unit performing based on your level of expectation coming into the season?

Luke Holthouse
: I would give the offense as a whole a B- but surely note that it is improving and should be higher by the final semester grade. The defense gets a B, but they're heading in the opposite directions.

Will Laws: Quarterbacks: B. Kessler has performed about as well as anyone could have hoped. But his two biggest mistakes, interceptions returned for touchdowns by Washington State and Arizona State, were extremely costly.

Running backs: A. Undoubtedly the team's strength. It seems like anyone who's plugged in there, from Tre Madden to Ty Isaac, experiences great success. Very nice!

Wide receivers: D. Only because the expectations were sky-high for this group. Lane Kiffin's conservative playcalling obviously hindered the potential for this unit, but Marqise Lee has dropped several deep balls and shown a frustrating tendency to run sideways and backwards to try and break big plays on screen passes when he would just be better off taking a five-yard gain. He only has one receiving touchdown! Agholor finally broke out against Arizona, but that took way longer than expected.
Offensive line: C. They weren't expected to be that great, and they haven't been, especially in pass protection. But they've done a good job opening up running lanes for Madden, Davis and Co.
Defensive line: B+. Started off like gangbusters by leading the nation in sacks for a couple weeks and stopping Boston College tailback Andre Williams in his tracks, but they've fallen off a bit. Should've been chomping at the bit to pressure B.J. Denker and force him into mistakes in the passing game, but Denker consistently weaseled his way out of the pocket and found receivers downfield.
Linebackers: B+. I guess we're counting Devon Kennard (4 sacks, 6 TFL) and Morgan Breslin (4 sacks, 7.5 TFL in four games) as linebackers, and those two have been great. As usual, Hayes Pullard has been a tackling machine and is tied for the team lead (36 tackles) with Leonard Williams in that category, but it's a little concerning that he only has 0.5 tackles for loss. Lamar Dawson (29 tackles, 2.5 TFL) has been steady but unspectacular.
Secondary: D. This grade obviously would have been much better before the last two games, as this unit has been exposed by competent spread offenses. The Trojans haven't picked off a pass since the Washington State game and have blown several assignments leading to costly touchdowns. This is clearly the main area of concern for USC, because it hasn't been just one guy. Everyone - Torin Harris, Dion Bailey, Su'a Cravens, Josh Shaw, etc. - has committed at least one crucial mistake.
Special teams: F. It's pretty unacceptable to have no memorable kick or punt returns - let alone touchdowns - at this point in the season with all the athletes this team boasts. Just one blocked punt and no blocked field goals. Andre Heidari has missed a couple field goals and Kris Albarado has had some real ducks while averaging just 39.8 yards per punt. Wasn't he supposed to have a stronger leg than Kyle Negrete (42.7 yards/punt in 2012)?

Trevor Wong: Offense: C+ and improving. Until last week, the offense had just been average. The quarterback play, plus the passing game was just mediocre. The running game boosted this grade, as the USC tailbacks have been the lone consistent weapons all year. Otherwise, it would be much, much lower.
Defense: B. The defense arguably won USC a couple games this year while the offense struggled to find any sort of rhythm. That alone merits a good mark, but the last two games haven't been particularly great. Arizona State hung 62 points on the board and B.J. Denker threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns. Not good.

Jim Wyzard: Too early to tell given the coaching change. We all saw how the team performed under Lane Kiffin. One game under Coach O is not enough of a sample size....adrenaline rush and all that.

4. Midterm time: Grade your coaches! How are the position coaches all performing based on your level of expectation coming into the season?

Holthouse: Luckily, Kiffin isn't a part of the PM crew. Orgeron gets an A for keeping it loose and fun when he took over.

Wong: With Lane Kiffin: D. With Ed Orgeron: A. It was great the players looked more inspired against Arizona, but can they replicate that same performance for the rest of the year? That remains to be seen.

Wyzard: Same answer as question #3. Helton had some nice play calls against UA. Seeing the ball aired out was a nice change, but again one game is not a quality sample size.