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USC Football: Diagnosing the Trojans Through 9 Games

Looking back at the first 9 weeks of the season, the Trojans have shown that there is a lot to be excited about and yet, a great deal that they need to learn in order to take the next step.

Javorious "Buck" Allen Continues to Shine as the Trojans Look to Compete for a Pac-12 Title
Javorious "Buck" Allen Continues to Shine as the Trojans Look to Compete for a Pac-12 Title
Gene Sweeney Jr.

A season that came with a lot of questions and uncertainty has not been a smooth ride thus far. With Sarkisian bringing in a new regime and new faces all over the field, the transition following a tumultuous period for the Trojans has not been an easy one. The season has brought ups and downs, bad losses and big wins, late game heroics and last minute heartbreak. With a week off for USC, we get a chance to look back at the journey they have taken to get to where they stand now at 6-3:

The Ups

- Week 2- Sarkisian's first big win as head coach at USC came against rival Stanford in Paolo Alto. Conservative play calling and a tough Cardinal defense stymied the Trojans offense for much of the game, but on the back of Buck Allen's 154-yard performance, they did just enough to pull out the 13-10 victory. In this game though, defense was the star of the show. Despite giving up over 400 yards to the Cardinal offense, they played tough against the run and came up with big stops, including a game- sealing strip sack on the final drive by J.R. Tavai.

- Week 7- Coming off a heart wrenching loss on a last second hail-mary against Arizona State, the Trojans faced a rising Arizona team ranked 10 in the country. Buck Allen once again led the way for USC, racking up over 200 yards on the ground and finding the endzone 3 times. Nelson Agholor chipped in 81 yards receiving and caught the Trojans fourth touchdown of the day. Despite Arizona's Anu Solomon torching USC through the air, with almost 400 yards passing, the Trojans held on for the win as Casey Skowron missed a go-ahead field goal with 17 seconds left in the game.

- The Rise of Javorius "Buck" Allen- The newly dubbed Maxwell Award semifinalist has certainly earned his recognition in 2014. The junior tailback has been the workforce for the Trojans all year and has embraced this role. Allen has almost 200 carries on the year thus far, for over 1100 yards rushing (9th in the nation). He has been the most stable, steady contributor to the Trojans offense, putting up over 100 yards rushing in all but one game. His brightest moment came on the biggest stage, with a career high 205-yard game on the road against Arizona. With consistent production in the passing and run game, and a flair for the big play, Allen looks to be the man in the Trojan's offense under Sarkisian.

Cody Kessler against Unranked Opponents- Kessler has been incredibly effective all year against the lesser foes that USC have faced. Against the Trojan's 6 unranked opponents, he has amassed 1964 yards, 22 TDs and no interceptions. In these games, Kessler has shown the ability to pick apart a weaker defense and avoid mistakes.

The Downs

- Boston College- Riding high after a thrilling victory over rival Stanford, the Trojans were looking as confident as ever after going up 10-0 early in Boston College. But, they seemed to take their foot off the pedal and found themselves down 30-17, after being gashed by just about everyone that carried the ball for the Eagles. The Trojans couldn't get themselves out this hole and went on to lost 37-31, giving up a whopping 452 yards on the ground.

- Last- Second Heartbreak- This appears almost cliché to say, but the Trojans are not far off from being undefeated, 9 games in. They have yet to lose a game by more than 6 points, two of those coming in the most excruciating fashion. Against Arizona State, the Trojans seemed to have a victory in hand, up 3 points, time winding down and ASU outside of field goal range. But luck was not on USC's side that day, as the Sun Devils pulled off a 46-yard Hail- Mary as the clock struck zero. A breakdown in coverage led to Jaelen Strong snagging an arching pass, right in front of Hayes Pullard. But that would not be the only time that a last second pass would hand the Trojans a loss. When they traveled to Salt Lake City, Kaelin Clay landed a 1-yard pass to Travis Wilson with 8 seconds to go, giving the Utes a 3-point victory. Lapses like these late in games have put the Trojans a game behind ASU in the Pac-12 south, but there's still time for them to make a move.

- Cody Kessler Against Ranked Opponents- For as good as Kessler has been against unranked foes; he has been equally mediocre in their 3 ranked games. In these games, he is only averaging 194 yards, with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. These numbers reflect his ability, at times, to move the offense in crucial situations and stretch the field with big plays. Though his completion percentage never dropped below 65 in these games, better defenses have been able to limit his impact down the field.

Steve Sarkisian's first season has not exactly gone to plan, but there is a lot that the team can build on. Having to rely on young guys all over the field has forced them to grow up in a hurry. Offensive weapons Adoree Jackson, Juju Smith and Bryce Dixon have been consistent weapons for Kessler and will prove to be promising cornerstones for the offense going forward. On defense, Leonard Williams, Su'a Cravens and Hayes Pullard always seem to be around the ball and making plays for an effective Trojans defense thus far. On the backs of this much talent, this team can make waves in the Pac-12 race, as long as they can learn from the mistakes that have plagued them. With 3 games left on their schedule, including big games against rivals Notre Dame and UCLA, the Trojans can put an exclamation point at the end of a season with some major missed opportunities.