Sep 25, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver Drake London (15) runs the ball after a complete pass in the second half of the game at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

USC looking to get on track at Colorado

Southern California has been a bedrock program for decades, but after last Saturday’s surprising loss to Oregon State, the Trojans look like a team in disarray.

They fired their coach, Clay Helton, after two games because things were going in the wrong direction. Interim coach Donte Williams may be feeling the heat after the blowout loss at home to the Beavers, but he can turn down the temperature on Saturday when USC plays Colorado in Boulder.

The Trojans (2-2, 1-2 Pac-12) had not lost at home to Oregon State since 1960, and this game wasn’t even close. USC trailed by 25 in the fourth quarter and some thought the team quit, but Williams said Sunday he saw his club was playing hard in the fourth quarter.

Williams also vowed to turn things around.

“It will all get fixed,” he said. “I promise you that.”

Playing a scuffling Buffaloes team might help. Colorado (1-3, 0-1) has lost three straight since winning its opener, and the last two games haven’t been competitive. The Buffaloes have been outscored 65-13 by Minnesota and Arizona State.

While the offense is sputtering, Colorado’s defense will get a boost this week with the return of Mustafa Johnson. The defensive lineman put his name in for the 2021 NFL Draft but wasn’t picked and he didn’t find a team through free agency, so he applied for a waiver that the NCAA granted.

“He gives us a veteran presence in the defensive front,” Buffaloes coach Karl Dorrell said. “He’s excited to play and obviously he feels it was a blessing to get another opportunity to play. He’ll be a good veteran piece for us defensively.”

The defense has played relatively well while the offense has sputtered. Colorado has scored 20 points in its last three games after putting up 35 in its opener. Freshman quarterback Brandon Lewis has struggled against FBS opponents and the team is averaging just 239 yards of offense per game, ranked 128th in the nation out of 130 FBS teams.

The Buffaloes may have a chance to get the offense rolling Saturday. The USC defense is allowing 391.2 yards per game and has given up an average of 33.7 points over its last three.

The Trojans are 14-0 all-time against Colorado. The last time the teams met, in Boulder in 2019, the Buffaloes held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before USC won 35-31.

–Field Level Media

Aug 20, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) hugs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy during the second half of the game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy keeping focus on Ravens, not USC

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Thursday sidestepped questions about whether he has any interest in the head coach opening at Southern Cal.

“I am where my feet are,” Bieniemy told reporters, adding that his “job right now is to make sure that we’re preparing for this weekend’s opponent.”

The Chiefs (1-0) play the Baltimore Ravens (0-1) in Week 2.

“If USC reached out to me right now, my answer would be ‘I am preparing for this team to play against the Baltimore Ravens.’ That’s how I roll.”

The Trojans fired former coach Clay Helton earlier this week. Bieniemy was asked about the opening in the aftermath of an ESPN report pegging the longtime assistant as a candidate. Bieniemy went to high school in the Los Angeles area before playing collegiately at Colorado.

Bieniemy has interviewed for several NFL head coach openings but has yet to land one. Bieniemy has been an assistant with the Chiefs since 2013, first as running backs coach before taking over as OC in 2018.

He’s been an assistant coach at his alma mater two different times, first as the RBs coach (2001-02) and then as OC (2011-12). He also coached RBs at UCLA from 2003-05.

–Field Level Media

Sep 12, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer reacts during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Urban Meyer on USC opening: ‘No chance’

Taking over the Jacksonville Jaguars will not spare Urban Meyer from being connected to college football coaching rumors.

In his first press conference since Southern Cal fired head coach Clay Helton to create the prominent vacancy, Meyer was asked if he was a candidate to coach the Trojans.

“There’s no chance. I’m here and committed to trying to build this organization,” Meyer, 57, said Wednesday.

The Jaguars are 0-1 and preparing to play the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

Meyer is one of several coaches with other jobs loosely linked to the USC job. On Tuesday, Penn State coach James Franklin said he took time before practice to meet with the team and talk through his position on reports suggesting he could be the next coach of the Trojans.

“I can’t stand any form of distraction,” Franklin said. “I’ll discuss this with the (team’s) leadership council, so that we can make sure that all of our energy is on our preparation for Auburn.”

Meyer won three national championships as a college coach — in 2006, 2008 and 2014 — at Florida and Ohio State.

He stepped away from coaching at Florida to focus on his health in 2010 and took over at Ohio State in 2012. He retired early in 2019 after the Rose Bowl and joined FOX as a college football analyst.

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA;   USC Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) sets to pass in the first half of the game against the San Jose State Spartans at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

No. 14 USC meets Stanford in early Pac-12 play

Pac-12 Conference play will kick off Saturday night in Los Angeles between in-state rivals Stanford and No. 14 Southern California.

The Trojans (1-0) overcame a sluggish offensive performance, including four red-zone opportunities that produced just one touchdown and three field goals, with a stifling defense in a 30-7 Week 1 win over San Jose State.

The first two of the Trojans’ three touchdowns came off interceptions: the first, a Drake Jackson pick in San Jose State territory that set up a 29-yard Kedon Slovis scoring strike to Tahj Washington; and the second, Greg Johnson’s 37-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach.

“I was just dropping in my zone and reading the quarterback’s eyes,” Johnson said. “I noticed that they ran that play earlier in the game, so I just made the most of the opportunity.”

Opportunity is a key word for both the Trojans and Pac-12 counterpart Stanford (0-1), which coach David Shaw said fell victim to an “opportunistic” opponent Week 1 in Kansas State.

The Cardinal sputtered offensively in a 24-7 loss, scoring only in the fourth quarter after the outcome no longer was in doubt. The Cardinal gained just 233 total yards and only 39 rushing, gave up three sacks, and were penalized nine times for 65 yards.

Penalties and negative-yardage rushing plays forced Stanford into repeated third-and-long situations, which resulted in the Cardinal going just 4-of-12 on third-down conversion attempts.

Shaw said Tanner McKee will start at quarterback Saturday. McKee threw for Stanford’s lone score in the opener — a 14-yarder to Bryce Tremayne. McKee finished 15-of-18 for 118 yards and split time with Jack West, who was 8-of-12 for 76 yards.

The Trojans, meanwhile, will look to turn up the pressure after going without a sack in Week 1.

Jackson, the team’s sack leader in 2019 with 5.5, said following last week’s win that the inability to get to San Jose State quarterback Nick Starkel was a rare disappointment on an otherwise solid outing for the Trojans defense.

Stanford’s defense was left in unfavorable situations due to offensive inefficiency — only one of Kansas State’s scoring drives covered more than 62 yards. That came on a 71-yard drive, capped by a 59-yard Deuce Vaughn touchdown run.

Wide receiver Drake London is USC’s primary big-play threat. Among his 12 receptions in Week 1 was a game-long 34-yarder.

–Field Level Media

LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency in Hoover, Ala., Monday, July 19, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Sec Media Days Ed Orgeron

LSU-USC to kick off 2024 season in Las Vegas

Southern California and LSU will kick off the 2024 season in Las Vegas, marking just the third time ever the storied programs have played each other.

The Vegas Kickoff Classic will be held Labor Day weekend at Allegiant Stadium, home to the Las Vegas Raiders. The exact date is still to be determined.

“The opportunity to bring our team and the best fans in college football to Las Vegas is incredibly exciting,” LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement.

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron served as USC’s interim head coach in 2013, going 6-2 in place of Lane Kiffin, who was fired on the tarmac after a blowout loss to Arizona State in September.

The teams have met twice before, with USC winning at Baton Rouge in 1979 and LSU winning at Los Angeles in 1984.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) throws the ball during the second quarter against the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

USC, Washington State take rare Sunday spotlight

Washington State and Southern California, No. 20 in the College Football Playoff rankings, should be well-rested by the time they meet Sunday in a Pacific-12 Conference game in Los Angeles.

The Cougars might even be a bit rusty.

WSU (1-1) has had its past two games canceled because of coronavirus concerns, including last week’s Apple Cup rivalry against Washington. Athletic director Pat Chun said then that nine football players were in COVID-19 protocol.

“We talk about how disappointed I’m sure everyone is that there wasn’t an Apple Cup (last week), but you flip it and go straight to USC,” first-year Cougars coach Nick Rolovich said. “Almost becomes like a bonus-bye-week-type deal.”

Under Rolovich, Washington State ranks third in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (274.0) and seventh in rushing offense (164.5). Preseason all-conference first-team running back Max Borghi has yet to play this season. He suffered a back injury in preseason camp.

Quarterback Jayden de Laura has been steady, completing 59.7 percent of his pass attempts for 548 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception. He reportedly was one of the Cougars who tested positive for COVID-19.

The Cougars’ last game was Nov. 14, a 43-29 loss at home to Oregon. Washington State was leading by 12 points late in the first half when the Ducks scored with three seconds remaining before intermission to reclaim the momentum.

“I don’t think they have a lot of fun sitting at home. I think this is a group that likes to be out there playing and competing,” Rolovich said. “I think they like the brand of football (they’re playing). Obviously we wanted to win (against) Oregon, but just the mindset of playing has taken hold in this group.”

USC (3-0) also had an unscheduled bye last week as its home game against Colorado — the only other unbeaten team in the Pac-12’s South Division — was called off.

The Trojans most recently played Nov. 21 at Utah, a 33-17 victory. Kedon Slovis was 24-of-35 passing for 264 yards and two touchdowns, and USC forced five turnovers.

“We played with a swagger, especially on defense,” said Trojans coach Clay Helton, whose team had to rally late for victories in its first two games against Arizona State and Arizona.

Sunday’s game originally was scheduled to be played Friday night, but USC had four positive COVID-19 cases and seven other players quarantined by contact tracing protocols.

The Trojans finally got back on the practice field Tuesday.

“We feel like we’ve done a good job of shutting this thing down, hopefully,” Helton said. “We’ll see how that progresses through the week, but to have (Monday) for our players with no positive tests, that was awesome.”

The Trojans remained below the conference-mandated minimum of seven scholarship linemen Tuesday, and Helton said they’re unlikely to be able to field a full scout team for practice this week.

“We are going to have to be creative,” Helton said. “You’re not going to be able to have enough bodies to have the amount of physical contact you need. It will not be a normal practice week for us.”

USC’s passing game has been balanced, with five different players with 13 or more receptions.

This will be the first meeting between the schools since 2018, when the Trojans won 39-36. USC leads the all-time series 59-10-4.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Tucson, Arizona, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) throws a pass against the Arizona Wildcats during the second half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Utah hoping to finally kick off season vs. No. 20 USC

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham just wants opening kickoff to arrive as the Utes attempt to open their season for the third time when they host No. 20 Southern California on Saturday night in Pac-12 play at Salt Lake City.

Utah’s first two attempts were called off due to COVID-19 outbreaks. The school cited 17 confirmed positive COVID-19 tests within the program and another 11 program members in quarantine last Friday when it called off the following day’s game at UCLA.

But Whittingham indicated Tuesday that the situation has improved since the latest cancellation and he is highly optimistic that the season will get underway against the Trojans (2-0, 2-0 Pac-12).

“Things are trending in the right direction for us as far as getting back to health and getting guys back out on the practice field,” Whittingham said. “Right now, all of our efforts are geared toward getting ready for USC and we will hopefully be kicking off on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. ET) on ESPN, national television.”

Trojans coach Clay Helton also hopes to be standing on the sidelines of Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night as he looks for the second 3-0 start of his five seasons as the school’s full-time coach.

“I’m hoping we get the opportunity to have a chance to compete with Utah,” Helton said. “It looks like it’s headed in that direction. Let’s say our prayers and hopefully both teams will stay safe and stay trending toward the same direction.”

USC took the hard route while winning its first two games as it scored late fourth-quarter touchdowns on both occasions.

Sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:52 to rally the Trojans from a 13-point hole and post a 28-27 home victory over Arizona State in the opener. Last Saturday, USC received an 8-yard scoring run from senior running back Vavae Malepeai with 25 seconds left to record a 34-30 road win at Arizona.

“When it mattered the most, I didn’t see any panic,” Helton said. “They showed great poise. We felt extremely comfortable. It’s what we do in practice each and every week. The guys executed to perfection.”

Slovis completed 71.4 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and one interception in the two wins. The Trojans averaged 527 yards of total offense but the defense has experienced issues while allowing 418 per game.

USC will be aiming to snap a three-game losing streak in Salt Lake City. But one of the challenges is how to prepare for a Utes’ squad that doesn’t have any 2020 film to break down.

Utah (11-3 in 2019) is being coy about its quarterback situation. Whittingham has reportedly decided on a starter but is listing seniors Drew Lisk and Jake Bentley and sophomore Cameron Rising as co-No. 1s on the depth chart.

Bentley started 33 games at South Carolina so he is easily the most experienced of the trio. Rising is a transfer from Texas while Lisk has thrown nine passes for the Utes.

Utah has known commodities on defense in junior linebacker Devin Lloyd (team-high 91 tackles last season) and junior defensive end Mika Tafua (tied for second in the nation with four fumble recoveries).

Whittingham said he is impressed with how his players have handled the disappointments of having their first two games canceled — the first was a Nov. 7 home game against Arizona.

Junior receiver Solomon Enis said the team’s mindset was the difference.

“You can’t stress about what you can’t control,” Enis said. “What you can control is your effort and what you put into practice every day. It is about showing up. At the end of the day, it hurts, especially the day before the game and it gets canceled, but you come into the next week and you work the same way you did before, and you hope it works out the rest of the week.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Tucson, Arizona, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (8) is unable to make a catch against Arizona Wildcats defensive back Christian Roland-Wallace (4) during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

No. 20 Southern California rallies past Arizona

Vavae Malepeai scored on an 8-yard run with 25 seconds left as No. 20 Southern California rallied for the second consecutive week, this time turning back Arizona 34-30 on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz.

USC (2-0, 2-0 Pac-12) went 75 yards in six plays for the winning points after Arizona slipped ahead with 1:35 to go on a 6-yard pass from Grant Gunnell to Stanley Berryhill. The Trojans won last weekend’s opener against Arizona State by scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes.

The Wildcats (0-1, 0-1) reached their 47 in the final seconds but a final play with multiple laterals went nowhere. Arizona was playing its first game after its original opener at Utah was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Utes program.

USC won its eighth consecutive game against Arizona. The Wildcats lost their eighth game in a row, dating to last season.

The USC offense lacked rhythm for much of the game, with Kedon Slovis’ stats looking better than his shaky throws. He finished 30 of 43 for 325 yards and one touchdown.

Gunnell was 24 of 36 for 286 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. Gary Brightwell carried 21 times for 112 yards.

The Trojans did not commit a turnover but were sloppy throughout, committing 11 penalties for 110 yards.

Arizona took its first lead of the game at 23-20 when Lucas Havrisik kicked a 51-yard field goal with 7:49 to go.

The Trojans, who had come away with no points in their previous two red-zone chances, re-took the lead on a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Erik Krommenhoek at the 3:30 mark.

Earlier, Arizona tied the game at 20 with 9:45 left in the third quarter on a deep pass to Tayvian Cunningham, who pulled away from defensive back Greg Johnson into the end zone for a 75-yard score.

USC led 17-13 at halftime, even though Arizona had a 231-145 edge in total yards. But the Wildcats missed a 42-yard field goal and had to settle for two red-zone chip shots instead of touchdowns.

The Trojans also took advantage of Talanoa Hufanga’s interception on the third play of the game, setting up a 17-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard run by Markese Stepp.

–Field Level Media

Sep 28, 2019; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats quarterback Grant Gunnell (17) passes the ball during the second half against the UCLA Bruins at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Gunnell, Arizona aim big with No. 20 USC in town

No. 20 Southern California, after a thrilling comeback to dispatch its expected top competition in the Pac-12 South, moves on to play a conference foe it has largely dominated.

The Trojans (1-0, 1-0 Pac-12) will travel to Tucson, Ariz., to play Saturday against Arizona. The Wildcats will be making their season debut after their scheduled opener at Utah was canceled due to a coronavirus outbreak among the Utes.

USC needed two touchdowns in the final three minutes, wrapped around a successful onside kick, to eke past Arizona State 28-27 on Saturday in Los Angeles. The Trojans’ four turnovers and three failed fourth-down tries left coach Clay Helton eager to see improvement in the team’s second game.

“The things we have to clean up are the security of the ball and finishing drives in the red zone,” Helton said. “We all made mistakes in that game. We all took turns. It wasn’t just one guy.”

USC has won seven in a row over Arizona, including a 41-14 decision last season. The Trojans have scored at least 36 points in seven of the past nine meetings, and they could be on their way to a similar point total against a new-look, and largely inexperienced, Arizona defense.

The Wildcats have four new defensive assistants, including coordinator Paul Rhoads, a veteran coach who spent the past two seasons coaching defensive backs at UCLA. He is shifting the Wildcats from a 4-3 to a 3-4, but the preseason grad transfers of stalwarts Tony Fields II (West Virginia) and Colin Schooler (Texas Tech) left the expanded linebacker position perilously thin.

Inside linebacker Anthony Pandy is a good one, and Jalen Harris — needed to be a key pass rusher — moves from end to outside linebacker.

But this is a program that hasn’t finished better than 92nd nationally in total defense since 2013, and any progress could be measured in baby steps.

On Saturday, the Wildcats will have to deal with quarterback Kedon Slovis as well as one of the best receiver groups in the country and USC’s traditional stable of quality running backs.

Slovis was 40 of 55 for 381 yards in the opener, with Drake London (eight catches, 125 yards) and Amon-Ra St. Brown (7-100) each reaching 100 receiving yards. Tyler Vaughns and Bru McCoy combined for 12 catches and 104 yards.

Helton said he was pleased with how Slovis handled check-downs and didn’t force the ball into coverage.

“Hopefully, that’s where he continues to grow,” Helton said.

Third-year Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin has something else to worry about — an experienced USC defense, directed by first-year coordinator Todd Orlando.

“They’ve got veteran players and a veteran defensive coordinator that is going to bring it,” Sumlin said. “They faced a young quarterback last week and brought it. They’ve got another young one this week. I don’t think that’s going to change for him.”

USC, which posted seven tackles for loss last week, will take aim at Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell, a sophomore who flashed potential in three starts last season. The running back group, led by Gary Brightwell, might be the best position group on the team.

But Arizona is pinning its hopes on the arm and leadership of Gunnell to turn around a program that lost its final seven games of 2019. Gunnell already was chosen a season captain.

“He’s really taking charge of the offense,” receiver Jamarye Joiner said, “and that’s what we need.”

–Field Level Media