TOP TROJAN MOMENTS OF 2014
Here they are, the Top 10 moments/stories for USC football in 2014. Like every year since Pete Carroll's arrival at the start of the 21st Century, it was chock full of dramatic moments and memories. Here are our picks for the most meaningful. Tomorrow we will put them in order of importance and explain why and what they all mean.
Josh Shaw Saga
From hero to goat to liar to possible criminal to suspended. The Josh Shaw saga had it all. After lying about how he suffered a pair of high ankle sprains, the USC senior captain and cornerback was being lauded across all forms of national media for his bravery and heroics thanks to the USC athletic department publishing a made-up story about Shaw saving his nephew from drowning.
Then the truth came out that it was the result of an argument with his girlfriend and an attempt to avoid the arriving police when they showed up with a leap off a balcony. For that, Shaw was suspended from all football activities. The saga continued throughout the season as every week or two, Steve Sarkisian was asked about Shaw’s potential availability. When he was finally cleared of any wrongdoing by the LAPD and the DA three two months after they were called to the Orsini Apartments, Shaw was reinstated to the program and played in the final three games of the season.Josh Shaw saga
National Signing Day Coup
Despite being on the job for less than two months, Sarkisian and his mostly new coaching staff picked up where the previous Lane Kiffin/Ed Orgeron staffs left off leading up to February’s National Signing Day. All that work clearly paid off when a trio of undecided top prospects chose USC on National Signing Day. But it’s one thing to win on NSD and another to have that win come to fruition immediately.
The three prospects who chose to be Trojans — Adoree’ Jackson, Juju Smith and Damien Mama — all earned starting spots this season with Jackson and Smith becoming stars early on and Mama becoming a member of a three-man true freshman group of offensive line starters -- along with Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivao -- who will be the core in the trenches for the next couple of years.
This may have been Sarkisian’s biggest victory of the season because the Trojans were forced to rely on all of those freshmen and more throughout the season. Along with the aforementioned starters, Bryce Dixon, the nation's No. 2 tight end recruit caught 14 passes for 198 yards and four touchdowns and safety John Plattenburg took over a starting role in the secondary for the second half of the year.NSD coup
With a two-score lead and less than three minutes to go, USC should have been able to salt away the Arizona State game without any trouble. Instead, cornerback Kevon Seymour went for an interception without safety help over the top and when he missed, ASU's Cameron Smith went 73 yards to the house to pull the Sun Devils within two points.
But the Trojans recovered the onside kick and one first down would have won the game. Instead, ultra-conservative run calls netted the Trojans a loss of two yards on three plays. Then on fourth-and-12, Sark elected to have quarterback Cody Kessler pooch punt rather than using punter Kris Albarado because he had no faith in the backup long snapper, who was forced into action after Zach Smith suffered a concussion the week before and was unable to play.
Kessler shanked the punt. Instead of pinning Arizona State inside the 20-yard line and having the ball roll to take valuable seconds off the clock, Kessler’s 18-yard punt went directly out of bounds. A 26-yard completion moved the Sun Devils to the USC 46-yard line. Confusion on the defensive calls -- two were made -- and a slightly underthrown Hail Mary pass short of the goal line resulted in ASU's Jaelen Strong streaking across from the outside and leaping up and snagging the ball out of the air in front of a what-is-he-doing-back-there middle linebacker Hayes Pullard for a game-winning touchdown as time expired.Jael Mary
Kessler Crushes Irish
The Trojans suffered a deflating beatdown at the Rose Bowl, falling to UCLA for the third straight year, but rather than let the season go down the drain, USC bounced back in a major way. The Trojans trounced second archrival Notre Dame, 49-14, with Kessler starring.
The redshirt junior quarterback threw six touchdown passes, including on five consecutive first-half drives. Kessler finished with 372 yards passing as USC put the type of whooping on a rival that will be remembered in Troy for years to come.Kessler bombs ND
Fourth Quarter Frustrations
If you attended a USC football game in 2014, you had better have been prepared to stay for the duration and you better have taken your heart medication. The Trojans were the kings of the exciting finish this season with their inability to close games out in the fourth quarter.
After the nail-biting win over Stanford, the Trojans saw Arizona State score 20 points in a furious fourth-quarter comeback to win on a Hail Mary. Arizona attempted to break USC’s heart again the next week, but missed a game-winning field goal in the final seconds after dominating the fourth quarter.
Later in the season, Utah knocked off the Trojans with a game-winning Kaelin Clay touchdown catch with eight seconds remaining. A few weeks later it was California trying to mount the late comeback. Trailing 31-2 at one point, the Golden Bears scored the final 14 points of the game to turn what had been a blowout into a one-score game.
Then in the National University Holiday Bowl to close out the season, USC let Nebraska score the final 15 points of the game and the Huskers fell only after Nelson Agholor batted away a Hail Mary attempt as time expired.
In the aforementioned six games, USC allowed 12 points per game in the fourth quarter. On the season, USC averaged 35.8 points per game, including the fourth best first-quarter scoring offense (12.8 points) in the nation, but averaged a mere 5.5 points in the fourth quarter. Was it a combination of tiring legs on a thin roster with super conservative playcalling on both sides of the ball? The players say it wasn't tired legs. But it was definitely frustrating for the Trojan fans.4th quarter frustrations
Farm win puts USC Into Top 10
The Trojans faced their first challenge early in the season when they took The Weekender up to face the Stanford Cardinal. In a battle of Top 15 teams at the time, USC held on for a tight victory thanks to a stiff defense that held Stanford to 10 points despite the Cardinal moving inside USC’s 35-yard line on all nine of its drives.
The defense sealed the deal in the final seconds when senior rush end J.R. Tavai came off the edge and hit quarterback Kevin Hogan from behind for a strip sack that Scott Felix recovered. This came after senior kicker Andre Hedari nailed a career-long 53-yard field goal to push USC ahead 13-10. The win propelled the Trojans into the top 10.Stanford win puts USC in Top 10
Red Bandanna Night Becomes Nightmare
It was a short stay in the Top 10 for USC, however. After the Stanford victory, the Trojans travelled across the country to Boston College to take on the Eagles. Honoring 9/11 hero Welles Crowther with special red bandanna uniforms, Boston College played its most inspired game in several years and ran the ball all over the Trojans, who were ill-prepared for the Eagles’ option offense that attacked the edges with brilliant proficiency.
Boston College overcame an early 17-6 deficit thanks to a dominant performance in the trenches, out-rushing USC 452-20. Quarterback Tyler Murphy ran for 191 yards and a touchdown while Myles Willis and John Hilliman both rushed for 89 yards with Hilliman scoring twice.BC beatdown
Halloween Comes Early for NCAA in Court of Appeals
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is trying to do everything in its power to keep 700 pages of testimony and emails in the lawsuit brought by former USC assistant coach Todd McNair from coming to light and becoming public. On the Monday before Halloween, the NCAA stated its case to a California Court of Appeals panel as to why the Los Angeles Superior Court decision to open the records should be overturned and the public kept in the dark about what actually happened in the NCAA's deliberations concerning USC and McNair.
It did not go well for NCAA lawyer Laura Wytsma. The court asked why the NCAA’s promises of confidentiality “until the case has been announced” would keep the file closed now four years later -- or why the NCAA's request should supercede California’s requirement for court proceeding to be public. Wytsma did not have a good answer. The appeals hearing in October should see the decision on the NCAA's appeal by the end of January as the USC community may discover what actually took place inside the NCAA in a case that resulted in sanctions that have hampered the Trojans the past four years and will extend well past their expiration date at the end of the 2014 season.NCAA/McNair emails
Big Leonard Williams Plays Through
Coming into the season, USC junior defensive lineman Leonard Williams was being billed as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. It has become increasingly rare that a player lives up to that billing as draft stocks wane and wax. But that was not the case with Leonard. The lion of the USC defense lived up to the hype game in and game out.
Williams was tied with J.R. Tavai for the team lead in sacks with seven and was second on the team with 80 tackles — a remarkable figure for a defensive end who slid inside to play defensive tackle as well. Williams stepped up when USC needed it most. For example, in USC’s road win at No. 10 Arizona, he forced a fumble inside the 5-yard line and stuffed a two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter.
But the most remarkable part was that Williams played through injuries and pain many games. Despite not being a full practice participant much of the season, Williams never missed a game and was on the field for the majority of snaps every game. After suffering a high-ankle sprain during practice leading up to the Stanford game, Williams played and recorded a team-best 11 tackles. Williams also played through balky shoulders, including one that had already been surgically repaired in the offseason.
Leonard Williams has been a rare talent and a rare teammate who played through adversity as he leaves for the NFL. When USC fans next see him, Leonard will be strolling across the stage at the Draft probably in the first five picks.Leonard Williams
LenDale White sent on his way
During USC’s blowout victory of Colorado, former Trojan great LenDale White roamed the sidelines, taking photos with fans as the mercurial former star running back has been known to do. But after the game, things went astray. LenDale called Athletic Director Pat Haden a “coward” in a tweet and said “USC should fire your punk ass” after being escorted away from the locker room, up the tunnel and out of the Coliseum because his field pass didn't allow him in the lockerroom.
Haden denied having White removed from the stadium, but this episode had come on the heels of White’s critical tweets during the Arizona game calling for the firing of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Toward the end of the season, in an interview with VICE Sports, White stood behind his comments and again stated his desires for Wilcox to be fired.LenDale White