O/NSO - Mid Term edition

It has been a week of reflection, experimentation, and evaluation as the No. 2/3-ranked USC Trojans went through their much appreciated second bye week, and while critics seem to be pointing to impending doom in the second half of the schedule, what Trojan fans know is that their team is 6-0 and potentially one Ohio State loss from being ranked No. 1 in somebody's poll.

The Obvious – It has been a week of reflection, experimentation, and evaluation as the No. 2/3-ranked USC Trojans went through their much appreciated second bye week, and while critics seem to be pointing to impending doom in the second half of the schedule, what Trojan fans know is that their team is 6-0 and potentially one Ohio State loss from being ranked No. 1 in somebody's poll.

The Not So Obvious – Ya know, this point in the season corresponds with the academic world and many institutions have recently completed mid-term exams. Naturally, Pete Carroll's Trojans have passed all six of their exams on the gridiron, and with respect to Dr. Sample, the O/NSO now feels it appropriate to issue our cardinal and gold grades, but we'll allow pass/fail, drop cards, and incompletes. Okay, we'll also throw in a petition or two and a Change of Grade card if deemed necessary.

The Obvious – The Trojans opened as favorites to defeat every team they have played thus far in 2006

The Not So Obvious – Our first grade, Men of Troy followers, is for schedule results. Yeah, they've had issue beating the spread, but, okay, you want positives? What's more positive than being 6-0? Just ask the Irish, Auburn, Florida, or Cal if they would like to be 6-0 and No. 2. The cumulative record of the Trojans first six opponents is 25-15. The cumulative record of their final six opponents is 23-15. Of course, eliminate the next two Trojan opponents, Oregon State (3-3) and lowly Stanford (0-7) and the "Final Four," Oregon Cal, Notre Dame, and UCLA, have a combined record of 20-5. So (deep breath), since we are grading only the first six games and two of those opponents, Arkansas and Nebraska, have only one loss (to the Trojans), break out the "Homer Grading" computer program." Guess what the first mid-term schedule grade is? Sweet! The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade - A

The Obvious – The weather report for Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles calls for a high of 78 and a low of 59.

The Not So Obvious– Next up, is this week's extra credit mid-term whether grade. The O/NSO asks whether Trojan fans will be rooting on Saturday morning for the Irish or the Bruins in UCLA's visit to South Bend? Since we can't attach a letter grade to this one, although we all know what Trojan play-by-play broadcaster, Mr. How Do You Do, would circle on his Scantron grading form. This is a win-lose consequence, so it can only be graded one way until the final "scores" are posted.

Grade - Incomplete

The Obvious – The Trojan offense is averaging 30.0 points per game and 413.4 yards in total offense, third in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Not So Obvious – Wholly grade book, Mr. Kotter So when is scoring 30 points a game a disastrous offense? Well, it could be argued that the last three weeks, the Trojan offense, indeed, looks like it's regressing and that those famed halftime adjustments aren't paying the dividends as in past years. Yes, there have been a ton of injuries to fullbacks and, yes, to the vaunted wide receiver corps, as well. This has been all documented. However, there seems to be a valid frustration on just what is the Trojans' philosophy on offense. Take what the defense gives you? Well, are the Trojans a passing team or are they a running team first? Sure the final stats may say they are a balanced team, but when you produce a succession of passing plays on what appears nearly every first down, empty backfield passes on third-and-1, and the necessity to go to the power running game when all else fails, there certainly appears to be an identity crisis. The bottom line, Bruin breath? The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade - B

The Obvious – The Trojan passing attack is averaging 232.7 yards per game, fifth in the Pac-10 Conference and junior quarterback John David Booty (63.3%, 13 TDs, 226.2 avg./g, 4 int.) has lead his team to an unbeaten first six games.

The Not So Obvious – You'd think that Booty deserves a "B" based on the first letter of his last name. The Bayou Bomber has had passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, fumbled, and thrown interceptions. And those are just in practices, so it shouldn't come as a shock he has done it in games. What should be appreciated is that without him, there is no evidence to suggest that the Trojans wouldn't be the unique position to go to a third-straight BCS championship without him. Yes, he really does "lock on" to a receiver despite the party line. How else to you explain extremely high reception games by one individual receiver per game? Everybody loves J.D.'s command in the huddle and it's impossible not to like or root for the kid when you meet him. Yes, he is challenged locating his progression of receivers, somewhat surprising considering he has been in the system for three years and has faced some of the best defenders and coaching strategies in the land. Of course, let's not forget he didn't have the benefit of spring ball and he gets an O/NSO pass on that one. The bottom line is winning and with Booty at the helm, the Trojans are 6-0.

Grade – B-

The Obvious – The Trojan receivers have been led by Steve Smith (14.6 avg., 4 TDs, 70.5 avg./g), Dwayne Jarrett (10.1 avg., 4 TDs, 54.4 avg./g), and Patrick Turner (7.6 avg., 2 TDs, 27.8 avg./g).

The Not So Obvious – Do three receivers translate to the tri-semester system? It would be hard not to praise this unit considering they have been beleaguered with injuries and powered by an inexperienced quarterback. The receiver group is averaging 10.5 yards per reception, but that also includes running backs. When healthy, Smith has been a terror as exhibited by his brilliant Washington State performance. Turner has turned some heads with his recent breakout game, but we are concerned with his meager 7.6 per reception average. Of course, a number of passes are those quick slants, which will reduce anybody's average and sometimes their health. The real enigma has been Jarrett. Although he can justify his performances because it seems he has been injured the entire season in one form or another, it seems like there are times when his head is not in the game. Could it be the NFL draft? You can talk all you want about having a new quarterback, but passing is still a game of pitch and catch. Underrated and injured senior Chris McFoy has been missed. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade – B

The Obvious– Trojans have relied on junior end Fred Davis (9.2 avg., 1 TD, 29.0 avg./g) at tight end.

The Not So Obvious- Perhaps the biggest puzzle is the recent disappearance of the tight end position in the passing game. We saw it last season with Dominique Byrd and last week Davis was MIA. Now before you want to do a Change of Grade petition, Davis is still the fourth leading receiver on the club. To be fair, there have been times when Freddy simply hasn't grabbed a potential touchdown toss from John David. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade – C+

The Obvious - The Trojan rushing game is averaging 163.0 yards per game, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference and the Men of Troy have gotten solid production from running backs Emmanuel Moody (6.4 avg., 2 TDs, 70.4 avg./g), Chauncey Washington (4.6 avg., 3 TDs, 66.7 avg./g), and C.J. Gable(4.5 avg., 2 TDs, 23.2 avg./g).

The Not So Obvious– Wow, with two tailbacks with "C" as the first letter of their first name, shouldn't that stand for average? When the Trojans have put emphasis on the running game, Moody, Washington, and Gable have been the top producers. It's no secret or surprise to those that have followed junior Chauncey Washington that when healthy, he can be one of the best backs in the country - period. The ASU game was a tantalizing glimpse of what may be coming. Moody has been Mr. Excitement even when he makes freshman mistakes like turning his back to tacklers. He certainly has a big upside if he can keep from fumbling. As for freshman Gable, he was forgotten for a couple of games, but last week against ASU he showed he does what he is told, doesn't fumble, and has savvy when running the ball. A hidden gem is freshman fullback-tailback Allen Bradford, whose touchdown reception last week and Thursday's shining scrimmage should lead to more playing time as he learns his twin role. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade - B

The Obvious – The Trojans offensive line has been typically lead by tackles Sam Baker and Kyle Williams, guards Drew Radovich and Chilo Rachal, and center Ryan Kalil.

The Not So Obvious – Hmm…when the O/NSO had Mr. Joseph Abraham Trumpeter Fields in 8th grade at Fremont Elementary, he said we should refer to a "B" grade simply as "Baker." He couldn't have meant Sam Baker, whom we give an individual grade of A-. The real dynamic of Pat Ruel's offensive line has been their ability to adjust to the sometimes, uneven offensive rhythm. The pass blocking for the most part has been very good and the run game has been highly effective when the Trojans are committed to it. The left side of Baker, Radovich, and Kalil, "The Orange County Line," is truly one of the nation's best. The right side is still that proverbial work in progress, although injuries to right guard Chilo Rachal and more recently to senior right tackle Kyle Williams have hurt. Although, it should be pointed out that last week's sweep-right touchdown by C.J. Gable saw Williams execute a wonderful block to open the right side. Combining both rushing and pass protection, the Trojans are 6-0.

Grade – B

The Obvious – Many Trojan fans want to see a meaner and more physical brand of Trojan football.

The Not So Obvious – Does this fall into the category of Citizenship? Ah, that would be an O, S, N, or U. You want an attack that resembles the Carroll days of Justin Fargas and LenDale White? Then there is going to have to be a greater emphasis placed on the run game. Both Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian are former college quarterbacks, so what do you expect former quarterbacks want to do? Pass, pass, run. Legendary Trojan coach John McKay was a former running back at Oregon. What McKay want the Trojans to do? Run, run, pass. If you feel better blaming growing assistant coaches for calling too many passing plays, ask yourself if young assistant coaches tell the veteran head coach what to do? As should be the case, the final offensive philosophy and play calling for this team falls squarely upon Pete Carroll. This is a philosophy grade. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade - Incomplete

The Obvious – The Trojan defense under new coordinator Nick Holt, is allowing 15.0 points per game, first in the Pac-10, and allowing 282.3 yards per game in total defense, second in the conference.

The Not So Obvious – Yikes, the first letter of defense is D and that usually stands for below average. Yeah, yeah, we agree, the Trojans haven't yet faced the ultimate offensive powerhouses of Pac-10 and the Irish, but Pete Carroll's bend but don't break 3-4 defense still hasn't given up the winning touchdown…yet. There are issues to be sure on defense like the lack of a pass rush that is certain to be a major factor in upcoming games. In fact (gulp), the Trojans rank last in sacks (9). The linebacking unit has been good and at times spectacular, and the secondary has had to adjust to the misfortune of injury. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade – B

The Obvious – The Trojan defense is allowing 100.2 yards rushing per game, second in the Pac-10 Conference, and there have been solid performances by a front three of down linemen basically consisting of Lawrence Jackson (17 tac), Sedrick Ellis (13 tac, 1.5 sacks, and Chris Barrett (11 tac, 1 sack).

The Not So Obvious – Notice who does not have a single sack? You are correct, sir, it's All-Pac-10 Lawrence Jackson, who had a team-high 10 sacks in 2005. So far, LoJack has not been able to get his hands on the quarterback. Injuries and having to line up at times at defensive tackle doesn't help when those nasty double-teams appear. A pleasant surprise has been the play of sophomore Fili Moala (7 tac), who filled in admirably when Ellis went down with his freak knee injury. This is a unit that has shown a good deal of emotion by trying to penetrate five blockers with just three rushers. BTW, even WeAreSC's Darrell Rideaux calls Pete Carroll's defensive alignment a 3-4 (nanny, nanny, nanny). A preseason good idea because of the lack of depth at the down linemen spots and with a wealth of talented linebackers, this 3-4 is being severely challenged when playing against a productive passing team that dinks, dunks, and can run. Speaking of the run, the Trojans have been hurt when teams take advantage of Trojan pursuit and run cutback or bend plays. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade – B-

The Obvious– The Trojans rank last in the Pac-10 in sacks (9).

The Not So Obvious – This is an ominous sign when looking ahead to a semester grade, which will feature tests with Mr. Tedford and Mr. Weis. What is there to say when you are last in one of the most important defenses categories? Call it the new 3-4 defense, a new defensive coordinator, injuries, lack of defensive line talent, or limited blitzing, but no matter what you call it, call it a failure in the O/NSO mid-term grade book. We give it a one-legged A in this category. The Trojans are 6-0. The Trojans are 6-0. The Trojans are 6-0. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade - F

The Obvious – The Trojan linebackers have been lead by Rey Maualuga (44 tac, 1 sack), Keith Rivers (41 tac., 1 sack), Brian Cushing (30 tac., 1 sack), and Dallas Sartz (26 tac.).

The Not So Obvious – As predicted and designed, coach Ken Norton's linebacking unit has been the main artery of the 2006 defense. Is it any wonder that the top four tacklers on defense are the above-mentioned names? The star performer in the opinion of the O/NSO has been junior Keith Rivers. The former Florida prep star is living up to his hype. Keith says he will return for his senior year, but we fear we could be seeing No. 55 in a Trojan uniform for the last time if he keeps up his stellar play. Maualuga, who is a semi-finalist for the prestigious Butkus Award, is a beast, but the reality is that he tends to overrun plays and needs to tighten up his discipline in seeing a play unfold. Cushing has played well but is still learning his "elephant" position. As for Sartz, he may not deliver the big hit or even stay unblocked, but he is rarely out of position and is a good senior mentor. We'll grade on the curve with this subject. The Trojans could raise their Citizenship grade with the return of Oscar Lua. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade – A-

The Obvious – The Trojan pass defense is allowing 182.2 yards per game, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference and the secondary has recently been headed by corners Terrell Thomas (23 tac., 1 sack, 1 int) and Cary Harris (20 tac., 1 int.) and safeties Kevin Ellison (26 tac., 1 sack) and Taylor Mays (23 tac., 1 int.).

The Not So Obvious – With junior safety Josh Pinkard long done for the season and the recent loss again of sophomore corner Kevin Thomas, the above performers look to be the foundation for the final six games. The secondary has had the disadvantage of a weak Trojan pass rush and some challenging times in covering some outstanding Pac-10 receivers. Who would have thought that at this point in the season that freshman Mays would be the seventh best tackler on the team? It could be argued that Mays may have emerged as the top freshmen in this talented freshmen class of newcomers. An area of improvement for this unit would be in the interception department. A number of potential interceptions have been dropped and this has greatly hurt the turnover cause. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade – C+

The Obvious – In red zone offense, the Trojans are first (29-of-31 scoring conversions) in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Not So Obvious– In red zone defense, the Trojans rank last (allowing 14-of-14 scoring conversions) in the Pac-10 Conference. So how in the heck can you be first on red zone offense and last on red zone defense? Sounds like the ultimate contradiction. So if you have to give an "A" for offense and "F" for defense in red zone evaluation, you know how that averages out. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade - C

The Obvious– Trojans junior placekicker Mario Danelo is now 9-of-10 on field goals for the season, third in the Pac-10 Conference, and kickoff artist Troy Van Blarcom, who largely led the Trojans to the top of Pac-10 kickoff coverage, has been equally impressive with 36 kickoffs with 26 touchbacks.

The Not So Obvious – Are these kids nearly as valuable as any offensive and defensive performers at this point? With close games, field goals and field position translates to a winning edge. The season could come down to performances by Danelo and Van Blarcom in the big games of the future. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade – A-

The Obvious - Desmond Reed has been the main Trojan punt return specialist (4.4 avg.) and is eight in the Pac-10.

The Not So Obvious - As of this moment, the Trojans don't have much of a punt return threat. Reed gets an A+ for effort, but the reality is that there has been very little production. Hopefully as the season comes to a climatic conclusion so will increased production in the punt return game.

Grade - D

The Obvious - Trojan sophomore punter Greg Woidneck is averaging 38.1, second in the Pac-10.

The Not So Obvious – Perhaps a surprise to Trojans fans regarding Woidneck's proficiency, Greg is now No. 2 in the Pac-10, and ASU's loss is the Trojans' gain at this point. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade – B+

The Obvious –The Trojans are averaging 56.7 penalty yards per game, fifth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Not So Obvious – You know, it's WHEN you sometimes get penalties and the Trojans have this uncomfortable habit of getting flagged after some good offensive production. In the ASU game, the old "shooting yourself" applied. The Trojans are 6-0.

Grade - C

The Obvious –And finally, just what is the GPA of all these Trojan grades and what does it all mean?

The Not So Obvious – Well, it adds up to a football GPA of being ranked No. 2 in the BCS and USA Today coaches' poll and No. 3 in the Associated Press. Like all mid-term grades, nothing is final until the end of the semester, which begins next week in Corvallis. Mr. O/NSO, here's an apple and what does it all mean? It means the Trojans are 6-0.

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