Ed Orgeron embracing opportunity at USC; more Walkthrough
LOS ANGELES -- USC quarterback Cody Kessler couldn't sleep. He should have been exhausted after returning home from Tempe in the wee hours of the morning last Sunday, but the Trojans' 62-41 loss to Arizona State wouldn't allow him to rest. the redshirt sophomore kept replaying the game in his mind, and his eyes remained open.
Then, at 4:30 a.m., he got a text from Jeff Fucci, USC's director of football operations. It alerted Kessler to an 11 a.m. meeting "to talk about new leadership going forward," Kessler said. His up-all-night haze briefly kept Kessler from comprehending the real meaning of Fucci's text. "I was kind of confused about what that meant," Kessler said. "I didn't know. Then, sure enough, Twitter started blowing up. Then, at 5:30 in the morning, just texts blowing up my phone."
Trojans center Marcus Martin did get to sleep, but he awoke Sunday morning to at least 10 texts messages. "I knew it couldn't be good," Martin said.
The groggy players pieced together the details. Athletic director Pat Haden had fired USC coach Lane Kiffin early that morning in an airport charter terminal. Later, the players learned that defensive line coach Ed Orgeron -- who spent three seasons as the head coach at Ole Miss from 2005 to '07 -- would lead the Trojans for the rest of the season.
At about 2 a.m. on Monday, it sank in for Orgeron that he had finally gotten his chance to be a head coach again -- and that he had gotten that chance at USC, the school where he made a name for himself as Pete Carroll's foghorn-voiced defensive line coach, recruiting ace and sergeant-at-arms. On Wednesday, Orgeron opened his first Trojans practice with a Big Man Drill, a one-on-one competition designed to get the competitive juices flowing, and which the coach hoped would establish the physicality he will expect out of the USC player for the next two months. "This is my shot," Orgeron said. "It's our shot. Our shot as a team. I didn't know if I'd ever become a head coach again. But I do have a shot, and I'm going to give it my best, I'll tell you that."
Of all the Trojans who will get a fresh start following Kiffin's ouster, Orgeron, who went 10-25 with the Rebels, might have the greatest opportunity. While his job title comes with the dreaded interim tag, a solid run over the next few months might convince an athletic director at another school that he is still capable of running a program.
So how has Orgeron changed since his last head-coaching gig? "I didn't take my shirt off today," he cracked, referring to team meeting early in his tenure at Ole Miss. That encounter featured the coach ripping off his shirt and encouraging his players to do the same before he led them in a call-and-response that used the phrases "Ole Miss" and "Wild Boys." Needless to say, news of this display did not exactly strike fear into the hearts of the Rebels' SEC rivals. Orgeron also brought that gimmick to Tennessee in 2009 when Kiffin hired him as the Volunteers' defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. On his first day as the coach at USC, the bellies stayed covered. "I was in better shape back then," Orgeron said.
While Orgeron has mellowed a tad, he remains the coach you'd bet on if every college football coach were tossed into an octagon and told that only the winner would be allowed out. He finished practice on Wednesday splattered with flecks of his own blood. "Caught a cleat," he said. His voice also got a workout thanks to all the new position groups at which he now has carte blanche to bellow whenever something goes wrong. "I love being able to get in the offense, get on the offensive line's butt, get 'em right, scream at a quarterback," Orgeron said, pronouncing the last word "quota-back" in his thick, Cajun accent. "All that kind of stuff." Orgeron may have dropped the gimmickry, but he still wants to field a tough team. He won't hesitate to tell his players when they aren't meeting his standards for toughness. Expect FOX Sports 1 to give Orgeron the Bo-Pelini-sideline-tantrum-cam treatment when the Trojans take the field again against Arizona next Thursday. "I have to coach in my style," Orgeron said. "After my previous head-coaching stint, I said, 'You know what? If I get my chance again, I have to do it the way I know how to do it.' Whether it's right, wrong or indifferent."
Though Orgeron and Kiffin spent years working together, don't expect Orgeron to coach like Kiffin. In Orgeron's first few days on the job, he has already made two relatively small changes that he hopes will foster goodwill from the various constituencies with which he must work. Kiffin spent the past two years sparring with the local media, so Orgeron endeared himself to USC's corps of beat writers by reopening practices and lifting the ban on reporting injuries. He also became a hero to his players by adding cookies to the training table. That may not sound like much, but Orgeron explained the move like a Cajun Confucius. "Feed a lineman a cookie, he's happy," Orgeron said. "Feed a line coach a cookie, he's happy." He didn't want to overhaul the program, but he knew he had to tweak it -- hence the minor changes that could produce a major shift in attitude. "If nothing changes," he said, "nothing changes."
The biggest schematic change will come on offense. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will actually be allowed to coordinate the offense. Helton called plays last spring, and it appeared then that Kiffin was finally ready to give up that duty -- until he elected to keep calling plays this season. Needless to say, those plays were less than successful. "Coach Kiffin was calling plays that he thought was best for the team," receiver Nelson Agholor said. "Whether or not it worked, that's out of my control. I don't think he was trying to lose games."
He wasn't, but only a few head coaches have managed to succeed handling both CEO and play-calling duties. So now Helton will get his shot. He'll move from the press box to the field so that he can stay in constant contact with Kessler. Helton, who called plays at Memphis before joining Kiffin's staff, believes his experience this spring will help him ease into the new role. "I've done it in the past, but it's always good to keep that practice up," Helton said.
Orgeron, Helton and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will have to manage a thin roster, one that has been depleted by NCAA sanctions resulting from the Reggie Bush case. The Trojans brought only 55 recruited scholarship players to Arizona State last weekend, and some of those that hadn't been recruited found themselves playing against the Sun Devils when several starters succumbed to injury. After star receiver Marqise Lee exited the game, backup Robby Kolanz spent his first few snaps telling himself not to false start. Who is Kolanz? He's the 5-foot-7, 175-pound redshirt freshman from Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., who spent last year working for USC sports information director Tim Tessalone. Kolanz, the guy who used to pass out stat sheets, now will log stats of his own.
Orgeron has no plans to let the Trojans use their diminished roster situation as an excuse for failure. He won't let Kiffin's firing send the players into the tank. A team that lives by the motto "Fight On" had better not quit. And if USC can squeak out some wins in spite of their circumstances, maybe Haden will consider Orgeron as a potential permanent replacement for Kiffin.
Even if Haden cuts the coaching staff loose at season's end, he may want to consider etching the words that Orgeron uttered on Wednesday in stone for all future Trojans to read. "We have our team," Orgeron said. "It's what it is. It's what we are. We're Trojans. We put 11 out on the field and we fight."
• Air Force at Navy: It's happening. Hooray.
• Texas Tech at Kansas: Baker Mayfield will start at quarterback again for the Red Raiders, who can be confident that should Mayfield get dinged, fellow freshman Davis Webb can fill in with little dropoff.
• Maryland at Florida State: The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker pointed out an interesting-in-hindsight quote this week from Terrapins coach Randy Edsall's first trip to Tallahassee. "We just don't match up with the speed and athleticism of Clemson and Florida State," Edsall said after a 41-16 loss in 2011. "That's what we are going to have to do from a recruiting standpoint." We'll see on Saturday how close Maryland is to meeting that goal. Quarterback C.J. Brown and company will face a Seminoles defense that has looked stellar at times and shaky at others. Meanwhile, the Terrapins' defense, which held West Virginia to a measly six first downs in its last outing on Sept. 21, will try to become the first group to slow Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback phenom Jameis Winston.
• Illinois at Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had to feel sick when they saw the stats from last week's South Dakota State-North Dakota State game. Two weeks ago, South Dakota State ran for 227 yards and averaged six yards a carry at Nebraska. Against defending FCS champ North Dakota State, the Jackrabbits rushed for -32 yards. The Cornhuskers still beat South Dakota State, but that was due primarily to the huge talent gap between Nebraska's offense and the Jackrabbits' defense. The Cornhuskers will not see that sort of disparity in the Big Ten. With quarterback Taylor Martinez (turf toe) still a question mark for Saturday's visit from the Illini, the Blackshirts need to get their issues fixed. Illinois is a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten offense, but quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and his teammates can exploit a suspect defense.
• Michigan State at Iowa: This meeting went to a pair of overtimes last year after the Hawkeyes drove 68 yards on the usually stout Spartans' defense to score a game-tying touchdown with 55 seconds remaining. Iowa retained its hold on Floyd of Rosedale last week, beating Minnesota with extreme prejudice. Tailback Mark Weisman, who scored that fourth-quarter touchdown against Michigan State last year, ran for 147 yards on 24 carries against the Gophers.
• Georgia State at Alabama: The Crimson Tide really lucked out with this schedule. With safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix suspended and his backup, Nick Perry, out following shoulder surgery, sophomore Landon Collins gets to ease in against one of the worst teams in the FBS. And if Clinton-Dix is still suspended next week, Collins' will start again against Kentucky, possibly the worst team in the SEC.
• Georgia at Tennessee: If the Bulldogs are going to have a hangover this season, this is the week it will happen. Of course, the Volunteers nearly lost at home to South Alabama last Saturday, so even a hungover Georgia team should be able to chug some water, slam some Advil and get the job done.
• Clemson at Syracuse: Welcome to the ACC, Syracuse. Besides being a ninja, ACC commissioner John Swofford is mighty good with the old hazing paddle. Conference newcomer Pittsburgh entered ACC play against Florida State and got crushed in a Labor Day feature game. The Orange open league play against one of the nation's most dynamic offenses.
• Georgia Tech at Miami: The Hurricanes are one of five teams in the nation that has not trailed all season. (Actually, Miami hasn't trailed since the end of a 41-40 loss to Virginia last Nov. 10.) The others are Louisville, Ohio State, Texas Tech and Washington. Of that group, the Cardinals (at Temple) and the Red Raiders (at Kansas) have the best schedule draws to keep that streak intact.
• Minnesota at Michigan: Forget the Little Brown Jug. The Wolverines just need a solid win to erase the memory of scares against Akron and Connecticut in their past two outings.
• Kansas State at Oklahoma State: Don't expect Cowboys quarterback J.W. Walsh to get too crazy with the audibles against the Wildcats. Oklahoma State had the ball inside West Virginia's one-yard line trailing by three points in the fourth quarter last week, and Walsh checked out of a run and into a fade that he didn't complete. The Cowboys got stuffed, and then kicker Ben Grogan hit the upright on a 23-yard field goal attempt. "He did it on his own and I was as surprised as everybody else watching when he did it, and why players sometimes do that, I don't know," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told reporters this week. "It's like telling your kid to brush his teeth and then you find out a week later, he still hasn't brushed his teeth. The bottom line is this: The ball's on the two-inch line, I prefer to run it."
• Oregon at Colorado: Ducks tailback De'Anthony Thomas is probably out for this one with an injured ankle. So expect big days from Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner.
• TCU at Oklahoma: Sooners coach Bob Stoops took a shot at SEC defenses on Wednesday, and he kind of has a point. He can say this now because Oklahoma is actually playing defense this season.
• Arkansas at Florida: This will be the toughest test so far for the Tyler Murphy-led Gators offense. Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback during the Tennessee game, Murphy has looked confident and competent. The Razorbacks, who limbered up chasing Johnny Manziel last week, should present a stiffer challenge.
• Arizona State vs. Notre Dame (in Arlington, Texas): In his career, Sun Devils tailback Marion Grice averages a touchdown every 7.5 touches from scrimmage. So good luck with that, Fighting Irish. Should Notre Dame lose at Jerry World, expect plenty of handwringing about a collapse following a 12-1 season in 2012. Just remember that the Fighting Irish should win every game between their matchup with Arizona State on Saturday and their visit to Stanford on Nov. 30. It isn't time to panic in South Bend if the Sun Devils win. But it might be time to panic if Notre Dame loses again before traveling to Palo Alto for its regular-season finale.
• Ohio State at Northwestern: If Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald is nervous about the biggest game at Ryan Field in years, he isn't showing it.
• West Virginia at Baylor: We finally get to see if the Bears' offense is really as ridiculously good as its nonconference numbers suggest.
• Washington at Stanford: Near the end of this video featuring Cardinal offensive coordinator -- sorry, Andrew Luck Director of Offense -- Mike Bloomgren, Stanford reveals a formation that features nine offensive linemen. Will the Cardinal use that against the Huskies? Stanford would probably use 11 if it were socially acceptable.
The Cardinal weren't always the more physical team in the Washington-Stanford matchup. From 1989-91, there wasn't a more dominant defensive lineman in college football than the Huskies' Steve Emtman. Take a few minutes and watch Emtman flat-out ruin some opposing offenses.
Since Orgeron is a head coach again, we need to revisit one of the highlights of his tenure at Ole Miss. Tell 'em about it, JoJo.
If you're headed to Evanston for the Ohio State-Northwestern game, you're probably from Ohio and therefore have no idea what good barbecue tastes like. But take it from a Southerner, the barbecue at Chicago's Smoque is every bit as good as the stuff that comes from the hallowed pits below the Mason-Dixon Line. Order the brisket, the spare ribs and -- because you didn't have enough brisket as a main course -- a side of brisket chili.