So we’ve learned this week that to make a USC football player happy, just give him a cookie. Or a plate of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles.
Even better: Toss in a 62-yard touchdown pass less than three minutes into a game, as Cody Kessler discovered could happen with Nelson Agholor on Thursday night. Or another one of 63 yards from Kessler to a wide open Tre Madden over the middle a few minutes later.
After each one of those, Ed Orgeron was right there to deliver pats on the backside and fist pumps in the air, which occurred with some frequency during those last two things in a 38-31 victory over Arizona that kind of got loose in the end during his first game as the interim coach.
A lot of that will make a USC football fan happy, too. But you’ve got to do more than just throw him a bone.
Changing coaches and laying the ground work for a new direction in a dour program is something that has promise. But we can promise that no matter how much Trojan followers may have wanted to celebrate, it’s still a tough sell to have a game on a Thursday night here and pretend it’s a “happening.”
This isn’t Layfayette, La. It’s metropolitan L.A. Having about 40,000 there at a kickoff, or even an announced crowd of 64,215 by the end of it after many had already turned around and left after half time, doesn’t do much to impress curious TV viewers watching across the nation.
Not even if you were to wise enough to give out free passes to Roscoe’s to thank all of those who didn’t stay home and watch from a far.
This prime-time contest orchestrated by conference TV rights holders couldn’t have come at time possibly even more awkward than having to fire a head coach before a Sunday morning sunrise following a Saturday night crushing road defeat.
The Post Lane Kiffin honeymoon for Orgeron may have been an emotional boost for a program drowning in alumni support. But you’d be hard pressed to find Trojan grad completely sold on the benefits of skipping out early on a weeknight, resorting to public transportation in order to avoid freeway gridlock, passing on any kind of social tailgate gathering and then being rightly concerned about how to get home at a decent time because they’ve got to open the store the next morning.
Those who did show up may not only felt obligated not just because they bought a ticket well in advance – some, even on a Groupon deal – but they’ve bought into a new era of Orgeron attitude.
Too bad none of them could have seen what happened at the Coliseum before the doors were open to the public.
At about 5:30 p.m., two hours before kickoff, Orgeron marched his team through the peristyle entrance, as has been recent custom, but he may have started another new tradition: The team formed a circle, pushing it back so they could see the letters “SC” and “Trojans” painted on the field. From the Coliseum press box, one could hear Orgeron’s bark about being “one team” as he did a group prayer.
The players, many of whom had family members, then embraced and headed for the locker room.
The players, we’ve been told, have also embraced much more change that Orgeron has brought back in just the last week-plus – desserts at the training table, open practices, inspirational videos.
All the stuff that USC’s program has been missing but maybe didn’t realize it had missed it this much.
“From my seat, a USC game was a celebration of a bunch of players who had won their jobs during the week against the second- and third-string players – it was a real party,” said Joel Klatt, the former University of Colorado quarterback who saw first hand what a Pete Carroll team could do back in 2002 when he was on the Buffaloes squad that endured a 40-3 loss at Boulder, Colo.
Klatt, working the game Thursday as an analyst for Fox Sports 1, said he isn’t sure when USC football “became this grind-it-out style, a game that focused on the minutia of it all.” But he missed it, too.
He didn’t miss seeing former USC All-American Keyshawn Johnson, wearing a Ronnie Lott No. 42 jersey, lead the Trojan team onto the field, inducing a roar from those who were in the building just prior to kickoff.
Klatt, like many others, probably saw a video clip of Marcus Allen giving an impassioned speech to the team days earlier that included: “We have to set the bar high. We’re not going to lower it for anybody. It’s up to you guys not only to reach it, go beyond it, set a new standard.”
Petros Papadakis, the former USC tailback who has used his local KLAC-AM sports talk show as a regular pulpit to call out Kiffin’s shortcomings over the last few years, was also working the TV broadcast.
“This is an opportunity for these guys not to be just themselves, but to be themselves together, as a team,” said Papadakis of the USC squad, before he went on the air.
“It’s doing a lot of the things Lane didn’t allow them to do. Whether you want to blame it on him, the players, the alumni or whomever, there has been this great dark cloud hanging over everything. It has to go away, no matter how you want to spin it.”
Like no more bemoaning scholarship limits. Or injuries. Or media questioning.
Or deflating footballs?
“When you’re Goliath, you’ll never convince anyone you’re David,” said Klatt, then grabbing his USC depth chart. “Look at how many NFL players are on this thing.”
Nor is USC’s coaching situation the giant-sized donkey in the room anymore.
“USC has to win this game, so they can start believing in themselves that they’re that good with Orgeron,” said Papadakis, long before the Trojans got out to a 28-10 halftime lead, pushed it to 38-17 in the final quarter then used Silas Redd as a victory cigar to run off the clock and turn away any further damage.
The clouds parted and the night air settled in. Maybe for as difficult a journey it was to get to the Coliseum on this night, it may be all worth remembering when the TV lights are turned off and a game next week at Notre Dame is staring these players in the face.