USC Football: Midseason Grades for Players and Coaches
Almost halfway through the 2013 college football season, USC finds itself with a 4-2 record and a new—albeit interim—head coach in Ed Orgeron.
After the Trojans floundered under Lane Kiffin, athletic director Pat Haden made the change to the more enthusiastic Orgeron, hoping that he could infuse the the men of Troy with the kind of excitement that might salvage the year.
Orgeron rewarded his AD with a 38-31 victory over Arizona Thursday evening and along with that, gave a skeptical fanbase something to find optimism in for the rest of this year's campaign.
But can the Trojans keep it going? Will Orgeron and company be able to make some noise in 2013 and possibly make it to an important bowl game?
To see where the Trojans might go from here, it might be illustrative to see where they have come from.
This article will assign midseason grades for the Cardinal and Gold and examine who has performed and who has not.
Please note that some players and coaches may not have yet earned a grade due to an incomplete body of work and only primary players at each position are graded.
Grades are based on statistical level of play, the good 'ol "eye test" and some grades are given as a unit.
Quarterback (Cody Kessler)
After a very rough start, Cody Kessler appears to be coming around now after looking fairly comfortable in his last two games against Arizona and Arizona State.
However, that still doesn't excuse his ineptitude the first four games when Kessler looked lost and confused.
Overall, USC's passing game ranks 89th in the nation and although there are many reasons for Kessler's woes—including offensive line issues—he has been mediocre through six games.
Led by Tre Madden, the running backs unit has been impressive in 2013 for the Cardinal and Gold.
Although USC is ranked only 39th in the nation averaging 200.3 yards per game, it should be noted that 25 yards per contest is all that separates the Trojans from the top 20 in this department.
Speaking of Madden, he has been outstanding this year averaging over 100-yards per game (even after leaving the Arizona game with a leg injury) and true freshman Justin Davis is averaging almost seven yards per carry.
Tre Madden: A
Justin Davis: A-
The two primary wide receivers—Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor—have had uneven seasons but some of that is not their fault.
For the first four games, an inconsistent quarterback and offensive line prevented either receiver from realizing his full potential.
By the time the passing game found somewhat of a groove, beginning with the Arizona State game, Marqise Lee injured his knee which forced Agholor to become the Trojans primary threat at the position.
Agholor responded to that challenge in the Arizona game where he snagged seven passes for 161 yards but it remains to be seen if this is a sign of things to come for the sophomore.
Marqise Lee: C+
Nelson Agholor: C+
After undergoing a major facelift in 2013, the offensive line is still a work in progress.
Marcus Martin shifted from guard to center and has done an admirable job so far. He is only going to get better.
Meanwhile, Max Tuerk has found a home at guard while Chad Wheeler has seen starting time at left tackle for the most part. Both of these players are experiencing growing pains at their respective positions.
However, the right side of the line—by far the most experienced of the group—has witnessed the regression of play by tackle Kevin Graf and guard John Martinez which has necessitated the inclusion of Aundrey Walker to spell Martinez.
All of this has resulted in a fairly dismal performance by the group and they find themselves ranked 83rd in tackles for loss allowed. The result is that quarterback Cody Kessler often must scramble for his life.
Unit Grade: C-
Once again, the tight ends seem neglected in the Trojan offense.
Both Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer are outstanding talents who should be featured in a USC offense that lacks depth on the outside. But neither of these guys are being utilized much in the passing game.
One reason is that the offensive line play has been spotty, necessitating a need for the tight ends to block. But really, there is no excuse for Grimble to only have 10 receptions through six games while the oft-injured Telfer only has four catches in 2013.
Xavier Grimble: B-
Randall Telfer: C+
As with its tight ends, USC's offense doesn't make the fullbacks a featured part of the game plan.
Mostly used for blocking, Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner have a total of six receptions between them and—get this—zero yards rushing.
To what extent their lack of production is due to neglect in the coaches' utilization of them is unknown but beyond their blocking prowess, there isn't much to celebrate in this position.
Soma Vainuku: C
Jahleel Pinner: C
At one time, USC's defensive line looked like one of the best units in the nation.
Led by defensive ends Leonard Williams and George Uko, the three-man interior front which also includes nose tackle Antwaun Woods, was dominant for the first four games.
However, the last two games against the Arizona teams have taken some of the shine off of this unit, although it should be noted that injuries to other units plus a severe lack of depth has taken their toll as well.
Despite the rushing yards given up in those two games, the defensive line is still ranked 15th in the nation in yards allowed and between Uko and Williams, they have 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss to go along with a combined 50 tackles (Williams has 36 of those).
As for Woods, his responsibilities in the defensive scheme do not produce much in the way of statistics but he has performed well clogging the middle.
Leonard Williams: A
George Uko: A-
Antwaun Woods: B
In Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 defensive scheme, the outside linebackers (known as "Predator" and "Sam") play along the line of scrimmage and the other two 'backers (known as "Mike" and "Will") play on the second level.
When healthy, Morgan Breslin is the Predator and when he has played, he has been his usual dominant self with four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. The problem is that he has appeared in only four games this year and is currently on the shelf with yet another injury.
On the other side, Devon Kennard has been solid with four sacks of his own to go along with six tackles for loss as the fifth best tackler on the defense.
Meanwhile, Lamar Dawson has been steady (29 tackles) and Hayes Pullard has been spectacular while leading the defense in total tackles with 36.
If USC can get Breslin healthy, this unit is as solid as any in the conference. Even if he isn't, the same J.R. Tavai who took Breslin's place in the Arizona game isn't much of a drop-off.
Morgan Breslin: B+
Devon Kennard: B
Lamar Dawson: B-
Hayes Pullard: A-
The unit that was the most vulnerable in 2012 continues to be so in 2013.
After a fairly solid beginning through the first four games, the cornerbacks have shown cracks in the last two games and most of this coincides with the injury to starting left cornerback, Anthony Brown.
Now with Torin Harris back in the starting lineup, the secondary has taken a pounding in the last two games and with USC's depleted roster, there doesn't seem to be any help in sight.
On the other side, Josh Shaw has been serviceable. But he should be playing safety.
Torin Harris: D
Josh Shaw: C
Kevon Seymour: C+
Where the Trojans have been lacking at cornerback, the same can't be said for the safeties.
Led by true freshman strong safety Su'a Cravens, the deep guys have been solid all year long and Cravens, in particular, has been outstanding.
Third on the team in total tackles, Cravens has played like a seasoned veteran as he aggressively pursues his territory in the defensive backfield.
At free safety, Dion Bailey continues to make plays as his two interceptions and 30 tackles (fourth best on the team) would indicate.
Su'a Cravens: A-
Dion Bailey: A-
Special teams play has ranged from decent to borderline horrible depending on which facet you are looking at.
Both kickoff and punt returning has been fairly ordinary with Marqise Lee averaging a pedestrian 19.8 yards per kickoff and 5.8 yards per punt return as the primary guy in both of those areas.
Kris Albarado has been a pleasant surprise in his first year as USC's punter and he is averaging almost 40 yards per attempt while placing 16 of those inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
However, place kicker Andre Heidari continues to struggle both in the field goal department where he is a disappointing five for eight and as the guy who handles kickoffs, which often don't make it into the opponent's end zone.
Marqise Lee: C
Kris Albarado: B
Andre Heidari: D+
With USC's total offense ranked a paltry 67th nationally, there are obviously issues attached to it but how much of this can be attributed to the now-departed Lane Kiffin?
Also, with a new quarterback and a remade offensive line, growing pains should be expected. In that light, the offense has not disappointed.
It should be noted that the grades in this category are tempered with the notion that this offense has had challenges that were difficult to overcome early on.
Also, the grade for Clay Helton is only for his work as a quarterback coach. His new duties as play caller cover just one game.
James Cregg/Mike Summers (offensive line coaches): C
Clay Helton (quarterback coach): C
Tommie Robinson (running backs coach): B+
Tee Martin (wide receivers coach): C+
John Baxter (tight ends and special teams coach): C
Overall, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has done a very nice job installing his 5-2 scheme although the last two games should be a source of concern to be sure.
Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron has now relinquished his unit duties to Pete Jenkins since he is now interim head coach, but he did a great job while in that capacity.
Mike Ekeler has done a good job in his first year as the linebackers coach but Pendergast has had mixed results as the secondary coach with safeties excelling while cornerbacks struggle.
Clancy Pendergast (Defensive coordinator): B+
Clancy Pendergast (Secondary coach): C+
Ed Orgeron (Defensive line coach): B+
Mike Ekeler (Linebackers coach): B
USC is a team in transition. That was true even before the dismissal of former head coach, Lane Kiffin.
The Trojans are looking for a major change in attitude and with the fiery Orgeron in charge, good things could be on the horizon for the men of Troy.
However, the same concerns that accompanied this team to start the year remain. The only difference is that the competition will be noticeably better than what was faced early in the schedule.
If the Trojans can stay relatively healthy, they should improve as the affable Orgeron outlines schemes and expectations. Orgeron's players would run through a wall for him.
But if things don't go as hoped for, this season could get away from the Trojans in a hurry and USC will open the 2014 season with a new head coach for sure.
Whatever the case, the end-of-season report card should be markedly different than this one.
Trojan fans would love to see straight A's of course and so would the coaches.
Is that too much to ask?