Bowl Prep Practice #3: Notes

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Written by Caroline Deisley, USC blog contributor

The Trojans will now await their bowl game fate after senior Andre Heidari nailed a 38-yard field goal to end practice early on Sunday. 
  • The past two days have been tough, competitive practices as head coach Steve Sarkisian wanted to keep his players in good shape for the bowl game despite not knowing their opponent. Today, USC ran 75 plays at a good tempo in only about an hour's time. Now, the players and coaching staff are waiting anxiously to hear who, where and when they will be playing. 
  • A lot of younger guys have seen more playing time this week as the coaching staff wanted to see some players in different roles. Sarkisian said on Sunday that he's been really impressed with Rahshead Johnson at corner, Chris Brown on the offensive line and OLB Malik Dorton's performance during the scrimmage portion of today's practice. 
  • The head coach also said that Sunday's practice was by far QB Max Browne's best practice as he saw some time with the ones in order to get a look at different receivers. Browne launched a few deep balls hitting freshman JuJu Smith who returned to practice Sunday after rolling his ankle on Friday. 
  • Su'a Cravens is another player who has been all over the field for the Trojans this season. The sophomore has had the most success at the Sam linebacker position racking up 62 tackles, including 16 for loss with five sacks on the season. Though Cravens is listed as a safety, the sophomore said he will spend the offseason getting in linebacker shape for next season. He also mentioned that he will need to spend time in the film room focusing on the playbook, but mainly on watching the offensive line. 
  • The College Football Playoff committee announced the four teams that will compete for the National Championship in the inaugural season of the new format on Sunday. The committee ranked Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State in that order which also happens to be the same order as Sarkisian said he voted in the coaches poll. The head coach then joked with the media, "But hey, what do I know? I'm just a coach."
  • Here is Sarkisian after Sunday's practice...

Seventh in Sight

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USC defeated Stanford, 12-11, in a thrilling double-overtime semifinal game on Saturday, and now has its seventh consecutive national title in sight. Senior Kostas Genidounias led the Trojans to victory with four goals, including the equalizer that sent the game to overtime and the sudden death game-winner with five seconds remaining on the clock.

Click here for the full game recap.

The Trojans take on the Bruins in the NCAA title match on Sunday at 3:10 p.m. PT. USC has defeated UCLA in three of the championship games in its run of six consecutive NCAA titles.

Here are the highlights and press conference from today's victory:

Bowl Prep Practice #2: Notes

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Written by Caroline Deisley, USC blog contributor

The Trojans ground out another tough, competitive practice on Saturday in preparation for their bowl game while championship games were played across the country. 
  • Head coach Steve Sarkisian emphasized the necessity to keep the team's "competitive juices" flowing despite still not knowing their bowl game opponent. "I don't think you can just shut that off and then expect to turn it right back on," he said, talking about the team's competitive nature. 
  • Sarkisian is also using these practices to see the younger players in action as well as to test out players in new roles.  For example, the coaching staff felt like Chris Hawkins was "forced into action early" with Josh Shaw's suspension and freshman Adoree' Jackson still adjusting to playing at the next level. The past two days the redshirt freshman has been seeing a lot of time at safety recently coming up with a big interception in Saturday's practice that he returned for a touchdown. However, Sarkisian noted that if this move was going to be permanent, Hawkins would need to spend the offseason in the weight room to change his body in order to be physical enough to succeed as a safety. 
  • RB Justin Davis is another player whose number has been called a lot recently with the sophomore getting 19 carries for 81 yards in the Trojans' regular season finale against Notre Dame. Sarkisian credited Davis' recent success to his emphasis on holding onto the football. "The ball was coming out too frequently for my liking but we didn't give up on him. We put him right back in because we have to develop confidence that's part of our job," said the head coach. 
  • Justin Davis could be getting even more reps next year if redshirt junior RB Buck Allen decides to enter the NFL Draft. However, this is a decision that Allen and other draft-elligible Trojans have yet to even consider saying their only focus is on USC's bowl game. Sarkisian met with all draft-elligible players this week stressing "educated decisions" but both Allen and QB Cody Kessler have said they will apply for an evaluation just to see where they rank. 
  • This week Kessler was named a Manning Award finalist for the nation's best quarterback after finishing the regular season with 3505 yards on 413 attempts with a completion percentage of 70.7 percent. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton has been working with Kessler on his anticipation hoping to get the ball out of his hands quicker in order to help a young offensive line that's been hit hard this season. This also means focusing on knowing where his targets will be so that he can hit them that much quicker - something Kessler says comes with more reps especially with new starters like JuJu Smith and George Farmer.
  • Injury report: Freshman WR JuJu Smith rolled his ankle at Friday's practice so he sat out on Saturday; however, Sarkisian said it is not concerning at all. They just want to get him healthy in time for bowl game preparation. 
  • The Trojans had quite the number of visitors to practice on Saturday with the recruiting season in full force. Sarkisian said he's been enjoying the process a little more so than last year because they have more time now that he is finishing his first season as the USC head coach. "We have a few more spots than we have had so we have a few more visitors then we have had," said Sarkisian. "Last year we felt like we were rushing a little bit because we came in late. This time around we were able to cast a bigger net but that means we've got more people to evaluate and more relationships to forge."
  • Here is the head coach after Saturday's practice...

Seize 7

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USC men's water polo is back in the Final Four this weekend in pursuit of a seventh consecutive national championship. The Trojans have it all to do facing Stanford in Saturday's NCAA semifinal (3:10 p.m. start) with the winner advancing to Sunday's title match (3:10 p.m. start).

Click here for the complete preview, NCAA Tournament Central and live stream info.

All the weekend's matches will be hosted by UC San Diego in La Jolla.  On the other side of the bracket, No. 1 UCLA will face No. 4 UC San Diego on Saturday at 1 p.m.


Bowl Prep Practice #1: Steve Sarkisian Presser

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The Trojans were back on the practice field and energized with competitive spirit as they began bowl preparations on Friday. With a week off from practice following the Notre Dame victory, the Trojans looked as animated as ever on Cromwell Field, including a pick-six from freshman Adoree' Jackson who capped it off with a back flip in the end zone. USC will have its official bowl announcement on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. PT.

Here is head coach Steve Sarkisian after today's practice...

State of Troy: December 2014

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Each month, we interview USC Athletic Director Pat Haden to get his take on the hot topics around Heritage Hall.

Haden on the first regular season under Steve Sarkisian...

Zamperini-Helmet.jpgIt was an up-and-down season. We had two Top 15 road wins at the time over Stanford and Arizona plus a great victory over our natural rival Notre Dame, but we had two bad losses to Boston College and UCLA. The other two losses I felt like we gave away, so it is a shame looking back at the season that if we had not given up the Hail Mary to Arizona State, we would have won the Pac-12 South. We have higher expectations than eight wins at USC, but I am optimistic about the future with most of our offense expected to return, especially the young offensive line, which is the foundation of any great offense. Cody Kessler put together a phenomenal year statistically, and he will be a Heisman Trophy candidate next season. Plus, I expect us to sign another outstanding recruiting class and continue to rebuild our ranks to compete in the Pac-12, which will be good again next year.

Haden on Louis Zamperini and the premiere of Unbroken...

I had the great pleasure of meeting Louis Zamperini a couple times. It was significant to me not only because of what he did, but my father was a World War II veteran, and I have a strong appreciation for the "Greatest Generation." When I read Unbroken, I thought to myself, "This can't be true. Somebody has to be making this up." I am looking forward to seeing how the book translates to the big screen. Louis exemplifies the Fight On spirit. We honored him all season by wearing a "Z" on our helmets, and now we are endowing a track and field scholarship in his name. He will always be fondly remembered by me and the Trojan Family.

Click here to donate to the Louis Zamperini endowed scholarship.

Haden on any Coliseum updates...

Since it is an old facility, we are trying to get a true cost of this renovation project. We do not want to prepare for X and then it ends up costing X + Y. So, we are still in the process for about the next three months with engineers and architects determining that number. In the meantime, I am fundraising and looking at design concepts. We are making slow, but steady progress.

USC_WATERPOLO_UCLA_2014_-48.jpgHaden on his first year on the College Football Playoff committee...

We are all really committed to this job. We understand the importance of trying to get it right in this first year in particular.  We all really care about college athletics and football. Having said all that, when we vote on Sunday, those teams that finish fifth, sixth and seventh all could have won the national championship. They will feel bitter and disappointed. We understand that, but we have a cut line at four. It will be a hard, spirited debate, and all the committee members will be prepared.

Haden on men's water polo going for its seventh straight national championship...

Jovan Vavic is the best coach in the country at his sport. If he can pull this off, as the No. 3 seed, they are quickly running out of ring fingers. It is another incredible run, and then he will exhale for about 15 minutes and start up with the women's team, which also has a great shot to win a national championship.

Haden on his future as athletic director...

I hear from friends that there are rumors about me stepping away from this job, but that is not in my plans at this time. I am fully engaged in this job and love working with our great staff, coaches and student-athletes here. We have a lot of work to do in the future. Yes, I am getting older, but my health is fine. I am looking forward to a great 2015 in USC athletics.

Finding What It Takes

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USC women's volleyball has an uphill battle to the national championship this season starting tomorrow in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, against Coastal Carolina.  While the Women of Troy have struggled to find their typical dominance this season, head coach Mick Haley knows what it takes to run the gauntlet this time of year.

Here is the four-time national champion (two at USC) head coach on what it takes to go the distance in the NCAA Tournament:

Photo Gallery: Hoops Slams LMU

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USC men's basketball has a roster loaded with athletes who can play above the rim, and the Trojans put on an aerial display during last night's 77-61 win over Loyola Marymount.

Fans can catch USC's high-flying act again on Sunday at 2 p.m. against Utah State inside Galen Center.

Here are the John McGillen photos capturing the fun:

Big Cat Closes In

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USC junior Leonard Williams was named a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award given annually to the nation's best defensive end.  Williams finished the regular season with 8.5 tackles-for-loss, 6 sacks and 71 total tackles.

Williams is joined by Joey Bosa (Ohio State), Vic Beasley (Clemson), Hau'Oli Kikaha (Washington), Nate Orchard (Utah) and Shane Ray (Missouri) on the Pac-12 heavy list of finalists.  The winner will be announced December 10.


The Maestro

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USC freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin conducted a beautiful symphony on the court last night controlling the action from start to finish in the Trojans' 77-61 victory over Loyola Marymount.  He finished with 18 points (6/10 shooting), 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals.

Here he is after the contest on Pac-12 Networks: