LOS ANGELES — There is something about a leader who has the ability to make a person want to succeed not for themselves, but for him.
USC has that in interim head coach Ed Orgeron.
The Trojans rallied around Orgeron, jumped on Arizona early, and survived a late Wildcats’ rally to pick up their first Pac-12 conference win in a 38-31 defeat of Arizona (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12). It was the program’s first-ever Thursday night game at the Coliseum.
“No disrespect to the other coaches here before, but you want a coach that you will (absolutely) just go to war for every time,” said quarterback Cody Kessler, who completed 15-of-30 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. “All of us, we’d go for war and put our life on the line for this man any day of the week.”
USC (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) got the ball on the game’s first possession and went three-and-out. Ho-hum.
On its next two possessions, however, Trojans scored on a 62-yard pass from Kessler to Nelson Agholor and a 63-yard Kessler pass to Tre Madden. The Trojans had only one pass play of 60 or more yards entering the game. They had two in successive possessions on Thursday night.
Things were different. It was a change.
The changes had progressively been made throughout the days leading up to the game following the firing of Lane Kiffin. They continued into the Coliseum on Thursday night. Once the Trojans completed their normal gameday “Trojan Walk” into the Coliseum, members of the team along with their parents huddled around the 50-yard line for a team prayer.
“I don’t ever think that’s ever happened before in the history of USC,” safety Dion Bailey said.
Added Hayes Pullard: “A team that prays together, stays together.”
As they wrapped up, Orgeron could be heard through the near empty Coliseum nearly two hours before kickoff saying “One team. One heartbeat.”
He showed them he had their best interest at heart and could be trusted.
“(We showed) we can do everything we possibly can for them under the NCAA rules to make them feel like a champion,” Orgeron said. “Our coaches took those guys to eat on what we call occasional meals. (We) got really close to them.
“We showed our guys some of the ways that we used to play under Coach (Pete) Carroll. They bought into it.”
They repaid him with their effort on Thursday night.
It was a cast of seldom-used characters who received an opportunity and made the most of it.
Defensive lineman J.R. Tavai, who had played in only three previous games this season, made plays all over the field with 10 tackles, including 3 1/2 for loss.
Running back Buck Allen scored two touchdowns – the first two of his career.
By the end of the night, Orgeron sat at the podium soaked from the Gatorade shower he’d received at the conclusion of the game. Kessler patted him on the back. Orgeron smiled and gave him a fist bump.
“I think I woke up happy for the first time in my life this morning aside from the day I was marrying my wife and had my kids,” Orgeron said. “I’m not a happy guy. But today I was happy. I don’t know why I just had that feeling of happiness.”
His players left the Coliseum on Thursday night feeling the same way.