With USC interim coach Ed Orgeron flipping the script on Thursday and opting to give the team’s two-deep performers a rest, the walk-ons and redshirt candidates went through a spirited bye-week scrimmage dubbed as the "first annual Trojan Bowl." Fifth-year senior captain Devon Kennard found himself thrust into the unfamiliar, yet fitting, role as head coach of the defense.
An intrasquad game marked by an atmosphere of enthusiasm, as well as a constant stream of cheering coming from the sidelines, it was just what the doctor ordered for a program that is still dealing with a rare midseason coaching change, not to mention a disappointing 3-2 start. And as the man in charge of the defensive team, it was an experience that Kennard thoroughly relished taking part in.
“We made it as game-like as possible, and it was good just to be around the guys, and it was a lot of fun,” said Kennard, the Trojans’ starting SAM linebacker. “It’s the only opportunity we have all season to do something like this, and I think it just kind of refreshes everybody’s spirits. Now tomorrow we’ll have a fresh mind and be ready to go.”
The upbeat, intrasquad matchup was just the latest in a string of efforts by the energetic Orgeron to ensure that the players remain positive following the dismissal of Lane Kiffin early Sunday, and Kennard is encouraged by the response that he’s seen from his teammates.
“He’s brought energy since the first meeting, and we’re trying to maintain that as players every day because he’s letting us loosen up and play free, and we’re trying to do something here,” said Kennard, who has amassed 21 tackles and three sacks this fall. “For the defensive linemen it’s nothing new because this is the same energy that he brings every day. But it’s crazy to see it on a whole team scale, and his impact and the energy that he brings in everything that he does. At practice yesterday he was yelling at some of the offensive guys, and they were responding well.”
For a Trojans team that certainly appeared to be headed down the wrong path just a week ago, that’s more than welcomed news. The USC defensive unit is coming off its worst performance of the season.
Spearheaded by the always-active Kennard and the USC front seven, Clancy Pendergast’s aggressive defense was the story of the early portion of the season, allowing just 230.5 yards per game – the No. 4 average nationally – through the team’s first four contests.
But then they came face-to-face with Arizona State’s uptempo, spread offensive attack and they were overwhelmed, giving up a staggering 612 yards of offense in the Trojans’ 62-41 loss.
Almost a week removed from the defeat, however, Kennard believes that the group is committed to returning to their dominant ways.
“We have a chip on our shoulders,” Kennard said. “On the defensive side of the ball, we never expected to play like we did on Saturday, and we all kind of take responsibility – individually and as a unit. And we’re going to go work hard, and we’re going to fix it. “
With that in mind, the Trojans’ current bye week couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, and not just in regard to the development of the defense, but to the entire team. It has Kennard optimistic about the future.
“It kind of worked out very good for us because we get a chance to really sit back and look at what this year has been like for us so far, and we’re really emphasizing this as a new start and a new season for us,” Kennard said. “Our goal is to go 8-0, but it starts one week at a time, and we have to try to beat Arizona on Thursday.”