On a day when the dominant topic of conversation at USC revolved around imposters claiming to be representatives of the program who reached out to Tony Dungy and Jack Del Rio, sophomore defensive end Leonard Williams made no secret of the man he'd like to stay in charge next season: Ed Orgeron.
“We all want Coach O to stay here,” said Williams following the Trojans’ practice on Monday.
And with USC set to take on Arizona this Thursday in the team’s first game since the defensive line guru took over as interim coach, Williams says that an already hyped-up squad now has even more to play for.
“The D-line talks about it a lot ... we always say that we like Coach [Orgeron], and even offensive guys say that they like Coach [Orgeron] as a head coach,” Williams said. “It kind of pushes us to play as hard as we can for him to make sure he stays around.”
Williams’ support of the boisterous coach hardly comes as a surprise. The two have maintained a close relationship since Williams’ junior season at Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland when Orgeron first began recruiting him. And it’s under his direct tutelage that Williams has flourished, establishing himself as one of the Pac-12’s top defensive linemen.
But since his promotion, the high-energy Orgeron has been able to stretch the scope of his influence far beyond the borders of his defensive line group, and with positive results.
“It feels good because he brings to the whole team what he brought to [the defensive line],” said Williams, who has made 24 stops, including seven tackles for loss, this season. “He’s really just trying to have everyone come together as a team, to just come out with a lot of energy, and to make sure everybody’s having fun. And by him doing that, people actually want to come out here, and have fun and compete.”
Practice is one thing, however, and games are another. In order for Williams to get his wish, the Trojans are going to have to rack up victories on the field, starting with Arizona.
Williams and the rest of the USC defense are sure to be under the microscope in the matchup. A unit that shined through the first four games of the season, they were overpowered in the team’s loss to Arizona State a week and a half ago, giving up 612 yards of offense. This came after giving up and average of just 230.5 yards per game heading into the contest.
“Coming out of the beginning of the season, we were playing really well, and we never expected to have a game like that,” Williams said. “But we watched the film and put it behind us, and we’re trying to move on, and we’ll take it out on Thursday.”
But it won’t be easy. Arizona features an explosive ground attack spearheaded by the nation’s No. 5 rusher (143.7 yards per game), Ka’Deem Carey. It’s the performance up front by the USC defensive line that will play a significant role in determining whether or not the Wildcats’ talented rusher is able to break loose.
“He likes to go hard … he’s always going forward,” Williasaid ms said. “If he gets hit, he’s always going to try to get that extra yard. He’s a very aggressive running back, and Coach [Orgeron] has really been emphasizing wrapping up this week, and working on spin tackles, because we’ve seen on film that he likes to spin out of tackles a lot.”
Without a doubt, Williams and his teammates have a big test on their hands. But with Orgeron having instilled a new sense of optimism that has the players viewing Thursday’s clash as a new beginning of sorts, it’s a challenge that can’t come soon enough.
“You know, we just put the first half of the season behind us, and it feels like a whole new team,” Williams said. “It feels like we’re just coming into a new season right now. I can’t wait until Thursday.”