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Barkley, Takes Arizona to the Woods

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By Gary Montgomery, BVN Staff –

LA Coliseum – It was a pretty safe bet that USC would use the hapless Wildcats as ointment to soothe their self-induced wounds from last week’s painful trip to the desert. Last Saturday USC turned a 10 point fourth quarter lead into a 43-22 loss. Back in the safe confines of the coliseum and facing a 1-3 team with a defense that has given up 140 points so far this season… fireworks were inevitable.

When asked why the two games were so different, USC receiver Robert Woods said, “We had a lot of turnovers last week; our offense was shaky. Today we showed we are a great offense, we just need to be consistent. Also, we had a great running game today with Curtis McNeal and the air game was there.”

Woods was right about USC’s air game. The two offenses combined for a total of 893 passing yards and 1,136 yards of total offense. USC’s Matt Barkley threw for 468- yards passing the previous single game mark of 448 yards set by Carson Palmer against Oregon in 2002.

Possibly a good omen for Barkley since Palmer went on to win the Heisman Trophy making him the best player in college football that season.

“It’s definitely and honor and it feels great. But at the same time, it didn’t feel like I was breaking a record because it was such a tight game going back and forth.

It’s a tribute to coach Kiffin’s play calling and Marquise and Robert and the guys coming up with great catches, and the line played huge for us today. I grew up looking up to Carson Palmer and hoping one day I’d be in this position.

It’s definitely a dream,” said Barkley.

Barkley was talking about Marquise Lee and Robert Woods his two dynamic receivers. Woods caught 14 passes for 255- yards and needed only five more to eclipse the single game receiving record of 260 -Yards held by R Jay Soward in 1996. Lee had 8 caches for 144-yards and one touchdown.

To no one’s surprise, Saturday’s game continued the same general pattern as USC’s games have since Kiffin’s arrival. The team starts fast, slows down after half-time and holds on at the end….if they can.

USC jumped out to its usual quick start when Woods took a short Barkley pass for an 82-yard touchdown on the second play of their first possession.

The Trojans ran out to a 17-0 lead before Arizona finally scored on a 4-yard pass from Nick Foles to Taimi Tutogi to make the score 17-6. Both teams would score again before half-time to give USC a 27 -12 lead at the intermission after Arizona’s Alex Zendajas missed both extra points.

The Trojans’ second half started much like the first and for a while it seemed that they would break away from the pattern. After a 28-yard toss to whom else but Robert Woods, USC stretched its lead to a seeming insurmountable 34-12. But, before the 64,707 USC fans in attendance could relax, Arizona’s Nick Foles started to get it going. Foles found former Corona Roosevelt star Austin Hill for a 1-yard touch. Foles also found Hill on the ensuing 2-point conversion and before you knew it USC had only a 7 point lead. The game ended with T.J. MacDonald corralling the Wildcat’s attempt at and on-side kick.

“The game was a little bit as we expected for us, because of Arizona’s great quarterback and receivers. We wanted to make sure that these guys didn’t come out and make big plays on us. We tried to scheme against them. We wanted to make sure their great receiver didn’t get big plays on us like they have in the past. Credit our defense a bit. In the first half it worked, we got two interceptions against Foles who hadn’t thrown a pick all year,” said Lane Kiffin in response to the apparent lack of defense. As they say, the Devil is in the details. Listen carefully and year will hear Kiffin’s long term strategy unfold.

USC’s secondary is extremely young, inexperienced and currently fighting through some key injuries. The offensive unit is by far the more potent weapon now although it has struggled with consistency at times. By opening up the offense and applying pressure to the opponent and getting early leads, the defense can remain conservative particularly in the secondary.

After opening up a 15 point lead on Saturday, USC’s defense shifted into an extremely conservative defensive coverage scheme throughout the second half allowing Arizona to move the ball but minimizing the quick strikes.

A Simple but effective strategy as long as the offense can respond when the opponent scores. New additions to the defensive unit like former Fontana Kaiser Star Anthony Brown paid immediate dividends.

Brown had 10 tackles in his first star. “Coach Kiffins told me on Tuesday that I was only an injury away from starting and to get ready I would probably start on Saturday,” said Brown.

The Trojans have a bye week before heading up to Berkeley and squaring off against Cal. With the half way point of the season approaching and a 4-1 record the Trojans’ strategy by all measures is working.

If USC can merely duplicate those results in the second half of the schedule it will yield a pretty successfully season record.

G. Montgomery can be reached at sports@blackvoicenews.com

Will 2011-12 NBA Season Start on Time, if at All?

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COMMENTARY

By Leland Stein III –

Sports aficionados who enjoy the seasonal changes that athletics usher in, have just endured a long and protracted NFL lockout, and now it is the NBA’s turn. The NBA protracted negotiations is reaching the critical point.

Its 66th NBA season is contingent upon the adoption of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the owners of all 30 NBA teams and the NBA’s players.

The previous CBA expired in July, and the expected lockout ensured.

I sure hope the NBA owners and NBPA were watching what happened with the NFL’s CBA. But I think the issues are even bigger with the NBA players.

There are some truths that simply exist do not exist in the NFL. First, NFL players wear helmets, are far away from the crowd and have 22 players on the field at the same time. I honestly feel that even though the NFL like the NBA has a majority of African-America players, the preponderance of NFL fans have got to the point where the jersey is the main rooting point.

Sure there are the exceptions like Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ray Lewis who are recognized by most NFL fans. But the truth is when the players come out the locker room I cannot tell who most of them are without a number on their back.

Now in the NBA, the games are contested in intimate arenas where the players do not wear helmets (maybe face masks to protect broken noses or jaws) and there are only 10 athletes on the court. That means the fans can really see and know the players’ faces.

Also the NBA is more about the players and not the numbers on their back.

Unfortunately, I believe many in the media and talk radio with not have any sympathy for tall, African-American millionaires. A protracted debate will find its way to retorts like: “They make enough money and they are greedy.” Driven by the media the public will be less tolerant of the NBA players.

That is why the NBA does not need a mean spirited, public spat.

“It’s unfortunate, to be honest, because we have great momentum right now,” acknowledged Kevin Garnett. “I think the league is, as far as anticipation and the leading stories and the careers that you can follow, you know Dirk (Nowitzki) finally winning, I mean there’s multiple stories that are intriguing right now. It’s just unfortunate that we’re all going through this right now to sort of slow that down.”

It appears from the outside looking in, that both sides are entrenched. In a recent showing of solidarity over 60 players gathered at a press conference, where NBPA union president and Laker Derek Fisher said that players won’t accept a bad deal to avert a work stoppage. “We’d love to avoid a lockout,” he told reporters, “but we’re unified in the sense of not being afraid if that’s what we’re faced with.”

The owners want a “flex” salary cap, but the players still consider their proposal a hard cap. It’s similar to the NHL’s salary cap system, which NBPA executive director Billy Hunter called “the worst deal in all of professional sports.”

Hunter said the NBA owners want to break the union like the NHL owners did. “The owners want to impose the same kind of damage on us, break the spirit and will and resolve of the NBA players in order to achieve what they want.”

The players say their proposal called for them to give back $500 million in salary over five years by reducing their share of guaranteed revenues from 57 percent to 54.3 percent.

The owners have projected $300 million in losses this season and claim 22 of its 30 teams will lose money. Players point to record TV ratings and increases in merchandise and ticket sales and wonder where all the money has gone.

I don’t really see where the compromise will come.

So now the million dollar question . . . will the NBA season start on time on November 1? I sure hope so, but probably not!!

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.

UCLA Can Be Fixed

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By Gary Montgomery, BVN Staff –

Sports fans are incredibly impatient. Particularly, when their teams fail to show consistent progress. No sports team has tested this theory recently more than the UCLA Bruins football team.

In the 13th season since UCLA won its last Pac-10 Title, the Bruins have gone through 3 coaching changes, 46 conference losses and most nauseating to Bruin fans, 8 losses to cross-town rival USC.

Considering that all teams go through ups and downs, UCLA’s current malaise is not historic, but try and tell that to your average Bruins’ fan would be likely be talking to yourself very quickly. Telling them about the 90’s when the Bruins had an 8 game consecutive winning streak against USC or UCLA coming within a couple plays winning the 1998 Rose Bowl game.

In today’s 24-7 sports talk cycles, good bad or indifferent opinions are echoed continuously. We all know that those perceptions soon become reality. For Neuheisel those realities started to simmer after his second season and had achieved boiling point after his third season.

Now four games into his fourth season the heat is turning up even more. After an opening day loss at Houston, the Bruins came home and narrowly beat San Jose State. A week later UCLA was crushed by the 24th ranked and rebuilding Texas Longhorns 49-20. This week’s 27-19 win over Oregon State gives UCLA something to build on and beginning conference play 1-0 for the first time since 2007 is definitely progress, but I wouldn’t expect a complete turnaround.

Just for the record, I am not a Rick Neuheisel hater. I think Rick is one of the really good guys in college football and more important one heck of a college football coach. He has done a solid job of recruiting and in most cases could qualify for that dubious title of player’s coach that is the foundation for my premise.

My point is that head coaching is hardly the root cause of UCLA’s football failures. A few years ago, the same identical scenario unfolded for previous Bruins’ coach Karl Dorrell and before that it was Bob Toledo and if Neuheisel is fired, it will be the next guy and the cycle will continue. It’s a real world example of perpetual motion.

The current UCLA media guide states: “Neuheisel’s return to UCLA in 2007 has brought energy to the program”. Possibly, but so far that increased energy has not yielded as many wins as the previous coach Karl Dorrell.

The 2007 media guide, it boasts of Dorrell’s nationally rated (9th overall) defensive unit, 20-5 Rose Bowl record, consecutive Bowl appearances and 51 returning lettermen.

He was fired at the end of the season.

Every coach who takes the reins of the Bruins’ football program faces the same set of issues. Problems like building and maintaining a quality staff to teach and support their system, players leaving early, systemic issues that are part of every college football program.

The Irony is that in 13 seasons no UCLA coach has successfully solved the single most damaging issue that plagues their performance and shatters their season record.

The lack of consistency and quality plays at the quarterback position. Why UCLA cannot identify and sign a productive signal caller is puzzling when cross-town rival USC is able to produce productive leaders one after the other including a Heisman Trophy winner in 2004 and a solid candidate for the award this season.

The UCLA roster is as talented and as good as most in the conference. The program routinely sends a sturdy stream of players to the NFL yet it continually under performs season after season.

Neuheisel benched starting quarterback Kevin Prince after his second interception against Texas and inserted junior Richard Brehaut to finish the game. Brehaut’s second half showing earned him the starting job against Oregon State and the team’s winning performance will likely keep him there.

Brehaut, although inexperienced has a natural swagger and exudes the kind of natural confidence common to successful quarterbacks and desperately needed to give UCLA some offensive traction.

If Brehaut can solidly hold the quarterback position, it could be the first and biggest step toward fixing the Bruins.

G. Montgomery can be reached at sports@blackvoicenews.com

USC Shows It Can Finish; USC 38, Syracuse 17

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USC silences critics with a blowout of Syracuse

By Gary Montgomery, BVN Staff –

Los Angeles – The Trojans gave its fans what they have been waiting to see this season ─ a complete game. USC finished Saturdays’ game with its offense on the field for a change rather than its defense struggling to come up with a play to preserve the win. A welcomed delight for their 65,873 faithful fans in attendance.

After another week of listening to the grumbling and second guessing, The Trojan offense turned in its most balanced effort in several seasons. The passing attack obviously dominated the action but the balance play calling of their attack was excellent with 39 passes and 33 rushing attempts for the game. Most noticeable was the return of the long pass to the Trojan’s offensive repertoire.

“We had to approach it that way tonight (deep passing attack). They are a strong team against the run so I didn’t want to get caught up in another game where we were running the ball just for the sake of running it. The vertical game is what was open for us and we took it,” said USC second year head coach Lane Kiffin.

And took it they did. Junior quarterback Matt Barkley had a career day throwing the ball 39 times to eight different receivers for a total of 326 passing yards and no interceptions. It was one of his best performances since taking over the quarterback duties as true freshman in the 2009 season.

“It was a different experience tonight than the other five touchdown games I’ve had in the past. I didn’t notice it until I looked up at the board late in the game and I think that was because of how we spread the ball around tonight. We had a full game on offense and everyone pitched in. It feels good and we needed this,” said USC quarterback Matt Barkley.

After beginning the season with back-to-back nail biters against underdog opponents, the Trojan fans were becoming a little concerned about their team’s ability to close out games. Against Minnesota, the Trojans relied on a Torin Harris interception the final drive. And again last week against Utah, the defense had to block a late field goal to preserve the win. If you go back to last season, the Trojans lost 4 games on the opponent’s final posession. So, it makes perfect sense that fans would begin to dread seeing that scenario developing again.

On Saturday there was little doubt that the Orangemen’s first ever game against USC and first trip to the Coliseum since 1924 would be anything but a convincing loss. After Syracuse scored on a 23-yard field goal from Ross Krautman at 6:44 of the first quarter, it was all Trojans from that point on. USC would go on to score 17 unanswered points in the first half and take a 17-3 lead into halftime.

In the second, USC’s Curtis McNeal returned the second half kickoff 17-yards setting the offense up on its own 36 yard line. After 3 plays and a first down, Matt Barkley hit sophomore tight end Randall Telfer from Rancho Cucamonga with a 44-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to 24-3. Telfer’s touchdown was the first opening second half scoring drive of the season. A significant accomplishment for the young Trojan’s offensive unit and an obvious sign of relief for the Trojan faithful.

Syracuse would go on to score its first touchdown with 10:43 left in the 3rd quarter on a 28-yard pass from Alec Lemon to Van Chew to tighten the score at 24-10 but would never pose a serious threat to the Trojans. USC’s offense never let up and unlike previous games matched the opponent’s scoring to end. Syracuse scored one final touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Ryan Nassib to Alec Lemon. Barkley threw scoring passes of 43-yards and 9-yards to Marquise Lee and Xavier Gimble to reach the final score.

Not only did USC’s win over unrated Syracuse give their fans hope for the season, it also could help give the young Trojan offense a much needed boost of confidence before heading into the more difficult part of the season. The road gets increasingly difficult from here with USC heading into Sun Valley to tangle with the number 22 ranked Arizona State Sun Devils next week. If the young receivers keep improving and contributing as they did on Saturday, The Trojans could be an unexpected force in the first ever Pac-12 title race.

G. Montgomery can be reached at sports@blackvoicenews.com

Chargers Ready To Go

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By Gary Montgomery, BVN Staff –

Commentary – Chargers’ Season Preview

San Diego – The Chargers completed their 2011 preseason campaign with a 2-2 record. If preseason wins over Dallas, Arizona are indicative of things to come then the Chargers should be able to hold their own on and end up atop the AFC West again this season. Then again, if losses to the Seahawks and the 49ers have any ratings value then Bolt Fans should be duly concerned. The point is – preseason games give the Talking Heads a lot to chatter about and fill the airwaves with predictions and guarantees that no one will remember next. But truthfully, preseason contests provide very little tangible information that can be used to predict a team’s regular season success.

Here is the way we see the Chargers 2011 Team:

Offense:

Phillip Rivers has been dubbed an elite quarterback since he took over as the full time starter at the beginning of the 2006 season. His statistics over the past five seasons certainly support any of those adjectives often used to describe great quarterback plays. Suddenly though, those same pundits who dubbed him ‘Elite’ a few seasons ago are now turning on him and hurling the ‘O’ word around.

Rivers is in no way an overrated player but the Chargers’ lack of playoff success and not getting to the Super bowl are being unfairly levied at Rivers. The facts are, Rivers has been forced to do the heavy lifting since the demise and eventual departure of LaDainian Tomlinson. Each year Rivers has increased his personal statistics but the team’s overall performance has been erratic at best. Rivers threw the ball 541 times in 2010, nearly 100 more passes than he threw in the 2006 season when the Chargers won 14 games.

Second year running back Ryan Mathews rushed for 678-yards last season but those numbers don’t paralyze defenses like having a 2,000-yard rushing threat in the backfield. Unlike Brady and Manning who operate with slightly better than average running games, Rivers needs a strong running game behind him.

Lastly, beginning the season with tight end Antonio Gates not a full strength could be a big problem. Gates has consistently been Rivers favorite target and has been the team’s leading receiver in three of the past five years. Gates played in only 10 games last season and missed most of the preseason with injuries.

Defense:

The Chargers defensive issues are simple and very easy to characterize. Every great defensive unit throughout the history of the NFL has had an identity. Usually, a group of guys, sometimes a single individual that filled the role or provided the leadership needed to be a great defensive unit. The Chargers had that in the 2006 season when Shawne Merriman led the team with 17 sacks and popularized his ‘sack dance’.

Since Merriman’s demise and eventual departure, the Chargers defense has not been able to cultivate a new defensive identity.

The Chargers preseason schedule didn’t answer any of these questions. Only time will tell but if any or all of these issues persists it is going to be a long season for Charger Fans.

G. Montgomery can be reached at sports@blackvoicenews.com

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