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Thursday Night Lights Bring Out The Best In Trojan Football

Paolo Uggetti |
November 10, 2014 | 10:44 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

USC took down Arizona last year in its first home non-Thanksgiving Thursday night game. (Neon Tommy)
USC took down Arizona last year in its first home non-Thanksgiving Thursday night game. (Neon Tommy)
There are very few things better than college football. One of those things is simply a timely alteration of its original: College football at night.

On those weekday nights when we are blessed by its existence, there is nothing like the black depth of the God-formed night sky, impaled by the white brightness of the man-made floodlights serving as the canvas and the tools setting the stage for the hard-nosed athletes to craft their art on the gridiron.

When the sun goes down, the aura inevitably tends to change. The stakes–much like the goose bumps—seem to rise, while the temperature slowly descends. The crowd seems livelier and the band seems louder, while the green on the grass seems infinitely brighter.  

In this case, darkness does not give way to light, nor light give way to darkness. On these now-infamous nights in college football, darkness and light put aside their differences and ceremoniously agree to form the ultimate platform for football.

This week, the odds have looked upon the Trojan faithful in favor and granted it one of its cherished mid-week luxuries: A Thursday night football game.

The future for the now-beloved appetizer that precedes Saturday’s main slate may be bright, as we will see more and more Thursday night games become the norm. Yet consider this: The last time the L.A. Memorial Coliseum hosted a Thursday night game was last year against the Arizona Wildcats.

Before that? No other Thursday night games outside of Thanksgiving Day have taken place on the Trojan’s home field.

This Thursday night’s game against California is a rare and usually nonexistent treat, but USC has actually attained plenty of prior Thursday night experience. Over the past 14 years, at the expense of weekday road trips and prominent bowl games, the Trojans have played a total of nine Thursday matchups away from the Coliseum.

Ahead of the twilight clash against the Golden Bears, let’s quickly revisit those nine games (plus, last year's home game) out of simple curiosity, and not because we would ever fathom it could help predict what will take place this Thursday, because well it’s college football, remember? We would have a better shot at winning the lotto.

SEE ALSO: Don't Forget About Cody Kessler

USC vs. Iowa (2003 Orange Bowl)

Final Score: 38-17, W

USC’s first Thursday matchup of the millenium slotted the Trojans against the Hawkeyes at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The 2002 Heisman trophy-winner, Carson Palmer, also won Orange Bowl MVP after leading the Trojan offense down the field for five, long scoring drives and Pete Carroll’s first BCS bowl win as head coach of the Cardinal and Gold.

USC vs. Michigan (2004 Rose Bowl)

Final Score: 28-14, W

This time, it was the Rose Bowl against the then-mighty Michigan Wolverines that fell on a Thursday on the first day of 2004. After eventual Heisman trophy-winner Matt Leinart’s stellar 327-yard performance and a dominating showcase by the Trojan defense, many thought a national championship was all but a certainty. But as we all know, the computers begged to differ. Thank goodness we now have the college football playoff because at least now we can blame actual human beings. (Kidding.) 

USC at Arizona St. (2007)

Final Score: 44-24, W

In 2007, USC did what Notre Dame could not do this past Saturday: Travel deep into the Arizona desert and avoid defeat at the hands of the Sun Devils. John David Booty (remember him?) had an impressive 375 yards in the air alongside four touchdowns that helped the Trojans pull away from Sparky in the second half. 

USC at Oregon St. (2008)

Final Score: 21-27, L

Sporting News calls it one of the 'Top 10 Thursday night college football games', but for many Trojan fans, it was a game they wish they could erase from their memories. Behind Jacquizz Rodgers’s 187 rushing yards and two touchdowns, the unranked Beavers pulled off one of the most improbable upsets against the then-No. 1 ranked Trojans. For Oregon St., it was the highlight of their season, and for USC, it was the program's lone loss in a season that had national championship potential.

USC vs. Penn St. (2009 Rose Bowl)

Final Score: 38-24, W

Due to the devastating Oregon St. loss, USC had to settle for the Rose Bowl berth in lieu of the national championship. The 95th edition of the “Granddaddy of Them All” fell on a Thursday afternoon-ish-night? And the Pete Carroll-led Trojans dispatched Penn State to win their last BCS bowl to the date. Mark Sanchez had a 413-yard, four-touchdown game and the Trojan defense forced three important turnovers en route to the rout of the Nittany Lions.

USC at Hawaii (2010)

Final Score: 49-36, W

No. 14 USC found itself in a shootout with unranked Hawaii on its first Thursday night matchup in Manoa. After going up 14-3 in the first quarter, the Trojans never lost the lead, but thanks to a ridiculous 459 passing yards from three—that’s right, three—Hawaii quarterbacks, the Warriors made this a relatively close one. Maybe teams should try and run the triple-QB offense more often. Or not.

USC at Cal (2011)

Final Score: 30-9, W

A ridiculous seven total turnovers between the two teams told the story in this one, but in the end, it was USC’s defense, which forced three interceptions and two fumbles, that pushed them towards victory at Berkeley. Future San Diego Charger Keenan Allen had 160 receiving yards for Cal, but it was all for naught as the Trojans beat the Golden Bears for the eighth straight time.

USC at Utah (2012)

Final Score: 38-28, W

As seen this year, Salt Lake City is always a tough place to play, and in this 2012 matchup the Trojans squeaked out of there with a win after going down 14-0 early. No. 13 USC avoided the upset despite two fumbles and in large part due to Matt Barkley’s 300-yard, three touchdown performance. Oh, and Marquise Lee had his third best performance as a Trojan with a whopping 192 receiving yards too. That may have helped

Matt Barkley led the Trojans to their last Thursday night win against Cal. (via LA Times)
Matt Barkley led the Trojans to their last Thursday night win against Cal. (via LA Times)

SEE ALSO: Steve Sarkisian Risking USC Players For Stats Is Dangerous

USC at Hawaii (2013)

Final Score: 30-13, W

The Trojans opened up their 2013 campaign with a quarterback controversy between Kessler and now-backup Max Wittek. Kessler got the brunt of the snaps, but it was Marqise Lee who shined in this one as he amassed 108 receiving yards. Add on a combined 183 rushing yards from Tre Madden and Justin Davis, a pick-6 from Josh Shaw (yes, that Josh Shaw) and three Andre Heidari field goals and the Trojans beat the Warriors handily on the island.

USC vs. Arizona (2013)

Final Score: 38-31, W

Last year’s historic matchup saw the Trojans jump out to an early lead at the courtesy of Cody Kessler touchdown passes, Nelson Agholor punt returns and Buck Allen touchdown runs. Much like this year. But then, the Trojans failed to put the game away and allowed the Wildcats to get back in it (much like this year). Thankfully, the Trojan defense staved off the comeback and USC had its first win under Coach Ed Orgeron’s interim regime.

The Final Tally:

Nine wins, one loss.

35.4 points scored per game. 22.3 points allowed per game.

So, here I am breaking the aforementioned rules, but sue me, eight out of ten games with 30 or more points? This looks like a trend to me, as meaningless as it may or may not be.

If the stage and the stakes do augment in these Thursday night matchups, then the Trojans have certainly stepped up to the prime time task.

Barring the catastrophe at Corvallis in 2008, USC has clearly been able to do two things successfully and consistently in Thursday night games: Score and win.

To put the scoring into some form of perspective, this year, the Trojans have averaged 34.9 points per game and opponents have scored an average of 22.6 points per game on them. That pair of numbers is eerily similar to the 35.4 points for and 22.3 points against from all the Thursday duels. However though there is no apparent connection between the two sets of games, and the records (9-1 in the Thursday games, 6-3 this season), unlike the numbers, are very different.

As if it wasn’t clear through nine games, it bears saying one more time that this has been a wild season indeed.

And given the madness that usually takes place in these midweek ordeals, we may have yet to experience the wildest of them all.

But the day is not the only thing that makes this game significant. Thursday not only brings the second-ever Thursday night game to the Coliseum, it also brings the Trojans an ultimatum. A real one.  

SEE ALSO: Student-Athletes Must Focus On Careers Outside On Sports

This time, there is no mathematical possibility to fall back on. However diminutive their Pac-12 South chances may be at this point, the Trojans have not yet ceased to exist. But lose on Thursday and they can bid those slim chances adieu.

But win on Thursday and they’ll continue this trend of weekday success. Win on Thursday and the plug on this season can stay un-pulled for one more week. Win on Thursday and the Trojans don’t have to be cast as mere spoilers in their games against UCLA or Notre Dame. Win on Thursday, when the lights are brightest and the stage is all but exclusively their own, and they can earn back some credibility.

But most of all, and above all, win on Thursday and USC's season stays alive.

Much like the floodlights serve to illuminate the field in the midst of the black sky and the dark night, a win will serve to illuminate the now-bleak path to success that his roller coaster of a season has thrust upon this team.

A win will retrieve the Trojans from the near-precipice of irrelevance and give them confidence to tread on with much more crucial games looming ahead.

A win on Thursday and this midweek appetizer may just turn into the best-tasting main course.

 Reach Staff Reporter Paolo Uggetti here or follow him on Twitter.


 

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