2016 Alabama Preview
The truth behind Max Browne being named the starting QB: Redshirt Junior Max Browne is a good quarterback. In fact, players have told me he is better than Cody Kessler and throws a pro level deep ball. However, from players, coaches and scouts, the words and statements that describe redshirt Freshman Sam Darnold are “Special”, “Different”, “Tim Tebow but with an arm”, “gamer”. When the decision was made to go with Max Browne as the starter vs. Alabama, Clay Helton asked the major assistant coaches for their opinion and the majority felt Darnold won the competition and gives them the best chance to win. However, along those lines, they wanted to reward Max Browne for his hard work in the program and he was deserving of this opportunity. They also did not want to lose Browne to a possible transfer situation in which he would be immediately eligible at another school since he has graduated. Matt Fink, the third string QB, is light-years behind both Browne and Darnold as if they lost Browne, they wouldn’t have a viable Pac-12 level back-up.
Clay Helton has known since the spring that he would go with Browne to start the season regardless of what the other coaches felt. He also wanted to show recruits that loyalty matters at USC. It was the right decision. If Browne responds well, he will be a 1st or 2nd round NFL prospect and Darnold will take over next season. If he struggles, it allows for Helton to transition in another direction after a tough slate of early games. That said, Darnold will see the field against Alabama and don’t be surprised if it is more than what Helton has stated in the media.
The major concern with Browne: Though Browne has improved his ability to read defenses, he still struggles with checking down to his secondary options. He tends to get happy feet and will rush his throws to secondary targets. As the coach who recruited him to SC, Lane Kiffin is well aware of this trait.
Don't expect much from the true freshman: Though SC had a solid recruiting class, I haven’t heard any scouts or observers mention standout performances like when Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Cameron Smith, etc walked on campus. The three main names that I have heard, but with some reservation in terms of readiness, are:
Defensive End Oluwole Betiku #99:He is a beast and his physical traits are amazing. He is raw but he will definitely rotate in on the thin defensive line. As his technique improves this season, his role should increase and the feeling is he will be a very solid player next year.
Wide Receiver Michael Pittman #6: Coaches love his work ethic and precise route running. The QB’s have developed a lot of trust in him. Enrolling early has paid big dividends and he is tied for second on the depth chart. He could be special and with an injury or two on the wide-out front, he could emerge with a Cameron Smith type year. He will also contribute on special teams.
Offensive Lineman E.J. Price #75: With Chad Wheeler injured, E.J. is now the back-up at left tackle and has done a solid job in camp. Not quite ready for the big-time and will struggle but if Wheeler doesn’t return, he will be forced into action. His long-term future looks good.
Others that might see the field- Defensive End Conner Murphy, Tight End Cary Angeline and Defensive Back Jack Jones
**If any other freshman see much playing time this year it will be due to injuries and not a welcome site to SC fans.
The return of the tight end: SC will finally utilize the solid talent they have recruited at tight end. This will be a key weapon if they are going to have any success against Alabama. #88 Daniel Imatorbhebhe, a 6’4 transfer from Florida who redshirted last year, is the real deal and can stretch the field like Dominique Byrd. His blocking is a little weak but returning TE’s Tyler Petite and Taylor McNamara are complete tight ends that block well and will provide good mid-range targets for Browne and Darnold.
Hopefully Clay listens to his younger brother: Tyson Helton is a well-regarded offensive game planner and is known for putting together innovative plays that maximize the personnel on the field. He was one of the most important additions to the new coaching staff. He thinks outside of the box and offers a completely different look to older brother Clay’s ground and pound approach. Hopefully they fuse the two styles together and open things up a bit. I have heard some rumblings about a wild-cat package with Darnold that is more of a passing option…Some innovation will be needed to counter Alabama’s defensive talent.
Keys to the Alabama game: You can read a basic analysis talking about players, etc anywhere on the internet (WeAreSC and USCtrojans.com provide plenty of in-depth analysis) so this season we are going to touch on a few key points for the upcoming game that really stand out:
Offensively, SC will need to try and get some sort of running game going but this is not a game that SC will win in the trenches by running to set up the pass. Sarkisian didn’t recruit smash mouth football players and Helton needs to adapt to the players he has. If SC’s offensive line and backs can protect Max Browne, they have to take plenty of shots down the field. SC’s only real advantage is against the Bama secondary and the speed at tight end against a Bama linebacker. Browne’s strength is the middle deep to deep ball. They need to let it fly in non-obvious pass situations. They also need to let Darnold throw some when Bama stacks the box to stop him as a runner. I am all for grinding it out against teams in which they have a physical advantage but that is not the case this week.
Defensively, this is going to come down to whether SC’s defensive line and blitz packages can force Bama to make its new starting QB have to make plays. If not, Kiffin and company will simply try to run for 300+yards on SC and just wear the defense down. Having Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator is a definite upgrade but it won’t matter if they can’t stop the run. Finally, Special Teams will need to make some plays to give the offense good field position. SC can’t afford to be pinned deep in Alabama territory as Helton will get conservative with play calling and Bama probably ends up with great field position after a 3 and out.
SC’s mis-management of the Osa Masina sexual assault investigation: With all of the recent and deserved media attention about the major problem this country is having with college sexual assault, most recently highlighted by the cover-up of sexual assaults by football players at Baylor University and a Stanford swimmer raping an unconscious woman, how can an institution as prestigious as SC not have the investigative knowledge and or connections to know that the situation with Osa Masina was at worst brutally alarming, and at best, a concocted story that still involves illegal drug and alcohol abuse?
Clay Helton and Lynn Swann should have been out in front of this and made a strong statement earlier this week that the University is suspending him from all team activities until they have more information. Allowing him to practice and participate in team activities when you had to have known some of the details would get out, is shameful.
Even if eventually cleared, these incidents clearly involve heavy drug and alcohol use and I am not saying you kick him out of school or even off the team since no charges have been filed…but it looks like a disturbing pattern is/was emerging with his behavior. Even if these incidents are found to be consensual, is this the type of individual you want representing SC?
If Clay Helton is the leader and disciplinarian necessary to return SC back to the glory days, he needs to take a firm stance on issues like this. In the face of a major epidemic on college campuses, SC needs to be a leader in the fight against this problem and not sit back and be a passive observer.
Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-Bits: *RB’s Ronald Jones and Justin Davis have both really improved as pass catchers and seeing them as potential options on short passes is something to keep an eye on. They also need to get Aca’Cedric Ware on the field. He has a real knack for shaking a tackler loose and getting to the second level.
*Alabama will play two QB’s vs. SC in the first half with Cooper Bateman probably getting the starting nod over Blake Bortels.
*OT Chad Wheeler will probably give it a go but it might be worth not playing him and getting him completely healthy for the Pac-12 schedule.
*Expect the offensive line to be pretty good with OL Coach Callaway leading the way. I am hearing OL Viane Talamaivao is turning into a big-time pro prospect.
*Everyone talks about how tough the early season is for SC but it is the final four games (Oregon, Washington, UCLA and Notre Dame) that is the most daunting.