• John Skinner

Inside dirt and info heading into BYU

Helton and Harrell deserve praise for showing no hesitation with Slovis- When true freshman Kedon Slovis was surprisingly named the back-up to JT Daniels over qualified veterans Matt Fink and Jack Sears, quite a bit of criticism ensued and Sears even left the team. After Daniels suffered a season ending injury against Fresno State, the coaching staff never doubted its decision to go with Slovis. Furthermore, instead of employing a conservative game plan many thought they would, SC ran the Air-Raid at a prolific level and Slovis hit 84.8% of his passes for 377 yards and 3 TDs against the Cardinal, the most yards, TDs, completions and completion percentage by a USC true frosh in a debut. It also was the second most yards by a USC true freshman in any game, behind Barkley's 380 at Notre Dame in 2009. Slovis and his teammates deserve the positive attention they are receiving but not enough has been said about an embattled coaching staff having the fortitude to sticking to their new offensive identity in an aggressive manner with an untested true freshman leading the way.

Down 14-3 and a fumble...”here we go again”…not so…Trojans show fight- A major criticism of Trojan football since the Carroll era, with the exception of Sam Darnold’s first season at QB, has been the inability to fight through adversity and finish games. The Trojans players fought back and showed this year’s team may have the grit, leadership and resolve that was sorely missed last season. One game does not make a season but they did pass their first test and did not quit on a coach in the hot seat when down 17-3. The vibe in the Coliseum transformed late in the second quarter and created a buzz of positivity that has not been felt in a long time.

Besides some great throws…Slovis shows strong leadership and poise: The most impressive thing when analyzing Kedon’s performance last Saturday was his poise to play within himself and stay steady/calm and not force throws when his first options were not available. He was smooth when avoiding the rush and understands the importance of getting the ball to SC’s talented receivers in space where they can make more happen with their legs. From a leadership standpoint, down 17-3, he huddled the offense up and according to several players he told them they were going to score and make things happen. On the very next Trojan drive, Slovis delivered by completing a beautifully thrown deep ball for a touchdown. He energized and impressed his teammates in a manner they had not experienced nor expected from a true freshman.

Kudos to JT for staying engaged and mentoring Slovis- Despite dealing with a torn ACL, JT Daniels stepped up and mentored Slovis throughout game week and during the game. According to coaches and players, JT was very active with Slovis and “coach-like” and deserves some credit for preparing Slovis for his record setting performance.

Olalijah Griffin has a big night- Sophomore DB Olaijah Griffin had a standout performance against the Cardinals. He consistently shut down the receivers and tight ends he was matched up with and had four deflections. Three of his four tackles were run stops for short yardage. Nice to see this type of performance from the Trojans perceived weakest position group on defense. (credit Rich Connor for this info - @originalRichSC on twitter)

Pump the breaks…A different look at the Stanford game and why only a 3.5/4 point favorite at BYU?: One of the things that gets lost in the Trojans going on a 42-3 run to thump the Cardinal, is that Stanford scored only six points on four series in the Trojans red-zone after being up 14-3. The game may have had a vastly different outcome if Stanford had starting QB KJ Costello playing and punched the ball in the end zone. Stanford QB David Mills made some poor throws during this period.

The Trojans defense deserves some credit for thwarting those drives as well as the special teams for blocking one of the field goal attempts, but these squandered opportunities by Stanford should be noted in analyzing the SC victory.

Furthermore, oddsmakers opening line for the game had SC as only a 3.5 point favorite against an average BYU team expected to win about six games this season and Utah beat them 30-12 in Provo two weeks ago. BYU has a passionate fanbase making Provo a difficult place to play, especially for a true freshman QB in his first road start, but one would think the spread would be higher after coming off a 25 point victory over a then top 25 team. The “sharps” setting the betting lines aren’t sold on the Trojans yet and neither are the big bettors with the line only moving up ½ point to 4 during the week. The game sets up as a “trap game”, sandwiched in-between two big Pac-12 games and SC was just 2-4 on the road last year with those wins coming against teams with losing records- Oregon State and Arizona.

BYU Part II- BYU has defended the pass well this year, forcing both Utah and Tennessee to throw short and hold them to a combined 132.5 passer rating. Now, neither of those offenses have the talent the Trojans possess but this won’t be a walk in the park. Also, as Bill Connoly of ESPN points out, BYU held then UCLA freshman QB Josh Rosen to 11-23, 106 yards and 3 interceptions in his first true road game in Provo. On the flip side, SC should have big day on the ground as BYU has given up 252 rushing yards per game in their first two games.

BYU Part III- Gone are the days of a high-flying BYU offense. They have only scored 12 and 14 points in regulation (they scored an additional 10 in double overtime win vs. Tennessee.).

Extensive Game Preview- Here is a link to Tom Haire’s extensive game preview via uscfootball.com.

Swann out as AD...what to expect with the hire- It has been the worst kept secret in the college administrative world that Lynn Swann would be replaced by the end of the year. It was just a matter of the timing. Since Dr. Folt seems to have most of her leadership team in place, getting the ball rolling earlier was a priority so the new AD can be the face of the department while dealing with a myriad of issues over the next six to twelve months (i.e- admissions scandal, financial issues within the department, NCAA basketball investigation, possible changes in the football program, etc.).

One would expect the search committee to focus on bringing in an experienced fresh set of eyes with a strong athletic administrative background, great people skills and a marketing background as USC is competing in the most competitive sports market in Los Angeles history.

Devon Williams transfer portal situation- Williams was very frustrated after the Fresno State game for not being included in the receiver rotation. He was part of the rotation against Stanford but not at the level he was expecting having only one reception while true freshman Drake London was in on 44 offensive plays. Also, true freshman, 5-star stud WR Kyle Ford is finally on the way back after fully recovering from a torn ACL and is expected to work his way into the rotation which further contributes to the embarrassment of riches the Trojans have at the position. SC appears to have eight high-level receivers and that does not include the highly touted Bru McCoy who is still sidelined with what appears to be some type of auto-immune issue. Williams wants to consistently play and by entering the transfer portal now, he can attend a Junior College and be eligible at another Division 1 school next year.

Transfer Portal Part II- Rumors are flying that third string redshirt freshman RB Markese Stepp might enter the portal if he doesn’t get more opportunities. He has been frustrated with his lack of playing time after having successful spring and fall camps. Stepp is very talented but Vivae Malapeai and Stephen Carr have had a strong start to the year and are superior blockers. Stepp needs to be patient…both Carr and Malapeai have had injury issues in the past and Stepp could find himself playing significantly.

Betting Guide- The Trojans are a 4 point favorite and the over/under is 55.5. The Trojans are 5-2 in their last seven against the spread after winning by more than 20 points the previous week and since 2015, they are 7-4-1 against the spread as road favorites while BYU is 2-4 ATS as home underdog during that same span. ESPN’s football projection indicator gives BYU a 35% chance to win the game straight up. BYU is just 8-28 against top 25 teams since 2000. Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-bits-

* The Trojans were hit with eight penalties for 93 yards, handing Stanford six first downs. Trojans will need a disciplined effort in a hostile road environment.

*Defensive lineman Christian Rector injured his ankle vs. Stanford and is doubtful for the BYU game.

*Kedon Slovis was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and Pac-12 Freshman of the Week, while offensive tackle Austin Jackson was the Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week.

*BYU QB Zach Wilson doesn’t have a big arm but he’s a strong dual threat player who can get hot. Against Western Michigan last year, he went 18-18 for over 300 yards and 4 TD’s.

*USC is ranked No. 18 in the just-released Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education survey of U.S. colleges and universities. Within the West region, the USC ranked 3rd out of 122 institutions, behind Caltech and Stanford University. The annual ranking uses a set of comprehensive metrics to determine whether a college offers students sufficient resources to succeed, whether students feel challenged and engaged, whether the student body is diverse and international, and whether graduates succeed by paying off their loans and are able to find satisfying, high-paying jobs.