• John Skinner

Inside dirt and prep for Arizona

Inman “Biggie” Marshall getting deserved praise- CB Biggie Marshall has rebounded from a tough 2017 campaign to be the main bright spot of the defense. Over the past three games, he has mostly shut down highly touted receiving targets and starting to garner “All-American” type praise. This is impressive considering his most comfortable position is Safety.

More disciplined football will lead to Pac-12 South championship- Throughout the season the Trojans have continually stunted momentum that could have completely changed the narrative of the game. Great programs clearly understand that you cannot consistently win with lots of penalties, bad snaps, poor 1-1 tackling and lineman not understanding blocking assignments. All of these things are coachable and correctible and with the amount of talent the Trojans possess, along with a very manageable schedule ahead, a Pac-12 South championship and opportunity to win the Pac-12 is still a very real possibility.

The offense MUST improve inside the opponents 40- When the USC offense gets to the opponent's 40-yard line, it scores just 3.77 points per drive, which is 115th out of 129 in the FBS. The offense is particularly bad from between the 21 and 30-yard lines, with a success rate of just 21.4%, ranking 125th out of 129 teams.

Daniels struggling with initial defensive reads- The offensive coaching staff has faced lots of deserved criticism over the past few seasons. However, it must be noted that QB JT Daniels is struggling with initial defensive reads and has been tricked a fair amount by opposing defenses. The offensive line is clearly having issues with getting a good push off the line, however, the Trojans have run the ball right into run blitzes that would be avoided with more experience at the QB position. This is another area that should improve throughout the season.

Both lines are struggling with the run game- Offensively, SC running backs are stopped before or at the line of scrimmage 22.5% of the time, good for 100th nationally. Defensively, they only stuff the run 17.7% of the time, ranking 91st in the country.

It is called tackle football for a reason- It was nice to see the Trojans finally spend more time in practice on tackling drills this week. Through four games they are averaging a 58.8 tackling grade per football focus. This grades out as “poor/below average” which is astonishing considering the talent they possess. For comparison, Georgia is #1 with a 92.7 tackling grade and Washington is the highest-graded Pac-12 team at 89.3. SC missed a season-high 17 tackles against the Cougars, so they are not trending in the right direction.

Tackle football part II- Arizona QB Khalil Tate and Running Back J.J. Taylor are two of the best in the country at forcing missed tackles. Taylor ranks 12th nationally among running backs in terms of avoiding/breaking tackles and ran for 284 yards last week in their 35-14 victory over Oregon State. In 2017, Tate was tied for 5th among QB’s in forcing missed tackles.

Pro football focus grades from the Washington State game- WR Tyler Vaughns was targeted ten times and hauled in seven receptions, grabbling three first down catches and having zero drops. His 82.0 grade (85 is NFL caliber) was his first above 70 on the season and we are starting to see a dynamic duo develop between Vaughn and Amon’ra St. Brown. Offensive lineman Andrew Voorhees, Chuma Edoga and Chris Brown were next with grades between 73 and 76. The tight ends Tyler Petite (52.6) and Josh Falo (55) continue to struggle and though JT Daniels had a solid statistical day, he graded below average with a 54.5 rating.

Defensively, LB Cameron Smith continued his consistent top-grade performances for SC and his 82.8 score was his best on the young season. Defensive End Jay Tufele finished with an 81.9 rating and was the Trojans most effective pass rusher with three QB hurries. Outside linebacker Porter Gustin graded out at a woeful 48.7.

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

Betting Preview- It is a battle of two programs disappointing alumni with poor showings against the spread! USC is a 3.5 point favorite and the game has an over/under of 60. The Trojans are 2-7 on the road in its last 9 games and 3-14-1 in their last 18 ATS. Arizona is 2-6-1 ATS in their past nine games and 1-4 in their last five ATS vs. the Trojans. The total has gone under in six of the past seven road games against Arizona. Arizona has a Sagarin rating of 61 while SC is 32nd and predicted to be a 7 point favorite on a neutral field, making them a 4.5 point favorite on the road.

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-Bits-

*Since Coach Clay Helton took over as interim coach in 2015, the Trojans are 18-0 at the Coliseum. They hold the second-longest active home winning streak in the nation. On the flip side, they are 10-12 overall outside of the Coliseum.

*SC is rated 125th out of 130 teams when it comes to special teams grades via Pro Football Focus. They moved up five spots this week as they rated last in the nation before last week’s game.

*The Arizona CB Lonzo Burns led the Pac-12 in interceptions last year and already has six pass break-ups this season.

*Freshman CB Olaijah Griffin will not start vs. Arizona (Isiah Langley) but might see the majority of the reps this week as he continues to impress the defensive coaches who are also hoping to finally get an interception on the season.