• John Skinner

Inside dirt and prep for ASU

Updated: Nov 3, 2018

Helton Update- The natives are restless and Clay Helton may very well be the SC version of Gene Chizik, the Auburn head coach who won a national title on the shoulders of Cam Newton before being out of a job two years later. However, do not expect Helton to be fired after the season unless the season truly spirals out of control…and even then it might not happen. The athletic department is not in a financial position to buy-out Helton’s recently re-negotiated contract along with the multi-year deals of Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast and Offensive Coordinator Tee Martin. It would take a significant amount of donor contributions, along with Board of Trustees approval, in a climate in which football is taking a major back-seat to the search for a new President, while also dealing with the Tyndall case. Furthermore, Helton is well liked and not even a full season removed from leading the Trojans to back-to-back New Year’s six bowl appearances while currently having a 27-10 overall record. If the athletic department does part ways with Helton after this season, the program will have had five head coaches in nine years, creating major stability issues and Lynn Swann/Steve Lopes will need a big-time hire lined up right after the season.

Helton Part II- Staff changes were expected after last season but it is guaranteed a staff shake-up will take place after this season. However, will Helton be able to attract the top-tier assistants needed to create a cultural shift? Like I stated last week, it is tough for a perceived lame-duck coach to pull that off. One name to keep an eye on should SC move-on from Tee Martin (though he has been SC’s best recruiter the past seven years), is current Rams assistant and former UCLA OC and interim head coach Jedd Fisch. He is highly regarded in coaching circles and could be a great fit for JT Daniels. Colin Cowherd is not shy in stating he thinks he would be a great potential head coach at SC and multiple sources think his friendship with Michigan DC Don Brown solidifies that. Would Helton be willing to hire his potential replacement?

Helton Part III- He is feeling the pressure so expect him to take on a much bigger role with play-calling.

Sears is known as a gamer and gets his shot- Redshirt freshman QB Jack Sears followed Sam Darnold at San Clemente High School and was a highly sought after recruit. He is a playmaker with a solid arm that can make things happen with his feet. In fact, QB Coach Bryan Ellis has stated he is even faster than Matt Fink. However, he has struggled with picking up the nuances of the Trojan offense and has never been a great practice player. Some practice observers feel that though he doesn’t have near the throwing touch of JT Daniels, he may actually be a better short-term fit for the offense with the ability to make more plays outside of the pocket and taking some pressure off the offensive line. It will be interesting to see if the simplified offensive approach with a dual threat QB will create a better performance or will it make them an even easier target for the aggressive Sun Devil defense. Either way, it is a good time for a shake-up of the stagnant offense.

Stats show JT needs a break- The Pro Football Focus advanced stats against Utah show that JT was 2 of 8 for 1 yard on passes between 0-20 yards, with both his interceptions coming on throws between 10-20 yards. The lack of an intermediate passing attack looms large. For the season, Daniels is 21 of 47 on passes between 10 and 20 yards with 1 TD and 5 interceptions. For the season, he is 17 of 50 for 649 yards, 5 TDs and 2 INTs on throws over 20 yards.

Statistically speaking- the scary truth about the SC rushing attack- Through eight weeks, the Trojans rank 115th among 130 FBS teams in rushing offense. Right now, they are on pace for the worst rushing year since the 2001 season, when they averaged 88 yards on the ground, and remains a huge drop-off from last season when they ranked 39th in the nation. Furthermore, the Trojans ranks 111th in rushing opportunity rate, the percentage of runs that gain at least 4 yards when available, a metric used to determine the “percentage of carries in which the line does its job.” They also rank 118th in stuff rate, at 24.4%, the percentage of carries stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. The “Power Success Rate”, which is the percentage of short-yardage runs on critical downs, i.e., third and fourth, which gain a first down or score a touchdown, is equally terrible with the Trojans succeeding at a rate of 55 percent, 114th in the country.

Offensive line has not been elite for years- Since the 2014 season, the Trojans have only produced 20 individual performances out of over 315 starts that have graded out at 80.0 (very good) or higher per Pro Football forecast. Individually, Zach Banner had five during the 2015 campaign. SC must heavily focus their recruiting and development efforts on the offensive and defensive lines as opposed to signing a plethora of receivers that are already stockpiled. Wide receivers aren’t very effective if the offensive line can’t block for the quarterback.

Offensive line Part II- In four offensive line statistics this season, SC ranks in the bottom 20 of the FBS. No school in the Pac-12 ranks lower in any single one of those stats…Not even Oregon State.

What you should know about ASU- They are not a great scoring team but have a solid defense and have been competitive in every game. They beat a solid Michigan State team 16-13 and we should expect a relatively low scoring game at the Coliseum. ASU give up 18.2 ppg and give up 23.2 ppg against FBS level competition. The top ASU offensive players are QB Manny Wilkins (63%, 7.8 ppc, 11 TD, 2 Int) who is a pass and run QB. He’s not a great runner but can definitely pick up big chunk of yards with his feet and has decent touch on deep balls. His top target is WR N’Keal Harry who is one of the best receivers in the conference and currently has 45 receptions for 572 yards and 5 TD’s. Linebacker Merlin Robertson and defensive back Jalen Harvey are the playmakers of the 3-3-5 defense. ASU will have a special teams advantage when it comes to punting and field goals.

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

Betting Preview- ASU has not lost by more than 7 points all season and they are 4-3 against the spread “ATS”. The Trojans (2-5 ATS) opened as a 6.5 point favorite but the spread has since fallen to 3.5 with the news that JT Daniels is not playing for the Trojans. SC is 1-4 ATS in its last five at home and ASU is 7-13-1 in its last 21 on the road. The over/under is 52. The total has gone under in four of ASU’s last six while the total has gone over in five of SC’s last seven games.

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-Bits

*SC missed 16 tackles against Utah, one shy of their season high of 17 against Washington State.

*LB/Captain Cameron Smith is out for the ASU game. True freshman Palaie Gaoteote will start. He had 11 and 9 tackles respectively in the past two games in which he started in place of Smith.

*SC averages 3.4 points in the third quarter ranking 118th out of 130 FBS teams. If you take out the defensive touchdown scored, they would drop to 125th and they have been shut out in four of seven third quarters this season…a staple of the Carroll era was halftime adjustments and owning the third quarter.

*The Trojans are averaging runs of nearly 36 minutes per game in which they fail to score a touchdown. Against Stanford it was 60 minutes, against Texas it was 45 minutes, and against Utah it was 41 minutes.

#USCFOOTBALL #FIghton #Pac12