• John Skinner

Inside dirt and prep for Colorado


Bye week “self scout” huge eye opener for coaches- The coaching staff did a lot of self-scouting during the bye week and obviously were not happy with what they saw. However, many of the troublesome issues can be addressed from both a player and coaching perspective. The Trojans had a great week of practice and we should see some positive adjustments this week…or the coaching staff will face even more criticism. The staff didn’t have this opportunity last year since they didn’t have a bye week until the week before the Pac-12 championship game.


Self-Scout Part 2- We will see more aggressiveness on both sides of the ball- Offensively, OC Tee Martin feels QB J.T. Daniels is ready to take the next step and we should see some new offensive wrinkles to get the ball more consistently into the hands of the biggest playmakers. They are also focusing on running more of the two-back formations they have had the most success with this season.


Defensively, the self-scout showed they have underwhelmed in creating initial pressure and getting to the QB. The Trojans have only nine sacks through five games, with LB Porter Gustin accounting for 5.5 of them. They had 16 by this point last year and ended up leading the nation with 46. They are only on pace for 25 this year. DC Clancy Pendergast initially thought the defensive line was talented enough to allow him to not blitz as much which would help cut-down on giving up big plays (one of the worst in the nation last year at giving up plays for more than 20 yards) but the defensive line has surprisingly struggled. Concerns with safety depth did not help either. That said, the Trojans will be introducing a variety of new blitz packages to shake things up and look to create more turnover opportunities.


Self-Scout Part 3- If the Trojans don’t come out with a disciplined performance against the Buffaloes, it will be another negative indictment against the current coaching staff. SC was atrocious from a discipline perspective against Arizona with 18 penalties for 169 yards. The game was un-watchable at times.


Expect the Trojans to create more turnovers- Through five games, they have only forced three turnovers which puts them near the bottom of all FBS teams in the category. At the same time, they have broken-up a nation-high 33 passes. Typically, you should turn 21% of these into interceptions, meaning SC should have seven and not one. With more blitz packages being introduced this week and considering the law of averages on pass-break-ups, look for the defense to be more successful in this area.


Program physicality needs to ramp up- When the Trojans had a limited roster, they had to limit physicality in practices. SC still seems to operate in that manner. An NFL scout repeatedly tells me that SC is back to normal depth levels, in fact, they have more depth than most Pac-12 team and the coaches and strength/conditioning need to re-adjust.


Tough decision on whether to play LB Cameron Smith- Defensive leader Cameron Smith has a hamstring strain and is 50/50 for tonight’s game with #19 Colorado. Not properly resting/rehabbing a hamstring injury easily turns into a chronic problem that can severely limit a star players effectiveness for a long period. The odds are fairly high that if he plays, he could further injure the hamstring and definitely be out three to four weeks. At the same time, his presence would be a key factor in slowing down Colorado’s offensive attack and this is a must win game for the Trojans. Decisions, Decisions…


Iman “Biggie Marshalls biggest challenge of the year- Sophomore Colorado WR Leviska Shenault Jr.- Shenault Jr. is quickly showing the country why Alabama was very disappointed that Shenault Jr. turned them down and chose Colorado. He has had a red-hot start to the year and is currently averaging over 140 yards receiving on 10 catches per game. He had 13 receptions and 127 yards for two receiving touchdowns and found the end zone twice more rushing the ball. The Buffaloes will line him up at WR, RB and QB. Biggie will draw the match-up with Shenault Jr. the majority of the time and another opportunity to increase his draft stock. Marshall has consistently performed well this year against the opponents’ top receivers. Multiple pro scouts have stated that Shenault Jr. is “special” and on another level. If the Trojans are not able to slow down his big play ability, they will most likely lose the game.


Shenault Jr. Part 2- According to Pro Football Focus, he’s averaging 9.2 yards after the catch, leading the nation in both receiving yards and receptions per game. He has a full 2.0 catches per game more than the No. 2 WR on the list, and 17.4 more receiving yards per contest than anyone else. At this point, he is a legit Heisman contender.


Wrapping up the Bubba Bolden situation- Though Bubba Bolden came out this week and stated that he was essentially given a multi-year suspension for one incident, we have heard from multiple sources that he had numerous violations over the past year. The main situation that ultimately led to him being removed from the team involved other student athletes and those with strong connections/ties to the University. Ultimately, this is a win-win situation for both parties. Bolden can transfer to another strong football program with nothing truly damaging on his record and SC can move on with clarity in terms of the future of the roster.


Best/worst Pro Football Focus grades defensive- (85+ is NFL caliber/80+ Very good)- ILB Levi Jones was the only player to receive an 80+ score with 80.2. Jones was thrust into the starting lineup in the second half after the injury to starter John Houston, and he did not disappoint. Some practice observers have strongly felt that Jones should have been playing more since the beginning of the season. The defensive secondary had a rough night (thankfully Tate doesn’t throw it well) with CB Olaijah Griffin grading at 48.8, CB Iman “Biggie” Marshall at 58.4 and S Talanoa Hufanga checking in at a team worst 45.4. Any grade below 60 is considered poor.

Best/worst Pro Football Focus grades offense- Freshman QB JT Daniels scored an impressive 86.2, which is the highest offensive grade for any Trojan this season. He also had a 90.0 pass grade. Daniels previous top grade was a 69.2 against UNLV. Daniels pulled off his NFL like score despite WR’s Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr. grading out at just 57.3 and 50.7. Tight End Tyler Petite was the worst offensive performer with a 48.9 grade. This has become a recurring theme with Petite.


Betting Preview- The oddsmakers are fairly confident the Trojans will take care of business against the undefeated Buffaloes as they opened as a 7 point favorite, despite being 1-4 against the spread (ATS) and Colorado being 4-1 ATS. However, the combined win total of the Buffs opponents is 5-17 and SC is riding an 18-game winning streak at the Coliseum and have a perfect 12-0 record against Colorado. SC is 5-14 ATS going back to last season. SC is 0-4 ATS in their last four home games.


Extensive Game Preview- Click here for Tom Haire’s extensive gave preview via uscfootball.com


Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-Bits:

*Colorado Junior quarterback Steven Montez is ranked second in completion percentage behind Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.


*Defensively, Colorado appears to be above average but appear to struggle defending against the run as they give up 154 yards on the ground per game. Since they have played a weak schedule we don’t really know how good they are.


*Colorado is a second-half team, outscoring its opponents 88-34 and averaging 266 total yards in quarters three and four.


*SC’s remaining strength of schedule ranks 57th nationally, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, and is the easiest among the Pac-12 teams.


*Before the Arizona game, USC’s worst penalty performance was 21 infractions against Oregon in 1999.


*At some point during the season, we should see true freshman running back Markese Stepp get a few carries in potential tough yardage situations. He can play up to four games and still redshirt and he provides the Trojans with a big/bruising type back.