• John Skinner

Inside dirt and prep for Stanford

Solid debut for JT- Even if it was a pedestrian UNLV defense, JT Daniels had a good debut for a true freshman (22-35, 280 yards) and those snaps should really help him heading into the Stanford game. Daniels showed off a quick release, throws a very catchable ball while displaying a solid command of the offense. Obviously he needs to clean things up and check-down better but overall it was a good start.

Update on Safety Yikili Ross- Do not expect to see Ross rejoin the team despite the current depth issues at Safety. The way he left the team with the scene he created both on the practice field and behind closed doors makes it very tough on the coaching staff to bring him back and not lose the respect of some key players on the team. It is a shame this happened as Ross otherwise had a good reputation.

Latest on Bubba Bolden- Bolden is still taking classes and has been around the football team this week but remains indefinitely suspended. Do not expect him back on the team in the near future and he is most likely out for at least the rest of the season. I don’t have anything substantiated but have heard rumors of anger management issues from a verbal/threatening perspective that have come up multiple times and one in particular with a female athlete with several witnesses that is the source of the current investigation.

Pro Football Focus Grades Week 1- In the Pro Football Focus grading of individual offensive players vs. UNLV, SC did not have one offensive player who graded above 80 (meaning NFL caliber). RB Aca’Cedric Ware graded the best at 79.9, ranking 5th in the nation of all RB’s. Surprisingly, Sophomore RB Stephen Carr graded a woeful 55.8 (below average). Despite being only a true freshman, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown was second offensively with a 79.2 grade and an 82.2 receiving grade in his first college game. Fellow true freshman QB JT Daniels was 6th on team with a solid 67.7 rating.

Defensively, a player has to grade out at 85 or above to be considered for an NFL caliber performance. DE Christian Rector scored an 86.5 and was the only Trojan defender to achieve this level. He had the best pass rush grade on the team and finished with five pressures, second behind OLB Porter Gustin. CB Inman “Biggie” Marshall graded out at 75.5 and rated 33rd nationally. LB Cameron Smith graded out at 72 and Porter Gustin at 70. Two notable players that graded below average- NT Brandon Pili (63.4) and freshman S Isaiah Pola-Mao (63.1).

Pendergast is finally showing some faith in his depth- Over the last few seasons, DC Clancy Pendergast was reluctant to rotate too many players on defense and it was rare to see the 1st teamers sub out. Major powerhouses like Ohio State and Alabama are known to substitute frequently. Part of lack of rotations for SC has been due to the tail-end of the NCAA sanctions. However, Pendergast finally seems content with the depth and talent he has to work with. Against UNLV, SC defensive reserves played 287 defensive snaps outside of garbage time (source- Shotgun Spartling @ShotgunSpr) .The starters only played 59.9% of the defensive snaps after never being below 83% last year. The defensive snaps for the starters will go up against Stanford but this is a very positive sign going forward.

Wide receivers will play a huge role if SC is victorious Saturday: Amon-Ra St. Brown looks like the next great Trojan wideout and he will command a lot of attention Saturday. This should help open things up tor Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman. Each of them had off-days against UNLV but expect them to have big games on Saturday. Travon Sidney has taken another step in his development and both he and Velus Jones combine to provide a solid slot presence. Jones is developing into a fantastic down field blocker. The receiver position is no longer the weakness it was last year and Stanford secondary lost Safety Justin Reid and Cornerback Quinton Meeks to the NFL.

What could have been at wide receiver- Stud WR Deontay Burnett (NY Jets practice squad) went pro after last season, in part, because he strongly believed that Amon-Ra was going to come in and play at his position (slot) and he (Burnett) would be underutilized due to the connection between Amon-Ra and JT Daniels. However, Amon-Ra was never going to play the slot. He sees himself as an Antoino Brown type. Burnett may have gone pro regardless, but a few sources have stated the SC offensive coaching staff could have communicated better with Burnett about the situation and that it could have been a positive for his career.

SC finally uses the two-back set!- We were told multiple times last season the coaching staff wanted to implement more two-back sets to take advantage of the speed and depth at running back, but it was rarely seen in the games. Against the Rebels, SC had RB’s Aca’Cedric Ware and Vivae Malepeai on the field at the same time five times early in the fourth quarter and they gained 122 yards! In fact, two of JT Daniels biggest throws of the day (long TD to St. Brown and 41 yard pass to Sidney) happened with the two-back set. The six times SC used the two-back set, they gained 19.8 yards per play. SC needs to increase the use of this set, as it provides Daniels with more playmakers and helps make-up for the lack of a play-making tight end with Josh Falo still banged up.

“Biggie” Marshall vs. Arcega-Whiteside could define the winner- This is the closest thing you get to a prize fight on the football field and should be a tremendous match-up. Marshall is the Trojans best corner and in need of a standout performance to regain the five-star swagger he lost last year. Whiteside is 6’3 and has gone from being just a possession receiver to Stanford’s #1 wideout target and projecting as a high-level NFL draft pick. Against SDSU, Whiteside had six receptions for 226 yards and three touchdowns while consistently getting past the SDSU secondary. If Biggie is able to contain him and not deplete other defensive resources to help cover him, it will be a huge win for the SC defense and allow them to remain focused on slowing down the Heisman trophy candidate running back Bryce Love. If Biggie struggles, SC may have to score 35+ points to win and that is asking a lot of a true freshman QB in his first road start against one of the best defenses in the Pac-12.

Offensive and defensive lines must perform better- Both lines didn’t look nearly as dominant as they should have against inferior competition. Overall, both lines seemed a step slow and that will not get it done against two powerhouse programs in back-to-back road games. The defensive line must consistently get some type of penetration and pressure without having to routinely blitz and on the flip side, the offensive line better be ready for a blitz storm from both Stanford and Texas as they look to rattle JT Daniels early and often. Having Center Toa Lobendahn possibly back from injury will be a plus but he won’t be at full speed and Chuma Edoga (hip) and Austin Jackson (knee) both sat out Thursday’s practice.

Lack of championship focus continues to be an issue- We continue to hear multiple sources close to the program and in college football express concerns about the lack of focus/fire they see out of some of the Trojan players. Across the board, SC has top 5 level talent but seem to have a lack of understanding in terms of what it takes to consistently compete at the highest of levels when compared to national powerhouse programs. The good news is we have heard this is not the case with the top players from the 2018 recruiting class (i.e.- St. Brown, Griffin, Daniels and a few others) and it has improved over last season. The next eight quarters of football will prove whether SC is ready to be a national player or just a good Pac-12 team that underachieves for the talent they possess.

Betting Info- SC is a 5.5 point underdog (opened at 3.5) and SC lost both games last year (Notre Dame and Ohio State) by a wide margin when it was an underdog. SC is a horrific 3-11-1 against the spread in its last 15 games. In fact, SC has been one of the worst teams in the country against the spread, while Stanford has been one of the best. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, the Trojans are 17-24-1 ATS (41.5%), while the Cardinal are 25-16-1 (61%).

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

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-Bits-

*The Trojans haven’t defeated Stanford in Palo Alto since 2014 and haven’t won three in a row over the Cardinal since 2006.

*Stanford strong-armed sophomore QB KJ Costello showed a lot of growth toward the end of the 2017 season and continued that with an impressive 332 yard, 4 TD performance against a good San Diego State squad. This is the best the Stanford passing attack has looked in the past five years and with a legit Heisman level RB in Bryce Love, this could be the best offense in the Pac12.

*K Chase McGrath hit all five of his field goal attempts and tied the single-game record for made field goals against UNLV. It is great to have this consistency in the kicking game but the Trojans must perform better in the red zone.

*The main reason that SC and Stanford square off so early in the season is they both annually play Notre Dame later in the season, when all other Pac-12 schools exclusively play conference games.