• John Skinner

Inside dirt and prep for Texas

Offensive line leadership woes continue- There were rumblings toward the end of last season that Helton was facing administrative pressure in the off-season to replace OL coach Neil Calloway. However, Helton kept him on staff. Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, expect a new offensive line coach (probably the current running backs coach Tim Drevno who was recently the line coach at Michigan) as Calloway has talked about retiring and/or Helton will have to go in a new direction. Thus far, the offensive line has not improved as expected with the level of talent they possess and appear to continually struggle with winning the pad level battle at the line of scrimmage, a common theme last season.

Biggie stepped up vs. Stanford and has to do it again- Hats off to “Biggie” Inman Marshall for doing a very good job containing Stanford WR Arcega Whiteside (4 rec/15 yards). It is great to see his confidence back and he will have to rise to the challenge again as he will either face-off with 6’6 Texas WR Collin Johnson, who torched the Trojans for seven catches and 191 yards last year or Ehlinger’s top target this year, 6’4 slot receiver Jordan Humphrey. If Biggie can produce another lock-down effort, the SC defense should flourish against a mediocre Texas offense.

Two key factors for a victory over Texas- *Defense needs to create turnovers - The defense has had a solid start to the season but it needs to step up in forcing turnovers, especially against Texas dual-threat QB Sam Ehlinger. Though Ehlinger has only been sacked twice this season, Texas has not faced a defense nearly as talented as the Trojans, and with injury issues along the Texas offensive line, SC should be able to potentially match the five sacks they had last year against Texas. Though Ehlinger has the ability to run, he is known for forcing throws under pressure and SC needs to capitalize on this and convert turnover opportunities.

*Offense has to convert touchdowns- On the offensive side of the ball, the Trojans have crossed the opponents’ 50-yard line 16 times and have scored just four touchdowns. Furthermore, SC has recorded eight drives with eight or more plays and come away with just one touchdown. This trend has to reverse for the Trojans season to get back on track.

Look for more RB Stephen Carr to get more touches- Though RB Aca’Cedric Ware is having a solid season (leads the Pac-12 with eight carries of at least ten yards), look for the Trojans to increase the workload of its top playmaker out of the backfield, Stephen Carr. He is fully recovered from his off-season back surgery and SC will look to take more advantage of his dynamic abilities. Don’t be surprised to see him as more of a receiving target as well…especially when SC in the two-back set. SC worked diligently on getting the ball out quicker to help Daniels settle into a rhythm.

Playoff atmosphere tonight in Austin- Simply put, this game has a must win feel for both teams tonight in front of 100,000. Starting the season 1-2 for either one of these college football blue-bloods will create some serious anxiety for the fan base of the losing team.

Pre-season concerns about Daniels showed vs. Stanford- Prior to the season we voiced concerns about how JT Daniels ( vs. Stanford 16/34, 215 yards) would be able to handle the physicality of the college game after being so well protected in high school, and no longer playing behind a dominant offensive line. It is totally expected for JT to experience a steep learning curve as a true freshman starter and it showed against his first real test. After a few initial hits, he was pulled from the game with a hand injury and after that, he routinely threw off his back foot while dropping the angle of his throwing motion, both of which negatively impacted his throwing ability. Daniels will fix and improve upon these issues but it could take longer than expected mentally. Adjusting to the chaos and speed of the college game without an elite offensive line will be a massive hurdle to overcome and it is extremely important he does not lose the confidence/swagger that made him a 5-star recruit. Also, expectations need to be tempered a bit. He has an amazing football mind and projects to be a very good college QB. However, when projecting him as a pro, he is undersized (not the listed 6’3) and does not possess a top shelf arm.

Darnold was a once in a generation type talent- SC and specifically Clay Helton and his coaching staff were extremely blessed to have Sam Darnold. In retrospect, it is a shame they could not capitalize on his talent and reach the college football playoff. It was a fantastic run (Rose and Cotton Bowls) but Darnold overcame the deficiencies of the offensive structure with amazing improvisational play to help SC achieve at that level. Where would SC have ended up without him during those seasons? Those who were critical of some of Darnold’s turnovers last year may now have a better understanding of what he was dealing with.

Helton without Darnold- Per the dean of Pac-12 writers Jon Wilner (the best follow when it comes to Pac-12 sports), the Trojans have played seven games without Darnold as the starter and in those games, USC is 2-5 overall and 0-5 against Power Five competition. SC has averaged 12.4 points against the Power Five opponents, lost by 10+ points four times and scored one or zero touchdowns three times.

Wilner note Part II- SC Football brand strength ranking- Another note that Wilner passed along this week- SC ranks 18th nationally in a recent Forbes study of the value of college football programs, with $87 million revenue and a profit of $47 million, despite its rich football history and being situated in the nation’s second largest media market. Texas ranks second nationally with $133 million in revenue and $87 million in profit. Oregon actually leads the Pac-12 ranking 12th with a $54 million profit. Right behind SC was Washington coming in at 19th with a $36 million dollar profit.

Barring complete collapse- Helton will lead SC in 2019- Unless the season completely falls apart and SC has a sub .500 record, Helton will be given another season to right the ship. Stability is really important to the University on a macro level and the wounds of the Sarkisian hire are still fresh. Plus, Helton did have two straight double-digit win seasons and has done exactly what the University wanted in terms of his leadership style. The only other issue that could create problems for Helton is if another player has a University discipline problem and that combined with a sub-par season could prompt a change.

Betting Info- Texas is currently a 3.5 point favorite and the over/under is set at 48. Smart money appears to like the under with both offenses struggling and rain in the forecast for the first half. The total has gone under in 18 of the last 22 Texas games while the total has gone under in seven of the past nine Trojan games. SC is 3-12-1 in its last sixteen games against the spread and has lost by double digits in each of the last three games it was an underdog.

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

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-bits-

* Athletic tight end Josh Falo should be back and give the position the dynamic playmaker it desperately needs.

*With freshman safety Isiah Pola-Mao (dislocated shoulder) most likely out for a few weeks, the coaching staff is moving freshman cornerback Chase Williams to safety to help provide some much needed depth as they only had three scholarship safeties available against Stanford after Pola-Mao went down.

*After getting five sacks against UNLV and leading the nation in sacks last season, SC did not sack Stanford QB KJ Costello.

*A Texas win on Saturday would be the programs 900th overall. The 800th win- the 2006 national championship rose bowl victory over the Trojans.

*After his first pass was a pick-six in the NFL, Sam Darnold completed 18 of his next 20 passes. . .you can’t teach that.