• John Skinner

Inside dirt heading into Oregon State

Updated: Nov 10, 2018

Clearly understanding the Helton situation- We talked about this last week but it bears repeating. It must be clearly understood that Helton and various staff members were given healthy extensions last season which makes a buy-out extremely expensive and daunting for the athletic department. Also, they are very hesitant to have a fifth head coach in ten years.

Expect SC to retain Helton with staff changes. The athletic department will point to what Brian Kelly has done at Notre Dame after going 4-8 in 2016 (losing to SC 45-27 to end season) and what Mark Stoops is doing at Kentucky (7-1) this year after Kentucky fans wanted him fired. It is also tough for an interim President to sign off on the most expensive hire at a University.

Kiffin makes good points when it comes to Helton/USC-In an interview with the LA Times, Lane Kiffin talked about how important having an experienced QB is along with the crazy expectations that come when you win like SC did under Peter Carroll. “USC is maybe one of those five places in the country where the standard is so high, with what Coach [Pete Carroll] did in his run, which was unbelievable, playing in three straight national championships, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime type thing. That was a rare run, one of the greatest runs in the history of college football. The expectation to think that’s going to happen all the time is crazy.”

“You see places go through this,” Kiffin said. “Sometimes it’s 20, 25 years. Alabama, I was there to watch the history of that. Since Bear Bryant, they’ve been waiting for Bear to come back, then Nick Saban is doing the same thing 30, 40 years later.”

"People forget how valuable the quarterback is, and how much better they get. Here’s USC going through it with a freshman, and Carson Palmer started 16-16 there. Nobody remembers that. In Matt [Barkley’s] first year, that was Coach’s worst year by far since the first year there because he was a freshman. You go to a freshman, it’s not going to be the same, no matter how good the kid’s eventually going to be.”

Now if things really go off the rails- Enter JDR- If the Trojans finish the final four games with a 1-3 record and it appears Helton has completely lost the locker room, the athletic department might be forced to make a move with the Coliseum renovation fully debuting next season and donors being extremely restless. Though speculation right now is pointless, should this scenario happen, the logical move would be to have Jack Del Rio take over shortly after the Notre Dame game. This would give him time to build a recruiting class and implement his culture heading into spring practice. SC would also be getting a respected NFL coach at a discount since the Raiders owe him $5M per year through 2021.

JDR Part II- Del Rio is not the typical “inside SC” hire that some perceive him to be. None of his coaching ties are through SC. Much like Pete Carroll, many of his former NFL players think his strengths as a coach would allow him to thrive as a college coach and he has a captivating presence/energy which caught the attention of boosters and impressed at a high-level during his USC Hall of Fame induction in 2015. He pulled that off with Pete Carroll in the room which is not easy to do. His overall NFL record is mediocre but he had playoff runs in both Jacksonville and Oakland.

According to sources close to Del Rio, the timing is finally right to take over the program from both a personal and professional standpoint. He interviewed when the decision was made to go with Sark, which didn’t sit well with him, and he was supposedly offered the job after Sark’s tenure, but declined as he had just turned the Raiders into a playoff team. He is known for being extremely organized and efficient with a former coaching colleague stating it is “Saban-like. His lack of college coaching experience would need to be addressed in the same way it was when Carroll took over the program. Teaming him up with a dymanic offensive mind like Rams offensive assistant Jedd Fisch (former Michigan and UCLA OC) could create quite the tandem.

Jack Sears proves the “gamer” moniker- Once Sears shook off the rust and relaxed, he not only played well but also had some fans thinking he might be a better fit than Daniels with a sub-par offensive line. His ability to get outside the pocket and throw on the run took some pressure off the maligned offensive line. Sears is a team-first guy who was only named third string because Fink had more experience. Expect Sears to finish the season as the back-up even when Fink returns. Sears also gave Helton confidence that in his ability to be a spark-plug when Daniels is struggling. Daniels has yet to lead the team back after falling behind whereas Sears led the Trojans back from a 24-7 deficit to take the lead and had a perfectly thrown deep ball to Tyler Vaughns not been poked away by an ASU defensive back, it would have been a 35-24 lead and a probable Trojan victory.

Michael Pittman Jr. catching the eye of NFL scouts- Junior WR Michael Pittman Jr.’s physical receiving style is exciting several NFL scouts that intently follow the Trojans. He is starting to realize the potential that had him ranked as one of the top receivers in the country coming out of high school. He is projecting as a third round pick in the 2019 NFL draft and could climb into the second round with a strong finish to the season and a good combine.

Drevno’s style a welcome change for the offensive line- It is probably too late to make much of a difference but the move of Tim Drevno to coaching the offensive line this week was well received by the offensive line. He has a more energetic and patient coaching style compared to Callaway who had more of an old-school mentality that didn’t connect well with the players. This was a move that was going to be made at the end of the season anyway as Callaway has talked about retiring the past few years.

How will the demotion of Tee Martin impact the team?- Tee Martin has been one of the programs best recruiters over the past five years and is highly thought of by the players. Though Martin is towing the company line about this situation, this is a fragile situation that some in the college football world think could fracture the locker room when the team faces adversity in the coming weeks.

Failure of 2012 offensive line recruiting highlighted by Wilner- Last week we mentioned how poor the offensive line has been since 2014 with only 20 individual performances out of over 315 starts grading out at 80.0 (very good) or higher per Pro Football forecast. This week, the godfather of the Pac-12 media Jon Wilner, stated that after talking to various extremely well-versed sources, it all began to unravel for SC on signing day in 2012. On that day, Stanford landed Kyle Murphy, Andrus Peat and Joshua Garnett, three of the top six offensive line prospects in the country and all three were eventually drafted with Peat and Garnett going in the first round. Wilner noted that all three were all from the Pac-12 footprint and heavily recruited by SC. Since 2012, SC has only produced two offensive line draft picks- Zach Banner and Max Tuerk. Stanford had more draft picks in one recruiting class than four of SC’s classes combined. One factor worth mentioning is that SC was still dealing with NCAA sanctions in 2012, hindering some of their recruiting efforts.

Hoops team is getting healthier and opens the season Tuesday night- The men’s basketball team is going to be a fun watch this season but it might take a little bit of time to get going. They only had five players, including walk-ons, available for a scrimmage last Saturday against San Diego State. However, they will be entering the game against Robert Morris (8 PM Galen Center) with at least 10 healthy players. Senior captain Bennie Boatright should be ready to go in a few weeks and true freshman four-star prospect Elijah Weaver who caught the eye of NBA scouts this summer, should be ready to go when conference play rolls around. Practice observers feel that junior guard Jonah Matthews will have a great season. He was named to the Pac-12 All-Tournament team at the end of the season and combined with true freshman five-star recruit Kevin Porter, the Trojans will have some of the best guards in the conference. Sophomore Chuck O’ Bannon Jr. has matured and they will need consistent positive contributions from him and fellow sophomore Jordan Usher to finish in the top 1/3 of the conference. Look for junior forward Nikola Rakocevic to potentially challenge for a second team All-Pac 12 position. This is a potential NCAA tournament level team that could start slow but should be playing its best basketball toward the end of the season.

Oregon State has momentum but talent difference is massive- The Beavers (2-5) snapped a 22-game road losing streak last week with a 41-34 victory at Colorado. The Beavers did it in dramatic fashion coming back from a 34-3 deficit in the second half. The Trojans have the talent advantage but Oregon State now has a level of belief they didn’t have before. QB Jake Luton threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns in just one half of play. Running back Jermar Jefferson has already run for 1,000 yards (6.4 yards per carry, 12 TD’s, 17 receptions) and is the focal point of their offense. Defensively, they are very weak and SC’s receiving core should dominate when given the opportunity. The offensive coaches are confident they will have a solid performance Saturday night. It isn’t a coincidence the play-calling duties were changed before playing their weakest opponent on the schedule. The Trojans should roll in Corvallis tonight.

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

Betting Info- Two teams struggling mightily against the spread (ATS). The Trojans (2-6 ATS) are a 16 point favorite against the Beavers (3-5 ATS). The over/under is 63. SC is 2-9 ATS in its last 11 and 2-4 ATS in its last six against Oregon State. The Trojans are 1-4 ATS in its last five on the road. The total has gone over in four of SC’s last six games. OSU is 1-4 in its last five games and 1-4 ATS in their last five at home. The score has gone over in 10 of OSU’s last 12. The over seems to be a good bet in this one…

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-bits-

*Jack Sears overall Pro Football Focus Grade of 74.6 and 81.2 pass grade against Arizona State would rank as the second best performance by an SC QB this season despite it being the first time he has ever played in a college game.

*The Trojans are getting healthier with LB Cameron Smith and S Marvell Tell III returning to practice and expected to play tonight.

* Safety Talanoa Hufanga (No. 15) had a team-high 11 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss before breaking his collarbone late in the game Saturday. The safety position is extremely thin right now with walk-on Jordan McMillan likely to see the field this week.

*Random Pac-12 note- Washington State is perfect against the spread this year.