• John Skinner

Inside dirt heading into Stanford

Link to the wonderful Austin Jackson piece on ESPN Gameday- If you missed this piece about left tackle Austin Jackson donating his bone marrow to his sister Autumn this morning, it is worth the time. FIGHT ON! – Austin Jackson Piece

Stanford game will show whether Trojans are truly tougher- Some in the media and many team observers categorized the Trojans performance last season and mentally and physically soft. New strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus turned up the heat in off-season workouts with constant competition in hopes of creating a tougher and grittier squad. With the loss of JT Daniels and the Trojans going into survival mode in the second half vs. Fresno State, it was a tough game to gauge improvement in this area. Stanford’s brand of smash mouth football will provide the barometer.

Stanford offensive line banged up and Clancy ready to dial up blitzes- Stanford junior offensive tackle Walker Little, a first team All-Pac-12 player, and All-American candidate, is out with a leg injury. This is a significant loss for the Cardinal and look for SC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to be far more aggressive then last week when they rarely blitzed or twisted.

Drake Jackson’s debut not getting the attention it deserves- Though Jackson was only credited with ½ sack and 1.5 tackle for losses, his impact in his first games as a true freshman, cannot be understated. Pro Football Focus graded him as the third-best defensive player for SC. He knocked two balls down at the line of scrimmage, set up a few others with sack opportunities after creating line of scrimmage penetration and seemed to be around the ball the whole game. He out-pursued some SC linebackers in tracking down receivers and running backs after they got through the line of scrimmage. Like most of the defense, he needs to work on finishing some tackles but once that happens, he appears to be a Leonard Williams type talent…maybe even better. Coaches and those around the program speak of his great attitude, tremendous motor and fantastic work ethic. Enjoy watching him over the next few years…a once-in-a-decade type talent that can help right the ship of SC football quickly.

LB Palaie Gaoteote showed why his playing time was limited last year- The potential of Gaoteote is off the charts…so much so that some have stated last year he deserved the famous #55. However, the sophomore had a rough night against Fresno State and mis-read a fair amount of plays, which was what kept him on the sidelines last year. This needs to improve quickly for the SC defense to perform at the level necessary to knock off four ranked opponents in the next five weeks.

Back-up Bowl at the Coliseum- Introducing Kedon Slovis - from 3-star to true freshman starting QB at USC- Slovis arrived in the spring with little fanfare (ranked #17 pocket passer in 2019 recruiting class). He quickly changed that perception with a strong arm and picking up Graham Harrell’s offense faster than Matt Fink and Jack Sears. His offensive coordinator in high school was Super Bowl wining QB Kurt Warner and most Arizona high school coaches felt he was an underrated high school QB.

In fact, Harrell has spoken so highly of Slovis that some felt Daniels may have had a short leash. The strong support of Harrell better not ring hollow as the Trojans are heading into a five game stretch featuring four ranked opponents. He truly needs to be the underrated QB that other major programs missed out on.

LA Times article- Slovis is eager to lead USC

Slovis Part II- Against an inexperienced USC secondary, Slovis was just 19-37 for 280 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns in the two fall camp scrimmages…

Introducing Stanford QB David Mills- Mills was #2 ranked pocket passer in the 2017 recruiting class that has been banged up over the past few years. David Shaw loves his arm and accuracy but footwork in the pocket in terms of avoiding the rush is a weakness.

Stanford CB Adebo one of the best in the nation- Last season, Stanford redshirt freshman #11 Paulson Adebo had 20 pass break-ups and 4 interceptions, leading to a 1st team All-Pac-12 selection. Last week against Northwestern he had another interception. A scout I have spoken to believes he might be the best in the nation. He will probably be matched up on St. Brown and will look to bait the Trojan signal caller into mistakes. Slovis has never faced a CB as talented as Adebo.

WR’s fantastic down-field blocking huge for the SC running game- Though the Trojans are running the Air-Raid offense, the running game is vital and as a healthy Stephen Carr and work-horse Vavae Malepai showed last week, they can be extremely productive. A key component to that is the down-field blocking of the wide-receivers. Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Pittman aren’t just great pass catchers, they are great perimeter blockers and helped spring some of the RB’s longer runs. This will be key as the Trojans break-in Slovis.

Running game Part II- Should Stephen Carr have another multiple TD game and over 150+ total yards, he will start garnering national attention. His first step and ability to make defenders miss will create quite the highlight reel. Carr is currently second in the conference in yards per carry (9.3) and #8 in the Pac-12 for receptions and tied for third nationally for running back receptions. Combining this with Malepeai’s tough running (his 134 yards vs. Fresno St. was 3rd best in Pac-12) and the Trojans feature a very balanced offensive attack for the Air-Raid. Of course, this is all predicated on the offensive line having a solid performance.

Conservative play-calling with some “trickeration”- Should both offenses struggle with new QB’s at the helm, a few trick plays will probably be employed via a swing pass behind the line of scrimmage and then a throw down the field or punters looking to run or throw the ball. Trojans punter Ben Griffiths is a heck of an athlete…

Speaking of Griffiths- Though he had a mediocre debut last week, Griffiths has proved to be excellent in practice with pinning the ball inside an opponent’s 10-yard line. If Stanford is struggling moving the ball, look for the Trojans to try and pin the Cardinal deep with punts even though Helton likes to go for it on 4th and short situations around the 50 yard line. The field position battle could be the difference in the game.

Harrell might not want to go too fast- When Harrell’s Air-Raid offense is clicking, they move fast in-between plays establishing a sprinter’s rhythm, thus giving the opposing defense very little time to get set and catch their breath. Expect the Trojans to come out in this fashion as Slovis played in a similar offense in high school, and they will want to get him into a rhythm right away. However, the major downside of moving quickly on offense is it gives the SC defense very little time to rest should they have consecutive three and outs on offense. This will play into the Cardinal game plan of winning the time of possession battle by grinding out first downs in a physical battle and thus turn the game into a marathon and methodically control the ball.

Eerily familiar outcome against Fresno State- You don’t want to read too far into this with SC losing Daniels at the end of the first half, but like last season, against an inferiorly talented team, the Trojans hang on for a tighter than expected victory turning the ball over four times and getting out-gained on offense by a team without a player that would start for the Trojans. The trend of starting fast and fading toward the end must be a thing of the past or major changes will be coming.

Not as many loose lips- but will it keep up?- Since the Kiffin era, it has been fairly easy to get information from players about issues within the program. At least for the start of this season, the trend has shifted. The team appears to be close-knit with a chip on their shoulder. The players will need to keep this up in the face of adversity (i.e. early season loss) and the coaches need to be careful about saying one thing and doing another. They already had a little discontent in the locker room about the lack or receiver and running back rotation after the coaches talked about those being a key to the offense. Finding the balance as coaches is not easy, but correctable and anticipate more rotations at wide receiver and RB Markese Stepp getting some opportunities.

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

Betting guide- Despite the loss of JT Daniels, the Trojans are a 3-poing favorite with a low total of 43 points. Stanford is 4-2 straight up and 5-1 against the spread “ATS” in their last six games against the Trojans and they are 5-0 straight up and 3-1-1 ATS in their last five games. The Trojans are an awful 2-9 ATS in their last 11 games as a home favorite. The over is 7-0 in Stanford’s last seven games as a betting underdog. Stanford is 14-4 ATS in their last 18 games as an underdog.

Big recruiting weekend for hoops- More on this later in the year, but the recent top 5 nationally rated men’s basketball recruiting class is full of “winners” and “great character players”, which was lacking last season and provided they avoid NCAA issues, the future is extremely bright. This weekend, the #1 recruit in the 2020 recruiting class and projected high lottery pick, Evan Mobley, who is already committed to SC, will be part of the official visit of 5-star Zaire Williams (future NBA player) and 4-star forward Mwani Wilkinson. SC is not a front-runner for Williams (North Carolina is the lead horse) but should he decide to stay in Los Angeles, SC would have a roster capable of a legit national championship run and these talents are being sold on being the first team to make that breakthrough for SC hoops.

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-Bits-

*WR Tyler Vaughns 11 receptions for 150 yards ranks him 4th in the nation in receptions and 6th in yardage…he’s considered SC’s third best receiver.

*Under Stanford’s Defensive Coordinator Lance Anderson, the Cardinal is now 13-4 (.765) when facing off against a quarterback with six-or-fewer career starts.

*This past Saturday marked the fourth consecutive game in which the Cardinal has not allowed a first quarter touchdown.

*JT Daniels, was 10 for 11 passing on a 13-play opening drive…though he struggled a bit in the second quarter, he made some terrific throws and it would have been great to see how he fit into this offense.