• John Skinner

Inside dirt and prep for UNLV

Updated: Sep 8, 2018

Pendergast loves the defense and the depth- Last year, a source close to defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast told us that Uchenna Nwusu was the best player and the heart of the defense even though other defensive players were receiving most of the hype at the time. Nwusu was clearly the top defensive player last season. The same source states Clancy says this is the best defense he has ever had at the college level and the depth along the defensive line will allow them to pressure QB’s more without having to blitz so often and leaving the defensive backfield vulnerable. They should be one of the best defenses in the country.

Inside story of how Daniels went from a high school junior to SC starter- After last year’s fall camp, the SC coaching staff was on a serious hunt to find someone who could come in and possibly take over with Sam Darnold was expected to go pro and both Matt Fink and Jack Sears seriously struggling. The original plan was for former Ole Miss and now Michigan QB Schea Patterson, to transfer to SC. Intermediaries involved made it sound like it was a done deal as Patterson would either get NCAA approval (which he did to be eligible this season) or somehow graduate early. When Patterson tore his ACL, SC got cold feet with concerns he wouldn’t be ready for the start of this season, and immediately looked for other options. The grad transfer group was weak and the only other player SC thought would have the maturity to handle the situation was a junior in high school, JT Daniels. Daniels is a hold-back, meaning he had stayed back a year when he was younger for developmental and competitive advantages. Thus, if he was able to re-classify and skip his senior year he would be in the same class he technically should have been. SC is one of the only schools in the country with experience in pulling this off (John David Booty skipped his senior year). Daniels father (extremely involved parent) was given every assurance that Daniels would be given more than a fair shot at winning the job. Behind closed doors the SC coaching staff was extremely confident Daniels would win the job, especially after the performance of Fink and Sears in spring practice. Looks like the crazy scenario worked out well for all involved, including the new Michigan starting QB Schea Patterson.

QB situation Part II- Hats off to Jack Sears. He worked extremely hard in the off-season and improved his throwing motion quite a bit. In fact, he gave the coaches something to briefly think about. However, he still struggles with properly checking-down and understanding the nuances of the offense holds him back.

If Daniels gets hurt- Matt Fink was named the back-up due to his familiarity with the offense and he’s less likely to make mistakes if Daniels has to leave the game for a short period of time. If Daniels is out for a multiple game stretch, Sears would most likely start since he has a better arm.

Biggest question mark with Daniels- JT has played for one of the best offensive lines in high school football and was extremely well protected. He won’t have that type of protection and how he deals with the hits/sacks (mentally and physically) will be a major factor in SC’s team success.

Bubba Bolden situation- The starting Safety has been suspended indefinitely and it is out of Clay Helton's hands. The main rumor is concerning inappropriate behavior with a female athlete and the university's title IX office will lead the investigation A thorough review could take months. SC will be down three scholarship players at the Safety position.

UNLV should be the perfect first game- SC should easily take care of the Rebels, but they are an improving program with some offensive studs. Fourteen starters return (7 on each side of the ball), from a 5-7 team, including elusive QB Armani Rogers (the 2017 Mountain West Freshman of the Year while setting the school freshman season rushing record), TB Lexington Thomas (a 2017 All-MWC first teamer running for 1,336 yards) and WRs Brandon Pressley and Kendal Keys. They are an explosive running team that ranked 13th in the country last year with running plays of 20 or more yards. The Trojans will have a major advantage in the trenches but they should moderately test the Trojan defense enough to see if they have improved upon its dreadful 2017 campaign in which they ranked 119th nationally on giving up plays of 20 yards or more and were 80th when it came to surrendering big play runs.

Biggest areas of concern heading into the 2018 campaign- Lack a lock-down corner- From a talent perspective, Jack Jones was the closest person they had to developing a legit lock-down corner but he is no longer with the program (only had two classes in the spring and couldn’t pass them). Biggie Marshall could be the answer if he regains the confidence he seemed to lose last season. However, he lacks top end speed and he is naturally a Safety.

Team toughness- The Trojans have some tough/very competitive individuals (ex. Gustin, Smith, St. Brown) but across the board the toughness and focus of the team has been called into question by various media and pro scouts when comparing them to national powers with similar talent.

Offensive line- They will definitely be more experienced and be an improvement over last season. Toa will be an upgrade at Center and Austin Jackson will be a pro. However, will they be a top level group that can give a true freshman the time he needs? Offensive line coach Neil Callaway has been one of the most criticized coaches under the Helton reign.

Offensive play-calling- It is no secret that Sam Darnold created a lot of offense after the original play broke down over the past two seasons. JT Daniels is a great QB but he doesn’t possess those Darnold like improve qualities and the offensive will need to be more dynamic and not as predictable to take advantage of what JT brings to the table.

Betting Info- SC is a 26 point favorite. SC was awful against the spread last year going 3-10-1. UNLV was 7-5 against the spread but they were 5-1 ATS on the road while the Trojans were just 2-6 in the Coliseum. SC has not lost a Week 1 game at home since their 14-7 loss to No. 5 Florida State in 1997.

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-bits-

*Overall, the team is fairly banged up with quite a few nagging albeit small injuries across the board.

*Center Toa Lobendahn has been very limited in practice for over a week with a pectoral sprain. If he is not able to play Saturday, SC will be going with a freshman combination Center/QB exchange with with either Brett Neilon (redshirt freshman) or Justin Dedich (true freshman) snapping.

*True freshman wide receiver Amon-ra St. Brown will not only play a major role in the offense. He will give the Trojans the legitimate big play punt return threat they lacked last season.

*Clay Helton’s 21 wins in his first two full seasons is more than any other USC coach. He is 16-0 in the Coliseum.

*It is Joint Forces Day at the Coliseum and there will be a pre-game flyover