With just 10 days left until the season opener, head coach Clay Helton remained hesitant to announce the winner of his three-man quarterback competition between true freshman JT Daniels, redshirt sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears. Helton’s decision got even more difficult on Tuesday with Daniels, widely believed to be the frontrunner after his impressive performance throughout training camp, throwing two interceptions in 11-on-11.
“The same thing it’s always been – decision making, timing, accuracy,” Helton said, when asked what the factors will be in his choice. “We can fix timing and we can fix accuracy a lot better than we can fix the decision making. The guy that makes the best decision and goes to the right guy with the ball the most often is going to have the best chance to lead us to victory.”
Helton acknowledged that Fink has the most experience running the offense since he’s the oldest, yet needs improvement on understanding protections and knowing where his hot routes are. Helton also said that Sears has stood out with his solid arm and athleticism, but still needs to understand the whole offense better. Most notably, however, Helton remained bullish on Daniels.
Speaking about Daniel’s interceptions, Helton attributed the turnovers more to the savvy play of USC’s veteran defensive backs, noting the Daniels’ timing and decision making were correct.
Helton also downplayed the importance of the mock games.
“It’s more of a mental game … trying to get substitutions and working on certain situational stuff,” he said. “There’s not as many full speed routes being thrown.”
Helton reiterated that point by saying Saturday’s final mock game will hold little weight in his final decision.
“[The focus is] trying to make it as gamelike as possible,” Helton said. “Substitutions, changing personnel groupings, situations on the QB … all the things that happen in games that make you mad as a coach, and being able to see who’s ready and who needs more time to develop.”
Unlike the QB competition two years ago between Sam Darnold and Max Browne, which Browne initially won, Helton isn’t under any pressure to give Fink or Sears a chance due to seniority. The general consensus has been that Helton is tempted by the prospect of having Daniels under center for potentially four years, but it appears now as if he is genuinely undecided. Helton explained that he wants to sit down with all three individually and talk to their parents in a private setting first out of respect and honor to all of the guys before ultimately making the announcement.
Despite speculation that he would look to transfer if he did not win the starting job, Fink emphasized that he remains committed to the program.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Fink said. “I honestly think this is the best spot for me, and at the end of the day, I’m just going to be the best teammate I can be. I’m a USC Trojan for life, no doubt about it.”