On the Wednesday after another road loss for the Trojans, third-string quarterback redshirt freshman Jack Sears took all of the starting snaps at quarterback.
Freshman quarterback JT Daniels had failed his concussion test, again. Wednesday marked his third day sitting out, and his third-to-last opportunity to pass protocol and in order to be cleared for Saturday’s home game against ASU.
With backup redshirt sophomore Matt Fink still sidelined with broken ribs, the sprawling list of injuries has left Sears playing catch up all week. Unless Daniel’s situation improves quickly, Sears will also take his first starting snaps at the Coliseum on Saturday.
“We’re keeping with what we know,” head coach Clay Helton said. “We’re not reinventing the wheel.”
Up until this week, Sears took maybe 10 to 15 percent of snaps in practice, ceding most of his time to Fink and Daniels. He made up for that lack of repetition by studying the playbook, attempting to ready himself in case he was called in for an emergency. It was hard to imagine a situation where the third-string could be called up; but this season, it appears, the impossible happens on a regular basis.
If Daniels does not clear protocol, Sears’ debut will be in a home game against Arizona State that is high-pressure due to circumstance, not necessarily competition. With losses to Stanford and Utah, the Trojans must win out the season of Pac-12 play in order to still vie for a spot in the conference championship in December.
“This is an ultra-important game for our season,” Helton said.
Preparing for the game has been a week-long process of finding the team’s balance. On the opposite side of the ball, the team has been equally rocked by the loss of linebacker and captain Cam Smith, who Helton confirmed will not play against Arizona State on Saturday.
On Tuesday, Smith had his knee drained, and he received a pair of injections to help his recovery process. However, when asked about his return, Helton said that it “does not look favorable.”
Smith’s injury was added to a laundry list of injuries weakening the team on both sides of the ball. Senior tight end Tyler Petite spent most of practice holding a pack of ice against his shoulder. Senior offensive tackle Chuma Edoga saw some action, but took off several periods of practice with soreness in his knee and sat out the end of the day. Senior safety Marvel Tell remained limited. Freshman cornerback Olaijah Griffin took the day off because of a shoulder injury.
With the team limited, Helton is turning to his reserves for new firepower. Wednesday’s practice saw the group beginning to grow more comfortable as it adjusted to the loss of key players. With Tell out, senior cornerback Iman Marshall stepped up on Wednesday, snagging a pair of interceptions in scrimmage and excelling in one-on-one situations.
Still, Helton emphasized that the defense has a long way to go in correcting for one-on-one reads and coverage, especially against the run game. After spending more time in the film room — and less on the practice field — on Monday, the team is looking to adjust for an Arizona State team that has only won a single conference game this season.