The life of any backup quarterback is generally filled with uncertainty. The competitions during summer and fall camp practices, the struggles to develop chemistry with receivers and backs due to limited practice time, the time spent relaying calls and encouraging teammates from the sideline, waiting for an opportunity to make their own mark.
For redshirt freshman Jack Sears, the one thing he could feel certain about was his own playing ability.
When he finally got his chance to take the field on Saturday against Arizona State, he made sure audiences knew that he had what it takes to play at the collegiate level.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in a game setting,” Sears said. “We did our best in fall camp and my entire time here.”
Despite playing in a losing effort, Sears showed flashes of brilliance and the capacity to lead a football team.
“I felt comfortable in the second half and guys never stopped believing in me,” Sears said. “It was fun to rally with them and keep competing. We fought to the very end.”
On the day, Sears went 20-of-28 passing for 235 yards with two touchdowns. Additionally, Sears was a factor on the ground, participating in a number of designed roll-outs, options and runs, including a 22-yard burst to set up a touchdown drive at the end of the first half. Sears was not the most statistically impressive passer on the roster on Saturday — that title went to redshirt sophomore wideout Tyler Vaughns, who threw a 36-yard touchdown to junior receiver Michael Pittman in the third quarter. However, Sears was capable of producing when called upon for the USC offense.
In fact, out of qualifying passers, Sears finished fourth among Pac-12 quarterbacks in terms of passer grade, according to PFF College. Finishing ahead of talented signal callers such as Stanford’s K.J. Costello, Utah’s Tyler Huntley and Arizona State’s Manny Wilkins, Sears clearly stood out compared to the expectations most would have of a backup quarterback.
The most impressive factor of Sears’ performance, however, was his ability to lead the Trojans back from a daunting deficit. With just under two minutes left in the first half, USC trailed the Sun Devils by 17 points and had yet to show any life on the offensive side of the ball. Aside from a brilliant Vaughns punt return for a touchdown following Arizona State’s first drive, USC had been shut out.
Yet, Sears was able to drive his team 90 yards down the field to cut the deficit to 10 by halftime. Coming out of the break, Sears again carved through the Sun Devils’ secondary to bring USC within 3 points, and 25 seconds later, USC took the lead.
While the defense and special teams would falter and the Trojans would go on to fall for the first time at home since 2015, Sears made sure to leave a lasting good impression with a 48-yard heave for a touchdown to Vaughns in Sears’ last play from scrimmage.
From the perspective of head coach Clay Helton, this type of performance was anything but out of the ordinary for the San Clemente native.
“[Sears] practices like a starter, and today he played like a starter,” Helton said after the game.
Helton continued to shower the redshirt freshman in praise for his performance.
“I thought [Sears] did a tremendous job,” Helton said.
However, Sears does not have a particularly clear path to playing time. With presumptive starter JT Daniels cleared to resume practicing following a concussion suffered on Oct. 20 at Utah, Sears will likely serve in a backup role once again this weekend when the team travels to Oregon State.
This should not spell the end of Sears’ chances to contribute moving forward. Sears and Daniels both have freshman eligibility and considering how tumultuous the season has been, it is unlikely that a week-to-week starter is guaranteed, let alone one from year-to-year. Additionally, should Daniels show further health concerns, it is possible that Sears could once again get the nod over Fink.
It wasn’t long ago that a San Clemente quarterback took a loss in his first start as a Trojan.
While Jack Sears may not have performed as well as former USC quarterback Sam Darnold, he certainly showed enough on Saturday to make it clear that he is capable of being an effective starter when called upon for USC.
“I love these guys; I’ve been with them for over two years,” Sears said of his teammates. “I believe in what [Helton is] doing here. Every down, every play, no matter what’s going on. I love this university.”