The Trojans will enter Corvallis, Oregon this weekend at .500 on the season with their home win streak broken by a loss to Arizona State at the Coliseum on Saturday. The loss triggered major coaching changes as head coach Clay Helton announced Monday that he would be taking over play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Tee Martin and that Tim Drevno would replace Neil Calloway as offensive line coach.
“When you get into November obviously as a play-caller, it’s always a bit different, but we have a system and you can’t just revamp a system in a week,” Helton said. “You do the things that you think your kids can operate with, and there may be a wrinkle or two. We did things in that game last week that we want to be able to build off.”
It remains to be seen exactly what the on-field changes will look like, but the matchup with the last team in the Pac-12 in Oregon State (2-6) should provide strong competition for the Trojans to figure out where they want to go. Oregon State has struggled mightily throughout the year, though a 21-point comeback and overtime win against Colorado on Saturday certainly gave it some momentum heading into the contest.
“[The older guys] came to me and said, ‘Look coach, I know this has been our routine for a long time, but we’d really like to have a sense of urgency and keep the pads on and keep on grinding,’” Helton said. “So we did.”
USC offense vs. Oregon State defense
The Trojan offense performed well down the stretch last week as redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Sears heated up in his first start, putting up 235 yards and two touchdowns while completing over 70 percent of his passes. On top of that, the run game produced 149 yards.
Though Sears was impressive in his first college football game, freshman quarterback JT Daniels will once again take the reins of the Trojan offense as he returns from a concussion he sustained against Utah. He will be eased back into things this week against a Beavers defense that allows 45.6 points per game — the third most in the FBS.
The recent play of junior receiver Michael Pittman should help make Daniels’ job easier. Over the last three weeks, Pittman had 16 catches, 352 yards and five touchdowns. Expect the pair to tear up an Oregon State defense that’s allowed 273 passing yards per game.
“Pittman’s success has been from building,” Helton said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s special teams or offense, he’s a difference maker player. [Pittman] only knows one speed, and he plays in that one speed. He’s doing a phenomenal job and becoming a pro.”
The team’s run game has been spotty throughout the year, largely due to inconsistent run blocking by the offensive line. Under Drevno’s leadership, the unit should look much better starting this weekend against a soft Beaver defensive front. Look for a big game on the ground from the Trojan backs.
Oregon State offense vs. USC defense
Oregon State’s offense is a much more competent unit than the one it has on the other side of the ball. For the Beavers, everything begins with freshman running back Jemar Jefferson.
Jefferson has had a monster first year, with 1,034 yards on the year already on a clip of 6.4 yards per carry along with 12 touchdowns. Jefferson is a shifty runner who’s hard to get a hold of; this could be a problem for a USC defense that’s had major issues containing similar backs the past two weeks in Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin and Utah’s Zach Moss.
The Beavers’ passing offense has played three different quarterbacks through the season, with largely mixed results. Senior Jake Luton, who took over from sophomore Jack Colletto at halftime last week and brought the team back from a 28-point deficit, seems poised to start under center for Oregon State this week. Luton has been efficient in his limited action on the year, with a two-thirds completion rate and four touchdowns to only one interception.
Luton has capable weapons to work with in receivers sophomore Isaiah Hodgins and senior Timmy Hernandez, who have 990 receiving yards between them on the year.
Though the Trojan defense has struggled in recent weeks, it should be able to put up a solid stand. Senior inside linebacker Cameron Smith’s return should be huge for the Trojans; his presence will alleviate a lot of the unit’s tackling woes.
The loss of freshman safety Talanoa Hufanga due to injury will hurt, but senior Marvell Tell’s return will provide support on the back end.
“[November] separates the men from the boys,” Helton said. “No time to be tired. The season is a grind.”
Prediction: USC 35, OSU 21
The Trojans have proven their instability in recent weeks. Any unit on the team has the potential to stop functioning at any time. However, Oregon State should offer the perfect opportunity for a revamped coaching staff to find its footing and start straightening things out for the Trojans. Expect Oregon State to make some plays and for the Trojans to make their fair share of mistakes before pulling away comfortably.