The football team looks to regain control of the Pac-12 South division with a win against its in-state rivals Cal following a much-needed win against Oregon state.
The offense focused heavily on its run blocking scheme today, perhaps in anticipation of a heavier workload for the Trojans’ tailbacks. They certainly seem to deserve it, after senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware broke out for a career night last weekend with 205 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. Along with sophomore tailback Vavae Malepeai, who picked up 101 yards, and sophomore tailback Stephen Carr’s score, USC’s envisioned three-way ground game finally appears to be coming to fruition, even if a bit later than hoped. Life should get easier for freshman quarterback JT Daniels when opponents have to respect the run as well. But USC will be without Carr, who suffered a high ankle sprain, for the next few weeks.
Helton praised all three running backs for their dominant effort.
“I thought [Malepeai] and [Ware] and [Carr] really ran the ball violently between the tackles,” Helton said. “It was great to get that running game going, have over 300 yards, and yes, it makes play calling so much more easier cause you get the one on one matchups and those are easy reads for a young quarterback.”
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast commended his unit’s scrappy performance as well.
“We wanted to come in here and stop the run, and they had 41 yards rushing, so that was our main goal to hold them under 75 yards running,” Pendergast said. “Our guys rose up to the occasion … I thought the guys executed the plan for the most part pretty well.”
However, it’s hard to say whether USC’s commanding victory last week was the result of a surprise coaching change that saw Helton assume play calling duties and bring in Tim Drevno to handle the offensive line following the firing of offensive line coach Neil Callaway, or if it had more to do with Oregon State’s talent level. Helton spoke about the adjustments he made prior to the game.
“I’m always harder on myself,” Helton said. “The emphasis going in, I just wanted to get us in a flow, let the kids play with tempo, not try to overthink things … let them play fast.”
Helton also downplayed his own decisions, giving the credit to his players’ execution.
“I though they brought a great attitude, and great effort, and I told them ‘those are the only two things you can control,” Helton said. “I know it’s been a hard week, it’s a tough week, but you’re gonna set the tone.’ And they did.”
Either way, the Trojans are still in the thick of the Pac-12 race, sitting one game behind Utah, the South division leaders. That being said, USC will need to win out the remainder of the year in three straight rivalry games, the first coming against the Bears this weekend.
With three-fourths of his freshman season over, Daniels isn’t letting up in the crucial final three weeks that will make or break USC’s season.
“I’m just so into it right now,” Daniels said. “You’re coming into the home stretch, your body’s tired, your mind’s tired … it’s college football. It’s USC football. It’s a big stage.”
Daniels stressed the importance of film in making sure that he’s ready for the three classic rivalry matchups against Cal, UCLA and No. 3 Notre Dame, while also speaking humbly about his own limitations.
“I’m not as good as someone like Sam Darnold, just to be frank,” Daniels said. “I can’t do what a guy like [Darnold] can do. For me, if I’m going to succeed, I know that I have to be the most prepared to know what’s gonna happen. … I just have to know based off of preparation and film study who’s gonna be where and have to know where I gotta throw the ball.”
Freshman cornerback Olaijah Griffin returned to practice Tuesday. He will continue to be monitored as his shoulder injury heals.
Sophomore linebacker Levi Jones returned from practice after missing last week with a hip injury.
Sophomore quarterback Matt Fink has resumed his throwing routine as he recovers from three broken ribs. He is not yet cleared for contact.
Junior wide receiver Michael Pittman sat out due to a bone bruise in his shoulder. He is doubtful to play.