It was another strong, physical and competitive practice for the Trojans. Interim head coach Clay Helton kept the team’s emphasis on the basics.
“I think these techniques and fundamentals are really paying off,” Helton said. “It’ll be critical in this game.”
Defensive line coach Chris Wilson also emphasized technique with his players. Looking to Cal, the Trojans will need to be able to shut down quarterback Jared Goff. Wilson noted that Goff is “the best” in college football.
“[Goff is] accurate. He’s smooth in the pocket,” Wilson said. “He can make every throw … He’s what you look for.”
With the strong performance from the defense against Utah, Wilson said he was impressed with the continually strong play from the freshmen.
“They’re fun, they’re talented, they like to play,” Wilson said. “They really want to be really good football players.”
Specifically, freshman inside linebacker Cameron Smith boasted three interceptions and a team-high nine tackles. Though Smith was dominant, he hasn’t let his strong performance have an effect on his practice. His main focus is on the team’s play as a whole.
“I want to be there for my teammates,” Smith said. “And help my team as much as possible.”
Smith is also looking to continue to improve his game.
“I’m trying to learn as much as possible,” Smith said. “And to make the plays when they’re there.”
Not only do the Trojans have freshmen starters, but they also have much-needed depth. This depth has been especially beneficial with the injuries over the last couple of games. Helton mentioned that red shirt wide receivers Steven Mitchell Jr. and Darreus Rogers have both started playing a bit more. Left tackle Chad Wheeler was practicing and will be good to go for Saturday.
With the freshman starters, the Trojans have added versatility on the field.
“I think our youth and talent is what shines so brightly here at ‘SC,” Helton said. “I think there’s a tremendous future for this University.”
Freshman cornerback Iman Marshall had two pass interference calls against Utah, but Helton isn’t worried because Marshall is an aggressive player. Helton even pointed out that Marshall is turning into a “premier corner.”
“He’s so big and strong, he’s an absolute weapon,” Helton said. “I don’t want to take that part of the game away from him.”
On the offense, Helton will look for tailback Ronald Jones II to get more snaps on the ball because of his continued performances. Not only has Jones been successful on the field, but he also has been putting in hard work and time during practice to become a more complete player.
“As you produce, your role increases,” Helton said. “That’s just the nature of football.”
Against Cal, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox wants to see the team remain consistent. Against Notre Dame, the defense missed some coverage assignments, but they made adjustments and limited those mistakes against Utah. Wilcox credits the improvements to mental intensity, focus and consistent performances.
“We just need to be more consistent overall,” Wilcox said.
To beat Cal, the Trojans will have to shut down Goff and Cal’s running game.
“As an offense, they’re extremely explosive,” Wilcox said. “It’ll be a great challenge for us.”
Helton spent time working with the offensive line during practice. As the son of an offensive line coach, Helton knows the importance of having a strong line.
“I just want them to feel the intensity and passion that I have for that group,” Helton said. “For us to win the championship, it’s going to be won in the trenches.”
Sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has continued to be a strong point for the Trojans’ offense.
“[Smith-Schuster] reminds me so much of the great ones that have been here,” Helton said.
Helton pointed out that Smith-Schuster is always competing like it’s a game. Helton talked about how he’s always playing at his top gear.
“It’s his nature,” Helton said. “He only knows one speed, God bless him.”
For the Trojans to beat Cal, they will need to stay focused on their fundamentals and carry their dominant momentum from the Utah game.