T-Time: Trojans needed bye week to focus on discipline

Freshman quarterback JT Daniels has a completion percentage of 59.9 percent and a total of 1,257 yards. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)

USC football didn’t play a game last weekend, as one could deduce from the lack of activity on 28th Street Saturday.

Instead, the team held three practices during the bye week, as opposed to the usual four. Freshman quarterback JT Daniels was a partial participant on Tuesday and Wednesday, as he worked on “footwork and conditioning.”

“As a freshman quarterback, you don’t want him to hit that wall at the wrong time,” offensive coordinator Tee Martin explained.

In addition to resting Daniels’ arm, the bye week provided valuable rest for banged-up players like freshman wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and senior outside linebacker Porter Gustin. Heading into a clash with the undefeated Colorado, the Trojans will need all hands on deck.

It appears as though it was a controversy-free week for USC — aside from the departure of safety Bubba Bolden. But the lack of practices is sure to ruffle some feathers. Head coach Clay Helton has already caught flak from one of his players for the lackadaisical nature of practice sessions.

“We’ve got to practice better. Period,” senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware said to 247 Sports after the Texas game. “Practice this week to me, to be honest, was kind of lazy, kind of slow. I feel like if we practice harder, we’ll play harder.”

When was the last time a player complained about practices being too easy? Following those frankly embarrassing comments, Helton ramped up the intensity at practice. Yet after an Arizona game, in which the Trojans were penalized a whopping 18 times and fumbled on three occasions, this vigor appears to have faded.

“We addressed it as a team,” Martin said about the penalties, according to USC Athletics. “We addressed it as a unit. We’re going to try to move on and not have those.”

For a team that ranks 113th out of 129 FBS teams in penalty yards (least to most), “addressing” the issue probably isn’t enough. Penalties and poor snaps have continually  impeded — nay, imploded — an already inexperienced USC offense.

I’m a huge proponent of player safety. We’ve seen the perils of overworking student-athletes make national headlines this summer, and maintaining health is vital in order to make it through the gauntlet of a college football schedule.

But when it comes to cleaning up avoidable mistakes like penalties, there doesn’t appear to be much urgency from the USC coaching staff. Bye weeks are important for resting players. They’re also a chance to clean up pressing issues on the practice field.

Hopefully during this week’s practices, USC “addresses” less and fixes more. Then maybe the Trojans can “try to move on and not have those” pesky penalty things.

In addition to my column, this week, I’ll be taking a look at the AP Top 5 and identifying a sleeper on each team to keep an eye on during the second half of the season. In 2017, Alabama’s Tua Tagavailoa and Arizona’s Khalil Tate came out of nowhere to steal the spotlight. Here’s who’s bound to follow in their footsteps:

No. 1 Alabama (6-0): Freshman wide receiver Jaylen Waddle

We know all about the Crimson Tide’s quarterbacks, but this team is loaded with explosiveness across the board. No Alabama skill position player is more electric than Waddle — he’s scored on a 94-yard touchdown pass and a 63-yard punt return. Expect him to keep making plays as the Tide graduate to real competition.

No. 2 Georgia (6-0): Sophomore wide receiver Demetris Robertson

This one could have gone in a lot of different directions, but I have to give the nod to the transfer receiver from Cal. He hasn’t seen many touches this year, but when given the opportunity, he’s displayed home run potential, like on a 72-yard touchdown run in Week 1. The Bulldogs are loaded with skill players. But with one injury, Robertson could become Jake Fromm’s go-to receiver.

No. 3 Ohio State (6-0): Junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones

Star pass rusher Nick Bosa has been out with injury, but Jones has stepped up in his absence. He leads the Buckeyes with 4.5 sacks, a ridiculous number for an interior lineman. Entering this season, Jones had one career sack. Now, he’s shooting up draft boards like Bosa.

No. 4 Clemson (6-0): Freshman quarterback Chase Brice

Senior Kelly Bryant transferred two weeks ago, leaving Brice as the Tigers’ backup behind Trevor Lawrence. When Lawrence suffered from concussion-like symptoms against Syracuse, Brice admirably led a game-winning drive. Applying Murphy’s Law, the Tigers are sure to call upon him again at some point this season.

No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0): Senior wide receiver Miles Boykin

In the Fighting Irish’s first four games, Boykin caught nine passes for 167 yards. In the last two weeks alone, he’s notched 19 receptions for 261 yards — eclipsing his 2017 total. Notre Dame kicked into a new gear when it replaced quarterback Brandon Wimbush with Ian Book, but Boykin deserves equal credit for the team’s ascent in the rankings.

As a final note, last week, I predicted that Utah would upset Stanford. The problem? I wrote it down absolutely nowhere and no one will believe me. In order to make things right, I’ll be predicting my upset of the week at the end of every column.

Upset of Week: No. 17 Oregon beats No. 7 Washington at home.

Washington barely escaped with a win at 0-5 UCLA last week. Now they travel to Autzen Stadium, a notoriously tough environment to play in. Plus, the Ducks have a lot to prove after blowing a late-lead against Stanford two weeks ago. Expect the Pac-12’s playoff hopes to become even murkier after a wild game in Eugene, Ore.

Trevor Denton is a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “T-Time,” runs every other Wednesday.