In the wake of freshman quarterback JT Daniels’ return and the transfer of control over the offense from offensive coordinator Tee Martin to head coach Clay Helton, Wednesday’s practice was a calm affair for the Trojans as the team prepared to face Oregon State.
It was the second day of practice for offensive line coach Tim Drevno, and Helton said that the new coach is focusing on bringing a new emphasis on fundamentals. He also announced the introduction of graduate assistant Mike Goff as the new interim coach to fill out the staff ahead of Saturday’s game.
On an otherwise lowkey day of practice, one statement stood out — the seniors made a choice as a group to ignore the typical practice of “No-Pads-November,” which previously meant spending the last month of the season without pads on during any practice sessions.
In the past, this was done in an attempt to ease players through the final few weeks of the season without injuries, and to help players suffering from any nagging soreness or tweaks to fully recover without the risk of agitating something in practice.
“They want a sense of urgency, to have a great November, and I commend them,” Helton said. “They want to leave their legacy. They want to show young people exactly how you treat a November and how you practice.”
This year, however, that won’t be an option, Helton said. The seniors decided that the team isn’t playing physical enough in games to earn the final month of rest in practice.
Although there are only a handful of games left, he said that the seniors feel the team still lacks in physical play on both sides of the ball — the defense is struggling to wrap up tackles and make big plays, and the offense isn’t finding a way to power through hits and hard blocking up front.
The decision to forego “No-Pads-November” came after the return of key players, including Daniels and senior captain and linebacker Cam Smith. On the defensive side, Smith’s return has offered a sense of calm for a team that struggled to find its rhythm without the leader at its core in past weeks.
At middle linebacker, Helton said, Smith has an ability to direct traffic that comes with experience, not just talent.
While Helton acknowledged that freshman linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV was “phenomenal” in his ability to step up well in Smith’s absence, wrapping up five tackles against Arizona State, he believes that the return of a senior leader will make a difference in the at defense.
“It’s tough for anyone to sit on the sideline and watch but I had a lot of fun,” Smith said. “I got to see things from a different point and helped out some guys. We always talk about how you learn more when you teach, so I got to watch some guys and I think some guys made some huge strides.”
The defense in particular is continuing to be forced to make adjustments due to injuries, especially in the secondary.
Senior safety Marvell Tell played teacher again on Wednesday as he worked with wide receiver Ajene Harris on repetitions at the safety spot. Tell has been forced to work in this mentorship role throughout the season, as the secondary rotated through losses due to suspensions, academic issues and injury. Helton pointed out that this is a key area that the senior and captain has been able to step up for his team.
Few changes were made to the injury report between Tuesday and Wednesday. Junior linebacker Jordan Iosefa suited up but remained out of practice after suffering an AC sprain. Linebacker John Houston is also limited after coming up gimpy with an ankle injury during team period on Tuesday.
Redshirt senior tight end Austin Applebee remains sidelined, along with sophomore wide receiver Randal Grimes. The defense is continuing to suffer the brunt of major injuries, with junior defensive linemen Connor Murphy and Caleb Tremblay remaining out of practice, along with sophomore linebacker Levi Jones and freshman defensive back Chase Williams.
A total of 15 scholarship players are on the sidelines for the Trojans headed into Saturday’s game.