USC football will be without linebacker Cameron Smith for the first half of the season opener against Western Michigan, the Pac-12 confirmed Wednesday.
It’s official, linebacker Cameron Smith will sit out the first half of USC’s season opener due to his targeting ejection in the second half of the Trojans’ win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl, ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura reported.
Smith was ejected with two and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter for hitting Nittany Lion quarterback Trace McSorley’s helmet on an incomplete second-and-18 pass. The sophomore had four tackles on the day, but it had been a forgettable affair as he was beaten on two long Saquon Barkley touchdown runs.
Ejections in the second half usually carry a suspension for the first half of the next game, but head coach Clay Helton was not sure if that applies across an offseason when he was asked on Tuesday night during his season-wrap up conference call.
Back when USC scheduled Western Michigan, missing such a key player for the first half wouldn’t have troubled the Trojans too much, but the Broncos weren’t your typical G5 team in 2016.
Led by head coach P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan went undefeated in the regular season before falling in the Cotton Bowl to Wisconsin.
Should Fleck return as head coach, the Broncos will likely start the 2017 season as a ranked outfit with plenty to prove.
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Smith was USC’s leading tackler, tallying 83, this season despite returning late during fall camp from an ACL injury. He also had seven tackles for loss, one sack, four pass break ups, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble en route to an All-Pac-12 second team nod.
Without Smith in the early goings against Western Michigan, USC’s depth concerns at inside linebacker could be an issue. The Trojans are set to lose starter Michael Hutchings and key back up Quinton Powell to graduation this year.
That leaves a pool of players including John Houston, Olajuwon Tucker and Jordan Iosefa to both replace Hutchings and stand in for Smith in the opener. The early enrollment of three-star linebacker Tayler Katoa could provide another option for USC in those spots.
The good news is, Smith will have a full offseason to continue getting back to full speed from the knee injury and will be back on the field after halftime on September 2.