USC vs. Western Michigan: Clay Helton previews the Broncos

MUNCIE, IN - NOVEMBER 01: Damon Hazleton Jr.
MUNCIE, IN - NOVEMBER 01: Damon Hazleton Jr. /

Head coach Clay Helton began game prep for USC vs. Western Michigan this week. Here’s what he thinks about the Broncos offensive and defensive attacks.

Even though the start of the season is still two weeks away, preparation for USC vs. Western Michigan has already begun within the McKay Center.

On Tuesday, Trojan head coach Clay Helton took the time to break down his Week 1 opponent.

Western Michigan lost a number of starters, including 3,500-yard quarterback Zach Terrell, 1,500-yard receiver Corey Davis and 18-TFL defensive lineman Keion Adams.

However, the Broncos return 15 other starters, which helped the team get to 13-1 on the season.

“I have been very impressed with Western Michigan’s personnel,” Helton said. “One, watching them play from last year and the confidence that they bring to the table. It’s hard to win 12 games in a row and you see what they did and how they accomplished that. It takes good players.”

In Helton’s eyes, Western Michigan has a couple of players to watch on the defensive side of the ball who could do damage at the Coliseum.

“Defensively, I’ve been very very impressed with their front seven,” he said.

The head coach singled out inside linebacker Robert Spillane as the driver of their defensive success.

“I think he does a great job of playing tackle-to-tackle as well as playing good out in space,” Helton said.

The senior led Western Michigan in tackles last year with 111 stops. He added 10.5 tackles for loss, including three sacks, while also nabbing three interceptions. The final one of those clinched the MAC Championship against Ohio in the final seconds. He was an All-MAC second team selection and held MAC Defensive Player of the Week honors four times.

Spillane isn’t the only defender to keep an eye on. Helton also cited cornerback Darius Philips as a gamechanger.

“Darius Phillips is an NFL prospect. There’s no question in my mind,” Helton said. “He is that team’s Adoree’ Jackson. He kind of does everything. He’s a defense, offense, kick returner. He’s a very special player.”

The Adoree’ Jackson comparison is valid. Phillips returned three interceptions for touchdowns last year, tying a MAC single-season and career-record, adding a kick and punt return to his scoring total.

SEE ALSO: Adoree’ Jackson’s 12 Best Moments as a Trojan

On the other side of the ball, the Broncos are replacing major figures in the passing game like Terrell and Davis, but they return a stable of running backs.

“Offensively you’ve really got to focus on their run game with two really good backs led by [Jarvion] Franklin and [Jamauri] Bogan,” Helton said. “That run game can really take the pressure a young quarterback who is making his first start and they’re really good at running the ball.”

Franklin, who logged 1,353 yards and 12 TDs in 2016, is the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns in Western Michigan history, with 41 scores to his name. His 3,639 career rushing yards are third among all active running backs.

More from Reign of Troy

Bogan missed six games last year with an ankle injury, but when he saw the field he made his mark. The junior finished with 923 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016.

The Broncos finished second in the MAC in rushing offense last year and the run game should be an even bigger focal point going forward.

“They’ve got their coordinator from Indiana [Kevin Johns], who has done a terrific job of running the ball at Indiana and then obviously there’s [head coach Tim] Lester, who did a tremendous job at Syracuse running, so we’ve got to be prepared to stop a talented run game,” Helton said.

The Trojans still have time to prepare for the Broncos on offensive and defense, with this week simulating a normal game week for the Trojans, complete with a scrimmage on Saturday.

TRENDING STORY: Predicting USC’s Game-By-Game Wins and Losses

USC will face off with Western Michigan on September 2, opening the 2017 season at the LA Coliseum.