USC Football Fall Camp Notes: JT Daniels wows in first scrimmage on Day 8

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

Freshman quarterback JT Daniels put on a show Saturday, throwing four touchdowns during USC football’s first scrimmage at the Coliseum on Fall Camp Day 8.

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If USC football’s coaches were looking for a reason to take the risk and name true freshman JT Daniels the starting quarterback for 2018, he gave them one during Saturday’s scrimmage at the Coliseum.

Daniels was the star of the day, throwing four touchdowns while navigating the Trojan offense like a seasoned pro.

While Matt Fink and Jack Sears struggled with a potent pass rush to start with, Daniels kept his cool and got the ball out quickly, turning towards his Mater Dei teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown and others with confidence to keep the offense ticking over.

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Three of his touchdowns went straight to the hands of St. Brown. The first was a routine shot to the front corner of the endzone from about 10 yards out. The second was arguably the highlight of camp, a 35-yard ball which dropped into the back of the endzone for St. Brown, who beat double coverage to haul it in. The third capped off practice during the two-minute period, again finding St. Brown, this time on the right edge of the endzone. He also lopped a ball in for Velus Jones Jr. for a 25-yard score.

It was a statement performance from Daniels, one which put his intent to win the starting job in clear focus. For the thousandth time in a short time this Fall Camp, he didn’t look like a freshman.

“I thought JT, for the first time in a live game situation, looked very comfortable. It didn’t look like the situation of being in the Coliseum was too big for him,” head coach Clay Helton said.

Daniels dominated the post-practice discussion, rightfully so, but Helton was quick to draw attention back to the quarterback battle at large, which still has a long way to go.

“It’s scrimmage one,” Helton said. “We’ve got a lot of practices to go.”

Helton was quick to praise USC’s other two quarterbacks for their growth from spring, though neither could compare to Daniels on the day.

Fink didn’t complete a touchdown pass but was able to lead a field goal drive during the two-minute segment.

Sears had a rollercoaster ride, succumbing to the pass rush on a handful of plays in the early going. However, he still flashed some of the ability which made him one of the stronger performers in camp up until Saturday. He hit Josh Imatorbhebhe for a long score and led a successful two-minute offense which resulted in a touchdown pass to tight end Josh Falo.

“I love how those guys have progressed and you can see their competitive juices,” said Helton.

For Fink and Sears, the pressure is now on to raise their performances to a rate that can match Daniels, who arguably vaulted himself to the top spot in the competition for now.

Still, Helton wouldn’t bite at the opportunity to lather praise on Daniels too heavily, prefering the 30,000-foot view.

“When you go through a training camp you have to look at the total sum of the camp and do what’s best for your team in the moment,” Helton said. “It’s a long camp and good Lord willing we stay healthy and good Lord willing every man continues to progress.”

Practice Standouts

  1. Amon-Ra St. Brown: “Mercy, what a nice day he had today,” Helton said of his freshman wide receiver who caught seven passes with three touchdowns. The head coach was most impressed by how St. Brown’s catches involved “confrontation” as he battled through contact with defensive backs to make his grabs.
  2. JT Daniels: Not much more could be said of Daniels performance, going 10-of-12 with four touchdowns.
  3. Jay Tufele: Tufele was at the forefront of USC’s pass rush on Saturday, logging two sacks on his own while earning praise from Helton as one of the players having the best camp so far: “He has really stepped up his game.”

Notes and tidbits

  • While Daniels and the offense will grab the headlines, USC’s defense was a collective wrecking crew in the early goings of the scrimmage. “I thought the defense had a great attitude to start off this scrimmage and really put pressure on the quarterback early,” Helton said.
  • By unofficial count, the Trojans in white tallied nine sacks by players including two each by Tufele and Kana’i Mauga, plus contributions from Malik Dorton, Hunter Echols, Raymond Scott, Isaac Franco and Matt Bayle.
  • Cornerback Olaijah Griffin should have had an interception against Sears, and likely would have returned it for a touchdown if he’d made the grab. Helton called him “way ahead for a true freshman” but not quite with his hands.
  • Running backs Vavae Malepeai and Markese Stepp both showed their power by breaking tackles on longish carries. Aca’Cedric Ware demonstrated his all-around ability by catching a pass from Fink and weaving through the defense for extra yardage as well.
  • Wide receiver Tyler Vaughns made two catches as did Keyshawn “Pie” Young and Devon Williams. Falo caught three balls on one drive. Jones Jr. had four total receptions.
  • When will Helton be making his decision on USC’s starting quarterback? He said he doesn’t have a crystal ball, but it will at least come during the week ahead of the season opener against UNLV: “They’re going to know that gameweek who the guy is. That’s only fair to the team, that’s only fair to the quarterbacks and that’s only fair to the preparation of playing a good UNLV team.”
  • USC will take a break from practice on Sunday before returning to normal action on Monday.