USC football continues to ponder the big question of Utah week: Who will replace injured outside linebacker Porter Gustin? The answer: No one, and everyone.
Halfway through preparation for a pivotal game against Utah, the narrative for USC football in Week 8 remains all about Porter Gustin.
The senior linebacker fractured his ankle against Colorado and is out for the rest of the season. That means the Trojans have a major conundrum on their hands.
Asked about replacing Gustin, head coach Clay Helton and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast had the same refrain: “You can’t.”
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No one else on USC’s roster is the complete package like Gustin, but the Trojans are hoping the sum of many parts will be enough.
“Based on down and distance, based on situation, we can go anywhere,” Helton said, ready to use different packages with different players to do Gustin’s job.
It starts with Christian Rector, who filled in for Gustin last year under similar circumstances. But unlike last year, the options beyond Rector are more viable.
Anywhere from three to four players could see time in the Predator spot going forward, Helton said. Rector is one of them, but so is fellow pass rush specialist Hunter Echols, who is likely to see reps on third down and in passing situations. Connor Murphy could also see some action this week, back in his original position on the outside.
Then there’s Jordan Iosefa, who was a key defender against zone reads last year in that same position. His role has only become more important with Gustin out. True freshman Kana’i Mauga also stands to gain more playing time from Gustin’s loss.
“We have talented kids,” Helton said. “We have players who are going to make plays.”
Notes and tidbits
- Cleaned up penalties?… When asked about USC’s 13 penalties against Colorado, Helton played off any major concern. “We cleaned them up a little bit,” he said, adding that he didn’t agree with some of the calls. “There were some penalties that I don’t know if I would tell a kid to do anything different…Sometimes calls go with you and sometimes they don’t.”
- Defending the run… Utah has “advanced their run game over the last two weeks,” according to Helton. They have actually posted three-straight 200-yard rushing games, getting production from running back Zach Moss and quarterback Tyler Huntley. Huntley’s legs make the run game that much more difficult to defend, Helton said, especially with the mix of zone read and option plays the Utes will throw at the Trojans.
- Forcing the pass… Utah’s big bodies up front have been the key to their offensive attack, establishing the run to set up third-and-short opportunities. “When they can lean on that run game, lean on the playaction, they’re really good,” Helton said. There are some similarities between the Utes’ philosophy and that of Colorado, which means the head coach wants to see his defense have similar results, particularly winning first down and creating third-and-long. “We hope to get them in some drop back pass mode,” he said.
- Taking what the defense offers… Helton continues to highlight the offense’s ability to take what the defense gives them as a positive, rather than lingering on USC’s paltry showing in the run game against Colorado. “At the end of the day it’s about winning games,” he said, content with putting the game on the shoulders of the quarterback and wide receivers in response to the Buffaloes’ one-high safety look.
- Playoff mentality… The head coach described a playoff feeling while preparing to face Colorado last week and he is sticking to that assessment as the Trojans get ready for their second Pac-12 South contest. “It feels that way this week again. It’ll be an electric atmosphere, fun game.”
- One-on-ones in the redzone… USC’s redzone one-on-one period on Wednesday saw Iman Marshall and Greg Johnson nab interceptions by jumping inside routes. Johnson, in particular, had a strong outing with an additional two pass breakups. The Trojan receivers had their moments as well. Amon-Ra St. Brown caught one touchdown while Devon Williams and Velus Jones Jr. had two scores each.
- Dwindling depth… Johnson’s positive day couldn’t have come at a better time, if it gives him a boost going into the Utah game. The Trojans don’t have very many options in the secondary at the moment with Marshall, Isaiah Langley and Greg Johnson as the only healthy or available corners. That dwindling depth has moved Dominic Davis out of the scout team and into the main cornerback group at practice. Safety isn’t much better off. There are just three scholarship safeties available with Chase Williams out injured.