USC football went on the road again Saturday night to visit the Utah Utes and was destroyed, 41-28. Here’s what stood out.
Clay Helton’s USC football team went into Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday night and embarrassed themselves against Utah.
After the defense played inspired last week against Colorado, it was clear in Week 8 that they finally collapsed under the weight of a totally inept offense and offensive coaching staff.
The Trojans talk a lot about what it means to represent USC and the great tradition the program has. What we saw Saturday —and quite frankly, have seen since the beginning of the 2017 season— is a gross display of incompetence, complacency, and nepotism that has turned USC football into a decrepit husk of what it once was.
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There’s no good or bad, just embarrassment.
Why is USC like this?
Since the writing was on the wall for USC to get blown out after Utah took a 17-10 lead, I spent a lot of the game pondering, why is this offense so bad? Of course, there’s the greatest hits: the offensive line, Tee Martin, Clay Helton, Neil Callaway and Tim Drevno. Which one do we blame?
The first is Clay Helton. I’ve said before, I thought he could be the West Coast Dabo Swinney. After Saturday night, I’d like to apologize to Swinney for minimizing his impact on Clemson’s program.
The first thing Swinney did as head coach was kick offensive coordinator Rob Spence to the curb. Helton, an offensive coach himself, seems content to let his offensive staff cost him his job.
Then there’s current quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis and the departed Tyson Helton, over the play of JT Daniels. How in the world can a true freshman of his caliber beat out Matt Fink and Jack Sears? Are they that bad? And if Sears and Fink are that bad, what in the world were Helton and Ellis doing last season and this offseason? They couldn’t develop their talent enough to feel confident in starting one of them over Daniels? Because he is clearly not ready.
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Growing pains are to be expected when you have a true freshman playing quarterback. But the fact he can struggle this many weeks in a row and we haven’t seen Fink or Sears, outside of Daniels’ concussion at Utah, is ridiculous.
Should JT Daniels be starting?
The quarterback situation might be the most damning evidence against USC’s incompetence as an offensive staff. I would be okay with Daniels coming in and starting over Sears and Fink if he were a transcendent talent. I would even be content if he were a raw transcendent talent that just needs time. Right now, he looks like neither, and it does not make sense that he could beat out incumbents.
For example, I can see exactly, why Dabo Swinney made the decision to go with Trevor Lawrence over Kelly Bryant. While Bryant is more mobile and did a pretty damn good job running the offense last season, Lawrence has so much more arm talent and allows that offense to do different things, while also being mobile enough that opposing defenses have to honor the potential zone read. As a result, the Clemson offense’s ceiling becomes so much higher.
I don’t see that unlimited upside and potential with Daniels, at all. Maybe the coaches see it every day in practice. That’s fine, but we haven’t seen it in the games and practices don’t count in the win column.
Week 1, I was ready to see how this offense looked with Matt Fink, because through the first half of football against UNLV Daniels hadn’t even shown a glimpse of why there was so much hype surrounding him. Since then, we have seen two throws, two in the last 8 weeks that would make you consider starting him as a true freshman: The deep ball to Amon Ra St. Brown against UNLV and the pass to Tyler Vaughns on the fade against Colorado.
Out of the remaining five touchdown passes Daniels has on the season, three of those have been tremendous catches by Michael Pittman.
Also, Daniels can’t move, he isn’t a running threat like Fink. So if Daniels isn’t transcendentally accurate with his arm on short or deep passes, and he’s not a threat to run. Why is he in the game over Fink?
Instead of making any real change to the offensive staff or philosophy, we’re going to be told that a lack of execution is what got USC dismantled. And, to be fair, there is truth in that. But how many weeks are we going to hear about a lack of execution from the people responsible to make sure execution is on point?
When I think about it from that perspective there’s only one person we can truly blame for letting this steadfast descent into a mediocre middle of the road team continue, is athletic director Lynn Swann.